By Daniel Carson — Community Editor and Daniel Zagoren — Op-Ed Editor
Voters will head to the polls for the annual Sharon town election on May 18th. One race in particular, for positions on the School Committee, is generating widespread interest across the community.
After a turbulent year for the Sharon School Committee, plagued by legal battles, late-night meetings, and frequent arguments, many in Sharon are preparing for a likely change in district leadership. There are nine candidates in the School Committee election, some running for three-year positions and some for only one-year positions.
Inna Belenky (Three Year)
Inna Belenky is a Sharon High School Alumni and has worked in education for 16 years. She attended Simmons College and majored in Sociology and Elementary Education. Belenky earned an EDM in Special Education – Mild/Moderate disabilities in a Master’s program at Boston University.
Since then, Belenky has worked in Special Education in public schools in the Massachusetts area and has completed a CAGS program at BU in Administration and Leadership. Belenky currently works in the classroom in Canton Public Schools and started the district’s Post Secondary Program.
Belenky says that the value of a school district should not be determined by test scores. “A good school district is one in which identifies each child as an individual and supports them to achieve his/her/their individual potential,” said Belenky.
She believes that no matter what age, students should have a voice in their education. “It is our collective responsibility to ensure that we create an environment where student voices are fostered, encouraged, and supported,” said Belenky.
If elected, Belenky plans to heal the rift between the School Committee and the community. “This relationship will not be repaired in a day, month, or quite frankly in a year…I will listen, support, and work collaboratively with all stakeholders in order to do what’s right for our children,” said Belenky.
Tanya Lewis (One Year)
Tanya Lewis is currently on the school committee and has children who are currently enrolled in Sharon Public Schools. She also has many close relationships with educators. In her past, she has developed science course content for middle school girls attending a Saturday academic enrichment program in Boston.
She believes a good school district is one that includes joyful children, educators providing a safe learning environment, teachers and parents feel supported, and children are exceeding proficiency expectations.
Lewis talks about what it means for her to create an inclusive environment. “A key platform issue for me, an inclusive environment is one in which people feel safe sharing how they feel about a particular topic, which results in an exchange of ideas leading to elevated thinking and a sense of belonging,” she says.
Mrs. Lewis talks about the differences between equity and equality when describing a diverse school system. She says, “equality focuses on giving every student access to the same education. While equity focuses on providing every student access to the opportunities that will help that individual student to be successful.”
If appointed to be a member of the school committee, Tanys says she will “seek input from stakeholders who are impacted by the school district and those who have an impact on the school district. It will continue to be my approach to hear from all stakeholders to arrive at the most robust decisions for our District.”
Wenxiao Tiano (Three Year)
Wenxiao Tiano is the parent of a child who is soon to be enrolled in Heights Elementary School. She says that high standards, leadership, and teacher retention are key elements to creating a good school district. Students who choose a diverse array of programs to study will also contribute to a good school system.
Wenxiao’s campaign team is led by a Sharon alumni, a parent of a Sharon student, and a current high school student. She says, I truly believe in giving diverse input and expertise all the consideration it deserves.
If elected, Wenxiao states that she will establish school committee coffee hours with community members so that all stakeholders can express their opinions and ideas. Also, she wants to focus on the community as a whole and meeting the needs of all students.
Wenxiao talks about what will make up a dynamic learning environment. “In building understanding and cultural competency among students, staff, and community, we can create a climate of inclusivity and belonging that lends itself to a productive learning environment where all feel accepted and appreciated,” she says.
Chethana (Rani) Naik (One Year)
Chethana Naik is a parent in the school district. She has two sons enrolled in 5th and 7th grade. Naik says she has enjoyed her experience in Sharon Public Schools, especially interacting with her son’s educators and seeing her kids always excited to go to school.
Growing up in the suburbs of Washington DC, Naik said she has always been, “exposed to cultural diversity and a huge spectrum of educational opportunities.”
She says this experience showed her that while schools must focus on their academic metrics, it is important that individual students are supported as well.
Naik says another vital factor in a school district is support for educators. “They are an integral pillar of the education system and truly invested in the educational system,” she said.
Naik believes that, in order to maintain a healthy relationship between the School Committee and the community, there must be open communication. “I believe in having transparent and open discussions to ensure there’s empathy and understanding for when there is a difference of viewpoints,” said Naik.
Naik says that Sharon Public School’s diversity makes it a special and unusual district, and, because of this, equity for all must be ensured. “Equity to me demonstrates that we recognize the strengths and weaknesses at an individual level and develop programs to either challenge or support them respectively,” said Naik.
Prisnel Dominique (Three Year)
Prisnel Dominique is a parent of three children in the community. He says this experience has given him a great lens into the inner workings of a school district.
Dominique says in order for a school district to be successful, it must have a strategic plan. “That plan should be broadly focused on the goals of the community, the educators, and the administration,” said Dominique.
“It should focus on ensuring that each individual learner is empowered and enabled to achieve their own, individual, highest potential irrespective of other factors that they come to the table with,” he added.
Dominique says the main responsibilities of a School Committee are providing oversight of the budget, being responsible for policy, and being responsible for the hiring, firing, and managing of the Superintendent to the District Strategic goals and other challenges and/or issues that arise within the schools.
“The School Committee…should be able to have some influence on some additional matters…the School Committee should balance that limited influence to ensure that we are mindful of allowing and empowering our…educators to use their expertise in problem-solving,” said Dominique.
Dominique says the School Committee should not “meddle into tactical affairs but rather stay [highly] focused on strategy, execution, and accountability.”
Heather Zelevinsky (One Year)
Heather Zelevinsky has served on the School Committee since 2018 and additionally has two kids who attend school in the district. Additionally, Zelevinsky has volunteered with the M. Ellen Carpenter Financial Literacy Program teaching real-world financial skills to students at Madison Park Technical Vocational High School.
Zelevinsky says she loves to hear from teachers and students but is often restricted by rules governing the School Committee. “I especially like it when students reach out to us by email or by attending our meetings. They are the reason we do what we do. I also love to hear from teachers,” said Zelevinsky.
“I rely a lot on parents and sometimes social media to get a sense of what people want as a whole,” she added.
Zelevinsky says our Sharon school system needs to work on addressing learning with an “equity” mindset, not “equality”. “‘Equality’ means treating everyone the same, and ‘equity means giving each person appropriate support to succeed in light of their circumstances,” she said.
“I also think the district has room to improve to become truly inclusive without succumbing to a one-size-fits-all approach or the perception of anti-intellectualism, which is a frequent criticism,” said Zelevinsky.
In order to maintain a healthy relationship with the community. “A certain level of transparency, trust, acceptance, and mutual respect is needed to build healthy, working relationships between various stakeholders,” Zelevinsky said.
Veronica Wiseman (Three Year)
Veronica Wiseman has a multitude of experience in K-12 education, including raising funds to support students and faculty, being a member of the Heights Elementary PTO, and working in K-12 schools on and off for the past 30 years. She is also a speech-language pathologist and a parent to three children who attended elementary school in Sharon.
Having spent many years working in schools, Veronica has experience tackling issues and in parent leadership. To her, “A good school district starts with a strong and supportive school culture. A good school district nurtures and supports students, and creates a rich learning environment that is stimulating, safe, equitable, and inclusive.”
Wiseman states that a healthy relationship between the School Committee, teachers, and parents should rely on a variety of different things. “Respect. Leading by example. Remembering that while we will never agree on all things, we must lead with gratitude, understanding, and compassion,” she said.
In creating a more inclusive setting for all students, Veronica says that teachers need to focus more on the individual student, while also being available to all students evenly. “To provide them with an equitable learning environment, educators need to support them as individuals. The great challenge is providing that individual programming while serving all the students equitably,” she said.
Aviron Shemtov (One Year)
Aviron Shemtov has a large presence in the community for being the owner of Simcha and a Canton-based food truck. He currently has two children in elementary school and in the past has taught a few programs in a Boston Public School.
Shemtov has a focus on each student being able to achieve their highest potential, and on educators giving the necessary resources for students to get there. “To me, the two measures of a great school district are how much opportunity every single student is given to reach their full potential and how empowered every educator is to educate every single child in whatever way that child needs to be reached,” he said.
He also says that with the help of educators, students will be provided with an equitable education that will help each student achieve their goals, no matter their background. “It is our responsibility as school committee members, administrators, and educators to work towards ensuring that happens. Any student’s inequitable education is a failure on all of our parts,” he states.
According to Shemtov, educators, administrators, parents, and school committee members are all in the same boat in that they each want what will be best for the students of Sharon. There needs to be a balance where teachers don’t have to abandon their personal goals to educate children, or where they need to teach children in an unsafe learning environment.
There are things that need to be fixed, and Aviron acknowledges this. “We simply need to start new and build bridges where others have broken,” he said.
Kathleen Currul-Dykeman (Three Year)
Kathleen Currul-Dykeman has been on the school committee for nine years. She has three children and is a professor at Stonehill College. On top of that, Kathleen is the director of the Martin Institute of Law and Society.
She says that in order for the school district to be productive, leaders must be able to avoid conflicts and work together to solve issues. “A good school district is one where administration leads through consensus, not conflict… Evidence of collaborative decisions making and mutual respect can be seen almost everywhere qualitatively,” she said.
In Kathleen’s words, where equality and equity differ from one another is the outcomes that students can take in and after school. “Where equality strives to treat students the same regardless of the outcome – equity seeks to offer different opportunities so that students have the chance to realize similar outcomes,” she said.
There are a lot of factors that go into a collaborative environment between the school committee, educators, and parents. For Kathleen, these include, “honesty… respect… [and] a commitment to transparency and hard work.”