Elise A. Stokes
Candidate Website/Social Media Address
I’m grateful to live in a town that values education, and I’m inspired to give back and help out whenever I can. My expertise is centered on education, so serving our community as part of the school committee is a natural fit.
I’m a product of the Massachusetts public school system and I’m a mom of two kids, one at Keller and one at ASMS. In my professional role, I work as a Senior Consultant to public school districts: specializing in Social Emotional Learning, Behavior Analysis, and educational access/ engagement of all students. Additionally, I’ve held volunteer positions on the Franklin School Committee (2019-present), Davis Thayer School Council (2017-2019); and Franklin Children’s School Board of Directors (2013-2016). Finally, my personality is well-suited to this work: I highly value collaboration and creative problem-solving, and I’m always up for a challenge! I’m curious, analytical, and persistent.
I believe that my parent perspective, my professional and volunteer background, and my character strengths make me an asset to the school committee. I’d be stoked to serve another term on the Franklin school committee!
Over my first term on the School Committee, a lot has happened: a budget crisis, a pandemic, a school retirement, and many other issues. Good thing I love a challenge! I’m proud of my involvement, objectivity, and collaboration.
Involvement: I took advantage of opportunities presented to School Committee members to represent the School Committee in Franklin Public School events: school tours, graduation ceremonies (class of ‘20 and class of ‘21), the Professional Teacher Status ceremony, an English 11 symposium, senior projects at the High School, etc. Additionally, very early in my term I completed the Massachusetts Association of School Committees (MASC) “Charting the Course'' workshop designed for newly elected School Committee members. My consistent attendance and participation at the full School Committee meetings, workshops, and subcommittee meetings is also evidence of my involvement and dedication.
Objectivity: There were many complicated and emotionally-charged topics over these last two years that had potential to blur the lines between public service and personal life. I made my School Committee decisions based on available evidence, following current policies and regulations (i.e. not based on gossip, fears, or external pressure), in the best interest of the Franklin Public Schools community and the Town of Franklin. Some examples were: the retirement of Davis Thayer (DT), budgetary matters, union negotiations, superintendent evaluation feedback, and pandemic-related policies.
Collaboration: Working together with colleagues and community members is a critical piece of being an effective School Committee member. Some areas where I effectively collaborated were: partnering with the YMCA to offer free physical activity self-care options for FPS staff through my work on the School Wellness Advisory Committee (SWAC); discussing, creating and updating district policies with my policy subcommittee colleagues; listening and giving input on Fall 2020 school reopening plans as part of the Reopening Task Force (and elementary subcommittee); brainstorming and troubleshooting with the Marketing & Communications Specialist around webpage content for Facilities Analysis subcommittee work to be shared with the community; discussing and sharing resources for assessing best practices for inclusion with my teammates on the Inclusive Practices subcommittee of the Diversity, Equity, Inclusion (DEI) committee.
Teachers want to do right by their students and they deserve the time, resources, and respect to do their work. We need to continue to promote staff well-being and communication, and give teachers what they need to best support their students.
As adults, we must take care of ourselves so we can best take care of our children/students. As a member of the School Committee and the Reopening Task Force, I encouraged the district’s commitment to supporting teacher well-being. At every meeting we discussed teacher morale and brainstormed ways to support staff through the pandemic. In my role on the School Wellness Advisory Committee (SWAC), I collaborated with the subcommittees to shift our focus to include staff wellness in addition to student wellness. I’m looking forward to hearing more details from the staff well-being survey that was completed at the end of the school year, so I can work with SWAC to incorporate more customized options for staff wellness.
In addition to wellness-specific supports, I will continue to hold the district accountable for the district improvement goal of Effective Two-way Communication between and among stakeholders, including staff and administrators. Positive interpersonal relationships between teachers and school leaders, and teachers and their peers are important factors that boost job satisfaction, enthusiasm, confidence, and loyalty. As part of that, the value of the work/life balance must be preserved; encouraged and modeled by administrators. As part of my role on the School Committee, I can promote a healthy respect for and understanding of the work/life balance through my interactions with others.
Tiered systems help teachers support students, by outlining 1) the universal teaching & social/emotional (SEL) practices in place for all students, 2) more targeted instruction/ resources for those students who need a little extra instruction/support and 3) individualized or intensive instruction and resources for the few students who have significant needs in the areas of academics &/or SEL. As tiered systems in both the academic and social/emotional realms are formalized by the district, it will clarify resources and direction to ensure each student is getting what they need to be successful. Research shows that strengthening tiered systems, especially universal practices to support social/emotional well-being, has a positive impact on classroom behavior. More student engagement and less behavior is often appealing to teachers and students alike!
In spring 2020, the pandemic forced the School Committee to shift our meetings to virtual and that became an opportunity for many community members to join our meetings from the comfort of their own homes. The ease and accessibility of virtual meetings brought far larger audiences and participation than previous in-person meetings; it really opened opportunities for people who wanted to be more involved or aware but couldn’t attend in person. Even when we shifted to hybrid (School Committee members in-person and others able to join remotely) the audiences remained bigger and people participated more than pre-COVID. The increased involvement through virtual meetings will hopefully continue!
As individual School Committee members, we each have our channels of 2-way communication around school-related issues. I’ll continue to engage in information-sharing and conversations with families and community members and be sure to bring their perspectives to School Committee and subcommittee meetings. Also, I’ll give a big shoutout to the Community Relations subcommittee: they’ve done a great job of community outreach despite some events being canceled due to the pandemic. I will continue to collaborate with them and support them in their work.
The Facilities Assessment report (Kaestle Boos, 2020) examined the K-8 school buildings in Franklin to determine the capacity of each (i.e. how many students could be educated there), give Educational Adequacy ratings of each (i.e. how the spaces are able to meet the needs of 21st century teaching & learning), and offer recommendations to maximize our spaces to best serve the education of our students, in a fiscally responsible way
The report shows that the 3 stand-alone elementary schools (Davis Thayer, Kennedy, and Parmenter) are older and have lower educational adequacy scores than the 3 elementary/middle complex schools (Keller/ASMS, Oak/HMMS, and Jefferson/Remmington). Given this information, paired with the decreasing enrollment data we received in the McKibben (2020) forecast, it is clear that in the future some schools will need to close or be renovated to continue to serve our school community in the 21st century. Retiring the Davis Thayer building was an emotional process but, at the same time, a necessary part of making responsible decisions to best support our school community as a whole.
The Functional Assessment report recommended that the district and School Committee create a long range Master Facilities Plan that will outline a process for maximizing the educational adequacy of our buildings; this may include action to renovate or rebuild specific school(s). A capitol project like that would require substantial funding and is not a process to be rushed or taken lightly. I anticipate the district and newly elected School Committee will collaborate to decide how to structure that process and be sure to include community engagement along the way.
Based on the enrollment forecast data in the demographic study (McKibben, 2020) and the capacity and Educational Adequacy data in the Facilities Assessment (Kaestle Boos, 2020), it is clear that:
the district’s enrollment is forecasted to decrease overall
some schools are more crowded than others
some schools are more updated than others
My perspective, based on the data available, is that the school catchment areas should be updated (i.e. students be redistricted) to support equitable education for all students in the Franklin Public Schools. To keep the current districts despite these impactful variables would 1) crowd some schools while leaving others with extra space, and 2) keep some students in increasingly outdated educational spaces while others enjoy more state-of-the-art facilities. This is not equitable. The School Committee must make decisions based on what’s best for the school community. Redistricting would be a complex decision, and the process would need to be thoughtful, data-based, and include communication with stakeholders throughout.
Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) are focus areas that are clearly embedded within the FPS district goals and school improvement plans. I have served on the district’s DEI committee (and the DEI Inclusive Practices subcommittee) since its establishment in 2020 and I plan to continue that work if re-elected. This expands on work I did with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) in 2016, becoming a trainer for their Leading Educational Access Project (LEAP). This LEAP “train the trainer” experience, and my subsequent consultation opportunities and professional development workshops on this topic, provided a strong foundation for my Franklin DEI committee work. In the spirit of continuous improvement, I am committed to keep listening, learning, and taking action to support topics related to diversity, equity, and inclusion.
I especially look forward to the district’s equity audit that will be conducted during the next School Committee term. The equity audit will examine district policies, programs, and practices that directly impact staff/students relative to their race, ethnicity, gender, national origin, language, disability, age, sexual orientation, sexual identity, religion, or other socioculturally significant factors. I value objective information and evidence-based decision making, and I’m optimistic that this audit will quantify Franklin’s current DEI strengths, areas of need, as well as specific recommendations to move the district forward in equitably supporting all students and staff.