Derek Lo campaigns for the students in School Committee candidacy


Sophia Keang

Derek Lo to be the youngest School Committee candidate for the 2022 election.

Sophia Keang, Co-Managing Editor

Disclaimer: The Westford Academy Ghostwriter is not affiliated with any political parties nor does the publication endorse any political campaigns. 

On the surface, the competitive and rigorous academic environment at Westford Academy seems to drive students towards success, however, many fail to realize the underlying effect it has on students’ mental health post-high school. WA Alum Derek Lo is using his candidacy for Westford School Committee in a direct effort to better represent those who are truly affected by the committee’s policies– the students.

After graduating from WA in 2018, Lo is currently completing his final year of undergrad as a Political Science and History double major at George Washington University. This year, Lo will be the youngest candidate running for a spot on the school committee.

Lo’s decision to run for school committee stems from, what he believes is, the lack of institutional knowledge the group has. As of right now, the committee consists of seven Westford residents: Kathryn Clear, Sean Kelly, Alicia Mallon, Gloria Miller, Chris Sanders, Valerie Young, and Mingquan Zheng, none of whom have first-hand experience with Westford Public Schools nor have gone through the system recently.

“I believe that my running for school committee is an opportunity for the town to benefit from someone who has actually been through the school system. As a past student, I understand what kids benefit from and what areas of the institution need improvement,” Lo said.

Lo’s campaign focuses on three core areas: students’ mental health, redefining student success, and DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion).

As a recent WA alum, Lo’s first-hand experience of the consequences of WA’s competitive academic culture is ultimately what motivated him to run for school committee. Mentioning the ineffectiveness of the Challenge Success Program— an initiative that is lead by administration, school committee, and guidance counselors, to strategize new methods and used resources in attempts to lower student stress— Lo wants to be the voice for those students who are struggling in silence.

“The Challenge Success Program to me was not a success,” Lo said. “The 15-minute break in the morning and the extended passing times actually cut down the amount of time students spent in the classroom… The way I viewed the program was more like administration checking off boxes.”

According to Niche, WA is ranked as the 20th best public high school in Massachusetts. WA’s overall Niche grade is an A-plus, which accounts for academics, teachers, clubs and activities, health and safety, college preparedness, and other categories. However, Lo is centering his campaign around areas in which he believes could use improvement — diversity and resources and facilities.

Westford Academy’s Niche report card is graded based on the school’s academics, teachers, clubs and activities, administration, food, diversity, college prep, health and safety, sports, and resources and facilities. (Designed by Sophia Keang)

For the past several years, the WA Guidance Department has had countless discussions on how to mitigate student stress. This involved the implementation of WA’s Challenge Success Program. However, even with the limited AP courses available at the school, the intense scholastic nature amongst students remains high even after Lo’s years.

“I remember being really motivated to do well in my classes because everyone around me was like that. But, obsessive motivation can turn into something toxic and it really is the environment that can be harmful to students,” Lo said.

Lo’s personal struggle with mental health whilst in the WPS system also contributes to his goal to reshape both the academic and social culture of WA.

“The culture at Westford Academy has become very similar to a college prep school as opposed to a high school. In that, I think we forget a lot of times that we have around 15 to 20 percent of students that do not go to a four year college afterwards but rather an apprenticeship, community college, go into service and much more. However, we don’t really place an emphasis on the resources that are available for students,” Lo said.

In addition to improving students’ mental well-being, Lo proposes the idea of changing WA’s GPA system from weighted to unweighted. Currently, the school uses a weighted GPA system, meaning that students who take more advanced courses such as Honors and AP classes will receive a higher grade. This is because Honors and AP classes are expected to contain more challenging material and require more time and dedication. Lo believes that many students who take these difficult courses are only inclined to sign up for them because they know that their hard work will be compensated for a higher GPA on their college applications and not because the class truly interests them.

“The reality is that colleges have their own way of calculating students’ GPAs and reviewing applications to make sure that there’s a more even playing field. So altering the system will not only help destress students, but also helps foster an environment that students and teachers find more engaging– having students in a class because they are actually interested in the subject alone,” Lo said.

Lo’s third area of focus for his campaign revolves around DEI. As a person of color, Lo understands the mental and social damage that microaggressions have on students.

“After hearing about the incidents that happened at the Wayland basketball game, I was not surprised,” Lo said. “I can remember instances of racism, anti-semitism, microaggressions, and much more when I was a student at WA and I think as a community, we really need to push for those to take accountability for their actions and suffer the consequences that come as a result.”

While he does not want to dwell upon the incidents from earlier this year, he wants to implement more DEI education directly into the professional development of teachers as a step forward to reshaping WA’s culture.

Lo’s campaign also urges the town and WPS to hire a DEI coordinator to ensure that a professional is educating the community about difficult issues. While acknowledging budget restraints, he’d also like to see Westford invest in a Community Wellness Coordinator and professional social workers for the high school.

“I want to look into staffing levels for adjustment counselors. I think most importantly that the high school students could really benefit from having more accessible and trained social workers when dealing with issues either school or non-school related,” Lo said.

The pandemic and Lo’s own academic responsibilities at GWU did not stop him from continuing to be a part of the active change in Westford. During high school, Lo was highly invested in WA’s Junior State of America Club. Now, as a member of the town’s DEI Committee and Co-Chair of the School & Education Subcommittee, Lo has continued to demonstrate commitment and passion for bettering WPS.

WA History teacher Rick McHugh was one of the many teachers impressed with Lo’s political work during his high school years. After hearing about Lo’s campaign, McHugh wishes him luck for elections and is excited to see not only a former student but a younger candidate running.

“Any time a young person asks to be a full participant in our government I find it refreshing and promising for our democracy,” McHugh said. “I hope that Derek sets a pattern for the participation of others and his perspective brings positive, constructive development to WPS. I commend his efforts and wish him only the best.”

Lo believes representation of student voices is crucial for the school committee’s work. When reflecting back at his time at WA, he has realized that his parents ultimately inspired his passion for education.

“As the son of immigrant parents, I see education as an incredibly valuable way for social mobility. I think it’s an opportunity for kids to not only learn the material correctly, but to learn who they are themselves as a person by learning about those interpersonal skills that one really needs to succeed in life,” Lo said. “And with that, kids need to grow up in an environment they feel safe and comfortable in.”

This year’s Westford School Committee Election will be held on Tuesday, May 3. Lo is eager for the future and is ready to continue work on education and DEI reform.

“If I were to be elected, I feel like that would excite the younger generation with the fact of having someone their age being an official committee member. I’m excited and want to see more representation, both of the student body and of minorities, and I think my campaign will help inspire those kids too,” Lo said.