December 09, 2021

SCHOOL BOARD Q&As: Liz Hammerly

8 candidates compete for 4 seats on Newton school board

Name: Liz Hammerly

Age: 39

Occupation: Special education consultant

1) Please introduce yourself and explain why you are running for school board.

My name is Liz Hammerly and I have lived in Newton for at least ten years. There was some time I spent living here when my husband and I were dating! I have worked in public education for 17 years across the state. I have served in small and large districts. I know systems and what is occurring within the realm of education. I am running for my four kids and our community. At the end of the day, it is about rallying our community around the success of kids. We want to grow kids, so they have the skills and knowledge to be problem-solvers, good parents, and contributors to our community. There is way more on my work-related experience history on my Facebook page if you are interested.

2) What is a parent’s role and how does it fit into the school district?

Our parents are responsible for being actively engaged and advocating for students. Active engagement can look like volunteering, working with students, connecting with teachers, giving donations, coaching, and monitoring student learning. Parents need to monitor student learning of not only academic content but Social-Emotional learning Competencies as well. I would expect parents to engage in civil discourse about grades, learning, and behavior expectations. For some kids, it takes many players to make kids successful and we want input from families so we can support the overall child. Our schools and board do not exist without parents. We need them.

3) How do you think the district is recovering from the 2020 school year?

It is too hard to tell if we are looking solely at academic and behavioral data; we will feel the impacts of the pandemic for a while. It impacted students in terms of overall well-being and academic success with the rate of growth. It impacted the nature of providing services to those who opted for virtual learning versus in-school. We have to consider that this year as we speak to progress. The pandemic also impacted our staff. Our teachers need this school year to feel normal. They need to focus their efforts on quality instruction and communicating with parents. This needs to be a year of peace; we need to protect teacher time and minimize the change/initiatives.

4) What’s the best quality of Newton schools? What can the district improve on?

The best quality of the Newton Community Schools is our programming for secondary students. Students at the high school have tons of academic options and extracurricular activities. We have an engaged student body. WEST academy is a needed option for students. I can tell the staff at WEST communicates and is always looking for ways to improve the quality of life for learners.

In elementary schools, teachers are incorporating evidence-based reading into the elementary schools; teachers have access to Really Great Reading and Heggerty. We have dedicated staff who care about kids and show up every day.

The district needs to improve upon the Early Childhood program. We have not participated in Voluntary preschool like most other districts around us. Voluntary preschool means, students 4 and under get to attend day preschool for free. Newton has usually limited this to certain income requirements. Again, most other districts do not enforce an income requirement. Many districts around the state are creative in that in some districts families pay a portion and students get to attend school 4 full days. There are benefits for working families. There is equity in the quality of education provided. We have community partners; I know this will continue to grow.

I think we could grow in several other areas. We need to ensure all buildings have the same resources available to teachers for teaching. I recognize some buildings have a different student make-up, but that should not limit teaching tools.

Our transition from fourth grade to fifth grade needs some consideration. It is a big year and a hard year for students. In addition to the transition, we need to take a hard look at how we are communicating information with parents. How has the district laid the groundwork so parents know what that information means and how do they read Infinite Campus? How will parents know the current standard of study aside from always emailing the teacher? Just some considerations.

We need to look at vertical alignment from the middle school to the high school. Our middle school is standards-reference grading and the high school is not. I am not saying we need to go there, but in terms of expectations, students need to be prepared for the academic rigor and workload.

5) What other school issues are you most passionate about?

I am passionate about special education and how to view those students in a general education context first. I am passionate about climate and culture. We HAVE to protect our teachers and their time. We are in a tough spot with a limited applicant pool. We have to coach, coach, coach our new teachers, and we have to make our experienced teachers feel appreciated. It is not an easy task.

There is more information on my Facebook page.

Christopher Braunschweig

Reporter with a strong penchant for community journalism.