Meet School Committee Candidates
3 Candidates - 2 Spots Open
Lauren Duprey, Melissa Martin (Candidate for Re-Election), Catherine Mirick
The School Committee supports the core values, vision and mission of the Wellesley Public Schools, as well as the Committee’s responsibilities to:
1. What is your track record on environmental sustainability, including any related interests, experience, or initiatives?
Protecting our environment is so important and I have sought to incorporate sustainable practices into my family’s life – recycling, reducing consumption, limiting use of harmful chemicals and supporting organizations that share similar commitments. I am proud to work for a company which has committed to carbon neutrality by 2040. On a state and national level, I support candidates who are committed to preservation of natural resources as well as green practices.
Like most people, I constantly feel like I should do even more for this important cause. As a member of School Committee I would be committed to ensuring the Wellesley Schools do as much as possible to this end.
I am proud to have represented the Wellesley Public Schools along with Superintendent Dr. Lussier in accepting a Green Ribbon Schools award that recognized the district for its sustainable practices, such as energy conservation, food waste diversion, reduction in single-use plastic and green cleaning practices. Throughout my time serving on the Committee, it has become clear that this progress is made through partnerships with many stakeholders throughout Town. These numerous partnerships include the Facilities Management Department (FMD), Wellesley Green Schools, Wellesley’s 3R Working group, the Sustainable Energy Committee (SEC), Whitsons, Wellesley Police Department, student groups, faculty leaders, and many others. I fully support these continued partnerships at all levels. Innovative ideas on how to tackle sustainability issues emerge from many different sources.
On a personal level, I have worked to make some progress on sustainability, though I feel I still have a long way to go. I have recently embarked on two personal challenges: eliminating single-use plastic and reducing my overall consumption of new items. Simply trying to eliminate my consumption of single-use plastic for one week was an eye-opening experience. It was astonishingly challenging, and I found grocery shopping nearly paralyzing as so many items include plastic packaging. Yet, challenging myself to change my behavior in this area has had long-lasting effects, and I have continued to identify ways to limit and reduce the amount of single-use plastic consumed in my home and to focus on identifying reusable materials. With regard to my attempt to reduce my overall consumption of new items, I have been working to clear things out of my house that could better serve others and, more importantly, to not replace these items with more unneeded items. I continue to challenge myself by asking whether I really need new items that I bring into my home.
As a household, we absolutely love taking advantage of two opportunities that exist in the Wellesley community: 1) choosing to purchase a percentage of the power for your home from renewable resources and 2) dropping off food waste at the RDF to be converted into biofuel.
I grew up on a farm in Kansas, so the outdoors, growing things, and nature have always been a part of my life. I spent my college summers teaching Leave No Trace camping skills to Boy Scouts in New Mexico and trying to instill in them a love of the wild - and a sense of the greatness around them. Teaching children to love our world is the first step towards saving it.
This love of the outdoors and wilderness has grown over the years into a need to work towards preserving it in part by reducing our carbon footprint whenever possible. Buildings are one of the highest energy uses in town, so we’ve tried to minimize the energy we use in our home. When we built our house we used 6 inch studs in the exterior walls instead of the more common 4 inch studs; the additional insulation makes heating and cooling much more efficient. We were also in the first wave of Solarize Wellesley - the 41 panels on our roof have produced more electricity since their 2014 installation than we’ve used. We’ve always had a compost pile for yard waste and vegetable scraps and were glad to be one of the first participants in the RDF Food Waste program.
Transportation is another huge driver of energy use, so we try to minimize on that front as well. When we bought our house 20 years ago, Chris and I were both working in Boston and a major driver for us was being able to walk to the train. We happily realized that this location meant that we could also walk to the grocery store, CVS, the library and all of our kids schools. Jobs have changed since then, and Chris now drives to Waltham for work - we’re super excited that we just put down a deposit on an electric car to make that daily commute more efficient and better for the environment.
In our home we’ve also put into action many of the small changes that do make a difference, like LED light bulbs and motion sensing lights; trying to avoid plastic bottles and containers and re-using the ones that we do get; taking a reusable cup anytime we get tea at Starbucks; and always having reusable bags handy for shopping and storage uses. We’ve also tried to instill a sustainability culture as we’ve raised our kids. We walked to school - almost always. Our daughter Susanna did her senior project with Sustainable Wellesley and is now studying Environmental Science at Colorado College.
We’ve made sustainability a natural way of life - most recently that the Mirick for School Committee campaign signs beginning to sprout across town are biodegradable and their stands are re-usable!
2. In the past year, youth movements such as Fridays for Future, Climate Strike, Sunrise Movement have engaged many young people in Wellesley who are concerned about the impact the climate crisis will have on their future. How do you think the School Committee should engage with students on this issue and what could the School Committee and the School Administration do to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and encourage waste-reduction in our school buildings and throughout our school system?
It is inspiring to see the commitment and courage today’s youth are bringing to combating the climate crisis. I believe that the School Committee should engage enthusiastically with these young people – there is a lot we can learn from them and there is also a lot of support we can lend them to best channel their efforts.
We should seek to incorporate renewable energy sources wherever possible in our buildings. Notably, as future facilities projects unfold, pursuing Net Zero ready buildings is critical. In a spirit of continuous improvement, we should look at all of the school operations for opportunities to reduce waste and seek to engage and educate students about this. For example, I was thrilled to hear about the WMS composting project. I believe we can do even more!
I think that the best way for students to address these issues is the same way that we tackle many of the challenges that face the school system -- which is by working on solutions closest to the challenge and then discussing systemic changes at the School Committee and School Administration level. The schools and classrooms are the sources of many innovative and environmentally friendly activities such as composting and food diversion, the “green certification” of classrooms, the “no idling” campaign, and green locker cleanouts. I encourage students to continue to identify opportunities for improvement and to advocate for those activities.
There are a number of ways that students can engage with the School Committee on these topics. Students can always reach out to the Committee via email, but I will note that one of the highlights for the School Committee members is hearing directly from students on topics related to their education and/or their extra-curricular activities. We also have student representatives from the high school who provide updates on what is happening at the High School and through Student Congress. This is another great way to share progress and concerns about environmental issues.
One very significant step the School Committee is taking in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and energy consumption is the plan to build Net-Zero-Energy (NZE) Ready elementary schools through the HHU project. The feasibility studies and design include strict sustainability criteria and the conceptual design for the Hunnewell Elementary school is an NZE ready elementary school. The Hardy/Upham school is being studied with the same goals in mind.
Wellesley Public Schools needs to continue engaging with students and working internally to combat our climate emergency.
Within the school buildings, I know that WPS has been working with the Facilities Management Department to use green cleaning practices, the MLP to reduce energy usage, and Whitsons Food Services to reduce waste. In 2019 they were named a Green Ribbon School District by the US Department of Education because of those efforts and other sustainability work. But there is more work to be done.
WPS could make a huge jump in the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by getting new elementary schools built as soon as possible. The new Hunnewell school is being designed as a net-zero ready building, and I understand that the Library may be able to add enough solar panels when its roof is rebuilt to offset the electricity that Hunnewell will use, making Hunnewell effectively a net-zero building. The planning for the Hardy/Upham school is also incorporating sustainable design. Getting these two buildings built soon will take three very inefficient school buildings off-line and move the needle forward towards the Sustainable Energy Commission’s town-wide emission reduction goal.
In my work with PTOs over the years we’ve started and supported many green initiatives. While on the PTO board at Sprague in 2010 we invested in coffee mugs so that people coming to PTO meetings wouldn’t use and throw away single use cups. I helped create the budgets that supported the fledgling Green Team in their first “Seed Fest” in 2011 and helped fund the establishment of the Sprague Garden. As PTO President at Sprague, WMS & WHS we helped promote “Green” events, Power to Choose, No Idling campaign, Green Certifying Classrooms, etc. My co-president & I had representatives of Wellesley Green Schools come to PTSO meetings and talk about their current initiatives and ways to reduce waste at events - then we put it to use!
Students are excited to learn about sustainability and to help where they can. The composting pilot at the Middle School is going well and we need to continue expanding that. Last year the PTSO at the High School helped a student attend an activism training course and supported sending a teacher to do professional development at the Island School to build up the environmental science curriculum.
Lastly, it’s been suggested that WPS should think about adding a sustainability goal into its mission, vision statement or policies as some nearby towns are doing. I would love to work with Sustainable Wellesley to further explore this idea and see what works for our community.
3. The Town is currently struggling with serious traffic congestion, and having too many cars on the road results in air pollution and carbon emissions. Preliminary investigations have determined that school-related traffic is exacerbating this problem. How do you think the School Committee could be a part of the solution to this problem?
Traffic is a major issue for Wellesley and also more broadly for the state of Massachusetts. I believe the School Committee can help with this issue and I see two primary avenues: walkability and buses.
First, through enhancing and promoting walkability we can not only reduce traffic but also promote physical health and build social connectivity. Walkability should be a key criteria for the new elementary school district maps as well as which school site is selected in HHU. Walking and biking should be promoted and encouraged by ensuring safe sidewalks, ample crossing guards and creative incentive programs for students.
Next, for those who cannot walk, we should encourage use of buses. In speaking with many parents around town, there seem to be two main reasons for not using the buses: cost and convenience. The cost of the buses can leave parents with “sticker shock” and so anything we can do to reduce this would be beneficial. However, calculations exist which show that the cost might outweigh what parents spend on fuel and other expenses associated with driving. Sharing this even more would help. Convenience concerns are varied. I’ve heard from parents who have concerns over supervision while on the buses. Also, some of the drive times are longer than parents feel comfortable with. I think collecting, measuring and addressing these concerns would help drive more bus ridership.
There are a few approaches that could be taken: 1) Through behavior change communication; encourage alternative travel to and from school such as riding the bus, carpooling and walking, 2) Partner with the Town in exploring the reduction of bus fees and determining what the investment and the expected outcome would be; 3) Partner with the Town in identifying areas that could be improved for walking paths to and from schools and work to implement those improvements. As we move forward with the process of constructing new elementary schools, we face a fair amount of change, but, with change, also comes great opportunity, and I view this process as a wonderful opportunity for conceiving and implementing new habits surrounding travel to and from school.
Wellesley definitely has a traffic issue - we all see it every day. The obvious way that the schools can help is by getting students out of their parents’ cars and getting them to either walk, ride their bikes, or take the bus to school.
Walking is not an option for all families because of distance from the schools or other circumstances, but it is for many. While on the Sprague PTO Board I worked with our PE teacher to establish the “Walk to School” program and chaired the committee that ran it for several years. The more we can promote walking & biking, make it a fun contest or a group event, the more kids will be excited to do it and build habits for life. At one of the recent public forums a selectman spoke about how as part of the elementary school building process they are looking at improving sidewalks and intersections to develop safe routes to school so that more students can walk. I want to be part of that discussion and part of that solution.
The second way to get cars off the road is to get students onto buses. WPS now buses some kids, but a very small fraction. I had a wonderful conversation with a parent about the community at their bus stop - kids and parents building neighborhood bonds each morning as they waited for the bus. We need to understand why more parents aren’t putting their kids on buses - whether it is due to concerns about safety, rides being too long, too expensive, etc. Then with that information we can form a plan to move forward and increase the utilization of buses. But busing is a balancing act - the school department doesn’t have any unused funds, and spending on busing will mean less money available in other areas. I would like to explore the possibility of finding grant opportunities or other funding sources and work with groups across town to make this a reality.
4. Many local communities are now requiring environmental education in their curriculum, including time spent outdoors studying nature. Studies have shown a correlation between time spent outdoors and lower student anxiety and stress. Do you think environmental education should be expanded in Wellesley schools and if so, how would you go about advocating for such programs? What other ideas do you have for engaging students in environmental programming through the curriculum?
Absolutely! This is one of the most critical things we can teach our children. I would seek to partner with Wellesley Green Schools and Sustainable Wellesley to advocate for more programming and specific policies. I think the more local, the better. Curriculum focusing on the amazing environment right near us is something I would promote. One great example is when the elementary students study and examine the amazing rock ledge at Upham! With recent sighting of bald eagles and coyotes in town there is so much we can do right here to excite and engage our kids. I would especially advocate for more education on reducing waste. Study after study is showing that reducing consumption is by far the most impactful way to preserve the environment. Students should learn about what the most impactful actions they can take in their own consumer patterns. These habits form early and the schools are well poised to educate students as they start to make these important decisions.
I embrace the opportunities that exist for bringing classroom study out into the real world. Some of the elementary schools have incorporated “outdoor classrooms” and gardens as areas in which to learn while surrounded by nature. A highlight of the elementary school years is the geology field trip in which students visit geologically significant sites throughout Wellesley and learn about the creation of each of those sites. Directly linking the learning in the classroom to the neighborhoods in which the students live is quite powerful.
In recent years, many educators throughout the district have been trained in project-based learning (PBL) and Wellesley High School developed the Evolutions program, an optional self-contained project-based program. Through project-based learning, students study real-life challenges that are directly applicable to their world. Over the years, a number of these projects have focused on the environment such as analyzing erosion at Morses pond and developing solutions to limit it or developing model temporary housing that could be used during extreme weather events. The PBL approach not only is an effective way of educating students but it is also an impactful method for empowering students to identify changes that they can make to directly affect their world.
Our world is amazing - and the benefits are huge the more time we spend out in it. I was an outdoor educator during my college summers, and have put that knowledge to work in Wellesley as a leader for our Girl Scout troops and Venture crew. Enabling kids to explore the outdoors is a big part of my life.
While my kids were in elementary school, the environmental science curriculum was supported by parent-led nature walks in the Spring and Fall each year. I helped organize the volunteers for these walks and always was a leader myself. Kids learn to be scientists by exploring and asking questions and the outdoors is an incredible place to do that. Our new elementary schools will have outdoor classrooms, and all of our schools have open space around them. We need to work with teachers to build curriculum that uses these spaces.
WPS is working on incorporating more Project Based Learning into its curriculum, and I believe that is a great avenue for environmental science. Already one grade at Schofield has looked for solutions to erosion on their back path and Sprague 5th graders went to Morses Pond to study our water system. We need to work with the Natural Resource Commission’s educator to bring more of their programs into our schools. We are also fortunate that many surrounding towns are working on the same issues - we need to reach out, listen and learn from each other as we move forward.
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