Responses to Supplemental Candidates Forum Questions
Nes Correnti, Candidate for Hingham School Committee
The Hingham Public Schools Equity & Inclusion Working Group was formed in 2019 and has been charged with conducting an Equity Audit of the district’s operations, programs, and services. The Working Group pledges to “challenge ourselves to regularly evaluate and refine curricula, policies, practices and procedures and commit to providing the appropriate services and resources to ensure every student has what they need to perform at their optimal level.” What is one specific policy, practice, or procedure that you would modify to ensure students are able to reach their full potential?
One area where I think we can improve is in our leveling practice. According to the HPS Program of Studies, from grade 7 on, the expectation is that any student who enters the highest level class requires “self-motivation and the ability to do independent work”. On the surface, that seems reasonable, but in practice many students are excluded from advanced classes because this requirement strongly discourages students who need a little more time to mature, students who need executive functioning and other supports unrelated to the academic subject matter, and/or students with disabilities who are capable of meeting the academic expectations, but require alternate ways to display their knowledge.
Another area where we as a district have room to grow is with our definition of student success. We have an Educational Equity Policy JBB, which among other things, expresses our commitment to “raising the achievement of all students and graduating all students ready to succeed in a diverse local, national and global community”. Through this policy, Hingham Public Schools has also committed to “providing multiple pathways to success in order to meet the needs of the diverse student body and actively encourage, support and expect high academic achievement for each student”. Adopting this policy is a good first step, but we, as a town and as a district, will require a cultural shift to meaningfully execute it. We need to celebrate the talents of our students, whether interpersonal, academic, artistic, athletic, mechanical, or one of the many others. The School Committee has committed to hiring a Fine Arts Director, which will help because the Director will be in a position to advocate for our arts programs and the students who participate in them. I think we can continue to expand our definition of success and highlight student achievement in all areas, in addition to academics and athletics.
There is a significant shortage of paraeducators in the district. Feedback we have received is that paraeducators feel undervalued by administrators’ unwillingness to negotiate a higher living wage. Hiring has been difficult as well, primarily for this reason. How would you address this ongoing issue and ensure paraeducators feel valued in our district?
Paraeducators are vital to student success so the para shortage in our schools is concerning. The country already faced a teacher shortage pre-COVID, and over the past two years many educators at all levels have retired or changed fields as a result of many stressors. Compensation is one part of the solution. The Hingham Education Association (HEA) Unit B and the School Committee successfully worked together to agree upon a wage in 2020, and will reopen that discussion during the next school year as we negotiate a successor contract. As part of that process, we will look at our benchmark and surrounding towns to ensure that our paraeducator salaries are competitive so we can attract the most qualified people. We also need to ensure that paras have access to professional development that is meaningful and relevant. Finally, paraeducators who work with our most complex students must be appropriately supported and compensated.
What are your thoughts on HPS developing its own vocational-technical programming?
I fully support expanding vocational-technical options for students in Hingham. While our schools do a great job preparing our students for college, the feedback we have received during the Strategic Plan process shows that we have room to improve how we support students who want to pursue a different path. I also believe that it is well past time that we explore joining a regional vocational technical high school, such as South Shore Vo Tech. While any student may apply to vocational technical high schools, students from member districts get first priority for any available spots. Because Hingham is not a member of a regional Vo Tech, our students are at a disadvantage when they apply. Joining a Vo Tech will ensure that Hingham students who want to pursue a vocational track have better access to a comprehensive program. It is important to note that expanding vocational-technical programming in Hingham, as well as joining a regional vocational-technical high school will require funding and a willingness by the town to invest in these goals. I have raised this issue with Dr. Adams, our incoming Superintendent, and will advocate to make this a priority in the coming years.