Dear Farmington Voters and Taxpayers,
My name is Stan Freeda and I am running for School Board on March 10. I am an active member of our community, a long time educator, former high school science teacher, currenlty the State Educational Technology Director at the NH Department of Education. I want to serve on the school board because I feel that we can only grow and prosper as a community if we strengthen our support for our schools, students, and teachers.
Our education system in this country has been continuously slammed over the past 50 years. There is a constant pressure in today's society to reduce our taxes and privatize everything. It's natural for folks to want lower taxes. No one wants to pay higher taxes than they have to pay. However, the real root to the problem is not that we have taxes, but is our share fair? Our capitalist system has fostered greed and avarice among corporations who consistently do everything they can to avoid paying taxes. Since they won't pay for the services our public society needs to be civilized, the burden falls on us.
That's just the way it is, good or bad. Everyone may have their own opinion, and it really doesn't change the situation. The real questions we have to ask ourselves is what can we do about it? And most importantly, should we do something about it?
For me, the answer is obvious. Yes, I want to do something about it. I want to look to the future, not the past. So naturally, the future is our children, and it is our responsibility to raise them and educate them so they can be successful in the society that we have helped to create, and we have helped to maintain through our lifetime. So I chose education as my profession. Believe me, teachers do not go into the profession for the money. We do it for the love of children and for our realization that our children deserve much better than we normally give them. In this town, it is definitely true. For years, the school board has been populated by folks who have one agenda, keep taxes low. And that's not a bad goal. However, it is a terrible place to start the conversation. The entire Middleton mess could have been avoided by a more thoughtful board who considered the education of children to be paramount, not focus on drawing lines between the two districts and making everything about money. Now I know that there are and have been board members who rally care about education and work towards those ends. But there are and have been members whose only purpose has been to keep their own taxes lower. That's the beauty and the curse of a democratic society. Voters have to remember that people elected to board positions can't accomplish anything on their own. Board members do not have autonomy to do accomplish their own personal goals. They have to work with others. And the majority rules, and sometimes, that majority may be in favor of things that are wrong for education and for our children. While I would only be a single person on a 5 person board, I would hope to be able to remind the board members of their responsibilities and keep the focus on the children and the quality of the education our schools can provide. I would diligently work towards trying to find the most cost effective ways to accomplish the important task of educating our children. Building a quality school is the most effective way to attract families to our community. And when more families move to Farmington so their children can go to school in Farmington schools, we increase our tax base and lower our tax rates.
Budgets are built from the ground up. What programs do our children need to be successful? What are the optimum amount of faculty and staff that are needed to support the achievement and development of the children we service? What administrative staff are needed to support them? What supplies and equipment are needed to effectively educate those children and make them successful? And you add it all up and you have your budget, built for success!
What we have in our school board, and unfortunately our town as well, are folks that start with their preferred tax rate. And work backwards to fill in amounts in those lines, and if it isn't adequate, well, then our children will ave to make due. This is morally wrong, in my opinion, and is evidence of a severe lack of understanding not only of education, but of children and their developmental needs.
If Farmington had a wealthy tax base, these kinds of loaded “tax”questions wouldn't even be asked of potential candidates. Questions like “What do you feel our children need to improve?” would outweigh questions like “What do you think of state test scores?” because the focus is on the children. But educating them costs money, and when education works, test scores are high. When education doesn't work, test scores are low. There is no other way to frame it than that, because that is the only possible answer. Test scores are only as important as the content being tested. Personally, I am not in favor of standardized testing at all. There isn't a teacher in a classroom in this country who can't tell you exactly what their kids know and don't know, just by working with them everyday. If we would trust and support them, we would have our accountability system built in. Just as the teachers. But we don't have that trust built into our system. No Child Left Behind has determined that all kids must be tested in grades 3-8 and once in high school. Period. No argument. If you don't want to follow the law, then you can't get any federal funding. It's no different than the state not giving you a driver's license if you refuse to pay the fee to get one. Testing is a reality. It's not our fault that we have to test. But it is our responsibility to prepare our children for their adult life, in terms of both their profession and their civic responsibility. And currently, our ability to do that is judged by the performance on standardized tests.
Farmington has low test scores, most likely because either our kids don't have enough opportunities to learn the standards that they will be tested on or our focus is not on teaching what the kids need to learn. Kids need support from teachers. Teachers need support form administration. Administration needs support from the school board. The school board needs support from the town. It really does take a village to raise a child.
And the problem with our village is that our focus is not on educating our children it is saving our tax base. Sure we have to stretch every penny. I am all for tight budgets and trimming down of waste. But I am not for cutting out vital parts of our education system. The suggestion that somehow school board members are put into a situation where they are between taxpayers and the education of students is a short sighted and narrow minded. The only way that situation plays out is if the taxpayers don't care about the education of students. Otherwise, the correct analogy should be that school board members are a bridge between the taxpayers and the education of students. School board members work to ensure the taxpayers that their community's children are getting a quality education. The should work with the community to help folks better understand what is at stake and where their tax dollars are going. Setting up the question as an adversarial one, only assumes that folks aren't interested in education, but merely a low tax rate. Low tax rates at “any cost” or by “any means” have a severe cost. And the cost is our children's future. I personally am not willing to pay that price. I want my tax dollars to go to those children. I want them to be spent efficiently and effectively. And I don't mind paying a few extra dollars to get the quality I believe our children deserve.
People are the heart and soul of education. Kids have different learning styles and preferences. Some are internally motivated, but most learn because they love and respect their teachers. If we don't give those children a stable, educated, happy and supported faculty, they will not succeed. If we don't like testing, then our reaction should be to blame our representatives in Congress, who have consistently refused to update the failed No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, but to blame and punish our teachers and students. But regardless, testing is a demonstration of knowledge. And it is necessary for schools to use them, in some form, so that teachers can assess the learning of their students and the effectiveness of their own teaching. Properly designed tests that measure learning of properly designed standards are a good thing. Kids are only afraid of tests because tests are often designed to catch students who are not learning. A student can hit any target they can see. So we have to show them those targets, give them the experience and practice they need to be successful, then allow them to demonstrate that success back to us. Luckily for us NH has adopted a wonderful set of performance standards that allow teachers the flexibility to design their own lessons and curriculum to meet the needs of their students. And our adaptive computer based testing choice, is also designed to measure success rather than focus on failures. Adaptive testing means that students will get to answer more questions correctly than incorrectly. What a wonderful way to build confidence and self esteem, two things our students desperately need.
In New Hampshire, we are also lucky because we got a waiver from the accountability weights of the standardized testing, although we do still have to test. No one got a waiver from testing. But we can report the results of our schools through multiple measures, rather than just a single test. So our school districts have the opportunity to design accountability programs which take many factors into account and report the successes we can accomplish.
Farmington is at a cross roads. Once a thriving community with many successful businesses and factories where hard working folks lived, worked, and raised their children. Many of those children are still here. But the businesses have all gone. And while we have a larger population, our tax base growth has not been equal to the cost of administering and governing a thriving community. Boards of Selectmen have come and gone, and like our school boards they have been populated with folks who care greatly about restoring Farmington to the thriving community it once was. And there are others who just fight to keep their own taxes low. We can't do both. If we want to attract businesses and families to our town, we need a plan, and we need to stick together and support the town. And that means that until we get a larger revenue stream in from businesses and higher wage working families, we will have to pay to support our public institutions. It's no fun fun facing that, but that's the way it is. If we keep strangling our public services and making cuts to save money, more people will move away, no new people will move here, and the spiral continues downward. But if we make the sacrifices we need now, and stick together, build good schools, that are recognized throughout New Hampshire for their quality, then young families will move here to educate their children in our schools. And businesses will move here because we have good schools and town services. And every one that we attract is a return on our investments.
I challenge those asking the questions, to answer them for yourself. What are your goals for our community? What will you do to improve our schools and our town? Who will you support for our town officials? Do you want the status quo? Or do you have a vision of a better future?
A vision of a better future. That's what being a community is all about.
Thanks for listening, Farmington! I would appreciate your vote on March 10.
Go to Stan's School Board Candidate Page