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Exton: Newcomer for school seat helped organize for TAs

Campaign kickoff Saturday, March 7, from 3:30 to 5 p.m. at the home of Holly and Rob Rossi, 27 Colonial Drive.

Liz Exton, School Committee candidate, 2020 photoExton

Elizabeth Exton, a kindergarten teacher in Brookline who in 2018 organized a group of parents to successfully advocate for full-time kindergarten teaching assistants here, is among four candidates for three School Committee seats.

"I know I can be a key voice advocating for our students and their families at this important moment," she wrote in response to basic questions.

Here are her full answers to queries asked of all who take out papers. They have been edited:

Q: In general, why are you seeking this seat?

I am running because I care deeply about the Town of Arlington, and I want to help create a school system where all children can thrive. I have been involved with the Arlington schools since well before my children were old enough to enroll. With the superintendent search, continued population growth, budget development, town overrides and a new high school, we are at a critical juncture for the Arlington schools. I know I can be a key voice advocating for our students and their families at this important moment.

I enjoy collaborating with Arlington parents to effect positive change for our schools. In 2018, I organized a group of more than 75 parents to successfully advocate for full-time kindergarten teaching assistants in all of Arlington’s elementary schools. In addition to having a positive impact on the experiences of kindergartners in the Arlington public schools, we were able to work within the budget process, and work with the School Committee to make sure competing priorities were balanced.  

Finally, I bring a blend of perspectives that will be a credit to the School Committee. I am a mother of two children and want to send children to the best possible schools. I’m also a public school educator, and know what it takes to have the administrators, faculty, staff and facilities that are the bedrock of a great school system.

Q: What specific qualifications do you have that support your candidacy?

The voice of an educator is vital to the issues facing the School Committee. I have a master's degree in child development from Tufts University and have been teaching early childhood education continuously since 2002. The past eight years I’ve been a kindergarten teacher in the public schools of Brookline. I’ve given presentations and won awards, grants, and fellowships for my teaching. I’ve been a key voice in hiring exceptional leadership for my school.

School Committee members should be active citizens, well-connected to the needs of their neighbors. I am a Town Meeting member in Precinct 15, and was a member of the Build Arlington’s Future Campaign for the 2019 operating override and high school debt exclusion.

Committee members should have a track record of partnering with families to bring positive change. The staffing change for full-time kindergarten teaching assistants in all of Arlington’s elementary schools is in its second year, and is included in the fiscal 2021 budget. Its impact directly supports the successful transition of kindergartners into our elementary schools.

Q: What are the key issues you see facing the School Committee?

Hiring a new superintendent, diversity and inclusion, long-range planning and special education.

Q: How would you address them?

Hiring a new superintendent: The School Committee is responsible for choosing our next superintendent. I have served on a number of search committees for administrative leadership in schools, and will bring my experience and perspective to ensure Arlington finds the right candidate. Here is a summary of the qualities we should prioritize:

  • Visionary leadership. The superintendent we hire will wake up every day wondering how to get the best out of his or her team, encouraging educational leaders who are continually striving to further hone their crafts. An ideal superintendent will look into the future and make sure we have the team and resources not just for a great school system today, but in the years to come.

  • Educational philosophy. A highly qualified superintendent will bring a well-reasoned and modern educational philosophy to Arlington, including an understanding of collaboration and project based learning, and an emphasis on social-emotional learning.

  • Communication. A strong superintendent must prioritize clear communication with the many stakeholders across the district. Families will have straightforward insight into the plans and actions of the district, and educators will have a clear understanding of a long-term plan.

  • Collaboration. Finally, the next Arlington superintendent will be someone who brings a positive attitude to work with not only when things go well, but also someone with the personality with whom to work collaboratively when things can be improved. They will be a collaborative and inclusive colleague, who is valued by faculty, staff, students and families.  

Diversity and inclusion: We need to continue with efforts to increase the diversity of the faculty and staff of the Arlington public schools to better reflect the student population. We need to continue to focus on professional development for staff in the areas of cultural competency and social-emotional learning, and ensure that issues of diversity and inclusion are part of a long-term staff development plan. There needs to be more cohesion and collaboration among the diversity task force and the school centered Diversity and Inclusion Groups with regard to parent and teacher training, funding, and communication.

Long-range planning: Arlington’s population continues to grow, adding increased pressure to the school budget and facilities. I will work to ensure that the School Committee takes a responsible, long-term view of the budget through proactive planning, assessing and refining programming and funding choices, and ensuring class sizes and access to programming are equitable across schools and grade levels.

Special education: Arlington public schools needs to reprioritize aspects of our special-education program. This is important both morally and fiscally: We will ensure that all students in Arlington are held to high expectations and are given the support needed to meet those expectations. A more comprehensive program will reduce the town’s reliance on costly outplacements. Continuing to fund professional development for both special-education and general-education teachers, using research based practices and interventions to support and document student learning, and improving communication with families need to be a focus for bringing our special-education program back into focus.

Q: What personal background can you provide?

My husband, Jason Kahn, and I have lived in Arlington since 2012, and have two children. Sam is a first grader at Stratton, and Penny attends preschool. I am currently a kindergarten teacher in the public schools of Brookline, and have a master's degree in child development from Tufts University.

Her campaign website >>

ACMi profile >>

Opposition

Incumbents for School Committee seeking three-year terms are Bill Hayner and Paul Schlichtman. The third seat is held by an incumbent is Jennifer Susse, who is not seeking reelection.

The other new candidate is Lynette Martyn. 


This news summary was published Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020, and updated Feb. 28, to add kickoff. All potential candidates in the April election have been asked a similar set of questions. All responses received will be edited and published.

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