School Committee Chair for 2017

I am excited to share that I have been elected by my peers to serve as the School Committee Chair for 2017.  One of my first responsibilities as the Chair was to speak at the State of the City this past January. Below is the text of my speech. 

The following is from School Committee Chair Pitone’s speech delivered at the Board of Aldermen Organizational Meeting on Monday, January 9, 2017 in the Aldermanic Chambers:

Mayor Curtatone, President White, fellow elected officials on the Board of Alderman and School Committee, Superintendent Skipper, family and friends. I am honored to share this night with you and for my new role as the Chair of the School Committee. I appreciate the confidence and trust you have placed in me to lead and collaborate with the talented people that represent the city of Somerville on the School Committee.

First I want to acknowledge and congratulate Paula O’Sullivan as our newest member of the School Committee, representing Ward 6. She is filling big shoes (literally) with the resignation of Paul Bockleman, who mentored me and many others with his deep knowledge of the district, ability to both listen and speak thoughtfully and with great humor. With her professional background in education and as a parent of three children attending the Kennedy and Brown Schools, Paula’s perspective will contribute greatly to the work of the School Committee. Thank you Paula, for stepping up and your future service.

I would also like to acknowledge the out-going Chair of the School Committee, Carrie Normand, who has led us through a period of great change, both in membership and district leadership. Although our current school committee members are relatively new to the job, there is no shortage of passion and Carrie has inspired all of us with her generous and thoughtful leadership, always putting the needs of the children of Somerville first and foremost.

Although many of the faces on the school committee have changed, it is inspiring to look around the room and recognize so many who have served before us – the list is too long to name – many who continue to serve in public office. Your commitment to the city and our schools continues in your current work, and the Somerville Public Schools would not be enjoying its current success without your continued support – thank you. As steward of the schools I also imagine I am not only seeing my predecessors but hopefully a few faces of those that will follow in our footsteps.

For some of us, OK me, my role on the SC was not part of some master plan but a journey I unwittingly embarked on the day I brought my son to kindergarten at the Healey School 10 years ago. I was welcomed in the school community and greatly supported as we made, what was for my family, a challenging transition. I wanted to give back so I got involved at the school, doing what I was interested in and leveraging my skills – that sweet spot that makes volunteering easy. But I realized I wanted to do more for the wider school community. Running for office was an overwhelming prospect but one of the most exciting and rewarding experienced I have had. I met so many amazing and different people – but the one thing they shared in common was their sincere interest in the students of Somerville.

That interest showed it self this November when the community overwhelmingly supported the city’s planned investment in a new Somerville High School. Thanks to the High School Building Committee for their time and efforts to consider every possible location and various interests from historic preservation, the experience of current students during construction to the inspiring educational vision of the future of Somerville High School developed by school staff, Headmaster Oteri and Superintendent Skipper. This vision emphasizes critical thinking skills, collaboration and an increased connectivity between our career and technical and college preparatory programming. I am excited to see the future of Somerville High School unfold.

In addition to plans for a new High School, 2016 brought an increased focus on the social and emotional development of our students. From enhancing health education in the middle schools to strengthen how our staff is organized to identify and met the needs of struggling students – we have made investments that allow all our students to better meet academic challenges and prepare them for life after SPS. Students who are struggling socially or emotionally may not be ready to learn or make their full contribution to their community. These efforts are in direct support of the district’s continued commitment to Whole Child education – a shorthand for the combination of academic, social, emotional and physical education – including new methods to assess our successes (and learn about areas for growth) beyond standardized testing.

But now, I hope to liven things up a bit by switching gears from assessments to baked goods to illustrate something fundamental about our schools and the work of 2016 and beyond. I was at Lyndell’s bakery last week, and the woman next to me made a comment about a young boy and girl pressed against the glass case filled with doughnuts. They were siblings and she was impressed to see them happily together, if not slowly, asking for their order. Her name was Barbara and she was a retired SPS PE teacher. She then told me about bumping into one for her former students and although she didn’t remember the name of the “boy” (who she guessed was about 60 now) she did remind him of a collision they had in the gym and pulled up the leg of her pants to show him the resulting surgical scar on her kneecap. After over 40 years she still remembers her student and he remember her. Wow, our educators know our kids (even 40 years later), our educators put the needs of our kids first, our educators watch out for our children in the community – even after they retire, looking at our future generation with a kind heart and commentary. Attracting, growing and keeping great staff is a top priority at SPS and Superintendent Skipper has enhanced our efforts. To put it simply, the goal is to make SPS THE TOP choice for quality educators in order to retain and attract the best talent. I use the term educator intentionally (just as Superintendent Skipper does) to include not only teachers, but administrators, paraprofessionals, lunch aids – everyone who work in our schools – they all play a role in educating our children. I believe this will be one of the most powerful ways we improve opportunities for the children of Somerville.

There are so many more exciting things I could share, but to keep things brief, I would like to expand on the idea of educators, reflecting on my own experience and reaching out to you, members of the Somerville community. Think about the ways that you may have a positive impact on our schools – considering where your interests intersect with your skills (that sweet spot of volunteering) – from tutoring students to asking challenging questions of your elected officials and city and school administration, educating on what our community wants and needs. Thanks to those who are already in the mix, our PTAs, volunteers and tutors. Great thanks to Superintendent Skipper for her high-energy leadership and clear vision. And my personal thanks to those who allow me to do the work I do – my family, friends and dedicated colleagues on the School Committee. Be an educator, be involved, have an impact. But I warn you it may be addictive and next thing you know one of you may be standing on this podium or sitting in the horseshoe as the next stewards of our city and our schools. Thank you.

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Laura Pitone for Ward 5 School Committee
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