School Committee candidates Firkins Reed and David Margil discussed the future of the Natick Public Schools Wednesday night at a Natick Forever School Committee Forum. Both candidates agreed that the rapidly growing number of students is one of the most pressing challenges the Natick school district will face over the next several years.
“I’m reminded this is a nice problem to have, but it presents huge challenges,” said Reed, who has been an educator for more than 25 years. Enrollment throughout the school district has reportedly increased by 500 since 2006 and is expected to grow to more than 5,000 by the end of the year, said Reed, adding that the town should do whatever possible to keep class sizes manageable. Her priority, she said, would be to focus on spending on the classroom to give teachers the supplies they need to teach.
Margil, current chair of the School Committee and member since 2008, said that the schools need to focus on ways to save and make money during tight budgeting times. Margil said one way to increase revenue would be for the schools to look into allowing students from other districts to attend school in Natick, which would bring in money from the state that could help fund new teacher hires. Out-of-town students should only be placed in classrooms with sufficient space and resources, he added.
During the forum, Reed and Margil also addressed the hotly-debated one-to-one laptop program for students at the high school. Both were in support of Natick’s growing technological savvy. Reed said the laptops are helping nontraditional learners grasp the curriculum and will allow the easier work to be done at home so that the more difficult work can be done in the classroom with the help of the teacher. Although in support of the technology program, she warned that computers should only be used to enforce the teachers’ lesson plans.
“Technology can never be an end in itself. It’s only useful if it helps teachers deliver content,” she said. “We have to know when to use it and when not to.”
Margil said that the laptops have already proven to be helpful to students and teachers, allowing the classroom and the help that the teacher can offer, extend to the home.
“[It allows] the teachers to be more available to the students than they ever were before,” he said. “I think it makes teachers even more valuable to the district—especially technologically savvy teachers.”
Both candidates also praised the town’s recent amped up efforts to stop and prevent bullying in the schools. Reed praised the town-wide efforts and the peer leadership programs in the seventh and eighth grades. Margil said that although he believes the district went above what was required by the state’s 2010 requirement for bullying prevention plans for all schools, there is still is a long way to go.
“We need to be there to prop it up to give it the right level of importance in our annual goals and make sure we stick with it,” he said.
The two candidates are running for two open seats on the committee this March. The third candidate, Timothy Kelley, was unable to attend the forum, reportedly due to family reasons.