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Interviews for 5 seeking 1-year school seat

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Five candidates will be making their cases for the one-year School Committee on Thursday after one has withdrawn.

David Brecht told YourArlington on Monday, April 30, that he has "decided, with regret, to withdraw my application for the committee. I work downtown as a bond analyst by day, and my workload can be unpredictable. I realized that given the considerable demands of the committee, I wouldn't be able to do the position justice."

Meanwhile, all five still in the running have provided statements saying why they want the seat left vacant after Joseph Curro Jr. was elected to the Board of Selectmen.

April 25: 6 apply for 1 year seat

Presentations will take place in the School Committee Room, sixth floor, Arlington High School, between 8 and 10 p.m. After they are delivered, the committee will take a roll-call vote to choose the new member.

Under the board's policy, "All candidates for membership on the Committee shall be invited to an open meeting to make a case for their appointment, and each member of the School Committee may ask the candidates questions. The appearance of the candidates will be determined by lot prior to the first speaker.

"The order of the questions from School Committee members shall be by rotation. The Chair of the School Committee has the discretion to set an appropriate time limit for each candidate's presentation and for questioning by the School Committee.

Under the policy, "Balloting shall continue until one candidate secures a majority. The candidate with the least amount of votes shall be excluded in the next round of balloting. Upon winning a majority, the new member shall begin service on the School Committee after taking the oath of office."

The statements, which were the ones provided in their application for the position, are in alphabetical order.

Karen Bjorkman

"My request for consideration for the school committee is based on my standing as a parent of two girls who have grown up in the Arlington schools. One is a senior, the other a sophomore, at Arlington High School. As my younger daughter’s home school, Dallin, was being rebuilt, we migrated to Peirce, then Hardy.

"I have taught school as well, in New York City as a public school teacher in Chelsea, at Charles Evans Hughes, and at B.U as an instructor. This gives me a toehold on another side, the educator's side, of the system. I have worked on the peripheries as well: In the my older daughter’s younger days I was involved with Safe Routes to School at Dallin; currently I am investigating, with a group of concerned Arlingtonians, how we might serve Arlington teens in the community.

"Not a stranger to committee work, I have participated as a member and a chair of committees in my career as a documentation professional, at IBM and as a consultant. This work in documentation will help me navigate the material that a school committee member might encounter.

"With this and with other committee experience I believe I have a rich perspective on Arlington schools and on group work to offer the position. I would like to contribute through this work to the education my daughters and their friends have seen in the Arlington Schools, and to the town."

James Flanagan

"I am interested in serving with you as a member of the School Committee because I have a strong desire to contribute to the success of our schools and to our community as a whole, and I feel I will bring added skill sets to the committee and a personality that will complement the other members of the committee very well.

"I understand that some people may feel that a candidate with experience as a School Committee member and/or a background in the field of education is best suited to fill this vacancy. I don't question the value in these qualifications; however, our School Committee currently has these pieces in place -- veteran members with a number of you from a background in education.

"I believe what is important right now is to consider what type of additional skill sets will be most beneficial to the committee moving forward. In my opinion, strong management experience will prove to be extremely valuable.

"My professional background is in managing staff, large projects, and complex communication to thousands of clients. The bulk of my time for the past 15 years has been spent interviewing and hiring staff, coaching employees, performing employee evaluations, managing projects, implementing process improvement, working to bring groups and departments together on sensitive issues, and facilitating communication and feedback. With this experience, I truly feel that I would be a valuable member of your team as we navigate complex and sensitive issues.

"There will be a learning curve involved for any candidate who has not served on the Arlington School Committee within the past year and been directly involved with the current day issues facing our district. I hope that during my time campaigning for a seat on the committee over the last several months I have illustrated that I have a strong understanding of the issues and also have fresh ideas on how to help address many of the issues we face. I have spent the last few years working to educate myself on our school district, and during the past year I spent much of my time considering our goals and the obstacles we face in attaining those goals, as well as contemplating what I could contribute to the committee in these areas.

"I have been connecting with many people and groups in town and I feel these relationships will be beneficial to the committee as we move forward. The commitment involved with filling this seat is not something I've spent just the last two weeks considering, it is something I have been serious about for more than a year now.

"I do intend to run for this seat next year. I know there are mixed thoughts on this, but if appointed this year, the time spent on getting up to speed on procedures and policies will [hopefully] be a positive long-term investment, which I believe is a more productive solution than a temporary fill-in for one year. The summer break will also afford additional time for working with members of the committee to get up to speed in these areas.

"I enjoy working with people and being part of a team, especially a team that faces challenges and is tasked with finding solutions. I also have three young kids, and I know that doesn't make me better qualified than other candidates, but it does mean that I have a serious personal investment in our public school system. I want to get deeply involved, I want to form strong relationships with other members of the committee, and I want to stay involved for the long haul and do great work with all of you. I hope you will provide me that opportunity."

Len Kardon

"I have been following school committee matters very closely for the last few years since the budget crises first started emerging three years ago. I became a leader with FYArlington and the override campaign to ensure that our great schools in Arlington would be preserved.

"I have appeared before you several times and communicated with many of you on specific topics frequently. Although not directly affected by any of the redistricting proposals, I have been attending the redistricting committee meetings out of concern for the disruption to our school communities that could have been caused. While I prefer to watch your meetings from the comfort of my living room, I am fully up-to-speed on the matters likely to come before the committee over the next year.

"Stepping in to fill this seat for the next 11 months would be a natural progression of my involvement with the Arlington Public Schools. In addition to my service with FYArlington and the override, I have been a town meeting member for a year and on the board of the Special Education Parents Advisory Council. I have two children at Dallin and a third at Menotomy Preschool at the High School.

"I believe my background in public administration, particularly my experience with budgeting and performance measurement in government programs, would be an asset to the committee. While I understand that the School Committee must be reactive to the various matters that come before it, I would like to help my colleagues focus on a few key areas:

"1) Develop a three-year budget and strategic plan.

"2) Reassess the capital needs of the school department in technology and at Stratton, Ottoson and Arlington High School and work to get those integrated into the town capital plan.

"3) Ensure submission and implementation of the Corrective Action Plan related to the Coordinated Program Review of special education, English language learners, and civil rights.

"4) Adopt and ensure successful implementation of a new policy on Elementary School assignment (buffer zones).

"If selected to fill the seat, I would not run for re-election to that seat in 2013 and I would resign from the SEPAC board."

Andrew O'Brien

"I am the father of 2 children in the Arlington schools. I have master’s degree in education with a concentration in middle social studies from UMass./Boston and an undergraduate degree in Visual Arts History at the college of the Holy Cross. For several years I was a substitute teacher in the Arlington school system. I got the chance to observe classrooms from pre-school to high school.

"I’m confident my children are receiving a very good education but I feel that the schools could be better. Parents and teachers have complained about student’s over reliance on step counting and not enough math skill building but feel administrators don‘t share their concern. Experienced teachers know where skills are inadequate and know where to supplement the curriculum; information new teachers are not privy to. During the recent school committee debate all candidates agreed that communication in the schools needed to improve.

"I think improved communication between parents, teachers, and administrators could better identify and solve curriculum as well as other district problems. In Japan an assembly line worker can stop the assembly line when they observe a problem together the workers, engineers, and management solve the problem. I hope in the future an Arlington teacher can do the same.

"I would also like to advocate for co-teaching in the middle school. In one district in New York 2 teachers and 4 aides effectively taught close to 70 children. The teachers divided duties; one could correct student work or take aside students who needed extra help while the other taught. Experienced teachers could also more easily mentor new teachers. Teachers in the co-teaching environment could also model proper group work behavior. Teachers in the 6th grade have had difficulty with student motivation and behavior co teaching could remove teacher stress. The Ottoson has removable walls and could easily be set up for a co-teaching environment."

Paul Schlichtman:

"When I was a member of the school committee, we had a vacancy due to the resignation of Suzanne Owayda. The committee was fortunate that a former member, Katharine Fennelly, returned to the committee to fill the seat until the next election. I was grateful to have the benefit of a “new” colleague with considerable experience on the school committee.

"I hope to be able to contribute to the work of this school committee, in the same way we benefited from Ms. Fennelly’s service during the 2006-07 school year.

"For 10 years, I have served the Town of Arlington as a school committee member. I served on the Minuteman Regional School Committee from 1997-2001, and on the Arlington School Committee from 2001-2007.

"During my tenure as a school committee member, I was active on statewide issues of public policy as a member of the Board of Directors and an elected officer of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees (MASC). In 2003 I served as MASC President-Elect; in 2004 I served as MASC President; and in 2005 I served as MASC Immediate Past President. During that time, I also served on the Governor’s Advisory Commission on Local Government."

This story was first published Tuesday, May 1, 2012.

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