Hanna's Education Corner
By Hanna, Age 10

>>Valley Patriot>>

Hanna Interviews School Committee
in North Andover

I sent twelve questions about education to each of the School Committee candidates in North Andover and asked them to respond in writing so that our readers will know what they stand for. Of the five candidates who were asked to participate, only one, Diane Huster, refused to answer any of the questions. I feel that you should never vote for anyone who refuses to take children seriously or is not willing to answer important question at election time. You can vote for two candidates. Please choose wisely! Hanna

1. Why are you running for School Committee?

Bill Kelly: “I am running because the most important thing we do as a society is to properly educate our children. In North Andover we do a good job on some things, but there is much room for improvement. We need to emphasize the basics in our elementary grades and ensure all students will have the skills to succeed in life, no matter the path they choose.”

Tim Pybus: “I am running for School Committee to help ensure that our educational system moves forward in future years. The North Andover School District has the ability to compete with the top ten percent of school districts in the state and I want to be part of this task.”

Barbara Whidden: “I am running for the North Andover School Committee because it is a great opportunity to use my education and professional background to ensure North Andover school children are provided with the best possible education.  I also want to make sure parents and students have an opportunity to participate in the decision making process.”

Ed Maguire: “The quality of our school system helps define the quality of life we can generate for our children as well as the community as a whole. Some areas of the school system are currently in need of significant improvement and I would like to donate my time to addressing these issues.”  

2. What inspired you to run?  

Bill Kelly: “I decided that it is easy to be a complainer, but if you want to change things you have to take action and in this case it means running. As the saying goes: You are either part of the problem or part of the solution.”

Tim Pybus: “ I grew up in North Andover. My family has grown up here and has been educated in our public schools. I am inspired by the need to fund and find resources for our educational district.”

Barbara Whidden: “I was inspired to run because I wanted to give something back to the community.  I have lived in North Andover for eleven years and have enjoyed being part of the community.  I believe in public service and now that my kids are getting older, I have the time to give something back to our community.”

Ed Maguire: “My son. He started first grade last year and for the first time I took a hard look at our schools. I was surprised to see that 50% of the 4th graders in the entire district were below grade levels in math. Worse, there was no plan to address the issue. There was clearly a management problem that I knew my professional experience could help address.”  

3. Is there anything in the schools you want to change?

Bill Kelly: “Yes. First of all, we need to get back to basics for all the subjects taught in the early grades. No more fuzzy math and experimental curricula. Secondly, we need to identify those students early on who may be at-risk learners and assist them quickly and effectively before they get moved along and have to play catch up later on in middle or high school. Thirdly, hold the administration accountable for raising academic standards in our schools.”

Tim Pybus: “The amount of time spent on learning should be increased either through longer days or more days of instruction added to the school year. Maybe our schools should put in place stricter rules of discipline to reduce distractions during the school day.”

Barbara Whidden: “I want to make sure we continue to improve the curriculum programs at all our schools.”

Ed Maguire: “To start with, I would like to set higher expectations in the elementary schools. You are only 10 years old, yet you write your own news column. That’s a tremendous accomplishment and I believe more kids in North Andover should be generating that level of competency in reading, writing and arithmetic. The kids can handle it. We need to allow the children to learn at their appropriate pace and not push them too far ahead or hold them back from their real capability.”  

4. What is your favorite book?

Bill Kelly: “John Adams by David McCullough.”

Tim Pybus: “As a businessman for over twenty years, I always find it tough to set aside much time for recreational reading. A book that I enjoyed reading was Iacocca - that is a biography of a business executive with innovative visions.”

Barbara Whidden: “I don’t have one favorite book.  I do wish I had more time to read.  When I get a chance to read I like mysteries by authors like Alfred Hitchcock.”

Ed Maguire: “There is a great book titled, ’The Power of One.’ It is about a boy in South Africa who struggles to teach an entire segregated town how to read even though many people fight him. It shows how important one voice can be even when dealing with significant opposition. It’s a pretty good movie as well.”  

5. Should good teachers be paid the same as bad teachers?  

Bill Kelly: “The easy answer to that is that there should not be any bad teachers. I know reality is different, but most teachers do a good job. Bad teachers should be forced out by the administration after it has been determined they are bad performers by a carefully crafted and fair system that measures performance. Paying them less is not the answer; they should be gone, period.”

Tim Pybus: “Teachers that further their education credentials should receive more money than those that do not. It makes sense to pay more effective teachers more money, but there has to be a fair and equitable system put in place that all parties agree on.”

Barbara Whidden: “My kids have had the opportunity to be taught by some of the best teachers in North Andover.  All kids deserve that same opportunity.  I don’t think it is as simple as paying good teachers more than bad.  I think we need to figure out how we can help teachers be better.  We need to make sure they are provided with the tools to teach well, like good curriculum programs and professional development programs.”

Ed Maguire: “If there actually is a bad teacher in the school system, I don’t think paying them less is the answer. We need to have an effective process for recruiting, developing, promoting and terminating all employees, not just teachers.”  

6. How would you get rid of bad teachers?  

Bill Kelly: “I address this a little in my previous answer. We need to have in place a system to measure performance. The makeup of a class has a lot to do with things.  If the administration hires competent, professional educators to begin with, this solves much of the problem.”

Tim Pybus: “Teachers that are recognized as under-performing consistently should get exposed to the needed teaching techniques. If there is a teacher that needs improvement but refuses to change, that teacher may need discipline.”

Barbara Whidden: “It is the principal’s responsibility to evaluate a teacher and identify areas where a teacher needs to improve.  The principal needs to develop a plan to help a teacher improve and hold them accountable for making those improvements.”

Ed Maguire: “Normally, setting very high expectations has a way of retaining only the strongest employees. I play a bit of basketball and I love it, but when I see a game that is more competitive than I can handle, it is time to look for a game within my capabilities. The same concept holds true for many professional careers.”  

7. Do you support calculators in the elementary schools?  

Bill Kelly: “No. I would rather see the first use of a calculator in middle school.”

Tim Pybus: “Calculators are a useful tool to speed up the problem solving process, but calculators should not be used to teach the basics of math.”

Barbara Whidden: “I think it depends on how and why the kids are using calculators.  We live in an age where people use technology in their work.  At some point kids need to be introduced to technology. However, I want my kids to learn basic math skills first.”

Ed Maguire: “I do not think calculators are appropriate in elementary schools. We need to teach the concepts before using automated tools. Calculators and overly creative programs at the early grades do not replace the basic building blocks of mathematics principles. After a student masters the basic principles, I would like to engage the more creative programs, as well as technology, to assist in the learning process.”

8. Would you renew the superintendent’s contract? Why or why not?  

Bill Kelly: “It is too early to decide this. There is still a lot of work to do and I hope and believe the superintendent wants to achieve good things here.”

Tim Pybus: “Yes, I would renew the superintendent’s contract because he has demonstrated that he has the knowledge, experience and work ethic to enhance our school district.”

Barbara Whidden: “I think it is too early to make that decision.” 

Ed Maguire: “I think the superintendent has been making strong efforts to improve the schools and I am looking forward to seeing the results. Improvement means change and change is difficult. I think everyone is rooting for the superintendent’s plans to work and when his contract is up for renewal, I am hoping we can all look at the results and welcome him back with applause.”  

9. Do you support peer mediation?  

Bill Kelly: “Yes, with proper adult supervision.”

Tim Pybus: “Peer mediation with adult supervision is an effective vehicle for resolving issues of disagreement.”

Barbara Whidden: “I would need to give a little more thought to peer mediation and talk to students to see how they felt about it before I answered the question.”

Ed Maguire: “I don’t think peer mediation for the children is appropriate. It puts the children in a tough position that can have negative repercussions after the mediation has occurred. Adult peer mediation is difficult as well and using this tool with children can be even more sensitive.”  

10. What do you think of dissecting?   Bill Kelly: “I can still remember the frog I dissected in fifth grade. It was kind of yucky, but I learned a lot about anatomy.”

Tim Pybus: “Dissecting of insects and frogs as a learning experience is a hands-on method to learn about life.”

Barbara Whidden: “I dissected a frog in seventh grade and didn’t particularly like it.  I think each parent should be given the opportunity to decide whether it is the right choice for their child.”

Ed Maguire: “As you may know, the Bio-Medical fields are growing fast all around the world. Dissecting a frog and our overall support of the life sciences department can help our children get their first exposure in this exciting field. It may be a great educational experiment, but I still get a bit light-headed thinking of the smell the formaldehyde made in the lab.”  

11. What are your qualifications to be a School Committee member?

Bill Kelly: “Primarily, I am parent who has been a consumer of public education for the past ten years and I know through experience where we can do a better job.”

Tim Pybus: “My qualifications include: a commitment to children, a concern for the taxpayers of North Andover and an eleven-month experience as an active board member.”

Barbara Whidden: “I think my background and community involvement have prepared me to serve on the School Committee.  I have a Masters of Public Administration from the University of Rhode Island.  I was a Budget Analyst for the U.S. Department of Commerce and the Finance Director for the Greater Lawrence Sanitary District.  I have also served as a School Committee Budget Parent and as a member of the Sargent School Search Committee.”

Ed Maguire: “Beyond being the father of three young children and a taxpayer, I am the Vice President /General Manager of a multi-million dollar business that is about the same size as the school system. In many ways the school system is a business. Our school system is a $30,000,000 service organization that needs to provide quality education to its customers (the parents and taxpayers of North Andover). The school system works within the guidelines of federal and local laws, as all business do, and has very active owners.  In business, we have the need to improve our results each year. We are tasked to do more, with less, each year. As a result, I have developed some skills that I believe would be a great benefit to the School Committee. The process of setting goals, connecting those goals to plans, monitoring results and adjusting accordingly are basic management tools used successfully everyday in this country. The school system, however, has been operating without optimizing this process. With budget cuts and limited state funding, I believe experienced, successful management skills are needed more than ever. A school is not a business, but right now it seems we could use some basic business skills to ensure that our tax dollar provides the best education for our children.”  

12. Do you have children and do they attend the North Andover public schools?  

Bill Kelly: “Yes, I have two daughters: Brenna, a tenth grader, and Elizabeth, in the eighth grade.”

Tim Pybus: “I have three boys that have attended the North Andover Public Schools. My oldest son graduated from Clarkson University, my second son is a sophomore at Norwich University and my youngest son is a senior at North Andover High School.”

Barbara Whidden: “I have a three-year-old who is at the Village School, a seven-year-old who is at the Sargent School and an eleven-year-old at the North Andover Middle School.”

Ed Maguire: “My wife, April, and I have three great kids. My son, Grady, is in second grade at the Atkinson Elementary School and our twin girls, Danielle and Catherine, will be starting school next year.”    

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Prior Interviews by Hanna