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Lynn School Committee candidates debate equity in education

LYNN — Much of the focus of the School Committee candidates’ forum was on achieving equity in all students’ education. 

It was addressed during Monday night’s discussion on outdated and overcrowded school buildings, how the candidates feel the state of education is in the Lynn Public Schools, whether the city’s diversity is reflected in the school district, and whether they support charter school expansion in Lynn. 

“The current state of our buildings has been very vital right now in terms of overcrowding and causing some tremendous challenges to (achieving) equity,” said School Committee member Brian Castellanos, who added that education was personal to him as a first-generation, low-income kid. 

“Education is a lot of kids’ ticket to increasing their lot in life. Education is one of the most powerful tools we have to change and to … increase opportunities for our community.” 

School Committee candidates said they felt the state of the city’s schools was positive in terms of having great educators, but not in terms of outdated buildings and large class sizes, which is putting a strain on those teachers. 

The eight candidates vying for six seats on the panel — incumbents Castellanos, Donna Coppola, John Ford, Lorraine Gately, Jared Nicholson, Michael Satterwhite, and challengers, Sandra Lopez and Tiffany Magnolia — participated in the forum, which was hosted by Lynn Community Television. 

All six incumbents came out against charter school expansion in the city, again citing equity, but the two challengers said charters have some advantages public schools don’t. 

“I have an issue with charter schools,” said Ford. “I know they’re here to stay and I know they’re not going to go away. I have a problem with the funding and the formula. I think we (should) make it a level playing field and I think they should adhere to the standards we have.” 

Ford said he takes issue with funding for charter schools coming out of the Lynn school district’s budget — after Oct. 1, a child can be sent back to the public schools if they don’t work out in the charter schools, but the funding for that child stays with the charter. 

Coppola agreed, saying charters were draining Lynn’s financial resources.

Gately, a former teacher in the Lynn Public Schools, said it upsets her that teachers in charter schools don’t have to be certified, when she “busted (her) butt” to make sure she was recertified every five years from the state to be able to teach students in Lynn. 

Satterwhite, who has said providing better services for special education students in the district is one of his top priorities, said charter schools have a hard time dealing with those SPED accommodations and students with behavioral issues. 

But Lopez said she was conflicted because her son graduated from a charter school last year. She said the charters need to work with public schools to have the same standards. 

Magnolia, who has positioned herself as the parent advocate candidate, said charter schools are better at allowing for parental involvement and flexibility. She said it would be a good idea to implement some of those same ideas into the public schools. For instance, she’s in favor of school councils in all of the schools. 

Candidates believed the racial and economic diversity in the city is reflected in the schools, which is an asset for students. Castellanos said there’s an ongoing effort to diversify staff to better reflect the student population. 

“Our students have the experience of being able to enter and thrive in diverse environments,” said Nicholson. “Our students already have the experience of getting international perspectives of learning from other cultures and we can be really thankful that our students’ education is improved by those unique learning opportunities.” 

“It’s building them for the way the country is going to look like in the future,” Ford added. “I think the Lynn children are getting a great education for life.”

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