Q&A with Superintendent Finalist Dr. Margaret Adams
March 11, 2021
With Bill Olsen’s Superintendency coming to an end, the School Committee recently announced that Dr. Margaret Adams Assistant Superintendent for Teaching and Learning in Melrose Public Schools was one of the four final Superintendent candidates. The Ghostwriter had the opportunity to interview Dr. Adams for a holistic perspective on her goals and solutions to major issues in WPS.
The questions asked were given to all the candidates for a fair representation. These answers were cut down to include the highlights of each candidate’s responses.
For more information on the Superintendent Finalists, please visit the WPS website to check out virtual opportunities for the public to meet with each candidate.
Q: Tell us about yourself, what makes you passionate about education and how did you first get involved in this career path?
A: When I was a middle school student, I started the swimming team and became close with the coach. A phenomenal person who kind of took me under her wing. I took a lifeguarding course and then worked with her. She helped me get a job as a lifeguard and I worked all summer long for different camps and I [learned] it takes a little while to teach and work […] with kids. I really fell in love with teaching children [through] teaching swimming. It was my first love of teaching and working with children. [They give me] so much joy, and they make you happy and excited about life and learning. It’s always a joy to see the smiles on kids’ faces when they’re working with each other. I’m certainly an elementary teacher […] I was a second and fourth-grade teacher, […] but I have a 17-year-old and a 14-year-old. As they have grown up, I’ve gotten to understand teenagers better, and I really love the people they’ve become. […] I’ve grown to enjoy the ups and downs of being a teenager and see them grow as young people. It really makes me appreciate the teams and the middle schoolers that I work with [within] schools so much more because I think I have a deeper understanding.
Q: What inspired you to apply for this position?
A: [There were] Two things [that] excited me. First, was the district trying to focus on equity and diversity. Some […] efforts have started to really make sure all of the schools […] meet the needs of all of the students and are welcoming. […] I believe this [lifetime] work, and […] trying to make our schools and curriculum so that there are mirrors [where] students […] can see other cultures and other ethnicities reflected. This idea […] about a sliding door where we can all engage with people who are different from [us] and have different perspectives is important. I’m excited about the work Westford is doing in that area. I think the district is also starting to do some work paying attention [..] to social-emotional learning, as we want all our kids to have high academic standards, but we also want to respect and honor individuals and their mental health. […] This past year, we’ve had to decide how to support those two ideas. How do we support kids in reaching the highest standards possible and excelling, but also honoring the challenges that show how hard it is to grow up as a young person? Along with all the messages we’re all getting from social media, [there’s also] a lot more information coming to kids and young people when […] trying to figure out who you are and how you fit into that. I’m still growing and learning more, […] but I have some experience. I [am] excited to learn and to go to a community that’s also invested in those two values.
Q: What are your goals as superintendent if elected?
A: I think it’s sort of cliche, but to really listen and understand what’s going on. I think that’s really important as I do want to build upon what’s there. No place wants to […] change or [allow someone to] change everything, I want to really value and respect that, […] keeping what works and [improving] upon what doesn’t. I aim to listen and make sure that I understand so that I can be in the best position to advocate for the needs of the district, the teachers, the students, [and] the families. So, the more I understand, the more visible I am in classrooms, [and] the more the kids can say, ‘I know that lady. I don’t know her name but I know she’s the boss or something’. Building upon the last question, [I need to] really understand where the district is at [in terms of] thinking about goals around diversity, equity, and inclusion and really putting that down on paper and systemizing it as much as possible. Sharing [ideas of equity] with the community [and] really talking with the community is [valuable]. Hearing that [feedback] and putting it down, and then starting to outline what are the resources we need.
So, unfortunately, I think as, as a nation, we often talk a lot about some of these things but we don’t often put them into action, so we want to […] stay in this place where [we’re] trying things differently and making changes because we’ve had 400 plus years of systemic racism and now, we need to do something right to make systemic change. We need to empower all of our young people to be the next generation that is better armed to resolve some of the sins of our nation. […]
Three, there’s been a lot of hurts this year, we’re all hurting, we’re hurting personally because we feel like we’ve lost so much. Our families are hurting, [and] we all feel like we’re on these devices all the time. Our communities […] feel fragmented, […] we don’t feel like we’re all together as a whole. So, I think there needs to be a lot of healing, […] we need to […] bring communities together and have ways that we come together and celebrate each other, […] all the things that [students] probably do at [their] high school that [they’ve] missed that sort of say, ‘Hey, I’m a member of the school and I’m excited to be here, and this is what makes me a proud student at Westford Academy’, […] all of that’s missing. So I think we need to do a lot more healing, build community, build each other up, and strengthen each other because we’ve lost a lot of that connection with each other. We [need] a little bit of less of these devices, and a lot of talking, face to face, and getting to know each other.
Q: What do you think are WPS’s biggest strengths and weaknesses?
The strengths are that I think [WPS] has a very strong academic background, […] based upon the data that’s available to the public. There’s a lot of strengths in the academics that are being offered and that’s to be celebrated and acknowledged at [WA]. I think one of the challenges we’re all going to have as a nation, is when it comes to budgets, times are going to be tough. I think we can see some indications as a nation that the economy is suffering a bit. When the nation and businesses […] are struggling economically, that kind of trickles down into the towns and then obviously affects the schools. So, I’m a little concerned about the budgeting. We need to make sure we maintain all the services that we have. I think it’s going to be a nationwide concern. I know that the new administration or the federal administration will be able to allocate more resources to schools in the US to facilitate some of that. We also have so many great teachers and we need to be able to support those teachers.
Q: How do you plan on making a smooth transition into the position if elected?
[I plan to] really [get] to know the leadership team, spending as much time as [I] can with the current superintendent, […] figuring out where everything is, […]gathering as much information as possible, [and] meeting with the leadership team [while] gathering information from them. It’s hard because Westford still does have a superintendent until June, and there is still so much to be done. So, following that [June] we will be meeting all summer so our schools are running in time for the Fall. There […] would be planning to help kids that have been struggling due to this past year. Kids [and] their families are struggling, so I think we have to plan to address those, and be really purposeful on what systems […] we create. I really want to focus on healing and helping the community to feel connected and developing the sense of community altogether.
Q: What are your credentials and what makes you qualified for the position?
I have served as the assistant superintendent in the Melrose Public Schools for nine years. In this role, I have performed many of the duties of a superintendent. I have supported several initiatives during my tenure that have supported the continued growth of the district. These initiatives have included building strong teams of teachers and leaders to assess our strengths and needs, set goals, and develop action plans in a variety of areas of a school’s functioning. I lead initiatives to support continual improvement in our curriculum and instruction. We also have built strong structures that support the social-emotional learning health of our students and families. Currently, I am leading efforts to develop an equity plan for the district that will outline goals that support our commitment to creating equitable and inclusive learning environments for all students.
Q: How do you plan on dealing with Westford’s continued budget crisis? (Interview took place before the three-tier decision was made)
A: I am concerned. The middle school is not starting until later, but I think that’s the kind of creative piece that we have to think about, looking at information, to see if there are specific contracts [or] transportation that can be renegotiated or find some cost savings. For me, seeing if there’s a different way to meet those particular needs [is important]. My core value around the budget is to try to protect it. My priority is to protect the classroom and the teachers that serve them as they serve our students. We want to make sure that our community understands all that happens in our schools. We want to promote and celebrate teachers, the accomplishments of our students, and highlight the success of our programs. We want to build ways for the community to be engaged in the schools so they can see firsthand the great things happening for themselves. First, I would look at non-personnel line items and see if there are any efficiencies. In many ways sometimes, those lines have already been reduced significantly. We can look at our busing and food service contracts. Are there any efficiencies there? Can we renegotiate those contracts? Right now, Westford is engaged in that same process by designing a four-tiered system for transportation. We can look at the schedules at the middle and high school. Do these schedules promote efficiency? We can review class sizes and our electives. Are there places to ensure a minimum class size and even combine classes at the high school level? Finally, we also look at class sizes at our elementary schools and programs. Are there any efficiencies there? None of these decisions will be easy but it will require leveraging leaders in the district and town, and then also communicating with stakeholders the decisions that are made and the why behind those decisions.
Q: How do you plan to move forward with the many changes COVID-19 has brought?
A: There are a couple of things […] I know we can kind of predict what is going to happen. One, the social-emotional learning needs. We need more opportunities for students to connect with peers, connect with adults in real-time, and structures that allow us to support students’ needs. We’re also […] struggling with something that we […] call executive functioning skills, where it’s hard for us to pay attention and focus, […] We’re so distracted by devices. We just don’t know how to sit, pay attention and I think we need to learn this too because I think we have become so heightened emotionally by what’s happening. I think some students have struggled academically with the model that we’ve had and we are going to need to remediate and accelerate student learning and try to address gaps from missed instruction and create structures in our school that support kids catching up as much as possible. For example, in Melrose, we’ve been talking about summer school programs for kids who need just additional support and kids who might need credit recovery who are failing their classes and can’t go on to the next grade because they didn’t do their best, [We] can’t have that many students repeating. I think we’ll still have to plan for next year […] differently. […] We’ll still have safety protocols that need to be followed. And so, likely [we] will still be wearing masks at the beginning of next year. We’ll have to continue to […] help adults and students deal with some of those protocols and be really clear and communicative about that into next year.
Q: How do you plan on interacting with students if granted the role?
I have the pleasure of having my office right at the high school [in Melrose]. So, in between passing, I stand, almost always, in the hallway, greeting kids […] and telling them to get to class. We’ve always included students in all of our committees so they have [a] voice in hiring in our professional development committee. We are sort of always trying to find a place where we can include the student voices. It helps us be honest because it reminds us of the reason we’re really doing this work. [For example], when we’re talking about professional development, it isn’t for us as adults. It’s really for the students and the kids. So, when we have them there, their perspective is enormous. They think of things that we would never think of, and […] make us honest. I think it’s really important to have them […] at the table and make opportunities for them.
Q: What’s something fun students should know about you?
A: I have a 17-year-old, young man, and he is an athlete. He plays baseball, hockey, and soccer, so you will often find me on the field or in the rink cheering him on. […] He [is] a very athletic young man and he has missed sports in the last year. My son’s name is Malcolm and my daughter is Teresa. She’s 14. She is a free spirit and an artist. Her artwork is so beautiful. She is a typical 14-year old where’s some days she’s yelling and screaming at me and some days, […] she’s normal. My life revolves around them and getting to know them as people, and they’ve taught me a lot about teenagers and interacting with students.