Meet the Candidates: School Committee
The Owl asked candidates for the one contested race (three candidates for two positions on School Committee) to answer a few questions. All three candidates answered the call (the hoot?) and their responses (unedited) are below. The Owl reminds all readers that these are volunteer positions for the Town of Weston, require an amazing amount of time and untold stress, and that even if you do not like or plan to vote for a candidate, they all deserve respect and appreciation for being willing to serve.
The 2022 Town Election is May 7, 2022. There is an absentee ballot option. Please see the official Town page for more information.
The School Committee candidates are incumbent Anita Raman (3-year veteran of the School Committee and current Chair), Maija Gooch and Jeff Lucas. Ms. Raman is a Caucus nominee while Ms. Gooch and Mr. Lucas both joined the ballot through signatures on nomination forms. The order of answering questions is the order in which they will be listed on the election ballot. School Committee positions are for three years.
For their actual candidate statements, please see the links below the interview questions. You can also “meet” them semi-live (well, they’re alive and you’re alive but it’s on zoom), at the League of Women Voters Candidates Night on April 28 or at individual candidate’s question and answer forums.
The Owl: Why do you want to join (or continue on) the School Committee?
Anita Raman: “I am currently the Chair of the School Committee, and I joined the Committee because of my strong belief in the value and importance of our town’s schools. I know first hand the value of a strong public school education; after attending Massachusetts public schools from kindergarten through twelfth grade I graduated from Columbia University and then Harvard Law School, and I believe strongly that the Weston Schools can and should provide a similar foundation for success for our kids. I would like to continue to serve for another term because I believe it is important to have a School Committee with the knowledge and experience necessary to be able to make positive changes for Weston students. “
Maija Gooch: “I care deeply about our schools and our community. Strategy, financial and business expertise is not well represented on our School Committee and my skills would complement the existing team. I believe successful boards need to be collaborative and have diverse perspectives and backgrounds. I have an MBA and BBA from the University of Michigan. I worked at Bain & Company, American Express, and Barclays doing strategy, product development, and corporate finance. I bring not just passion for our schools, but a business perspective that embraces collaboration, transparency, and data-driven analytics. I believe in asking the tough questions, doing the hard work to develop solutions, and then holding ourselves accountable for the outcomes. I want to make sure Weston schools are the best they can be.”
Jeff Lucas: “My parents were the first in their families to obtain college degrees, so I’ve personally experienced the transformation a rigorous education can deliver. I want our town’s children to continue benefitting from that same rigor. My interest in joining the committee crystalized during town meeting last spring. There was great urgency over the passage of the school budget. It ultimately passed, resulting from a concerted effort to bring out voters. I want to see the whole town united around the funding of our public schools.”
The Owl: What do you think is the greatest single challenge facing our Schools?
Anita Raman: “I would frame the core challenge facing our schools, and ultimately the mission for the School Committee, as follows: to continuously enhance students’ academic and overall school experience in a way that optimizes every dollar spent by the district. Changes to improve student experience require persistence, diligence and knowledge, but they can be done. To take the high school as one example, over the last couple months alone I initiated key changes to improve student experience: to reduce stress and allow for thoughtful planning, students will now receive their next year’s class list in the spring before school ends rather than in late summer, and families will receive details about the college application timeline in the spring of Junior year rather than at the start of Senior year; and the District has adopted a trial policy to let Seniors use interscholastic athletics to satisfy their P.E. requirement to give them greater opportunity to experience other classes. My budget philosophy is simple, but very important: the schools must limit growth and optimize the use of every dollar, while being sure to have no adverse effect on student choice or direct services to students. I put it into practice this year; when the School Committee received a proposed budget in January 2022 with a 3.3% increase over FY22 I worked closely with the school admin team to make thoughtful and strategic choices resulting in a meaningfully reduced budget, with a 2.5% increase over FY22, and no reductions to student choice or services, that the School Committee approved in March 2022.”
Maija Gooch: “Maintaining great schools as enrollment declines. Our student body has declined 15% in the last 10 years. A recent report by our superintendent forecasted a further 7.8% decline by 2030. We need a plan on how we will adapt to these changing demographics… while maintaining rich programming, without continually increasing spending, and keeping Weston schools independent. I want to use my strategy skills and experience to develop a long term operational and strategy plan that addresses these challenges.”
Jeff Lucas: “With COVID-19, we’ve just been through the greatest challenge facing all schools across the U.S., and I applaud the tireless efforts of so many to deliver the best possible education for our students. Currently, the concern I hear most frequently expressed by parents is a sense that academic rigor in our schools may be waning. We can see it in metrics comparing Weston to neighboring schools. Last year the district approved a strategic plan that didn’t include goals addressing measurable improvements in academic performance. We need the specificity, focus and insight that those goals would provide.”
The Owl: What makes Weston Public School district the best in the universe? (okay, biased question)
Anita Raman: “I couldn’t agree more that the Weston Schools are the best in the universe; that is why I have devoted so much of my time and energy over the past few years to them, and want to continue doing that work. My campaign slogan is “For Weston Students” so my answer to the question of what makes the Weston Schools the best will come as no surprise: the students. The limitless potential of Weston students is the district’s greatest asset and it is the mission of the schools to give students the foundation, tools and opportunities to realize their potential now and throughout their lives.”
Maija Gooch: “Our teachers. I have endless appreciation for them going back to teach our kids in-person while so many districts were only offering remote school.”
Jeff Lucas: “First, it’s the people: dedicated, caring educators; engaged, supportive parents; and previous school leaders whose wise decisions years ago have enabled excellence in our schools today. Second, it’s our district’s focus on the “whole child,” and the three strategic focus areas that support it. And third, if we consider our students’ readiness for success in college, Weston excels.”
The Owl: Who was your favorite teacher/professor/subject and why?
Anita Raman: “I experienced many different teaching styles and skills throughout my K-12 education, college and law school, and one of my favorite teachers was a high school social studies teacher, Ms. Schwartzberg. She taught a class called “Contemporary Issues,” where students brought in newspaper articles each class (I know I’m dating myself!) for discussion. No topic was off limits as long as it came from a newspaper article so there were some entertaining discussions! Ms. Schwartzberg was the first teacher to whom I felt I could relate as a person; she was young, interested in all perspectives, and taught us the importance of being both persuasive and persuadable, two skills I have tried to carry with me ever since.”
Maija Gooch: “My high school math teacher, Mrs. McNeill (for three years, it was a pretty small school) was my favorite. Not only did she teach me math, but also study skills, and treated us all as adults.”
Jeff Lucas: “As an undergraduate, I took a class in art history that was very formative for me. Throughout the semester, the professor projected hundreds of images of art on a screen and asked us students to describe what we saw and felt. She then connected the art to world literature, history, commerce, the social sciences, and natural sciences. The class opened my eyes to diverse cultures and perspectives. In my courses at Boston College today, I use a similar approach, encouraging students to explore what’s behind marketing communications we see every day.”
The Owl: What do you like to do in your free time?
Anita Raman: “My hobbies are pretty boring, but doing almost anything with my two boys and husband definitely tops the list. Beyond that, I run (though marathons are now a thing of the past), garden (in the spring/summer), knit (in the winter) and read. I usually have two books going at a time–one mindless fiction and one less embarrassing non-fiction, and if anyone wants to pass along any suggestions, I’m always looking for book ideas.”
Maija Gooch: “I enjoy playing tennis. And if I have time after my kids’ activities, an evening sitting with my friends, on my patio, with a glass of wine is high on my list of preferred activities.”
Jeff Lucas: “When snow isn’t on the ground, you’ll often find me running or hiking on the trails of our town’s forests. I also love to play tennis and cycle with my wife and daughter, and we really enjoy exploring other cultures through international travel. And I’m pretty good with an Instant Pot. “
For more information on the Candidates, please see their Candidate sites (listed below) or send an email to their contact address.
Candidate site: http://elect.anitaraman.com
Candidate site: https://www.goochforweston.com/
Candidate site: https://lucas4weston.com
Thank you for this article Kristin, and for all of your Owl work.