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Newton School Committee Member Epstein won't run for reelection

Posted by Deidre Fernandes  December 4, 2012 01:26 PM

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Geoff Epstein, an advocate for math and science curriculum who prided himself as an independent voice, announced in a press release Tuesday that he will not run for a fourth and final term to the Newton School Committee.

In a press release to a parent list-serve, Epstein said he plans to retire from elected office at the end of his term in the fall of 2013. A parent blog, www.greatnewtownschools.org first reported Epstein’s decision earlier this week.

Australian-born Epstein would frequently pipe up with questions during School Committee presentations and during recent Board of Aldermen meetings, he was often spotted sitting alone in the back of the room while the rest of the School Committee members stayed at each other's side.

Epstein said in the press release that the School Committee has changed significantly in recent years and become more transparent and data-driven.

“Both School Committee and central administration used to be of a mind that we were excellent and that was good enough, despite the obvious fact that we were underperforming in math and science, lacked clear goals and accountability, discouraged openness and transparency and had poor communications with the community,” Epstein wrote. “Much has changed.”

Epstein said his decision was also influenced by his youngest son’s graduation from Newton North High School next year.

“He has been a vital connection to NPS reality,” Epstein said. “I would not want to operate on the school committee without that.”

A letter from Epstein:

I have decided not to run for re-election to a 4th and final term on the School Committee in the fall of 2013. I will serve out my current term for its remaining 13 months and then retire from elected office.

I have been actively involved in trying to improve the Newton schools for more than a decade, with the last 5 years as an elected official. Those years have, in my view, been very productive but also a constant battle for change in an environment which was initially quite hostile to that notion. Both school committee and central administration used to be of a mind that we were excellent and that was good enough, despite the obvious fact that we were underperforming in math and science, lacked clear goals and accountability, discouraged openness and transparency and had poor communications with the community.

Much has changed.

We have a much improved city government which values openness and transparency, strives to make data driven decisions and is dedicated to providing citizens value for their tax dollars. That new atmosphere has penetrated the school committee, where most of the old school thinkers on the school committee have termed out and that process will complete next November.

My estimation is that my continued presence won’t affect the school committee or Newton Public Schools trajectories all that much. The school committee which will be seated in 2014 will have a solid core of independent thinkers and even the ones still glued to the local social/political network which dominated the school committee scene for the last 3 decades, could loosen their bonds, to the great advantage of our children.

There is a small danger that in Wards 1, 2 and 6, new members will be elected who say all the right things to get elected and appear superficially to be perfectly sound, but who think NPS is just great and does not need to constantly improve especially in the area of student achievement. But I have great faith in the electorate who took a chance with me and hope that we’ll elect new independent thinkers, dedicated to improving our kids’ education, rather than trying to regain control of the school committee for political reasons.

I encourage new independent minded candidates to run. My time on the school committee has been one of the most worthwhile experiences of my life. I am 100% available to chat with anyone contemplating a run. And remember that all these elections are at large. Everyone gets to vote on all the school committee members.

A further influence on my decision has been the fact that my youngest son is a senior and graduating from Newton North in 2013. He has been a vital connection to NPS reality. I would not want to operate on the school committee without that. It has been my observation that school committee members perform better if they have children in the school system and although that is not an iron clad rule, I think it is a wise practice for school committee members to exit when their children graduate.

Although much has been achieved, much remains to be done and in my remaining year I shall keep up energetic advocacy on a number of key issues, including strengthening the math skills of elementary teachers, grade acceleration in math for able students and increasing the number of middle school students in accelerated math so they stay firmly in a stream which reaches calculus and so keeps their STEM career opportunities alive. I will also be pressing as hard as I can to have the city finally fund digital education infrastructure at the level of $1.5 million each year so our kids and teachers get the modern education support they deserve. That is our biggest chronic unfixed problem.

Overall, my focus will be on student achievement and community communications, including keeping parents in the educational loop much better than is done now.

I appreciate all of the support I have received over the years and thank everyone who has helped in large or small ways. That has meant a great deal to me and sustained me in this ongoing battle to make NPS the best school system it can be.

I plan to write a number of pieces in the coming year which detail some of the experiences I have had, some of the lessons I have learned and what that implies for future constructive change in NPS.

Geoff Epstein
School Committee Member, Ward 1

Deirdre Fernandes can be reached at deirdre.fernandes@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @fernandesglobe.

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