Jennifer Susse, 2017

ELECTION'S EARLY LOOK: Brief profiles of those who have taken out nomination papers for major offices in the annual town election, set for Saturday, April 1.

The former philosophy professor came to town in 2008. Since then, with two children in the town's public schools, she has put her drive behind educational issues and seeks a second term on the School Committee.

Currently committee chair, Jennifer Susse expresses a clear vision about what she sees ahead for Arlington.

"I am seeking reelection because I still feel that I have work to do," she wrote recently. "Since I last went to the voters three years ago, I have worked hard to increase communication between the School Committee, administration and the greater community."


By her own account, look at what has she done:

-- Organizing a large visioning meeting to discuss our enrollment challenges (read a summary here >>); 

-- Putting together a comprehensive list of suggestions for tackling our enrollment growth, creating a website and email newsletter to communicate information on a variety of issues; and

-- Surveying the public regarding their thoughts about possible calendar changes and our communication strategy, and pushing for School Committee office hours and superintendent coffees to hear the public's concerns and questions.

Last year she served as a co-chair of Build Arlington's Future, the successful debt exclusion campaign for school building projects

"It has been my goal to create an atmosphere at School Committee meetings that is collegial and productive, and where our decision-making process is as open and transparent as possible," she wrote.

Key challenges

Asked how she would address the three major three challenges that a school candidate faces with an aim to improve Arlington, she wrote that "our biggest and most exciting challenge is the renovation or rebuild of the Arlington High School."

On Wednesday, Feb. 15, the Massachusetts School Building Authority invited Arlington into the feasibility period of a project that could be completed in 2022. 

After hiring a project manager and an architect, "we will need to present the educational vision that will inform our space needs. Next year, we will start to see some tentative proposals and schematic plans. This is when the high school project will finally start to feel real."

She sees two goals during this period: creating a building adequate for 21st-century teaching and learning that is robust, flexible and student-centered, and involving as much of the community as possible in this process.

"Arlington High School is more than just an educational home for high school students and teachers," she wrote; "it is also a resource for the entire community. We want to ensure that the community feels that their thoughts and concerns have been listened to, and that we are building a high school that can fulfill the collective wishes that we all have for this project.

Enrollment crush

A second overall challenge she sees is our rapid enrollment growth, "which will continue to strain both our budget and our facilities." Opening a renovated former Gibbs School as a dedicated sixth grade, and planned classroom additions to Thompson and Hardy, "will alleviate some of the overcrowding at the facility level, but the strain on the budget will likely get worse."

In 2015, she pointed out, State House politicians studied the adequacy of what is known as the foundation budget -- the amount that the state claims it costs to educate a student in Massachusetts. "Surprising to no one, the Foundation Budget Review Committee found that the state significantly underfunds education in Massachusetts. 

"In the governor's recent proposed budget, Arlington is slated to receive a smaller Chapter 70 increase than we've received in the last eight years, despite a 4.7-percent increase in enrollment. We must continue to lobby our governor and legislatures to come up with a funding formula that is fair to communities like Arlington that rely heavily on a residential tax base."

Third, she wrote, is the challenge of attracting visionary educational leaders to Arlington. A search is underway for a new chief financial officer; this spring will see searches for principals at Ottoson and Gibbs. In the next few years, other administrative-level searches are expected.

"I believe we are in a good position to hire great people," she wrote. "Our town is clearly passionately committed to education, and our School Committee consists of dedicated people who work well together. However, we should not underestimate how difficult such searches can be. It can take several years to find the right person to fill a position."


As to what qualifies her to hold the committee seat, she turns personal: "I often joke that one of my qualifications is that I have a thick skin. People are passionate about issues that involve their children and/or their pocketbooks, and rightly so. Sometimes that passion is expressed strongly.

"I also know how to be pushy when necessary. Over the past three years, I have pushed for greater communication and community involvement, for greater economic support from the town and for a right-sized high school design number.

"However, my main qualification is that I am a parent to two Arlington public school students: 13-year old Tessa, who is a seventh grader at Ottoson and 16-year-old Miles, who is a sophomore at Arlington High School.

"I also have had a lifelong interest in education. As the child of public school teachers, educational issues were often part of our dinner table conversation when I was growing up. Furthermore, I have experience teaching, at the university level, which I think gives me a sympathetic perspective to the multiple challenges that teachers face.

"I have learned a great deal since I last went to the voters three years ago -- both about the Arlington Public Schools and about the role that the School Committee plays in their continued success. I believe that this experience will continue be an asset to both the committee and the community over the next three years."

The 48-year-old is actively looking for a job. In recent years, she stayed home to raise children, manage the household and engage in volunteer work, but now that her children are older, she is excited to transition back to paid employment.

Before moving to Arlington, she was professor of philosophy at Michigan State University.

In the 2014 town election, Susse came out on top in her first run for, with 3,646 votes. Hayner was second, with 3,131, and Schlichtman third, with 3,102. Turnout that year was 20.08 percent.

Campaign website: (still in production) 

2017 town election: YourArlington information

June 13, 2016: UNANIMOUS -- Town voters say yes, yes, yes in all precincts
Jan. 10, 2016: Public grabs chance to help with school-enrollment challenges

This news summary was published Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017.

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