RICH SJOBERG

 

STACY DAHLSTEDT

 

CORRIE LUONGO

 

 

LYNNFIELD — The Town Election on Tuesday, April 12 features a three-candidate race for two seats on the School Committee.

The three candidates running for a three-year term are School Committee Chair Rich Sjoberg, Vice Chair Stacy Dahlstedt and Homestead Road resident Corrie J. Luongo.

Voters in all four precincts will cast their ballots at Lynnfield High School from 7 a.m.-8 p.m. on April 12.

The Villager asked the three candidates to answer four questions. The following are their responses.

Why do you want to serve on the School Committee?

Rich Sjoberg: It is my humble honor to serve as a member of the Lynnfield School Committee. As our daughter entered Huckleberry Hill, I hit the ground running to volunteer in any way I could. My last six years as a School Committee member have provided me an opportunity to work as a positive part of the governing board that makes the Lynnfield School District the special place it is.

I have proven to be a fierce advocate for the school district and our students and make decisions for resources based on the answers to three simple guiding questions:

1. Will this decision continue to provide the best educational foundation for all students?

2. Will this decision support the progression of 21st Century learning opportunities?

3. Is this decision in the best interests of our students, administrators, teachers and community as a whole?

I have proudly served alongside colleagues and delivered several accomplishments:

• The formulation of the District Strategy as a path to intentional educational excellence.

• Worked to elevate the connection between educational standards and student-teacher assessments to create and implement curriculum alignment.

• A six-year commitment as a member of the School Committee Policy Subcommittee.

• Supported the work needed to address the social-emotional needs of students by establishing a kind, caring mindset and bringing to fruition adjustment counselors within each school building.

• Fulfilled several years of advocacy to achieve the current elementary schools’ expansion project.

• Annually backed budget choices that benefit every individual student — in maintaining class size guidelines, always with a focus that is student centered, while also making excellent investments in our teachers and staff.

The reward for my solid commitment is to be but a small part of what makes Lynnfield such a great place to raise a family.

Stacy Dahlstedt: I am seeking re-election to the Lynnfield School Committee because I am passionate and focused on delivering high-quality public education that represents the needs and achievement goals of all students. My primary goal in serving on the Lynnfield School Committee is the same now as it was when I was first elected in 2019: To provide all students with the best education and resources that our district’s budget allows, in preparation for becoming contributing citizens of our global community. I care deeply about the success of all our students and incredible educators and am committed to ensuring academic excellence in our schools.

Through meaningful collaboration with committee members, administrators, teachers, parents and town leaders, I want to continue the important work, steady progress and success of the following accomplishments:

• Superintendent hire: Our School Committee hired and transitioned a highly qualified superintendent. I am confident in Superintendent Vogel’s ability to lead our district, as she is smart, insightful and caring.

• Adjustment counselors: We approved and hired adjustment counselors at Summer Street School and Huckleberry Hill School. These positions were necessary prior to the pandemic and are even more crucial now to ensure our children’s social and emotional well-being and academic success.

• School building project: After years of planning, we are seeing the elementary school building project come to fruition. This will serve our district well in the coming years and will allow us to maintain our goals on class sizes and keep our art and music programs intact.

• Collaboration with the Lynnfield Teachers Association (LTA): Lynnfield was one of the first districts in the commonwealth to reach an agreement with the LTA on our Re-Entry Plan for the 2020-2021 school year, allowing our children to spend more time in school, and when remote, learn directly from their teachers with live synchronous instruction.

The overarching responsibility of an effective School Committee is to seek continuous improvement in student achievement. We represent the needs, interests and achievement goals of all students in the district and hold this tenet above all else in any decision-making. I believe that my professional acumen in financial services, project and relationship management, coupled with my passion for education and never-ending drive for advancement, demonstrates that I am an effective and capable candidate who can represent the needs of all Lynnfield families.

My experience, strong track record of contributing to the progress in our schools, and focused vision is needed as we work together to ensure the continued success of Lynnfield Public Schools. I am proud of my contributions to the School Committee and look forward to continuing to make the Lynnfield Public Schools better and stronger than are even today.

Corrie Luongo: The last two years have presented so many challenges to students, parents and schools. Parents’ concerns about learning, social development, safety and mental health have been on the rise. As I spoke to other parents, I found that increasingly they were looking for a representative who would voice more questions, provide another point of view, and advocate for their children. After many conversations with residents who continued to encourage me to run, I did some real soul-searching. I felt a calling to take this step and become more involved in our schools.

Although my opponents are incumbents with School Committee experience, I provide the benefit of a fresh perspective and a strong connection to the parent community. School Committee seats are not intended as lifetime appointments, and change is a good thing for any stagnant board. Our current School Committee desperately needs greater energy, focus, direction and responsiveness.

With three children in each level of Lynnfield Public Schools — elementary, middle and high school — I am deeply committed to LPS. I have a vested interest in the quality of their education. Our family chose Lynnfield Public Schools for their reputation for delivering a quality education. The schools here are my children’s future, they’re not approaching my rear view any time soon. I believe in our public education system, and I also believe that there is always room to evolve and improve. Our kids deserve the best and their education is a top priority for me.

In the wake of the results revealed in the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, what would be your approach to supporting the growing mental health challenges students are experiencing? What should be the School Committee’s collective approach?

Dahlstedt: Although not surprising, the results of the most recent Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) should be extremely concerning for our district. Past data revealed that a segment of our student population was already struggling with mental health challenges prior to the pandemic. The disruption of life as we knew it during the pandemic, only exacerbated these struggles and made them more widespread.

My approach to supporting the growing mental health challenges our students are experiencing includes continuing to ask thoughtful questions, and listening intently to our district’s administrators, teachers, families and students to determine what will be most impactful to address our students’ needs. If that involves securing additional resources, programming and/or professional development for our staff, then we, as a School Committee need to consider this and support such efforts. The social and emotional well-being of our students must remain a top priority.

As we continue to move out of the constraints of the pandemic, the district needs to assess the impact of the past few years on student learning. We have identified academic gaps, and we now need to be prepared to deploy services and support for our students, both academically, socially and emotionally. We must meet students where they are and accelerate their learning while also closing the learning gap.

Despite returning to a full-time academic setting in September, students still reported they are not happy, connected or engaged at school. Our administrators still see that although students are back in school, they are continuing to adjust to school, and are spending a tremendous amount of time focusing on habit-building and routine-building skills. The implementation of the Advisory program at Lynnfield Middle School and the Compass program at Lynnfield High School has proven to be helpful to our students. They assist our students in building meaningful relationships with trusted adults.

Lynnfield’s Administrative Leadership Team (ALT) recognized the need for, and had the where withal to advocate for mental health resources based on past YRBS several years ago. The ALT, along with the School Committee, requested resources to address this growing issue. With the support of the Select Board, we added adjustment counselors, school psychologists and a school resource officer at the middle and high schools, after hard fought budget negotiations because the need was so prevalent. More recently, in hearing concerns from our elementary school administrators during my first term on the School Committee, we approved and hired adjustment counselors at Summer Street School and Huckleberry Hill School. These resources, along with our teachers, have proven to be invaluable in identifying students in need of help. Through continued professional development, we will be able to provide our teachers with the tools necessary to support our students’ growing mental health needs.

Both the YRBS and Superintendent Vogel’s Entry Plan Findings address the need for vertical articulation of a K-12 Wellness Curriculum, and more health courses at LHS. This is meaningful and important work in our schools that I support. We know that the mental health concerns identified in the YRBS are not specific to Lynnfield. That said it is incumbent upon us, as a School Committee, school district and community to ensure that all Lynnfield students feel safe, supported and a part of our school community. We must continue to secure the necessary resources, programs and training to allow our teachers and administrators to help our students.

Additionally, we must allow our students to elevate their voices. They are their own best advocates. In partnership with A Healthy Lynnfield, the middle and high schools have created student youth groups. These youth groups have presented to our School Committee on multiple occasions, and I am continually impressed with their awareness of issues and their ability to offer solutions. I look forward to continuing to work with and on behalf of our students if re-elected on April 12.

Luongo: It depends if you think of the survey results as problems (which they certainly are) alone, or also as consequences of other conditions. Young children are not usually born with pre-existing mental health, substance and physical abuse behaviors in place. That our student risk behaviors are reported means our committee should be thinking in two dimensions: The visible issues reported and the less visible origins of those issues. Bringing in greater adult role models, resource officer visibility, guidance and teacher staff with experience in basic emotional trauma, upper class representatives into earlier years to address students directly – these are all ways to build the environment where struggling students can find support, confide with trusted adults and peers, and recognize they are not alone.

There is no denying that the COVID pandemic has taken a toll on the mental health of students. The pandemic and measures intended to mitigate its spread have caused isolation, fear, loss and uncertainty for our children. Looking back on these decisions, there are lessons to be learned for all of us. Moving forward, I would use the results of the Youth Risk Behavior Survey to open the discussion with students and ask them the reasons behind the choices they made in the past year. Children teach us so much, if we just listen. It is critical that parents be involved in this process with their children. The role of the schools should be to provide resources and tools for parents to help their children. I would devote an entire school day or night in which mental health experts would meet with students, parents and staff to discuss this period of time and how it impacted their social, academic and emotional well-being.

Sjoberg: The YRBS is a credible data point for where students and their peers are — not only in their education but how they are handling life skills outside of the school walls. I firmly believe our teachers are among the best teachers in the business. They have never worked harder for our students. As a member of the School Committee, I have listened to our Administrative Leadership Team and supported the teachers, our counselors and psychologists desire to perfect their expertise with targeted professional development while continuing to build leadership capacity district-wide. Our teachers repeatedly prove they value and believe in their students by creating classroom environments that insure every individual child reaches their full potential. With each additional piece of knowledge, the School Committee will support teachers as they continue to empower their students with resilience when presented with a challenge.

As chair this year, I have worked very closely on the budget with Superintendent Vogel and the Special Services Department. Each staff member has an incredible moral compass to provide support, develop inclusive programs and adopt new ideas to meet the challenges for every Lynnfield student. This year’s budget reflects each of those efforts.

What school initiatives do you support and are there any initiatives you would like the School Department to implement? Are there any initiatives you oppose?

Luongo: My husband and I moved to Lynnfield because we wanted a quality education for our children and the state test scores were high. After living here for a few years, I learned that a large number of parents take their children out of Lynnfield schools at the middle school and high school level, and enroll them in private and parochial schools. Some parents felt that the schools in our town did not provide enough academic challenge for their children, some of whom were bored with the curriculum. I would like to implement an accelerated learning program for students in all grade levels who need a greater academic challenge.

The safety and well-being of our children is a top priority for me. As the mother of a child with a life-threatening allergy, I would like to see an initiative in the schools to protect our most vulnerable population. I would like to see the schools’ shift from a reactive approach to a proactive approach. Again, parental involvement and clear communication will be the key to meeting these needs. I suggest creating a forum for parents of children with allergy action plans and/or disabilities, to answer questions and discuss concerns. I recommend an advocate be assigned to run the forum and ensure protocols are put in place for timely responses to any issues.

I support equal opportunity for all students, and believe that Lynnfield Public Schools provides an environment where every student from every walk of life can flourish. The equity audit undertaken with the approval of the School Committee is an initiative that I question. The audit results are unclear as to the problem that is to be solved and recommendations provided lacked essential metrics to determine success. I would support an approach to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion that celebrates each students’ unique individuality and common humanity, and that seeks to unite rather than divide.

It is no secret that I feel parents deserve more transparency within our school system and from our School Committee. One way we can achieve this is by being more responsive to questions posed to the committee. The new parent portal provides a great opportunity to publish questions asked of the School Committee and the School Committee’s response. Our current protocols allow for responses to be sent in writing only to the individual who asked the question, leaving the rest of the town in the dark. Additionally, I propose that responses to anonymous surveys be posted on the new portal. If parents are asked to participate in surveys, they should also have the right to see the results of the survey. Parents should also have the right to access all survey questions before they are given to children in school. I also recommend implementing a policy for parents to actively opt-in their child prior to their child’s participation in surveys. This simple change places the decision for the child’s participation firmly in the hands of the parents.

Finally, another concern that was brought to my attention by neighbors and friends was the extent of bullying and retaliation in our schools that has not been effectively addressed by the current committee. Parents are frustrated by the schools knowing about the bullying but having no effective means to prevent it or stop it. I would propose a day-long workshop of speakers, videos and testimonies (celebrities) by adults who were bullied and who survived. I also recommend that we look closely at current definitions in place, as well as strategies in place for prevention, notification of incidents, investigations, disciplinary actions and resolutions available for bullying and retaliation at this time. We must ensure that remedial action or support is age-appropriate. Support should be offered to both the targeted student or employee, and the student or member of the school staff against whom the complaint was made. The needs of all individuals must be taken into consideration.

Sjoberg: In the six years I have been a member of the School Committee, I have:

• Supported the expansion of 21st Century Learning K-12, through increased STEM/STEAM programing and a Maker Space in every Media Center.

• Advocated for a rigorous academic curriculum with the growth of Advanced Placement class offerings to a total of 14 in our district to include AP Computer Science, the expansion of the Lynnfield High School Computer Science Department, a new Robotics Clubs and Girls Who Code at the Lynnfield Middle School.

• Established a mindset to continue insightful project-based learning, small group work, inclusive classrooms, opportunities for elementary world language studies and increased access to internships.

• I will continue to prioritize the well-being, safety and security of all students, teachers and staff. As a security consultant, I have worked closely with the superintendent and Lynnfield Police Department to provide recommendations to insure each school building is secure and has all plans, protocols and training measures in place.

Looking forward, I will continue to prioritize resources for student achievement as all students engage in experiential learning, persist in analytical thinking and problem solving, embrace collaboration with their peers and be creative throughout their entire learning process.

Dahlstedt: Lynnfield Public Schools are excellent, but my role as a School Committee member is to ensure we continually improve achievement by meeting the needs of all students. In the coming months, the School Committee will partner with district leaders to update our District Vision Statement to better align with our mission of supporting and challenging all students to meet their full potential as individuals and as citizens of the global community. I am looking forward to participating in this initiative.

I am a proponent of the important work our school district and community initiated with respect to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. I will continue to champion this work, which is imperative to meeting the needs of all students, including special education (SPED), English language learners (ELL), advanced learners and others.

I believe the district should pursue opportunities to expand, enhance, and improve our STEAM, financial literacy, fine performing and unified arts, health and wellness programming and world language instruction. I will continue to advocate for more STEAM initiatives throughout our district. We have made, and must continue to make progress incorporating STEAM, including coding and robotics courses and programs at all grade levels. Lynnfield High School (LHS) offers several business and finance electives and has held a successful finance fair for seniors for many years. That said, the district should consider providing more electives on financial literacy at the middle and high school levels to educate our students on day-to-day financial practices and responsibilities.

Our School Committee initiated discussions with the superintendent regarding providing access to world languages to our younger learners. This led to Community Schools offering after school world language programs. These were well-received and successful. We must continue to offer this kind of program and explore other ways to provide world languages to our elementary school students. These are all curricula that will help prepare our students for life after Lynnfield High School. I look forward to promoting these and other essential initiatives within our school district.

With the School Department experiencing a challenging budget year in fiscal year 2023, what skills do you possess that will help the School Committee navigate these challenging times?

Sjoberg: The School Committee is the governing board for the district with the budget allocation playing a vital role in our duties. As I approached the budget season this year as School Committee chair, my goal was for the school district to work in collaboration with the town on a budget that provided all necessary and essential services for every student. I am always guided by aligning our budget with the mission of our District Strategy. I applaud the work being done by the Special Services Department to build capacity to provide more intensive services within the district.

I am thankful the Lynnfield School District is always supported by residents to ensure we provide an excellent educational foundation for each student’s future. I will continue with what is my nature — to be a positive influence to meet the citizens of Lynnfield’s high expectations. I feel we have met this goal with a budget that is fiscally responsible for the FY23 school year.

Dahlstedt: The Lynnfield Public School’s (LPS) budget comprises 50 percent of the overall town of Lynnfield budget. Therefore, I appreciate that LPS budget decisions affect not only families with school-age children, but all Lynnfield residents. One of our roles as a School Committee is to work to appropriate funds to meet the needs and resources required to support all students in the district.

My previous professional experience in the financial services industry provides me with the necessary skills to collaborate with committee members, superintendent, director of finance and other town officials to ensure our district has the necessary funds to meet the academic, social and emotional needs of all students.

Budget decisions are often difficult and may not always be viewed favorably. At the end of the day, all decisions, budget and otherwise, are made with the best interest of all students in the forefront of my mind.

I believe our budget must preserve small class sizes, essential services to support our students, special classes at the elementary schools, a wide array of electives and Advanced Placement courses at LHS, extensive art programming and athletics. All of these, coupled with hiring, training and maintaining our excellent teaching staff, are necessary to advance student achievement and prepare them to be good global citizens.

Reconciling these priorities within a set budget year after year is a challenge. I am confident my professional skillset, my ability to communicate and collaborate well with district and town leaders, and my diligence will prove to be advantageous to maintaining fiscal responsibility, while continuing to deliver an excellent educational experience to our students. I look forward to continuing this important work if re-elected on April 12.

Luongo: As an elected official, School Committee members have a responsibility to taxpayers to plan for and spend funds appropriately to benefit our children and schools. These funds should be spent wisely and these decisions must be rooted on current needs with a continued vision and plan for future budget needs.

I independently manage my own business. When I began my business, I had several investors to whom I was accountable for results. During the last five years, I have operated my business successfully with no remaining debt. My corporate experience also includes business operations, budgeting, and funding, which all prepare me to guide school budget decisions effectively.

I view taxpayer dollars no differently than private sector investor dollars: Taxpayers are investing heavily in the public school system here in Lynnfield, and School Committee members must be open and accountable to the citizens who provide their funding regarding how the committee appropriates and spends those funds. Our robust industrial base in Lynnfield means we should have sufficient cash to fund amazing school programs and resources – it’s just a matter of how and where our School Committee chooses to spend it (salaries, teacher-administrative headcount, student-teacher ratios, materials, programs, operating expenses, out-of-district placements for students we cannot support in-district, etc.). I’m prepared and excited to take on the task.