Public Testimony & Letters

A Selection of Public Testimony & Letters


Featured in Lexington Colonial Times Magazine, May/June 2017


Mary Ann Stewart is a proven leader with a track record of speaking up for children, youth, and working families for more than two decades.

The national political environment we're in is the backdrop to every political discussion we're having, and it's why I believe it's critical that we empower people to engage with their government.

I'm running for state Senator in the special election because I'm fighting for a system that's accountable and accessible to our people. We need leaders in state government who understand this and the challenges facing modern families and their communities.

Before I was appointed parent representative to the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education by Governor Deval Patrick, I was a twice-elected School Committee Member and former Chairwoman of the Lexington School Committee. I led the Lexington Public Schools as they coped with, and recovered from, the worst financial crisis many of us have seen. I fought for child-centered, community-conscious budgets.

I'm a graduate of the state's public higher education system, having received a degree from UMass, Lowell, in Music Education. I performed in elite choruses in Boston and around the country, and as a studio vocalist and recitalist, for twenty-five years. As founder and principal artist of Red Onion Design murals and decorative painting, I was a small business owner. My husband and I have lived in the district since 1994. Our three children attended public schools. I'm now an adjunct instructor at Middlesex Community College.

As the parent representative on the board of education, I've pushed for adequate funding for public schools and transportation as one of ten original signers of the Fair Share Constitutional Amendment petition. I've fought to protect core public schools from charter schools that the local communities opposed. However, when local communities saw a new charter school as enhancing families' educational choices I voted to approve.

I’m a past president of the Massachusetts PTA. I’ve advocated for arts education, healthy school environments, improved school nutrition, and a hold on the state’s testing program to analyze the effects on learning. I continue to fight for increased IDEA funding for students with special needs in Washington DC.

Our current tax system isn't generating enough revenue to support programs and services that we rely on most -- such as education, transportation, and infrastructure. On top of that, state and local taxes increasingly fall to those who can least afford to pay. I will continue to work for options to increase revenue and shift the tax burden to make it more fair.

I'm approaching this campaign with a sense of purpose. With the support of family, friends, and colleagues, this grassroots campaign is up and running with momentum! I look forward to regular and ongoing opportunities to hear from you. If elected, I will be working for you and my primary responsibility will be to ensure that your voice and our shared  values are represented on Beacon Hill. I believe government is about the choices we make together.

I will continue to stand up for our core values in the Senate by working steadfastly to improve people's lives. It would be an honor to serve as the 4th Middlesex District's State Senator and I humbly ask for your consideration. To find out more about my campaign and to connect, please visit www.ElectStewartForSenate.com.

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CommonWealth Magazine included my op-ed in response to Edward M. Murphy's piece on the Fair Share Amendment - April 10, 2017:

In his recent piece in CommonWealth regarding the proposed Fair Share Amendment, or ‘millionaire’s tax,’ Edward M. Murphy clearly understands why the Amendment is necessary. He is right that the $1.9 billion that would be generated by the tax “could make a real difference” in funding transportation and public education across the state. He’s also correct that Massachusetts’ overall tax structure is regressive, and that voters support higher taxes on people whose annual income exceeds $1 million.


Unfortunately, Murphy’s piece contained several often-repeated misunderstandings of the Fair Share Amendment. As one of the original signers of the initiative petition, I hope to set the record straight.


First, Murphy argues that the Fair Share funds cannot be dedicated to transportation and public education due to a provision in the Massachusetts Constitution which precludes the adoption of any amendment that “makes a specific appropriation of money.” A constitutional amendment is binding on the Legislature, and the Fair Share Amendment properly dedicates funding to the general purposes of transportation and public education. It is the Legislature’s job to then make specific appropriations, like repairing bridges or expanding STEM education.


In fact, Article 104 of the Constitution already dedicates revenue from the gas tax and other sources to the transportation needs of the Commonwealth. The legislature determines what specific projects that revenue gets spent on, within the authorized range of purposes. Article 104 was passed by initiative petition. It has been repeatedly upheld by the courts as binding on the legislature.


Murphy then cites a single anecdote about a hedge fund manager who moved from New Jersey to Florida as evidence that millionaires will flee the state if the Fair Share Amendment is adopted. Research shows that high-income people move to be near family and jobs, or to places with cheaper housing markets or warmer weather, not to save a few percentage points on their taxes. Multiple studies have found that when states such as New Jersey, Oregon, and Maryland raised the rate on their top tax brackets, there was no major change in the number of high income filers who moved to other states.


Murphy also claims that the Fair Share Amendment “fails to mitigate the state’s regressive tax system.” Today, the bottom 99% of taxpayers in Massachusetts pay 9.4% of their income in state and local taxes, while the top 1% of taxpayers pay only 6.5%. With the Fair Share Amendment, the amount paid by the top 1% would increase to 8%, still less than the rest of us.


Murphy is therefore correct that our tax system would still be somewhat regressive. That hardly seems like a reason to oppose a major improvement to the equity of our tax system that would fund critical investments in our transportation infrastructure and public education.


Lastly, Murphy ignores the reason we’re talking about the Fair Share Amendment at all. This is a citizens’ initiative, not a legislative proposal. Raise Up Massachusetts – a grassroots coalition of community organizations, religious groups, and labor unions – collected more than 157,000 signatures from Massachusetts voters to place the Fair Share Amendment on the 2018 ballot.


We did so because new revenue is necessary to provide the public schools our communities deserve, rebuild crumbling roads and bridges, make public higher education affordable, invest in fast and reliable public transportation, and give every child access to high-quality early childhood education and preschool programs. We have the chance of a generation to make these investments in our Commonwealth. If Massachusetts is serious about helping working families and building a stronger economy, we must all embrace the Fair Share Amendment.

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My letter in response to Colin Kingsbury's piece in Boston Magazine, March 2017

Like other opponents of the proposed Fair Share Amendment, or ‘millionaire’s tax,’ Colin Kingsbury can’t deny that Massachusetts desperately needs new revenue to make investments in transportation and public education [“Pay Up: How Stan Rosenberg’s War Against Millionaires Screws Us All,” March]. Instead, he engages in a series of strawman arguments while making a few misleading claims that I hope to correct.

First, Kingsbury warns of millionaires fleeing the state if the Fair Share Amendment, which would tax their annual income above $1 million by an additional 4 percentage points, is adopted. Multiple studies have found that when other states passed similar taxes, there was no major change in the number of high income filers who moved to other states, because rich people typically move to be near family and jobs, or to places with cheaper housing markets or warmer weather, rather than to save a few percentage points on their taxes.

Kingsbury then argues that the funds might end up being spent on “porky mischief” rather than the stated purposes, but a constitutional amendment is binding on the Legislature, and the Fair Share Amendment explicitly dedicates its funding to transportation and public education. It is the Legislature’s job to then make specific appropriations, like buying new Green Line trains, expanding pre-K programs, maintaining bridges, or reducing tuition at public colleges and universities.

Finally, Kingsbury warns of revenue uncertainty due to the economy's fluctuations, but the possibility that we could raise a lot more revenue when the economy is booming, and only somewhat more revenue when it is struggling, hardly seems like a reason to oppose the Fair Share Amendment altogether.

Throughout the piece, Murphy also characterizes the Fair Share Amendment as a legislative proposal, but it isn't. It's a citizens' initiative which will appear on the 2018 ballot because Raise Up Massachusetts – a grassroots coalition of more than 100 community organizations, religious groups, and labor unions – collected more than 157,000 signatures from Massachusetts voters to qualify it for the ballot.

We did so because rebuilding our crumbling transportation infrastructure and providing quality public schools, from pre-K through college, will strengthen our economy and help all working families. The Fair Share Amendment is our chance of a generation to make these investments, and to make our economy work for everyone.

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The new Raise Up Massachusetts website has a section where they're showcasing stories from Massachusetts residents about why they support Raise Up's three priorities, Paid Family Medical Leave, Fight for $15/hour, and the Fair Share Amendment. As one of the original petition signers for the Amendment to fund transportation and public education, I was asked to submit a story about why I support it. Read it below or on their new site.
Our schools lack the foundation funding necessary to provide all students with a well-rounded, quality education that includes the arts, civics and media literacy, and athletics; those facing the greatest challenges require even more support. When they graduate, students are forced to take on enormous debt for a degree from our public colleges and universities. We need to reinvest in quality public education so that all students have access to the well-rounded education and affordable college they need to succeed.

Improving the quality of the education our children receive, and providing a sound future for them and our Commonwealth, requires up-front investments for the long-term. As an original petition signer, and one of thousands of activists to gather petition signatures for the Fair Share Amendment, I believe we can make those investments by asking our highest income residents, who currently pay less of their income in state and local taxes than the rest of us, to pay a little more on their income over $1 million. Revenue raised by the Amendment will go a long way to making sure we are educating our children in high-quality programs, providing affordable higher education for students, and building a transportation system that works. These investments are critical to ensuring every Bay State resident has a fair shot at getting ahead.

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My letter of support for Glenn Parker for Selectman* in Lexington Minuteman (February 16, 2017)


Glenn Parker is the right candidate right now for Lexington’s Board of Selectmen. The Town is entering a period of unprecedented capital growth and we need Glenn’s expertise now more than ever.

Glenn’s many years of service, both in Town Meeting and on the Appropriation Committee, provide him with the necessary experience and insight for a new role on the Board. As Chair of the Appropriation Committee for the past 6½ years, Glenn has led the AC in making recommendations for all of the Town’s financial matters. In addition to analyzing operating and capital budgets, Glenn’s leadership and expertise has helped shape decisions for school mitigation and construction projects and for community preservation.

Our newest member of the Board of Selectmen will need to prioritize all facets of funding for all of our Town’s public structures. Glenn’s unique skillset will not only complement the Board, it will enable him to hit the ground running. On Monday, March 6, please join me in voting for Glenn Parker for Selectman.

* More about Glenn may be found on his campaign website, HERE. I also heartily endorse Michelle Ciccolo for re-election to the Board of Selectmen; more about Michelle on her website, HERE.

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Joint letter of support from former Lexington School Committee members for Kate Colburn for School Committee*, published in Lexington Minuteman, February 2, 2017

As former members of the Lexington School Committee, we write in support of Kate Colburn's election to a three-year term on the School Committee. With the recent retirement of chairman, Bill Hurley, the committee needs a strong leader who can keep the committee on track to face the challenges now before our schools: major building projects, over-enrollment, student stress, and continuing to assist and support the superintendent to achieve her goals. Kate's transparent and positive approach, plus her financial, institutional, and visionary experience, are absolutely essential as Lexington moves forward.


Kate is experienced in town government, serving as a Town Meeting member, Appropriation Committee member assigned as a liaison to the School Committee and founder of Lexington Parents Advocacy Group. Kate understands the key issues facing the School Committee and is prepared to take on these challenges and achieve results consistent with Lexington's long and short-term goals. She is a strong leader who considers all sides of an issue, works to achieve consensus and looks for practical solutions to complex problems.

Kate's focus is on the educational needs of students and faculty, understanding that the role of the School Committee is to advocate for those groups, working as an independent entity alongside the other committees in town. As a working parent and part-time consultant, dealing with small towns facing similar capital improvement and school master planning issues, Kate has the experience necessary to make informed decisions that benefit the educational community while keeping in mind municipal priorities as well.

Kate deserves your vote on March 6. Signed by Bonnie Brodner (2011-14), Scott Burson (2000-06), Helen Cohen (2003-09), Dan Fenn (1957-61), Tom Griffiths (2002-08), Florence Koplow (1982-88), Judy Leader (1987-90), John Oberteuffer (1989-95), Robert I. Rotberg (1974-77), Sandra Shaw (1979-83), Mary Ann Stewart (2009-14), Albert Zabin (1988-94)

* More about Kate may be found on her campaign website, HERE. I also heartily endorse Kathleen Lenihan for the one-year term on the Lexington School Committee, brought about as a result of Bill Hurley's recent resignation; more about Kathleen is HERE.

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My letter to the Globe, in response to a piece on Question 2, Sunday, October 23, 2016

To the Editor,

Yvonne Abraham’s contention that Question 2 would have “no impact” on suburban school districts is incorrect. Both legally and in practice it could have a significant negative impact. That’s why 198 School Committees across the Commonwealth – both urban and suburban – have voted to oppose Question 2. None have voted to support it.

Question 2 would allow 12 new charter schools to open every year. It would also abolish the cap on how much money a school district can lose to charter schools. Now, that cap is 9 percent of a district’s budget in most places, and 18 percent in certain large districts like Boston. 

If Question 2 passes, charter operators could open several schools in, say, Burlington, without regard to the wishes of Burlington’s voters or the impact on Burlington’s budget. As a member of the state board that votes to approve charters, I can attest that we are asked only to consider the merits of the charter application, not the impact on the host district.

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh was right when he said that Question 2 would “wreak havoc” on municipal finances, forcing communities to cut school services, shift money from the municipal side of the budget or raise property taxes.

The Legislature set reasonable caps on charter school expansion to protect the public schools that serve all students, regardless of need or ability. I’ll be voting “no” on Question 2 to keep those limits in place. 

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Bill Humphrey for Governor's Council in the Third Council District. Check which Council District you are in HERE. Joint letter Peter Enrich and I published in the Lexington Minuteman, Thursday, August 25, 2016

With the state primary just around the corner (Thursday, September 8), we here in Lexington can cast a vote for Bill Humphrey for Governor’s Council, a truly progressive candidate running in our Third Council District. Bill, a Newton native, is endorsed by Progressive Democrats of Massachusetts, and offers a fresh, enlightened approach to the important issues that come before the Council.

The Governor’s Council is an important, if often unnoticed, part of state government, responsible, most significantly, for confirmation of all judicial appointments. Because of the large size of Council Districts and relative obscurity of the Council, these elections often don’t get the attention they deserve, with unfortunate consequences for the composition of the Governor’s Council.

The 8-member Council has the final say in all appointments for state judges and court clerk-magistrates, as well as criminal pardons. The Governor’s Council also helps choose members of the Parole Board, the Boards that oversee workers’ compensation--the Industrial Accident Board and Industrial Accident Reviewing Board--the Appellate Tax Board, and appointments as notaries and justices of the peace.

These are important responsibilities. We need to elect a Councilor who reflects the values of our District, listens to constituents, and votes accordingly. Please join us in voting for Bill Humphrey for Governor’s Council on Thursday, September 8.

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Letter (via Raise Up Massachusetts' online form, edited) to my State Senator Ken Donnelly urging support for Paid Family and Medical Leave this year (July 25, 2016)

Please support Paid Family and Medical Leave!
Serious personal or family medical emergencies arise for all of us, at some point. The paid family and medical leave bill being considered by the Senate would allow people in these situations to take time to take care of their health or the health of a loved one without fear of losing their job or the risk of financial ruin.
Hardworking people shouldn’t have to choose between working at the job they need and caring for the family they love.
As your constituent and a voter in your district, I urge you to stand with Senate leadership and support the Paid Family and Medical Leave Act that was delayed by Senator Bruce Tarr on Saturday, July 22nd.
Thank you.

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Rep. Jay R. Kaufman's response to my letter on DDMs (June 14, 2016)

Dear Mary Ann,

Thank you for your thoughtful email regarding District Determined Measures (DDMs) in our schools. We share a common goal of providing a high-quality education for children of all age[s]. I am convinced that our near-obsession with standardized teaching is not the best and most creative way to enhance learning and strengthen our schools.

I have signed onto a letter that is circulating to the Budget Conference Committee to approve language eliminating the state requirement for District Determined Measures (DDMs).  Specifically, this letter seeks inclusion of Senate language to eliminate DDMS.

In the context of this debate it is worth noting that, while our students will be world citizens and competing against/working with their counterparts from other countries, the U.S. is nowhere near leading the pack on international comparisons of student achievement. Indeed, most comparative studies highlight the fact that teacher preparation, continuing education, and compensation are the single greatest contributors to student achievement. I wish we were talking about how to encourage the best and the brightest to go into teaching, and then how to support them as they advance in their careers. The testing paradigm misses – and distracts us from – this mark.

This issue will most certainly remain on my radar in the coming months and years.  I thank you for your advocacy on this issue, and I hope that you will not hesitate to contact me again on this or any other issue of importance to you.

Warmly,
Jay

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Letter to Rep. Jay Kaufman on DDMs (June 7, 2016)

Dear Jay,

I don’t know what you think of District Determined Measures (DDMs), so I’m writing to share my thoughts with you.

As a parent, I strongly believe we should reconsider how student test scores are used in the Commonwealth's educator evaluation system. A good evaluation system should, of course, include looking at student work, as well as observing teachers in action. I supported such an approach as a member of the state’s Educator Evaluation Task Force (2010-2011). What I did not endorse was the complicated system of “District-Determined Measures” that subsequently emerged, in large part to satisfy federal mandates that no longer exist.

Under this system, school districts are supposed to create new student assessments and combine those results with MCAS scores (where they exist) to come up with a “student impact rating” for all licensed educators. There is no “sophisticated way of analyzing the data” (as a recent Globe editorial claimed) to accurately separate the teacher’s role from the hundreds of other factors that determine a student’s scores.

On the surface, linking student test scores to teachers' evaluations may sound like feasible policy, but doing so is extremely complicated and unfair to students and teachers. Many parents and esteemed educators in Lexington, including Superintendent Czajkowski, see DDMs as unproductive and even harmful.

I was surprised and so pleased last month when the Senate voted to end the DDM mandate! I'm asking you to urge your colleagues and members of the FY17 Conference Committee to also support the Senate provision.

Thank you for your consideration of my request - and for all you do.

As ever,
Mary Ann.

cc: Mary Czajkowski, Ed.D., Superintendent of Lexington Public Schools

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My Letter to the Editor, submitted on June 7, in response to Globe's Editorial (Test data should be used in teacher evaluations)

To the Editor:

As a parent and advocate, I strongly believe we should reconsider how student test scores are used in the Commonwealth's educator evaluation system.

A good evaluation system should, of course, include looking at student work, as well as observing teachers in action. I supported such an approach as a member of the state's Educator Evaluation Task Force (2010-2011).

What I did not endorse was the complicated system of "District-Determined Measures" that subsequently emerged, in large part to satisfy federal mandates that no longer exist. Under this system, school districts are supposed to create new student assessments and combine those results with MCAS scores--where they exist--to come up with a "student impact rating" for all licensed educators.

Administrators and teachers, who are supposed to figure out how to do this, recognize that there is no fair and "sophisticated way of analyzing the data" (as the Globe claimed) to accurately separate the teacher's role from the hundreds of other factors that determine a student's scores.

I know of no parents who support this effort. We should end this and other bureaucratic, test-centered mandates that distort perception without improving real learning. Let our teachers focus on what really matters: teaching and learning.
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Below, my letter to my State House representatives, Representative Jay Kaufman and Senator Ken Donnelly, sent via Raise Up MA (Monday, May 16, 2016).

Key Moment: Vote Yes on the Fair Share Amendment!

As an original signatory, I was one of thousands of activists to gather petition signatures for the Fair Share Amendment last fall. I write today, as a constituent and voter in your district, to urge you to take the next step in the process and vote “Yes” on the Fair Share Amendment on Wednesday, May 18th.

The revenue raised by the Fair Share Amendment will go a long way to making sure we are educating our children, providing affordable higher education for students, and building a transportation system that works. These investments are critical to ensuring every Massachusetts resident has a fair shot at getting ahead.

Vote “Yes” on the Fair Share Amendment on Wednesday!

Thank you.

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Below, my letter to Governor Baker, copying Lexington's legislators. The letter was sent via the contact form offered on mass.gov

Governor Charles D. Baker IV, Office of the Governor, Room 280, Boston 02133

April 1, 2016

Governor Baker,

Only recently did I learn about the Transgender Rights Bill (SB 735/HB 1577).

I was astonished to learn that under current Massachusetts law, there are not explicit protections (protections you and I probably take for granted) ensuring that transgender people can’t be turned away from a hotel, or denied service at a restaurant, simply because of who they are.

I also learned that our Commonwealth is behind in this regard, as 18 other states plus Washington DC have already passed similar legislation: CA - CO - CT - DC - DE - HI - IA - IL - ME - MD - MN - NJ - NM - NV - NY - OR - RI - VT & WA!

Massachusetts has always shone like a beacon in supporting equal rights and this is not the time to diminish our radiance.

The bill is stalled in the Joint Judiciary Committee and hasn’t been reported out from either House or Senate, yet there is a veto-proof majority in both.

Furthermore, though the Speaker has confirmed he has the votes to pass the House bill, many legislators there are lacking the courage to speak out publicly with their support for the bill unless they know that their Governor will support them.

It’s past time for transgender people to be treated fairly and equally in our Commonwealth. As your constituent, I urge you to provide the leadership that is necessary to speak out in support of transgender rights and commit to signing it into law.

Thank you for your consideration and for all you do.
cc: Representative Jay Kaufman, Senator Ken Donnelly, Senator Mike Barrett

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Written Testimony of Mary Ann Stewart on H.3928, to the Joint Committee on Education: Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz and Representative Alice Hanlon Peisch, Co-Chairs, State House, Boston MA 02133

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Thank you for the opportunity to submit written testimony. For the record, I’m Mary Ann Stewart from Lexington, parent representative on the state board of elementary and secondary education, submitting only for myself and in opposition to H.3928 - the act related to lifting the charter school cap. I gave oral testimony at the public hearing on Monday, March 7, so this is in addition to that (and longer).

At the board’s (BESE’s) charter-authorizing meeting last month, Secretary Peyser commented that for the past 20+ years he’s heard the same arguments against charter schools. We’ve all heard them, too: The problems with Funding. Governance. Transparency. The drain on district resources from expanding charter schools. Questions about the efficacy of charter schools as a strategy to narrow school achievement gaps. The concern that continuing charter school expansion creates a two-tiered educational system.
I submit that these criticisms endure because they have yet to be resolved.
We’re all well-acquainted with the story of how charters were first promoted and then enacted as “laboratories of innovation”. Charter schools were initially capped at 25 schools statewide; fewer than .75% of students enrolled in regular public schools were permitted to be enrolled in charter schools statewide.
Initially, district budgets were able to accommodate the small amount of money needed for this experiment (effectively an investment in “R&D”), because it involved few schools and students and it came with the promise of bringing back replicable practices for implementation in the regular public schools.
That last part - the promise to bring back replicable practices - has never happened. Families and districts, trusted that it would happen, want to know why it hasn’t happened. Yet, charter schools have been allowed to expand in spite of this fact, which has created, and over 20+ years has deepened, an unfortunate feeling of distrust, not only in charter schools and the advocates who promote them, but in the policy and lawmaking bodies who permit and expand them.
Somewhere along the way, charter schools went from “labs of innovation” (that never shared what they learned) to schools in competition with regular schools. When that happened, resources became less available for the regular schools.
At a time when policymakers are asking more of educators in public schools (to better address children’s needs in schools to close achievement gaps), charter schools remain completely out of step, especially with regard to their questionable hiring and enrollment practices and heavy duty discipline policies.
At a time when regular schools have moved from isolation to collaboration across schools and school systems, charter schools remain marooned, apart from any system, apart from transparent practices and public authority. Instead, they’re a collection of “fiefdoms”, each charter school doing something different, out of public view.
But now it’s time to find out. Has the charter school experiment been working? Is it producing results for children of color and those who are economically disadvantaged? What are the innovations used for children with special needs and ELL needs? Is it developing and sharing replicable strategies for public schools?
Until we know and understand the answers to these questions, no charter schools should be renewed or expanded and no new charter schools should be authorized.
We don’t need charter schools to know that the most important resource in a classroom is a highly qualified teacher.
We don’t need charter schools to know what great instruction is or what student engagement looks like.
We don’t need charter schools to know that districts must be adequately funded so educators and staff are able to give each student what they need when they need it.
We don’t need charter schools to know that smaller class sizes benefit both highly qualified teachers and students to establish caring and trusting relationships.
We don’t need charter schools to know that we need to make preschool accessible for more children.
We don’t need charter schools, to know that children need a rich and varied curriculum at school and enrichment opportunities and support out of school all year long.
We know enough right now to know how to teach ALL children. And we know that HOW children are treated matters; to know that classrooms and schools that are too punitive don’t help children develop tolerance, build resiliency, or foster curiosity.
Students leave charter schools at very high rates. Recent statements from the Office of the State Auditor inform of further problems with charter school waitlists and their data. So, something is going on with waitlists and something is going on with attrition rates.
There is something about the enrollment practices of charter schools that create obstacles or barriers for students and their families. Why? What are they? Parents and taxpayers demand to know what that’s about. We absolutely must know what’s going on before we begin to entertain a cap lift.
Proponents of charter schools, Governor Baker and Secretary Peyser among them, are fond of saying that charter schools make up fewer than 4% of all public school students. But charter schools are concentrated in urban districts and the numbers look very different there:
  • 15% in Boston
  • 9% in Lawrence
  • 8% in Springfield
This wasn’t as much of a problem in the beginning with the small number of schools and students, but as the charter sector has grown, resource drain has had more of an effect.
A lift on the cap in urban districts will have a much more negative impact on regular public schools.
Compared to Gateway Cities, Boston is supposed to be the city best equipped to deal with the impacts of the recession. But, right now, Boston is looking at a cut of about $50M to its public schools (plus another roughly $20M because of the newly expanded charter seats approved at BESE’s last meeting). This would result in devastating cuts to technology; to personnel, such as librarians, specialists, and classroom teachers; to foreign language programs; and to coveted, homegrown programs like Diploma Plus, and more.
The Program for Human Rights and the Global Economy at Northeastern University’s School of Law (PHRGE) made a case study of Massachusetts charter schools and published their report in November 2014. They looked at:
  • Trends in charter school enrollment and possible barriers to enrollment
  • The use of discipline and exclusion as a means of establishing an appropriate learning environment
  • The quality of the educational experience of students attending charter schools
  • The financing of charter schools and possible impacts of charter school growth on resources available for traditional public schools.
The PHRGE report concluded that:
The multi-faceted policy approach that has allowed the creation and expansion of charter schools in Massachusetts has had contradictory effects on the realization of the right to education. While the policy certainly advances the right to education for a portion of the students able to enroll in charter schools, that realization of rights takes place at a cost. The ongoing expansion of the charter sector, along with the accompanying pressure on public school budgets, undermines the ability of some local districts to preserve and protect the rights of the larger group of children remaining in the traditional public schools. School closings, the primary tool available to districts to restructure budgets to deal with charter school expansion, often require devastating adjustments for the districts in which they take place.
Thank you.
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Public Testimony of Mary Ann Stewart in Opposition to H.3928, to the Joint Committee on Education: Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz and Representative Alice Hanlon Peisch, Co-Chairs, Gardner Auditorium, State House, Boston MA 02133
Monday, March 7, 2016
Thank you for the opportunity to testify before you today. For the record, I’m Mary Ann Stewart from Lexington, parent representative on the state board of elementary and secondary education, speaking only for myself and in opposition to H.3928 - the act related to lifting the charter school cap.
At the board’s (BESE’s) charter-authorizing meeting last month, Secretary Peyser commented that for the past 20+ years he’s heard the same arguments against charter schools. We’ve all heard them, too: The problems with Funding. Governance. Transparency. The drain on district resources from expanding charter schools. The concern that continuing charter school expansion creates a two-tiered educational system.
I submit that these criticisms endure because they have yet to be resolved.
We’re all well-acquainted with the story of how charters were first promoted and then enacted as “laboratories of innovation”. Initially, district budgets were able to accommodate the small amount of money needed for this experiment (effectively an investment in “R&D”), because it involved few schools and students and it came with the promise of bringing back replicable practices for implementation in the regular public schools.
That last part - the promise to bring back - has never happened. Families and districts, trusting that it would happen, want to know why it hasn’t.
Somewhere along the way, charter schools went from “labs of innovation” (that never shared) to schools in competition with regular schools. When that happened, resources became less available for the regular schools.
At a time when regular schools have moved from isolation to collaboration across schools and school systems, charter schools remain marooned, apart from any system, apart from transparent practices and public authority. Instead, they’re a collection of “fiefdoms”, each charter school doing something different, out of public view.
But now it’s time to find out. Has the charter school experiment been working? What are the innovations used for children with special needs and ELL needs?
Until we know and understand the answers to our questions, perhaps no charter schools should be renewed or expanded and no new charter schools should be authorized.
We don’t need charter schools to know that the most important resource in a classroom is a highly qualified teacher.
We don’t need charter schools to know that districts must be adequately funded so educators and staff are able to give each student what they need when they need it.
We don’t need charter schools to know that we need to make preschool accessible for more children.
We don’t need charter schools, Madam Chairs, to know that children need a rich and varied curriculum at school and enrichment opportunities and support out of school all year long.
We know enough right now about how to teach ALL children. And we know that HOW children are treated matters; to know that classrooms and schools that are too punitive don’t help children develop tolerance, build resiliency, or foster curiosity.
Students leave charter schools at very high rates. Recent statements from the Office of the State Auditor inform of further problems with charter school waitlist data. So, something is going on with waitlists and something is going on with attrition rates.
There’s something about the enrollment practices of charter schools that create obstacles or barriers for students and their families, too. Why? What are they? Parents and taxpayers demand to know what that’s about. And we absolutely must know what’s going on before we begin to entertain a cap lift.
Thank you.
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Public Testimony of Mary Ann Stewart, to the Joint Committee on Revenue: Senator Michael J. Rodrigues, Co-Chair, Representative Jay R. Kaufman, Co-Chair, in Support of House Bill 3933 – Fair Share Constitutional Amendment, State House, Boston, Room B-1
Tuesday, January 19, 2016
Honorable Co-Chairs and Members of the Committee:
Thank you for the opportunity to testify in support of the Fair Share Constitutional Amendment. I’m Mary Ann Stewart, from Lexington, and the parent representative on the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE), speaking for myself, not for the Board.
I’ve been deeply involved in education from a number of local, statewide, and national perspectives. Students need a well-rounded education that’s based on a rich and varied curriculum that includes music, art, and athletics - but, many of these programs were eliminated or severely eroded in many communities during the recession years.
To provide a sound future for our children and our Commonwealth, we must ensure that all children get a great education, including those who face the greatest challenges. We need to invest more in foundation funding for school districts, early childhood education, extended day & wrap-around services, and post-secondary education.
Improving the quality of the education our children receive requires up-front investments for long term pay-offs to individual students, society, and to the workforce. Determining how to raise revenue for these long term investments is a critical challenge. We can make those investments by asking our highest income residents (who, as you know, currently pay less of their income in state and local taxes than the rest of us) to pay a little more on their income over $1 million.
Thank you for your consideration.
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Members of the Joint Committee on Education: The Honorable Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz, co-chair, The Honorable Representative Alice Hanlon Peisch, co-chair, State House Public Hearing on Assessments, Room A-2
June 11, 2015
Dear Legislators:
My name is Mary Ann Stewart and I’m a parent of a high school student and two college graduates. Though I am a member of the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, I am speaking for myself and not as a Board member; my comments are my own.
I have been following, with interest, mounting concern being expressed about the impact high-stakes standardized testing and test preparation is having on our public school students, their schools and districts, and educators who teach and work in them. Leaders in every level of government, along with folks in neighborhoods across the state and country, are expressing a range of views stemming from a concern about these tests and their impact: On narrowing curriculum (especially in the weeks leading up to testing dates); on educator evaluation; on the increased time and money spent to administer them; on the over-reliance of high-stakes accountability measures on schools and districts for state and federal dollars.
In many states, the concern rises because the impact of these tests coincides with the increased use/availability of technology and also the implementation of new frameworks for educator evaluation, a condition for many who hoped for federal RTTT dollars. In Massachusetts, in addition to the educator evaluation implementation, high-stakes accountability measures intersect with the development of district determined measures, the RETELL initiative, and soon, perhaps, the PARCC assessment (or MCAS 2.0). These concerns impact schools, families, students, and districts in the toniest communities, but students in low-income communities of color are hit the hardest - and at a time when we are trying to close gaps.
We are working against our future best interests if allowed to continue with the current testing regime. We want our students to be excited about their future. We want our schools to truly impart a love and joy for learning. We want creativity in teaching - and so much more.
Before we launch the next generation of assessments in Massachusetts, let’s not just keep doing what we’ve been doing since we ushered in the MCAS.
It’s time to call for a moratorium on the high-stakes standardized testing era so that we can work together with our communities, schools, educators, policymakers, and legislators to re-evaluate with an eye to improving our schools from the inside out, not from the top down.
Thank you for your consideration, courage, and commitment to our children.
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To: Martha C. Wood, Chair, and Members of the Lexington Zoning Board of Appeals
February 2015
I live on Rawson Avenue at Bow Street, near the site of the proposed replacement by Mr. Frank Ponte for a non-conforming 3-family structure at 108 and 110 Bow Street.
I write in opposition to his proposal to demolish those residences and replace them with a ~7,500 square foot triplex.
A building of that size and height is out of character with our neighborhood; there are no structures like it in our neighborhood.
Abutters and neighbors have written that they are opposed to this expansion.
Abutters, especially, know the property well and note that it is not well-maintained, nor is Mr. Ponte’s empty lot adjacent to it. They believe the owner has not proven himself to be responsible for upkeep of the current property, citing overgrown poison ivy and weeds that have been permitted to spread throughout his property and into neighboring yards.
Neighbors and abutters express concerns that the proposal does not sufficiently preserve green space and, further, that it would:
  • obstruct the view and natural light now enjoyed by abutters;
  • damage the character of our neighborhood;
  • and increase traffic and parking congestion on Bow and the surrounding streets, even with the proposed underground garages and street-level driveways.
With increased traffic and few sidewalks, we all are concerned about the safety of all who walk or ride bikes.
A 3-family home is atypical in this neighborhood and Mr. Ponte’s proposal is not a simple expansion. The total living areas of the current non-conforming house is 2,164 sq. ft. The proposal for three side-by-side residences would be ~7,500 sq.ft.
I, and my many neighbors, respectfully request that you deny this proposal.
Sincerely,
Mary Ann Stewart
Town Meeting Member, Precinct 1

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Letter to the Lexington Minuteman Newspaper, published August 15, 2014
Thank you for your Support
Last week, Governor Patrick announced he was appointing me to the Parent Representative seat on the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. I am honored and delighted! However, it means that I must step down from the Lexington School Committee before the end of my term in March; a Special Election is being planned.
I'd like to convey personal thanks to Lexington voters for twice electing me to the School Committee - it has been an honor and a privilege to serve our students and schools for the past 5-1/2 years. I am proud of my contributions and of the gains we have made. Please accept my gratitude and sincere appreciation for all of your support.
To my School Committee colleagues, current and former, our deliberations kept students, educators, and schools foremost in mind as we sought to balance their needs with diligence and care. I derived great pleasure from working closely with Dr. Ash and excellent staff in the Central Office, as well as with Carl Valente, Pat Goddard, and Koren Stembridge and their staffs. To a person they are persevering, untiring, and generous with their time and expertise. Together with Selectmen, the appropriation Committee, Capital Expenditures Committee, and Town Meeting, we always had support for our schools, facing challenges and successes with a clear sense of purpose, humility, and pride.
I go into my new role with a deep understanding of our schools and community to champion excellence and equity for all children in the Commonwealth.
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Email to Lexington Town Meeting Members, August 6, 2014
Yesterday Governor Patrick announced he was appointing me to the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education along with two others. I am honored and delighted. The official press release is at this link:
I informed my School Committee colleagues that this appointment means I must step down from the Lexington School Committee; the exact date is forthcoming - I expect it will be within the next week. At that time, I will submit my official letter to Donna Hooper, Town Clerk. Details about the process required to fill my remaining term will be communicated through Margaret Coppe, School Committee Chair, in consultation with Donna.
I’d like to convey personal thanks to everyone for twice electing me to the School Committee - it has been an honor and a privilege to serve our students and schools for the past 5-½ years. I am proud of my contributions and of the gains we have made. Heartfelt gratitude goes out to my School Committee colleagues, current and former - during deliberations we kept the best interest of our students, educators, and schools in mind and sought to balance their needs with diligence and care. I derived great pleasure from working closely with our excellent staff in the Central Office and schools, including Dr. Ash and LPS administration, as well as with Carl Valente, Pat Goddard, and Koren Stembridge and their staffs. To a person they are patient, diligent, and generous with their time and expertise. Together with Selectmen, the Appropriation Committee, Capital Expenditures Committee, and Town Meeting we always supported our schools, facing our challenges and celebrating our successes with a healthy mix of humility and pride.
Please accept my gratitude and sincere appreciation for all of your support. I go into my new role with a deep understanding of our schools and community, prepared for new challenges and successes, to champion excellence and equity for all children in the Commonwealth.
Thank you.
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Public Testimony of Mary Ann Stewart, on behalf of MASC Legislative Committee, in Support of Senate Bill 213 – An Act Concerning Media Literacy in Schools, to the Joint Committee on Education: Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz, Co-Chair, Representative Alice Peisch, Co-Chair, Room 473G, State House, Boston, Room A-1
Thursday, October 31, 2013
Madame Co-Chairs, members of the Committee, thank you for the opportunity to testify on the importance of Media Literacy in Education. I speak as a school committee member and member of the Massachusetts Association of School Committee’s Legislative Committee.
Members of locally elected school committees are very sensitive to public policy overload, education legislation, or any legislation that would mandate course curriculum content. At a meeting of the MASC Legislative Committee last Thursday night, members thoughtfully considered, then voted unanimously to support S.213 for the following reasons:
  1. The Bill is not written as a mandate. Media literacy is pedagogy, a method of teaching, not a subject area. One can incorporate media literacy into any subject. So, it’s not an add-on, but rather a powerful way to teach a subject that is relevant and engaging to kids who live in a powerful 24/7 media environment.
  2. The MTA endorses S.213 and has been on board as long as the Massachusetts PTA.
  3. It’s a matter of equity. Some districts already recognize that media literacy is written into the Common Core State Standards and those districts are moving forward to integrate media analysis; students risk falling behind schools and districts that are doing a better job preparing their students for work and life.
  4. This Bill calls upon the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to assist districts with implementing comprehensive media literacy education for the purpose of developing stronger critical analysis skills and independent thinking skills; these skills are in tune with curriculum frameworks aligned to Common Core State Standards and necessary for navigating our media-saturated world.
Today, literacy means media literacy. When you consider that nearly 6 trillion ads are displayed online each year(1) , 400 million tweets are sent daily(2), and 4.75 billion pieces of content are shared on Facebook every day(3), it's vital that students question and understand media's commercial and political messages –– and to create their own messages and responses to 24/7 media.
Thank you.
(1) U.S. Digital Future in Focus 2013, www.comScore.com
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Press release written on behalf of Massachusetts PTA announcing our successful request for a Proclamation from Governor Patrick.
Governor Patrick proclaims September is Arts in Education Month: Massachusetts PTA instrumental advocating for Arts in Education through the Reflections Program
Lexington MA (August 27, 2013)—There’s one more reason to look forward to going back to school this year: Governor Patrick has proclaimed September is Arts in Education Month.
The proclamation came at the request of Massachusetts PTA, the oldest and largest volunteer advocacy association for children and youth in the Commonwealth. The Governor's proclamation recognizes that arts education comprises an array of disciplines and can help students develop a variety of skills, such as critical thinking and problem-solving.
“PTA has long recognized that an arts education not only helps foster creative thinking, it is an essential component of a basic education,” said Erik Champy, president of Massachusetts PTA. “By issuing this proclamation, Governor Patrick recognizes the importance the arts play in the education of students across our great Commonwealth. In dedicating September as Arts in Education Month, all schools and students will benefit. We are grateful to the Governor for honoring our request.”
Governor Patrick further acknowledged that the Commonwealth’s educators are committed to developing and maintaining comprehensive arts curricula and programming that follow the highest local, state, and national standards.
“This is a wonderful kick-start for back-to-school," declared Maryalice Foisy, Mass PTA’s Chair of Reflections. "As PTAs organize and plan their year ahead, we hope they will support student success and start the arts with PTA's Reflections Program. Research shows when students participate in arts programs like Reflections, they show the greatest relative improvement in academic achievement compared to those who do not participate,” she said.
“The arts welcome all students – despite their individual challenges – to explore ideas, express their individuality, and support their peers in a positive way,” said Champy, who is an educator at Triton Regional High School in Byfield, MA. “Studies also find that students who participate in the arts are more engaged in their own learning, which leads to increased school attendance rates and social connectedness.”
Visit PTA.org/Reflections for resources supporting arts & cultural exploration in your school.
Mary Ann Stewart, Chair for State and Federal Advocacy noted, “The U.S. House of Representatives designated the second week of September as National Arts in Education Week when they passed House Resolution #275 in 2010. The Governor’s proclamation dovetails beautifully and we are delighted to see arts education receive heightened visibility at the start of the school year. Integrating the arts across all content areas in education is vital for all children, especially given today’s economic landscape.”
The Governor urges all citizens of the Commonwealth to take cognizance of Arts in Education Month this September. The arts provide a way for all people to communicate and collaborate across language, cultural, and other boundaries, thus increasing their global knowledge.
Established in 1910, Massachusetts PTA is the oldest and largest volunteer advocacy association for children and youth in the Commonwealth. Today we speak up for family engagement language in laws; safe, healthy, and technologically advanced schools; and equal opportunity for all children, regardless of their socioeconomic background.
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Throughout the week of July 22-26, 2013 the Massachusetts Kids Count Blog (now retired) focused on issues related to the impact of low-wage work on families with children in Massachusetts. There were great contributions all week! I posted on behalf of Mass PTA.
Living within the Minimum Wage::Reality Check (July 24, 2013)
Contributors to this week’s blog have cited informed details on Massachusetts’ minimum wage. Nearly one in five of the Commonwealth’s nearly one million public school-age children are directly affected by the current minimum wage of $8.00 an hour. It’s clear that increasing the minimum wage would give thousands of workers and families a raise and help forward an economy in which all children and families can thrive.
Research shows nearly one out of every five low-wage workers is a parent and nearly 180,000 children in Massachusetts have at least one working parent earning less than $11.00 an hour. It’s shocking to realize that a full-time minimum wage parent in Massachusetts made just $16,000 in 2012, which is a bit more than $5,000 less than he or she would earn if the minimum wage had the same value as in 1968 (about $10.58 per hour, or $21,160 a year: http://www.massbudget.org/report_window.php?loc=whatsitworth.html).
It’s not difficult to understand the impact of low-wage work on families with children:
  • Struggling within the limits of an inadequate minimum wage means there is little money for clothing, healthy food, transportation, rent, and utilities;
  • It means there are few resources for supporting early childhood education, for before- and after-school programs, for arts and cultural experiences;
  • It means there is little money for technology for learning at home, little for college savings, and so much more.
Massachusetts PTA is a leader in helping to create a Commonwealth in which all children and families can thrive. Our position on Communities dedicates us to supporting healthy neighborhoods: to support, expand, and improve access to food security, housing, education, employment, and health care. Other positions dedicate us to, among other things:
  • Support, expand, and improve resources to ensure children are healthy, engaged, supported, challenged, and safe.
  • Support efforts to provide adequate time and opportunity for physical activity to promote fitness in all schools and recess in all elementary schools.
  • Support, expand, and improve digital literacy among students including awareness of digital technology safety issues, as well as educational opportunities.
  • Support, expand, and improve opportunities that contribute significantly to the creation of a flexible, adaptable, and knowledgeable workforce.
  • Support, expand, and improve efforts that increase affordable financing options for post-secondary education.
We invite you to join us and the millions of child advocates that support and speak up for children. Established 1910, Massachusetts PTA is the oldest and largest volunteer advocacy association for children and youth in the Commonwealth. Today we speak up for family engagement language in laws; safe, healthy, and technologically advanced schools; and equal opportunity for all children, regardless of their socioeconomic background. We are grateful to MassKidsCount.org for the opportunity to add our voice to this important conversation.
Mary Ann Stewart (@MAStewartMA) is a Lexington School Committee member, Chair of MassPartners for Public Schools, and the immediate past president and current Chair of State & Federal Advocacy for Massachusetts PTA (masspta.org).
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More than 80 Massachusetts Public School Superintendents were present at this public hearing. As Chair of MassPartners for Public Schools, I was on a MassPartners panel with Glenn Koocher (MASC), Tom Scott (MASS), and Julie Johnson (MTA)
Testimony of Mary Ann Stewart, Chair of the Board, MassPartners for Public Schools, before the Joint Education Committee: In support of H. 459, H. 375, H.512 and H.528
Thursday, June 27, 2013
Madame Chairs and members of the Committee:
Good morning; I am Mary Ann Stewart, Chair of the Board of MassPartners for Public Schools and legislative advocacy chair for the Massachusetts Parent Teacher Association. I also serve on the school committee in Lexington.
Three of my MassPartners colleagues join me on this panel. This is the first time in many years that the members of MassPartners for Public Schools feel so strongly about a problem that we wanted to speak with you out of a concern that we all share.  
MassPartners is a coalition of the major education organizations in the state. The Board of Directors meets regularly and its members are, generally, the chief executive of each organization. The organizations that are members are the
  • American Federation of Teachers Massachusetts,
  • Massachusetts Association of School Committees,
  • Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents,
  • Massachusetts Elementary School Principals’ Association,
  • Massachusetts Parent Teacher Association,
  • Massachusetts Secondary School Administrators’ Association, and the
  • Massachusetts Teachers Association.
We are here today to support four bills that you are considering: H. 459 by Chair Peisch, H. 375 by Representative James Dwyer, H. 512 by Representative Chris Walsh, and H. 528 former Representative Marty Walz.
We are concerned that there is inordinate growth in requirements that are placed on our schools at a time when schools are working on three major change initiatives that will reshape public education in major ways. These are RETELL, educator evaluation, and aligning to the new common core and PARCC test, which will replace MCAS.
Educators have been afraid to speak up about the problem of increasing regulatory demands for fear of being labeled as not willing to change or stuck in the old ways. Today, I suggest you will hear the concern spoken clearly and we thank you for the opportunity.
I turn next to MassPartners member, Glenn Koocher, who is the Executive Director of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees.
[Then followed Testimony of Glenn Koocher, MASC; Tom Scott, MASS; Julie Johnson, MTA]
On behalf of all the members of MassPartners, please accept our thanks for considering our concerns. We believe that teachers, students, and taxpayers deserve a comprehensive analysis of the true costs of excess regulations and paperwork.
We are united in our support of four bills – H. 459 by Chair Peisch, H. 375 by Representative James Dwyer, H. 512 by Representative Chris Walsh, and H. 528 former Representative Marty Walz.
MassPartners members are listed as participants in the work that will be required in these bills and we welcome the chance to take a comprehensive look at the initiatives and their demands. Our goals are to develop a well-thought-out plan, a strategic timeline, and more useful reporting rules and procedures.
We think the partnership of practitioners, policy makers, and legislators that these bills create is needed to “have the power to make changes”.
Thank you.
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The Massachusetts Kids Count Blog (now retired) is a group blog about the well-being of children in Massachusetts. A wide range of issues affecting children are covered: from education and child care to juvenile justice and health. Many advocates and advocacy organizations were invited to guest post all week (June 17-21, 2013) as the Commonwealth marked the twentieth anniversary of the landmark Massachusetts Education Reform Act, signed into law on June 18, 1993. My post appeared on June 20, 2013.
MERA::Reality Check
The Massachusetts Education Reform Act of 1993 (MERA) launched an ambitious plan to provide an adequate education for our children. The law ushered in an era of standards-based assessments (MCAS), an increase in charter public schools (as “labs of innovation”), and a new school-funding formula (Chapter 70). While progress has been made, we are still struggling to fulfill the promise of MERA:
  • MCAS held that if school districts and educators were accountable for improving student outcomes, as measured against common criteria, then student academic outcomes would improve. The result has had the unintended consequence of a narrowed curriculum, too much time focused on standardized test preparation and testing, increased bureaucracy, large gaps in proficiency and rising dropout rates, and failure to measure achievement of individual learners. We need nimble, flexible assessments for children.
  • Charter schools are independent public schools operating under five year charters.  The contract frees charter schools from many of the regulations with which district public schools must comply. Charter public schools were touted as "labs of innovation"; they were going to experiment with innovative practice then share what they learned with district public schools. This has not happened.
  • MassBudget’s in-depth report on Chapter 70 adequacy (Cutting Class: Underfunding the Foundation Budget's Core Education Program) shows that the education-funding formula (developed in 1991) understates rising costs of special education and health care by more than $2 billion a year. The genius of the original foundation budget was the commitment by so many to address education challenges facing Massachusetts. Maintaining the genius of the financing plan requires that it be updated to reflect curriculum standards and new practices in teaching, learning, and leading schools. It is time to reform Chapter 70 from the inside out.
It has been observed that education policy has been crafted around the expectation that schools alone can offset the full impact of low socioeconomic status on learning. MERA made bold promises to and for the students of Massachusetts. Yet other promises remain unfulfilled. For too many students, lack of academic achievement continues and drop-out rates remain high.
Improving our schools continues to be a vitally important strategy for promoting economic opportunity and achieving educational excellence and equity. The impact of social and economic disadvantage on achievement cannot be left to schools alone to achieve.
Partnering with families and communities is integral to children's success in school - and in life. We need to support children's learning everywhere our children learn: at home, in preschool programs, in school, in before- and after-school opportunities, in recreation programs, and in faith-based and community sponsored opportunities.
Advocacy on this issue can take many forms. Decision-makers at every level need to hear from an engaged constituency. Massachusetts PTA seeks to be not only a voice but also a resource for increased parent understanding of the reform landscape.
Mary Ann Stewart (@MAStewartMA) is a Lexington School Committee member, Chair of MassPartners for Public Schools, and the immediate past president and current Chair of State & Federal Advocacy for Massachusetts PTA.
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Email sent to Massachusetts Senators Elizabeth Warren and Mo Cowan, concerning S.649 Safe Communities Safe Schools Act of 2013
April 12, 2013
Dear Senators Warren and Cowan:
PTA celebrates a long history of advocacy for improved school safety and child well-being.  We believe enactment of these violence preventions are essential to improving safety for every child.
There were 8,583 homicides by firearms in 2011 alone, according to the FBI. More than 3,200 Americans have died at the end of a gun since the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary. Support for mental health services has dwindled hindered access to school and community-based programming.
I urge you to enact common-sense violence prevention measures, including access to school-based and community mental health services, improved background check requirements for the purchase of firearms, and a federal ban on military-style assault weapons and high capacity magazines.
Every child has a right to a safe learning environment - please take action on gun violence prevention.
With thanks for all that you do.
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A personal reflection, in advance of Patriots' Day 2013, published in Lexington Minuteman, April 11, 2013
Raising a Country
On Patriots' Day, before marathoners take their marks and pancake breakfasts are served, re-enactors will stir in the morning haze as John Hancock's nimble-footed secretary protects a trunkload of Patriot-activist papers from British Regulars descending upon Lexington's Green.
When the Stamp Act crisis developed in 1765, signaling the revolutionary era, Patriot-activists were quick to respond. Patriot men and women, referring to themselves as “sons” and “daughters of liberty”, were spurred by the revolutionary cause and drawn to political action.
Re-enactors, dressing their parts in “homespun” linen or wool, tell of women’s participation in boycotts on finer British textiles. The constant spinning, knitting, and sewing, they say, kept hands busy and minds free. In sewing or spinning circles, conversation naturally turned to political and economic matters.
In Founding Mothers, Cokie Roberts asserts revolutionary women did what women do in remarkable circumstances: they accompanied soldiers to camp; served as spies; organized boycotts of British goods; and defended their homesteads alone. All this while they bore and buried and reared children. Then, the Revolutionary War was over and there was a country to raise!
How indebted I am to all women who have elevated and strengthened the level of political thought throughout our democratic history. This spirit of activism continues as women continue to raise families; organize campaigns, rallies, and demonstrations; speak up to elected leaders and decision makers; and drive change and make progress by seeking elected office ourselves.
As national rancor and uncivil discourse over the size of government threatens to quash us, one thing is certain: government is what we agree to do together.
This Patriot’s Day, let’s commit ourselves to raising up our country and follow the example of our Founding Mothers and Daughters of Liberty.
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Published in the Lexington Minuteman, December 7, 2012
Eschew Sequestration 
On January 2, 2013 Lexington Public Schools will experience federal budget cuts of more than eight percent, affecting vital education programs beginning in the 2013-2014 school year, unless Congress intervenes.
The across-the-board cuts known as “sequestration” are the result of the Budget Control Act of 2011, mandating reductions in both defense and non-defense discretionary programs as a means of deficit reduction, with no consideration for vital investments in long-term economic growth. For school districts across the nation it will mean more than $4 billion in cuts to public education (pre-K through higher ed). Cuts to programs like Title I and Special Education (IDEA) are across the board reductions; highest-need schools and students will suffer most, as their share of federal funding is higher.
Education is vital to long-term economic health. Our community works hard to successfully educate college-, career-, and civic-ready students. The success in our own community should not be jeopardized because members in Congress are incapable of identifying a responsible, balanced, and bipartisan approach to deficit reduction that preserves investments in vital services for children and families.
For our schools, sequestration will mean reduced personnel, larger class sizes, less access to intervention programs, cutbacks in professional development, and more. This will impact the overall quality of education for students and the overall economic health of our entire community.
Now is not the time for thoughtless, blunt reductions. Now is the time for leadership in Washington, DC. Join me in urging our own members of Congress to join with colleagues from both sides of the aisle to intervene and protect education. Deficit reduction is needed, and I am counting on Congress to sideline the bickering and reach consensus on a responsible approach that doesn’t place disproportionate burden on students by decimating our national investment in education and long-term competitiveness.
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To The Joint Committee on Education: Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz, Co-Chair, Room 312D and  Representative Alice Peisch, Co-Chair, Room 473G, Boston State House, Room B-1
April 10, 2012
Madam Co-Chairs, Honorable members of the Committee, thank you for the opportunity to speak before you today about a proposal that threatens to undo what a 40-member task force was able to accomplish in many, many hours of meeting discussions from August 2010 to March 2011.
My name is Mary Ann Stewart, I’m a parent of three, and three weeks ago I became the Immediate Past President of the Massachusetts PTA.  As President, I served as a member of the Educator Evaluation Task Force.  The PTA is the oldest and largest child advocacy association in the country - in Massachusetts we are 112 years old.  I think it's fair to say that PTA has been standing for children longer than anyone.  I know I did not spend hundreds of hours working for improvements to the evaluation system only to have a national group - with no particular expertise in education - threaten to undo them.  This proposal is way out of step with what is happening in Massachusetts schools today.
Parents and teachers do not disagree on the need for outstanding teachers and schools and we already have a rigorous evaluation system to do that.  The Task Force recommended balanced changes to the evaluation system for all educators through a collaborative, deliberative process.  I am very proud of the Task Force's work and pleased that the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education adopted new regulations for improvement last June, following a public comment period.  Districts across the Commonwealth are preparing now for full implementation for the 2013-2014 school year.
I agree with Secretary Reville that we must give these Ed Evaluations a chance to work. There is no need to implement another system before the new one is rolled out.  We need to stay the course and not get distracted from the real issues.
Thank you.
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Campaign letter for re-election to Lexington School Committee
February 1, 2012
Time and again, Lexington Public Schools have served as a beacon for excellence in teaching and learning across the state and across the country.  Our schools are the pride of our community, a key component of our quality of life, and why so many of us choose to live here.  This didn’t happen by accident. It happened because our community has invested decades of human and financial capital in our schools.  I am proud of the gains we have made:
  • We are closing gaps between all student sub-groups;
  • We lead the state in efficiencies and fiscal responsibility;
  • We continue to be recognized nationally, most recently as a leader in Professional Learning Communities and for our Professional Development programs.
But our work is not done. With your support, I will continue to tackle the challenges before us:
  • Stabilize a maintenance plan for all school facilities;
  • Increase classroom technology, and
  • Collaborate with our Town and unions to reduce health care costs.
Now more than ever, Lexington’s public schools need champions. These champions face tough realities with a sense of optimism. They apply strategic and creative thinking, good judgment, and a willingness to work together to prepare our children for their future challenges. They foster policies that bring great teaching and learning into our classrooms. And they insist that our schools continue to improve.
You are one of those champions. So am I.  That’s why I seek re-election to the Lexington School Committee, and why I’m asking for your help. I will continue to take on the School Committee’s highest tasks: to enact wise policy, shape educationally sound, community conscious budgets, and advocate for what our students and schools need most.
As a seasoned advocate for children, I have a deep understanding of our schools and our community.  My family made a commitment to Lexington when we moved here in 1994.  My husband, Duncan, and I have had two of our three children successfully complete their Lexington Public school education and continue to educate our eighth grader at Clarke Middle School.  As an advocate for children and public schools, I continue to take on numerous leadership roles:
  • as Chair of the School Committee;
  • as President of the Massachusetts PTA;
  • as Chair of MassPartners for Public Schools, a coalition of the six statewide educational associations (MASS, MASC, MSSAA, MESPA, MTA, and AFT/MA) and the PTA;
  • I was tapped to serve on DESE’s Educator Evaluation Task Force last year and served on Governor Patrick’s Readiness Project before that.
As a member of the School Committee, I have kept the education of our children the centerpiece of all decisions, balanced by the realities of school and Town resources, and tempered by productive and civil discourse. To continue doing so, I need your help.
Please respond as generously and as quickly as you can with your volunteer efforts and a campaign contribution. Let’s be champions for Lexington’s schoolchildren—together. Thank you for your consideration.
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Published in the Lexington Minuteman, January 19, 2012
I am pleased to announce my candidacy for re-election to the Lexington School Committee.  I look forward to a campaign with open, honest, fact-based conversations about our schools.  It is important that our children be educated to meet the challenges of the 21st century; Lexington has worked strategically and collaboratively to do this.
As School Committee Chair I presented our plans for Bridge, Bowman, and Estabrook Elementary Schools to 2011 Annual and Special Town Meetings and was gratified to see those projects funded; I am committed to working on the YES! for Our Schools Campaign to see a debt-exclusion referendum passed on January 24, 2012.
I am committed to continued collaboration with my Committee colleagues to improve teaching and learning for all students.  State and federal fiscal austerity measures have resulted in budget uncertainty; as our economic picture continues to brighten, I will continue to advocate for reduction and/or elimination of fees for busing, elementary instrumental music, full-day kindergarten, and athletics as quickly as can be sustained for the long-term.  I encourage planning a new elementary foreign language program across the district in future years.
I am a Precinct 1 representative to Town Meeting (since 2006) and a statewide leader and advocate on behalf of all Massachusetts’ children and families.  Since 2005 I have directed the education program for children, youth, and families at a small Episcopal Church in Newton.
I invite residents to visit my campaign page on facebook www.facebook.com/MaryAnnforLexingtonSchoolCommittee, or my campaign website www.MaryAnnforSchoolCommittee.com, and local tweeps can follow me on twitter @mascipioni, for continually updated information about me, my candidacy, and how to contact me with your questions and concerns. I would be honored to return for a second term and ask for your vote on March 6, 2012.
Thank you.
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Guest Commentary, written as Chair and on behalf of the Lexington School Committee, Lexington Minuteman Newspaper, January 5, 2012
School Committee urges support of debt exclusion
Voters are being asked to go to the polls on January 24, 2012, to vote on two debt exclusion questions: one to renovate the Bridge and Bowman elementary schools, and the other to build a new Estabrook elementary school. The Lexington School Committee unanimously supports a "yes" vote on both questions.
This vote will help us address safety concerns, will help close the equity gap between the older and newer elementary schools in a fiscally responsible way, and will introduce more efficient utility systems to three schools which will help decrease operating expenses and improve the environment.
For many years Lexington benefited from state financial assistance when building new schools. This was the case for Harrington and Fiske where state reimbursement was 59 percent.
In those years we did our best to keep our schools in good repair within our budget. Under the state's reimbursement program, we expected we would rebuild new schools as needed, knowing we could rely on generous state funding.
But the state's school funding policy has since changed. Massachusetts has scaled back funds for new schools, and has imposed tougher criteria for reimbursement. We have had to adjust our approach to "reuse and renovate" whenever we can, and to "rebuild" when absolutely necessary.
Recognizing that we have deferred many repairs on our schools, the School Committee resolved to create a long-term master plan for all nine schools, realizing that we will not receive state reimbursement the way we have in the past. In 2006, a study was commissioned to begin the process. In 2009, the School Committee received a more comprehensive master plan looking 10 years into the future. These helped us chart a course to address the backlog of deferred repairs.
Both ballot questions are in alignment with the master plan and will bring our community closer to our vision of high functioning school facilities for all of our students.
Question one is for funds to renovate Bridge and Bowman. Both buildings were built in the early 1960s, are well constructed and  configured for educational purposes. The renovations include
  • new gas boilers with upgraded HVAC systems
  • universal accessibility
  • sprinkler systems
  • increased classroom space by adding four more classrooms at each school
  • upgraded electrical/lighting
  • increased security and administration space
  • Bowman will receive a new roof
When this project is completed, we will have two renovated schools with an expanded life span of 20-25 years at a cost of $22.7 million. We will exceed Lexington's Green Community goal and achieve approximately $100,000 in annual utility savings over the current buildings. The renovated buildings will compare favorable with the costs of running our newest buildings.
The advantage of continuing to use the existing buildings is that our students will have safer, healthier, greener facilities while we replace Estabrook.
Question two asks for approval to build a new Estabrook School at the approximate cost of $40 million, with a minimum state reimbursement of 32 percent. In 2010, environmental testing revealed the presence of unacceptable levels of polychlorinated byphenyls (PCBs) at Estabrook School. We are currently under orders from the EPA to cease use of the building as a school by December 31, 2014. In consultation with the Department of Public Facilities, school architects, and other experts, the School Committee submitted a Statement of Interest to build a new school to the Massachusetts School Building Assistance, which was accepted.
For all of these reasons, the School Committee urges support of both ballot questions on January 24.
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Public Testimony of Massachusetts PTA, to the Joint Committee on Education, on Senate Bill 1956 – An Act Concerning Media Literacy in Schools: Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz, Co-Chair Room 413C and Representative Alice Peisch, Co-Chair, Room 473G, State House, Boston, Room A-2
Tuesday, November 1, 2011
My name is Mary Ann Stewart; I am State President of the Massachusetts Parent Teacher Association, an affiliate of National PTA, the oldest and largest volunteer child advocacy association in the country. Today, we speak up for family engagement language in laws; safe, healthy, and technologically advanced schools; and equal opportunity for all children, regardless of their socioeconomic background. Massachusetts PTA currently has about 115 local PTAs in 58 communities with nearly 20,000 members.
Thank you for the opportunity to testify before you today on the importance of media education to our children and youth. The Mass PTA Position on Consumerism dedicates us to:
  1. support efforts to protect children from exploitive marketing through advocacy, education, and collaboration; and
  2. support, expand, and improve efforts to inform parents on media and technology safety issues.
The internet, television, cell phones, music, and movies are a daily part of our children’s lives. While electronic media and technology can open up vast new worlds of rich learning experiences to children, they can also convey messages about violence, sex, commercialism, stereotyping, and other themes that worry parents and can negatively impact a child’s development and socialization.
Achieving a balance between the learning and positive entertainment opportunities available through electronic media and technology and the risks associated with exposure to inappropriate and occasionally dangerous content/activities is the responsibility of parents, teachers, and other adults in a child’s life.
Our children are assailed by media messaging 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days year. Huge amounts of money and effort are invested in making kids literate in the language of consumerism, which essentially apprentices them for a lifetime of consumption. Media literacy is the ability to sift through and analyze the messages that inform, entertain, and sell to us every day; it's the ability to bring critical thinking skills to bear on all media, a key 21st century critical thinking and analysis skill.
The Legislature took an important first step on the issue last year by limiting commercialism in schools, telling corporations to act more responsibly to support the integrity of school environments and the health and welfare of children. If we are going to speak against commercialism in schools, then we must also speak for media literacy in the schools, as the two go hand-in-hand.
Media education isn't about having the right answers—it's about asking the right questions. And it is essential, now more than ever. The result is life-long empowerment of the learner and citizen.
Thank you.
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Guest Commentary, published in Lexington Minuteman, March 17, 2011
Education Opportunity & Equity in Washington DC
I attended PTA’s Annual Legislative Conference last week (March 7-10). Two others from Massachusetts’ State PTA Board joined me to meet with Massachusetts’ Senators John Kerry and Scott Brown, Congresswoman Nikki Tsongas, and Congressmen Ed Markey and Barney Frank.  We spoke with them about the importance of promoting family engagement standards in the reauthorization of Elementary and Secondary Education Act and of providing opportunity and equity for all children so they can be prepared for the future.
Kathleen Sebelius, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, was keynote speaker at lunch Wednesday. As the country’s highest-ranking health official, Secretary Sebelius played a key role in the passage of the historic Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and is now leading its implementation.  The Secretary spoke about how effective family engagement, beginning with Head Start and during a child’s early years, lays a positive foundation for success during transitions and across a child’s lifespan.
Listening to her, I was struck anew by the powerful responsibility we all share to ensure people receive the health care they need and provide children, families, and seniors with the essential human services they depend upon.  Across Massachusetts schools lack resources for critical programs they need to reduce the achievement gap and overcome barriers to learning that threaten the quality of education for every child and leave our most vulnerable children behind.
Our state and local governments, with the federal government as a critical third partner, also share responsibility for assuring all children have equitable access to high-quality public education and health care.  Budgets are tight but government requirements, and children’s needs, are growing; this is most pronounced at the intersection of children’s education and health care needs.  Engaging families on this issue is vital:  when children are healthy, school attendance improves and children learn better.
Here we are, already in the second decade of the 21st century.  As we navigate challenges before us, let us continue to look for opportunities.  Our public health infrastructure throughout the country must be a higher priority and we need to upgrade state and local health departments.  Secretary Sebelius has answered President Obama’s call to break down walls in government to serve the American people more effectively.  For example, she has teamed up with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to raise the quality of early childhood education programs.
Founded in 1897, PTA is the oldest and largest volunteer child advocacy association in the country.  One of PTA’s founding principles is its dedication to engaging parents in the education of their children.  Since its inception, PTA has provided workshops and resources on healthy child development to parent groups and community leaders.  From the outset, PTA championed the importance of equal opportunity for all children, regardless of socioeconomic background, and addressed associated problems of child labor, childhood diseases, and the unfair and punitive treatment of children involved in the justice system.
PTA continues to advocate for all children to have the opportunity to grow and achieve through education.  In the context of PTA, advocacy is supporting and speaking up for children in schools, in communities, and before government bodies and other organizations that make decisions affecting children.  We educated members of Congress and their staff on PTA’s priorities:  adequate funding for schools and an improved juvenile justice system that ensures all children are college and career ready.
Mary Ann Stewart is President of the Massachusetts State PTA and Chair pro tem of Lexington’s School Committee.  The opinions expressed here are her own and not those of the Lexington Public Schools or the School Committee.
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Testimony on behalf of Massachusetts PTA before the Commission on Bullying, Attorney General Martha Coakley and State Representative Marty Walz
February 10, 2011
Thank you for the opportunity to testify before the Commission today. My name is Mary Ann Stewart. I am President of the Massachusetts Parent Teacher Association, an affiliate of National PTA, the oldest and largest volunteer child advocacy association in the country.  Last year Massachusetts PTA celebrated its centennial and currently has about 108 local PTAs in 55 communities with about 15,000 members.
Massachusetts PTA supports policies and programs that address the prevention, intervention, and elimination of bullying. Bullying in schools is a pervasive problem that can have negative consequences for the school climate and for the right of students to learn in a safe environment without fear, and one that can have negative lifelong consequences, both for students who bully and for their targets.
For too long bullying had gone unchallenged, with parents, who are often unaware of the bullying problem, neglecting to talk about it with their children; with students feeling that adult intervention is infrequent and ineffective and will only bring more harassment from bullies; and with school personnel viewing bullying as a harmless rite of passage that is best ignored.
The legislation that was quickly enacted last year was a good start. However, we know we need a multi-pronged approach to change acculturated behaviors. If we are serious about changing school culture, and we all are, legislation needs strengthening. This can be supported in three direct ways:  adding enumeration and incorporating DESE’s proposed guidelines for parental notification to the law, and provide resources that are vital for training and prevention.
  • Does enumeration help or hinder? I think it helps.  A GLSEN study showed states that have enumeration in their laws have fewer reported cases of bullying.  And while actual or perceived LGBT students are frequently targeted, students with actual or perceived race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, intellectual ability, physical appearance, or a mental, physical or sensory disability or disorder, or on the basis of association with others identified by these categories, are also popular targets.
  • DESE did a good job of creating a parental notification plan, but it is advisory. It needs to be given the force of law.
  • School leaders need resources for implementing effective comprehensive school-wide programs to address the issue with children, educators, families, and community members. School-wide programs that are collaboratively developed with all stakeholders seek to change the school’s culture to emphasize respect and eliminate bullying.
The costs of bullying are high. Unfortunately, many children suffer alone, keeping their bullying experiences to themselves. By strengthening the law through enumeration and thoughtful parental notification and by providing resources to schools and communities we can change that dynamic.
Thank you.
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This is an email sent, I believe, to Senators John Kerry and Scott Brown and to Congressman Ed Markey in April 2010, following my Hill Visit to their offices in the previous month.
As a parent, state PTA president-elect, and one of your constituents, I am deeply concerned about the consolidation of the Parental Information and Resource Centers (PIRCs) into the Expanding Educational Options program under the Department of Education's FY11 Budget.
Here in Massachusetts, we enjoy being #1 in the nation, with respect to NAEP, yet we are 48th in the nation when you look at our achievement gap.  In order to close that troubling and persistent gap, all stakeholders must have as many tools and opportunities as possible.  Mass PIRC provides information, training, resources, and technical assistance to families, schools, districts, and community partners about the important role family and community engagement plays in improving student achievement and school performance.
Mass PIRC is founded on the belief that families are vital to their children's academic success.  Federal funding of PIRC is critical to maintaining focus on increasing opportunities for effective parent education, understanding, and involvement in their children's education and their educational success.  PIRC translates information into many languages to reach under-served families who are not English language proficient or who live in a zip code with under-resourced schools.  And, PIRCs are the only federal program dedicated to supporting family engagement in education, which over 40 years of research has demonstrated raises student achievement regardless of the parents' education level, ethnicity, or socioeconomic background.
PIRCs should not be consolidated with public charter schools as they have separate programmatic goals and are not duplicative.  Consolidation would direct tax payers' dollars away from proven researched-based programs that engage parents and raise student achievement.  Consolidation would eliminate the only federal program dedicated to family engagement, which serves 16.4 million parents in all 50 states and US territories; the proposed FY11 budget would negatively impact students and families in every state and territory.
Our children can't wait for a bad economy to turn around.  Elimination of PIRCs dismantles the only technical assistance and capacity-building system devoted to engaging parents in education, a key component of effective schools and school reform strategies.  Schools, districts, and state education offices rely on PIRCs for implementing proven approaches that engage families.
I urge you to safeguard this critical program and appropriate at least $43 million to PIRCs in the FY11 budget to ensure parents are meaningfully engaged in their child's education.
Our schools need parents at the table to drive education reform priorities.
Thank you.
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Guest Commentary, Lexington Minuteman Newspaper, March 25, 2010
Have lunch with First Lady Michelle Obama and you'll never look at broccoli the same way again
I was one of three members of the Massachusetts Parent Teacher Association who attended the National PTA Annual Legislative Conference in Washington, DC, March 9-11. We lobbied the Massachusetts Congressional Delegation to promote family engagement standards in the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Act, and Child Nutrition Act.
Mrs. Obama was keynote speaker at lunch on Wednesday. Her topic was the national childhood obesity crisis and her new initiative, Let's Move, which promotes child nutrition and physical activity.
Listening to her brought back memories from my childhood.
I walked to and from school every day, ran around at recess and gym, and played in the neighborhood for hours after school until dinner. Most days, my family had dinner together. Children ate what parents served. We had dessert only on special occasions.
But times have changed. And now, I'm a parent of three children. My husband and I both work. we try to find balance, but the economy and pace of the world has us stressed and challenged. I'm the first to acknowledge that convenience and necessity have won out over healthy habits at times.
In response to testing demands, schools have narrowed curriculum and reduced or eliminated recess and gym. The typical lunch is heavy with calories and fat. Children spend more time sitting in front of TV, playing video games, or surfing the 'net - sedentary habits exposing them to 40,000 advertisements each year, many for unhealthy foods and drinks. Here in Lexington, our record is probably better than most, but could stand improving. Our school cafeterias serve healthier meals, but over the years we have reduced students' gym and recess time.
Fittingly, if the governor signs the bill that the state legislature passed in January, we will not see unhealthy foods and sugary drinks in our public schools. Foods and beverages that do not meet nutrition standards and are not part of federal meal programs would be banned. The law would eliminate fried foods. It would encourage local farm-to-school programs that could double the amount of fresh vegetables children get in school. It would provide continuing education for school nurses and require instruction in nutrition and exercise in school.
Studies show that proper nutrition and exercise improves school attendance, learning, behavior, and productivity. Thousands of children in Massachusetts depend on federal child nutrition programs to provide up to one-half of their nutrient intake per day. The funding for school meals goes directly to the schools - not to students - and provides the support for these programs. School meal reimbursements have fallen far behind costs and are inadequate to maintain the high-quality nutrition standards established in law.
Regulations governing school meals programs should reflect current science and health trends to better address the health and wellness needs of all children.
The 2007 Nutrition Act required schools to develop a wellness policy. That was a good start. Along with nutrition education, we need more opportunities for physical activity at every grade level, and opportunities to engage families in the policy-making process.
My trip to Washington impressed upon me the need for more funding for school nutrition and meal programs. Mrs. Obama's goal of reducing childhood obesity within a generation is ambitious, requiring school support and broad family and community support. There is wisdom in these initiatives; please express your support.
Mary Ann Stewart is a member of Lexington's School Committee. In April she becomes the 34th State President of the Massachusetts PTA. The opinions expressed her are her own and do not reflect those of the Lexington Public School Department or of the School Committee.
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Race to the Top Letter on behalf of Massachusetts PTA

The Honorable Arne Duncan, US Department of Education, 400 Maryland Avenue, SW, Washington, DC 20202
January 10, 2010
Dear Secretary Duncan,
Massachusetts PTA® is part of the National PTA®, the largest volunteer child advocacy not-for-profit association in the United States. Massachusetts PTA is currently organized in 109 local units of approximately 16,000 members - and growing. We are parents, educators, students, family members and other citizens active in our schools and communities. One of the first states to become associated with the national association, Massachusetts PTA is a leader in reminding our government leaders of their obligation to children.
Since its founding in 1897 (before women could vote and social activism was scorned), PTA advocates have been at the heart of our nation’s greatest advances for youth. From universal kindergarten to a juvenile justice system, members have spoken up and made significant impacts in the education, health, and welfare of children.
Today, we speak up for family engagement language in laws; safe, healthy, and technologically advanced schools; and equal opportunity for all children, regardless of their socioeconomic background.
Educating all of our students with equity is the greatest social justice issue of our time.
The Race to the Top competition grants seek to level the playing field for all children’s education. The goals, proposed initiatives, and strategies of the Massachusetts application align with Massachusetts PTA in the areas of school governance, funding for public education, and teacher qualifications. It is our belief that schools collaborating with parents and families to co-construct strategies for effective engagement empowers families and improves schools for significant reform so students succeed.
Specifically, Massachusetts PTA’s positions on School Governance, Public Education Funding, and Teacher Quality/Qualifications dedicate us to:
  • support, expand, and improve opportunities that welcome parents in the school;
  • support, expand, and improve opportunities for parents to become knowledgeable about the governance and operations of schools;
  • support, expand, and improve opportunities for parents to participate in school-based decision-making;
  • support, expand, and improve efforts to increase funding to provide quality education for all students;
  • support, expand, and improve efforts that ensure public funds are used exclusively for public schools;
  • support, expand, and improve student preparation for high school graduation and access to post-secondary education and the workforce;
  • support, expand, and improve programs that recruit, develop, and retain highly qualified educators
A Japanese proverb warns:
Vision without action is a daydream;
Action without vision is a nightmare.
With a comprehensive vision and action plan for student success, as enumerated within the Massachusetts Race to the Top application, plus a shared understanding of our responsibility to all of our children, I believe we will reach our shared goal of helping each child in the Commonwealth graduate from high school, prepared for success in college and career, and for the challenges that lie ahead.
Sincerely,
Mary Ann Stewart, Massachusetts Parent Teacher Association | President
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Joint Committee on Education: Senator Robert A. O’Leary & Representative Martha M. Walz Chairs, The State House, Boston MA 02133
▪ H 450, An Act Relative to the Public Health Impact of Commercialism in Schools, sponsored by Representative Peter J. Koutoujian
▪ H 451, An Act Creating a Commission to Regulate Commercialism in the Public Schools, sponsored by Representative Koutoujian
November 10, 2009
I submit this testimony on behalf of the Massachusetts Parent Teacher Association (PTA®) in support of An Act Relative to the Public Health Impact of Commercialism in Schools and An Act Creating a Commission to Regulate Commercialism in the
We are all aware of the grave economic challenges facing our families, our communities, our state and our nation. Many of our children attend schools that are inadequately funded and over-crowded. Our communities and schools are financially strapped like never before and are faced with impossible choices for public education, public health, and public safety.
So, if communities are so cash-strapped, what could be the harm of a little corporate sponsorship in the schools?
Well, for one thing, there is no such thing as “a little corporate sponsorship”.
Even seemingly benign programs currently being promoted in many Massachusetts schools are offers perceived as “win-win” for schools and families. But, they are more accurately huge wins for the companies sponsoring these promotions because it establishes corporate name recognition early and often. Huge amounts of money and effort are invested in making kids literate in the language of consumerism, which essentially apprentices them for a lifetime of consumption.
But, how do such promotions increase the school’s educational integrity or the welfare of students? They don’t. I think it more accurate to say that such practices perpetuate a subtle and pernicious endorsement from schools without competition to the sponsoring corporation. Schools that accept corporate funding or promotions are at the mercy of corporate agendas, which have yet to prove they care one iota for the health, education, or welfare of the students they purport to serve.
Massachusetts PTA® has been advocating as hard and as continuously as anyone for more school funding at federal, state, and local levels. But, even in these complex times, the harms to children and education are not worth the additional revenue if we give up our shared value to educate our children responsibly.
The Mass PTA® position statement on Safe and Nurturing Environments dedicates us to support, expand, and improve efforts that limit significant advertising to children, particularly related to the promotion of unhealthy foods and drinks. We support legislation to help regulate commercialism in the public schools and reduce the impact of commercialism in schools that condemns children and youth to unhealthy nutrition, physical, and consumer practices.
Massachusetts PTA® is part of the National PTA®, the largest volunteer child advocacy not-for-profit association in the United States. We are parents, educators, students, and other citizens active in our schools and communities. One of the first states to become associated with the national association (in 1910), Massachusetts PTA® is a leader in reminding our government leaders of their obligation to children. We believe that the public has the right to expect that our elected and appointed officials will act to safeguard the long-term economic and health security of our families.
We believe marketing and advertising of a commercial nature should be off limits from every public school, athletic field, sport or school uniform, vending machine, or cafeteria. Corporations must act more responsibly to support the integrity of school environments and the health and welfare of children. We ask you to be our partners in prevention and join us in working for the health development of our children.
An Act Relative to the Public Health Impact of Commercialism in Schools and An Act Creating a Commission to Regulate Commercialism in the Public Schools is wise public policy, good public health, and good government.
Respectfully submitted,
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Letter written on behalf of Massachusetts PTA
September 2, 2009
The 'A' word
Much of the current debate surrounding education reform forsakes a pedagogical agenda and the political morass obscures the merits of a free and appropriate public education.  Meanwhile, the fate of our children's education dangles in the balance. One million Massachusetts public school children cannot wait for the political dust to settle; they need us to speak up for their needs – now.
Mr. Gass is right to draw attention to the difference between the Parent Teacher Association and other parent groups (Boston Herald, Op-Ed, August 19). When you become a member of PTA you become associated and connected to a network of over 5 million members. All parent groups have a local component – a way for passionate, dedicated parents to get involved in K-12 schools. Many of the other groups, however, focus solely on fundraising.
While fundraising for items not covered by school budgets is an important component for school groups, PTA knows that parents are interested and concerned in other school issues as well. Key issues such as speaking up for every child, sharing power, and collaborating with community are three of six pillars of effective family-school partnerships championed by PTA. In contrast to other parent groups, PTA parents have a broader role to play beyond fundraising in the education of their children.
With that kind of mission and scope, it is not surprising Mr. Gass prefers a narrow image of parents, as if content to be the fundraising arm of the Department of Education. Exactly how many bake sales and school fairs does Mr. Gass expect parents and caregivers to organize in order to make up for devastating federal cuts in education we have witnessed in recent years?
Even now, at the state level, no less than three pieces of charter school legislation await debate by the Legislature and an engaged public. PTA will be there advocating for what our children need most. That's right - PTA. The difference is advocacy.
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To the Massachusetts Joint Committee on Education: RE: H3660, “An Act to Improve Assessment and Accountability to Ensure Students Acquire 21st Century Skills”, State Senator Robert A. O’Leary, State House Room 511B, and State Representative Martha M. Walz, State House Room 473G, Boston 02133
June 23, 2009
Thank you for the opportunity to testify before you today. My name is Mary Ann Stewart. I am the President-elect of the Massachusetts Parent Teacher Association (PTA) and also a newly elected member of the Lexington School Committee. In 2007 I was appointed to Governor Patrick’s Whole Child Subcommittee for the Readiness Project, which resulted in our state’s blueprint for public education.
I am here today to speak as a parent of three children in Massachusetts public schools and in support of H3660.
Our eldest graduated high school two weeks ago and will attend Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in the fall; our middle child moves on as a junior in high school, and our youngest moves on from elementary to middle school. All three children are very different learners: one is a child with an intellectual
disability on an IEP; another is comfortable in the “middle of the pack”, who does OK and does not draw much attention to his learning needs in traditional education settings, but shines with project-based, hands-on alternative learning
opportunities. A third child is a high-achieving learner who does well in traditional classrooms and also enjoys the enrichment opportunities of honors and AP courses.
Two children are “proficient” MCAS test-takers, but are very
different classroom learners; MCAS has not measured their achievement as individual learners.
In 1993, Massachusetts launched an ambitious plan to provide an adequate education for our children. While progress has been made, we are still struggling to fulfill its promise.
State education reform has been marked by high stakes testing, which has had the unintended consequence of a narrowed curriculum, too much time focused on standardized test preparation and testing, large gaps in proficiency and rising dropout rates, and – fails to measure the achievement of individual learners.
Much of the current debate forsakes a pedagogical agenda, which is lost in the political morass. I believe we are fortunate to have thousands of dedicated educators in our schools, but we must do better for all of our children.
What should students learn and how should they learn it? How do we best serve the many different kinds of learners? How do schools balance internal missions and external mandates? How does state governance and finance impact school districts? These are important questions we must answer if we are to improve student learning for all our children.
We are closing in fast on the end of the first decade of the 21st century. MCAS testing has an important and critical role to play as one measure of student performance, not as a single determinant, high-stakes test.
To build on the strengths of our public schools, address weaknesses, close gaps, and move toward a full realization of education reform, we need a balanced assessment and accountability system that will promote 21st century skills, educate the whole child, and focus state attention and resources on schools and districts that most need help in their efforts to improve quality and outcomes for every student.
By integrating the components outlined in H3660, we progress to a more balanced system that maintains high standards, complies with NCLB, is cost-neutral, and does not necessitate MCAS repeal.
To be ultimately effective, accountability must be more than a snapshot, of which the MCAS test represents. We need to consider a variety of tools to measure what students know. I ask you to please support this bill.
Thank you.
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Letter to Governor Patrick, in opposition to proposed cuts in METCO funding, written on behalf of the Lexington School Committee
May 22, 2009
The Honorable Deval M. Patrick, Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Room 360, The Massachusetts State House, Boston  MA  02133
Dear Governor Patrick,
It is vital that each child be prepared with the knowledge, skills, and experience necessary to face the challenges ahead.  We are committed to raising achievement for all learners and have high expectations for their success but worry that continued cuts in METCO funding will result in reduced opportunities for METCO students and write to urge you to reinstate funds to the FY10 METCO budget.
Lexington was one of the first participants in the METCO program more than two generations ago and has been a strong supporter of the program ever since.  One of our representatives, Jay Kaufman, has noted that more than 87 percent of students in the METCO program go on to college, compared to a statewide 77 percent average, and that it is probably no accident that a disproportionate number of Lexington’s METCO graduates have become educators.  This is testament to the power of education to transform lives.
A report just released from McKinsey & Company shows that while Massachusetts has the highest achievement in the nation on many measures, it also has the highest achievement gaps based on race.  As representatives from a high achieving public school district, we find this unacceptable.  For the past three years, Lexington Public Schools have been committed to addressing academic inequities among our students and we are in the midst of an action plan to achieve academic equity and excellence for all Lexington’s students, including our Boston students.
At the very least, METCO should be level-funded in 2010 (maintaining the 2009 budget of $21.6 million).  These funds are far from adequate but will still provide basic services, such as transportation.  If the cuts go further, we are concerned that students from Boston will have to limit their extracurricular activities.  We hope you will consider our request.
Sincerely,
[signed by all SC members]
Copy: Jean McGuire
Cheryl Prescott-Walden
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Campaign letter, initial run for Lexington School Committee
January 20, 2009
Lexington’s public schools are the pride of our community, our hallmark, a key component of our quality of life and why so many of us choose to live here. That didn’t happen by accident. It happened because our community has invested decades of human and financial capital in our schools. Lexington has faced economic difficulties before, and has protected its schools as few other communities have. But today’s economy is threatening our schools’ financial lifeline in a way most of us have never seen before.
Now more than ever, Lexington’s public schools need champions. These champions face tough realities with a sense of optimism. They apply strategic and creative thinking, good judgment, and a willingness to work together to prepare our children for the 21st Century. They foster policies that bring great teaching and learning into our classrooms. And they insist that our schools be even better than they already are.
You are one of those champions. So am I. That’s why I’m running for Lexington School Committee, and why I’m asking for your help. I am ready and able to take on the School Committee’s three highest tasks: to hold the superintendent accountable, enact wise policy, and shape educationally sound, community-conscious budgets. I pledge:
Independence: I will support Superintendent Ash when appropriate and respectfully question and oppose him when necessary. As a School Committee representative, I may not always agree with all my constituents, but I will always listen to everyone’s perspectives, understand them, and work constructively toward positive solutions.
Wise budgeting: I will look for cost savings by eradicating inefficiencies, coordinating initiatives, and being strategic and informed about budget cuts. I’ll work for long-range, multi-year educational and budget planning. I will guard against short-sighted proposals that claim to save money when they would actually diminish the quality of our schools and cost our community more in the long-run.
A child-centered philosophy: I will demand that our schools go beyond high-stakes testing and build our children’s capacity for critical thinking and creative problem-solving. I’ll support ongoing efforts to close the achievement gap and raise achievement for all children. I’ll promote policies that ensure the healthy development of every child, and foster positive relationships among children, parents, educators, and the wider Lexington community.
Community engagement: Seventy percent of the town’s budget goes to the school department; our entire community has a stake in our schools. If elected, I will invite everyone’s interest and input by holding regular office hours open to all.
An advocate’s vision: I’ll bring best practices from around the country to Lexington, and fight for state and national policies that benefit our children here, at home.
As a seasoned advocate for children, I have a deep understanding of our schools and our community. I graduated from the University of Massachusetts at Lowell with a B.S. in Music Education, and performed with some of Boston’s elite choral groups (Boston Baroque and Emmanuel Music). My family made a commitment to Lexington when we moved here in 1994. My husband, Duncan, and I are educating our three children (grades 5, 10, and 12) in Lexington Public Schools. I have always been an active school volunteer, but my passion for these activities was transformed after September 11, 2001. That’s when I knew I wanted my volunteering to have greater meaning. I began to see my efforts as room parent, Big Backyard leader, school fundraiser, and more as attempts to make our children’s lives better, attempts, even, at achieving social justice.
That’s when I became an advocate for children and public schools. I am now a Town Meeting Representative from Precinct 1. I have taken on numerous leadership roles in service to various PTAs and the Harrington School Council. I am president-elect to the Massachusetts PTA, and a liaison to the national-level PTA. I served on Governor Patrick’s Readiness Project, and have lobbied on behalf of public schools at the local, state, and national level. As director for children and youth programs at the Parish of the Good Shepherd of Waban (Newton), I have gained an appreciation for the institutional aspects of running schools.
As a member of the School Committee, I will join my colleagues in keeping the education of our children the centerpiece of all decisions, balanced by the realities of limited resources, and tempered by productive and civil discourse. But to do so, I need your help. Please respond as generously and as quickly as you can with your volunteer efforts and a campaign contribution. Let’s be champions for Lexington’s schoolchildren—together.
Thank you for your consideration.
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Announcement of initial run for School Committee, Lexington Minuteman Newspaper
December 15, 2008
My name is Mary Ann Stewart and I am running for one of the two open seats on the School Committee.
I look forward to a campaign where we can have open and honest discussions and debates about our schools, our community, and how these two intersect.
As we near the end of the first decade of this century, we are facing a bleak financial landscape. It is important that our children be educated to meet the challenges of the 21st century and we must work strategically and creatively to do this in spite of funding challenges. I want to work with our Superintendent, Dr. Paul Ash, to close the achievement gap and attend to the needs of the whole child. In addition, I would like to provide him with support when it is warranted and constructive feedback when it is necessary. We are lucky to have as dedicated a professional as Dr. Ash, but we do need to provide him with some direction to help him support the kind of schools we want to reflect.
I have been a Lexington resident for 14 years and am a Town Meeting Member representing Precinct 1.  My husband, Duncan Stewart, is a graduate of the Lexington Public Schools. We have a graduating senior and a sophomore at Lexington High School, where I am a Member-at-Large on the PTSA. We also have a fifth grader at Harrington Elementary School, where I served as immediate past PTA co-president (three years) and a member of the Site Council (two years). I was appointed to Governor Patrick’s Whole Child Subcommittee of the Readiness Project. I have served as a Massachusetts Representative to the National Council of States, a national conversation to address the achievement gap. I have gained valuable experience working collaboratively with parents, teachers and administrators across town, across the state, and even nationally to consider best practices that will move our schools and our children forward.
I do hope you will contact me with questions and concerns and I would be honored to earn one of your votes in March.  Please check my website  www.MaryAnnForSchoolCommittee.com  for continually updated information about me, my candidacy, and how to contact me with your questions and concerns.
Thank You.
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Massachusetts PTA co-sponsored Massachusetts Stand for Children’s rally on the Boston Common in April 2007. Nearly 2,000 people came to the rally. I was invited to speak, along with other residents, students, child advocate Marian Wright Edelman, and others, and I spoke after Governor Deval Patrick. My speech addressed the importance of collaboration on behalf of children and public education.
Government mandates. Shrinking budgets. Increasing class sizes. Curriculum cuts.
Public schools today are challenged to provide every child with opportunities to meet their educational needs. Budgets are tight but government requirements - and children's needs - are growing.
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts and local communities, with the federal government as a critical third partner, have a shared responsibility for maintaining public schools and  assuring that all children have equitable access to a high-quality public education. Across Massachusetts, schools lack resources for critical programs they need to reduce the achievement gap and overcome barriers to learning that threaten the quality of education for every child and leave our most vulnerable children behind.
Today we are here to keep the promise of public education alive, to renew our partnership with our policymakers, and to promote a more fruitful collaboration on behalf of every child in every public school in every Massachusetts city and town.
The Parent Teacher Association is the oldest and largest volunteer child advocacy organization in the country.  I’m a parent of three school-age children in the Lexington public schools and I’m here as a proud member of both Massachusetts PTA & Stand for Children because we are all dedicated to building community and statewide partnerships that work for our schools and our children.
Being a member of our national and state PTA accomplishes great things:
  • Last year, I was one of four Massachusetts PTA board members to lobby our Massachusetts delegation in Washington DC for increased public school funding and for improved school health, nutrition, and safety.
  • Last month, I joined educational leaders in a meeting with Senator Kennedy about the No Child Left Behind Act.
  • And this year - for the first time - there will be a parent representative on the Massachusetts Board of Education - the result of twelve years of effort and advocacy by Massachusetts PTA.
The parent partnership includes our legislators - letting them know how they can make a difference, and showing up to advocate for resources - as you have done today.
Yes - parent involvement is about partnering with our child’s teachers - and yes - it’s also about packing healthy lunches and monitoring screen time and supporting our children’s activities - but that’s not the whole picture.
We all need to work together - beyond the classroom and school - to help our schools get the resources they need to fulfill the promise that public education holds for every child.
Albert Einstein said, "We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them."
As members of Stand & PTA we have a unified voice that tells our legislators what is important to us - and that’s why we are all here today.
Advocacy is like an ever-flowing river – one that you can step into at any place, at any time.  And whether you choose to dip your toe in at the edge of the calm shore - or wade all the way into the deep - your presence has already changed the course.
Now, we must make our voices heard for our children ... all of our voices together, in concert ... one voice ... plus his voice ... with her voice and your voice ... one voice for children in schools ... at town meetings ... and yes, even at the state legislature.
Our children deserve no less.
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To the Massachusetts Joint Committee on Public Health: State Senator Susan C. Fargo, State House Room 504, State Representative Peter J. Koutoujian, State House Room 130, Boston 02133
RE: HB 489, “An Act Relative to the Public Health Impact of Commercialism in Schools” 
May 30, 2007
Thank you for the opportunity to testify today.
I’m a parent of three public school-age children: one each in high school, middle school, and elementary school. I’m here as an engaged citizen and parent to give strong, enthusiastic support of HB 489, and, by association, HB 2168.
As a parent, I am very concerned about the state of education in Massachusetts, especially with respect to shrinking school budgets and the narrow focus of testing in our schools.  In Massachusetts, many children attend inadequately funded and over-crowded public schools.  The current emphasis on mandated standardized tests without adequate funding cuts into time for realizing any of the frameworks - and the unfortunate result is many schools have cut quality educational programming.  Meanwhile, the federal government has mandated that public schools create school wellness policies, but, at the same time, many schools are failing to actively address and promote healthy and active choices during school hours.
So – if public schools are so financially strapped, what could be the harm of a little corporate sponsorship in the schools?
Well, for one thing, there is no such thing as “a little corporate sponsorship”.
Seemingly benign programs, like “BoxTops for Education” and “Recycle for Staples” (currently being promoted in many Lexington schools) are offers perceived by busy families as “win-win” for schools and families. But, they are more accurately huge wins for the companies sponsoring these promotions because it establishes corporate name recognition early and often.
Huge amounts of money and effort are invested in making kids literate in the language of consumerism, which essentially apprentices them for a lifetime of consumption.  But – just how do such promotions increase the school’s educational integrity or the welfare of students?
Well, they don’t.
I think it more accurate to say that such practices perpetuate a subtle and pernicious endorsement from schools without competition to the sponsoring corporation.  Schools that accept corporate funding or promotions are at the mercy of corporate agendas, which have yet to prove they care one iota for the health, education, or welfare of the students they purport to serve.
With respect to commercialism and its relation to school wellness policies:  what message do we send children if parents and schools address healthy choices at home and in the classroom, only to have kids walk down the hall where they are offered choices for snacks and drinks that are high in calories, fat, and sugar?  Does it tell them that good nutrition is merely a futile, academic exercise with no real relevance for their lives?  I think so.  Do we want to brainwash children from an early age to buy products from specific companies?  I think not.
Marketing and advertising of a commercial nature should be off limits from every public school, athletic field, sport or school uniform, vending machine or cafeteria. Corporations need to act more responsibly to support the integrity of school environments and the health and welfare of children.
One final point:  if we are going to speak out against commercialism in schools, than we must also speak out for media literacy in the schools, as the two go hand in hand.  We are assailed by media messaging twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.  Media literacy is the ability to sift through and analyze the messages that inform, entertain, and sell to us every day; it’s the ability to bring critical thinking skills to bear on all media.
In our world of commercialism, globalization, multi-tasking, and interactivity, media education isn’t about having the right answers – it’s about asking the right questions.  And it is essential – now more than ever.  The result is life-long empowerment of the learner and citizen.
Thank you.
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On behalf of the Massachusetts Parent Teacher Association, 2006
Written testimony in support of S.334/H.1199, An Act to Improve Quality Physical Education, to the Joint Committee on Education: State Senator Robert Antonioni and State Representative Patricia Haddad, Co-Chairs, State House, Boston Ma 02123
Dear Senator Antonioni and Representative Haddad,
As a parent, I am very concerned about the soaring childhood obesity rates, the decline in physical education participation, shrinking school budgets, and the narrow focus on testing in our schools. There is growing concern among public health agencies nationwide.
In Massachusetts, many children attend inadequately funded and overcrowded public schools. The current emphasis on standardized tests cuts into time for physical activity.  As a result, many schools have cut quality physical education programming. Many elementary schools have cut back such programming from twice a week to just once a week. Some high schools have eliminated it altogether in grades 11 and 12 or only require it in grade 9.
Disturbing statistics point to a national health crisis because of our unhealthy lifestyles.  The implications for children across Massachusetts demand that the Commonwealth help to create a healthy environment, especially to support quality physical education programming in the schools.
The federal government has mandated that public schools create school wellness policies.  At the same time, schools are failing to actively address and promote healthy and active choices during school hours. It teaches children that good nutrition and regular exercise are not relevant to their lives. Do we wish shorter life spans and with them the increased debilitating consequences of disease related health care costs? I think not.
As advocates for children and youth, Massachusetts PTA understands the importance of adequate public funding for schools; it concerns us that Massachusetts is not bearing its responsibility to fund quality programs for public schools.
We urge Massachusetts legislators and policy makers to properly and adequately fund public schools and quality physical education programming throughout the Commonwealth.
Please add our endorsement to the growing list of supporters, whose goal is the development of students that have the knowledge, skills, and motivation to adopt physically active lifestyles, which is so critical for their overall health and well being.
Thank you.
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Published letter, written on behalf of Massachusetts PTA, Lexington Minuteman Newspaper, April 2006
As a Lexington parent of three school-aged children, I am very concerned about the decline in state aid to towns and the impact on our schools, such as increasing class sizes and curriculum cuts.
  • In Massachusetts, many children attend inadequately funded and overcrowded public schools.
  • There is an over-emphasis on standardized tests at the expense of creative thinking and learning.
  • The current level of federal and state dollars for education does not match the demand for every higher performance goal that the No Child Left Behind Act requires of schools.
  • The November 2, 2005 Rappaport analysis (a report about Massachusetts’ long-term financial problems) illustrates how Massachusetts communities continue to be challenged by the convergence of Proposition 2 ½ , the 1993 Education Reform Act, rising health care costs, and cuts to local aid.
  • A recent report from the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center cites the state’s continual decline in per pupil spending and Department of Education grants and reimbursement programs, affecting early literacy, after school, and MCAS remediation programs.
It concerns me that Massachusetts is not funding quality programs for public education.  It is time for our state government to increase the aid that it provides to local communities.
My family has made Lexington our home since 1994. Over those years, I have been inspired by the spirit of activism and civic pride that permeates our citizenry. The realities we face in Lexington and throughout Massachusetts are difficult for any engaged citizen to accept. The rally being organized by Massachusetts Stand for Children at the State House on April 26 fits right in with the spirit of Lexington: Stand is advocating for increased state aid to all local public schools, restored to 2002 funding levels, and adjusted for inflation and enrollment. Stand was especially successful this past year in getting the Lexington school system to implement the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's program, "Indoor Air Quality Tools for Schools."
Now, Stand is organizing parents and other community stakeholders to rally for more state support for public schools. Calling on our legislators to make funding for public schools a high priority is simply the right thing to do, not only for our children's sake, but for the success of our community. I call on all engaged citizens to “Get on the Bus” and join the rally on Wednesday, April 26.
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Upon returning from my first National PTA Legislative Conference (March 7-10, 2006), members of the Legislative Team debriefed from the experience and each wrote a short piece about their experience for the Massachusetts PTA Newsletter, April 2006
My experience has made me think about the democratic process and advocacy, in general. I would like to convey the sense that our Congressional Representatives were there for us. They work for us, their constituents, and they are accessible--even in Washington. Ours is a democratic government and our participation in it is what makes the difference as to how our representatives are aware and available to create the kinds of policies and laws that we want.
But, I was skeptical.
A unified voice makes an impact and I hoped it would make a big impact on those that we visited, or, at a minimum, conceal my skepticism.
What I didn't anticipate was the impact this experience would have on me: a purposeful dialogue, one that will hopefully provide the impetus to empower future introductions likely generated on my own, has been initiated by PTA and I'm optimistic about applying what I have learned at every level of democracy and advocacy, local and state, as well as federal.
I am even willing to go so far as to say that I feel that i made a difference on the day of our Hill Visits.
What I want to affirm is that it is important for parents to engage in the process of knowing a variety of leaders and in finding ways of being involved in a process of advocating for our children.
Advocacy is like an ever-flowing river, one that you can step into at any place at any time. Whether you choose to dip your toe at the calm shore or wade in 'til you are knee-deep, your presence there has already changed the course. We don't gain ground if we choose to omit or edit-out our voice in the schools, cities, towns, or whatever. It is important to learn the vocabulary--and to create our own!
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I was part of the Massachusetts PTA team that attended National PTA's Legislative Conference in March 2006 (my first!). We had meetings with most members of our Congressional Delegation. We shared stories from our view as parents on issues that matter to us. Congressman Jim McGovern suggested that when we meet with Congressman Markey (senior member of the Delegation) that we ask him to draft a sign-on letter calling for Massachusetts Governor Romney to appoint one of the three nominees to the Board of Education, as required by law (enacted in 2005). Congressman Barney Frank's Office was also supportive of the sign-on letter.
The email to Nicole Encarnacao, Legislative Assistant for Congressman Markey, included attachments relative to the MA/BoE issue and the draft letter suggesting language for the sign-on letter.
March 16, 2006
Dear Nicole,
Thank you so much for meeting with us and agreeing to Representative James McGovern's suggestion that Representative Markey spearhead the creation of a sign-on letter by the Massachusetts Delegation to call for Governor Romney to appoint one of the three nominees to the Board of Education as required by law.
Attached are a few items to provide some background:
  • a copy of the law,
  • the PTA June 1, 2005 press release,
  • a June 8, 2005 Boston Globe article, and
  • an October 2005 resolution by the Massachusetts Association of School Committees.
Whether it actually influences the Governor, we hope we can use the letter to gain media attention to show Massachusetts legislators' commitment to public education, and raise the visibility of PTA's commitment to parent involvement as a voice for children and quality public education.
Below is some suggested language and information for the letter. Thank you again for your support.
Michele Tremont, Massachusetts PTA President
Kim Hunt, Massachusetts PTA President-elect
Ellie Goldberg, Massachusetts PTA VP/Legislation
Mary Ann Stewart, Massachusetts PTA Advocacy Team
DRAFT LETTER - SUGGESTED LANGUAGE
We call on Governor George Romney to name one of the PTA's three nominees to fill the parent seat on the Massachusetts Board of Education. This action is long overdue.
The Massachusetts state legislature created the new provision to put a parent on the Board of Education because it recognized the value of a parent's voice on the Commonwealth's educational policy-making body.
The Parent Teacher Association is the nation's oldest child advocacy organization. Its members have been working on behalf of children since 1897. The PTA's primary mission is to encourage parent and public involvement in the public schools, in the community, and before governmental agencies and other organizations that make decisions affecting children and families. The PTA's 1997 Standards for Parent and Family Involvement Programs, developed in collaboration with researchers and other national leaders, are endorsed by nearly 100 professional education and parent/family involvement organizations, state departments of education, colleges of teacher education, and school districts.
Governor Romney's failure to appoint one of the three highly qualified PTA nominees denies parents the voice in educational policy-making at a time when our children and the public schools are struggling to meet ever-increasing demands for higher performance in spite of major cuts in funds, crumbling schools, and overcrowded classrooms.