Newcomers vie to plan future of shools

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Both Sara Tindall-Woodman and Michael Baer, who are political newcomers vying for the Ward 1 School Committee seat, think that communication from the school administration to parents can be improved in Cranston. But that’s just one of a variety of school issues that the two candidates have similar thoughts on going into this year’s election.

When one of them is elected to replace current Ward 1 school committee member Jeff Gale, who is running for City Council, they’ll potentially be part of a group deciding how Cranston schools use state funding for new school buildings construction.

“It’ll be a big decision for our community,” said Tindall-Woodman about how the money will be used. “One of the wonderful things is these little elementary schools are the heart of our communities. I think the Jacobs report gave us a lot of good information, it’s something we should consider, but we shouldn’t automatically jump to new construction as a solution.”

Baer, who works as the managing director of the Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank, said he has experience with school infrastructure repairs having provided the funds for Edgewood Highland upgrades in recent years through his bank.   He said that maintenance costs are one of the top concerns for a school department.

“It’s important to ensure we have high quality public schools and to invest in maintenance,” Baer said. “Lots of cities and towns don’t focus on the cost of maintenance. I’m excited to see the report come out later this year.”

That report is from Fielding Nair International, an outside consulting firm the school department has hired to give them recommendations on how they should go about school construction repairs.

Communication to parents is another thing the two candidates agree on. Baer said that “transparency” between the schools, teachers, and the parents is important for the students.

Tindall-Woodman agreed on this point, saying that “communication is a really big part of the puzzle,” and getting parents involved in their school community prepares children for the “best possible learning outcome.”

As for the recently taken initiative by Cranston to make students more career-ready through the pathways program and high school internships, Tindall-Woodman thinks there should be a “balance.”

Baer said that he is happy with the changes because he thinks it’s given students more options to engage their interests.

“We need to have options for students,” he said. “The curriculum has to engage and spark curiosity, and stem-like classes for students is a good thing.”

“I think that making the students more career-ready is definitely a good priority,” she said. “And pathways definitely holds some benefits for a lot of kids. But I think balancing that career-readiness with the traditional school methods is best.”

Both think that their professional experiences will translate to their role as a school committee member. Tindall-Woodman said that as an attorney in the department of business regulation, she has skills including “critical thinking, asking tough question, navigating government regulations, and collaborating with people,” which she thinks will translate when decisions need to be made by the school committee.

Baer also thinks his experiences, specifically in dealing with finance and budgets, will help the school committee develop a budget that spends money efficiently and effectively. He said he wants to do a “deep dive” into the school’s budget to accomplish this.

As for the current administration, Baer said he thinks the school committee has done a good job in hiring the current Superintendent (Jeannine Nota), but transparency should be improved, as he said that their meetings should be better publicized on the city’s website.

Tindall-Woodman said she thinks the school committee and Superintendent have a good working relationship, but she thinks that there needs to be “more of a back and forth” between them when it comes to examining budget priorities.

Tindall-Woodman has two of her own children in the Cranston school system, while Baer will have one in a few years when his three year-old is school-ready. Both are transplants from other states (Tindall-Woodman from New Jersey and Baer from Massachusetts), but have settled in the Edgewood area to raise their families.

Ward 1 includes a wide variety of Cranston schools, including Cranston East, Park View, Chester Barrows, Dutemple, and Edgewood Highland elementary.

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