Jeff Thielman
 
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  March 2021

Dear Friends:

I am proud to be running for re-election to the Arlington School Committee and respectfully ask for one of your two votes on April 10.

As a parent, I know how difficult this year has been for families and students. Our schools closed in March of 2020, and in late September, we began limited in-person hybrid instruction in grades K-8 as well as an all-remote program for families who wanted it. The high school remained largely remote this year, with students permitted to come to school about an hour week starting in February of 2021.

It has not been easy year for anyone. I am particularly grateful for the hard work of our teachers and administrators who are serving our kids in the most adverse of circumstances. Our district was one of the first in the state to provide free Covid-19 testing for teachers and pool testing for students. Additionally, the School Committee lobbied actively to ensure that teachers had priority access to the vaccine.

 
As I write this, we are preparing to offer five days a week of in-person classes to students in grades K-8, with continued remote instruction for families who desire this option. It is not clear yet if high school students will be returning to more in-person learning this year, but I desperately want that to happen. As the state has directed, we are preparing to open all schools, including Arlington High, to in-person learning in the fall.

From the start of the pandemic, I have pushed to open schools safely to as many students as possible because kids learn best when they are in classrooms with their peers and teachers. To my mind, every day a child is not in school is a bad day for that student, the student’s family, and the entire community.

 

Jeff at AHS building site

There is some reassuring news. Relying on several recent studies, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently announced that students can be safe with desks three feet apart and masks on, particularly in communities like Arlington with relatively low transmission rates. This should allow us to get more students into our schools.

The School Committee has been at the center of intense debates and discussion this year. Thousands of parents, community members, and teachers have emailed, called us, texted, written about our decisions on social media, watched our meetings, and expressed a multitude of views on how to manage our schools during the pandemic. The dialogue with the public has been invigorating and enlightening. I have learned more from interactions with families this year than any year in memory. The experience of serving Arlington on the School Committee during the pandemic is a reminder of the importance of local government.

If re-elected, with many lessons of the past year in mind, I want to focus on five primary objectives during the next three years:

  1. Safely reopen every Arlington school, including the high school, to in-person learning,

  2. Support our new Superintendent of Schools, who starts on July 1,

  3. Continue to lead the Arlington High School Building project, seeing it through to completion in 2024,

  4. Advocate for our schools as we prepare to complete the five-year plan approved by the voters in June of 2019 and enter discussions with Town officials about financing town and school services in 2024 and beyond, and

  5. Help start a community-wide conversation about improving the physical space of the Ottoson Middle School, including the possibility of applying to the state for assistance.

A Safe Reopening

I am eager to work with Superintendent Bodie and incoming Superintendent Elizabeth Homan as well as my colleagues on the School Committee to reopen schools safely for all students. I will continue to advocate for the return of students to Arlington High School this year because it is so important that our kids are learning and interacting in-person with peers and instructors.

Supporting the new Superintendent

I was proud to support the choice of Dr. Elizabeth Homan to be our new Superintendent and will call upon my experience on the School Committee and in education and human services management to be helpful as she begins her new role and learns more about our town.

Arlington High School Rebuild

As the Chair of the Arlington High School Building project, I have the privilege of serving with a dedicated group of colleagues. We have begun construction of the $290 million facility, and I am pleased to report that we are on time and slightly under budget. Our committee held more than 20 public meetings with the community as the project evolved, and thanks to the dedicated efforts of members of the committee, AHS Building website is giving the public real time updates on the project.

The Next Multi-year plan

Over the next two years, our town will have many community-wide conversations about town finances. The five-year plan supported by the voters in 2019 will come to an end, and in the next year or so we will begin conversations about asking the voters to adjust the property tax rate. It is important that all members of the community with diverse perspective are represented in this discussion, and of course, I will be advocating for sufficient funds for our schools. The skills I have applied over the past several years on the High School Building Committee as well as my many years of experience in town government will be helpful as we begin this process.

Exploring state funding for improvements to the Ottoson Middle School facility

During the next three years, I hope to begin a broad conversation about the needs of the Ottoson Middle School facility. The school is old, and we need to assess our options for improving it. I served on the Thompson School Building Committee, was a member of the School Enrollment Task Force that recommended that the Town take back the Gibbs School and make it our 6th grade school, and of course, I chair the Arlington High School Building Committee. I am uniquely positioned to leverage this experience to explore the possibility of securing state aid to improve our 7-8 school.

I remain energized by serving on the School Committee and know first-hand how important our work and decisions are to parents, students, and community members in Arlington. I take the work seriously, always listen to people on all sides of the issues we face and do my best to vote in ways that I believe put our students and their needs first.

Finally, if you live in Precinct 12, I would be honored to have your vote for re-election to Town Meeting. It is critical that advocates for our schools and kids are on Town Meeting as the body wrestles with critical policy and budget decisions.

Thank you for consideration, and please remember to vote on April 10

Sincerely,
Jeff Thielman

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