Shrewsbury Candidate Statements – School Committee – Sanam Zaer – Community Advocate

I have a strong background in education having worked as a tutor for students in long term hospitalization, a high school English teacher, and as an ELL teacher. I currently serve as the Director for Elementary and Middle School at a local private school. I graduated from the University of Massachusetts with a degree in both Journalism and English and received my Masters degree in Education from the same school.  I have four children in Shrewsbury Public Schools – two at Spring Street Elementary and two at Shrewsbury High School, and I have been very involved as a parent volunteer across the district. I grew up nearby in Grafton and moved around to a few states before settling here in Shrewsbury. My family and I chose Shrewsbury intentionally because of the excellent schools and because of the diversity, and have made some wonderful and lifelong friends here in town. For fun, I love to eat dark bitter chocolate, explore new destinations, and play silly pranks on friends and family. 
As someone with teaching and administrative experience, as a minority, and as a parent and foster parent, I see our district through several lenses that would make me an asset to our School Committee and to the community at large. Through my continued participation in various volunteering opportunities across the district, I have demonstrated a strong interest in engaging to help strengthen our schools. As one of the founding members of A Better Shrewsbury, I have also spent a lot of time encouraging dialogue and local action around diversity, equity, and inclusion. I hope to bring that same degree of enthusiasm and service to the School Committee. I believe that every child in Shrewsbury deserves access to a broad, inclusive, high quality education that will prepare them for a happy and successful life using their unique skill sets. If elected as a member of the School Committee, I would work hard to sustain and improve district efforts to achieve these goals for all students while supporting our faculty and administration.
First and foremost as an individual with an academic background in education and who has held various educational roles, I bring relevant expertise and an insider’s perspective on how schools operate. I already have working relationships with many district leaders in my current role as a school administrator, but also through my involvement on School Councils, the Homework Committee, the Redistricting Committee, the Coalition for Equity & Anti-Racism, and other volunteering opportunities across the district. As a parent/guardian to children with varying needs in our public schools, I am able to see the strengths, blind spots, and needs facing our schools. Through a wide range of community involvement and a willingness to discuss and collaborate on local issues, I bring an in-depth understanding of what local residents expect from both our School Committee and school district and of how to create impactful change at the local level. 
Three important issues facing our schools are ensuring the mental and emotional wellbeing of our students, meeting the challenges that come with the changing composition of our town, and supporting our teachers, paraprofessionals, and administrators while adhering to budget constraints.
I would support current and new efforts to enhance access to mental and behavioral healthcare for both our student population and our teaching and administrative staff. This includes increased partnerships with local vendors, access to mental health resources during the school day, and promoting data-based policy changes proven to improve the mental health of students. I would continue to advocate for increased diversification of our teaching staff and administration district wide in an effort to better reflect the increasing diversity of our district. While I do recognize and current efforts being made, I would like to see us implement long term goals and set reasonable benchmarks to achieve them. I would likewise continue to advocate for support and training opportunities for our teachers, paraprofessionals and administrators on a wide range of topics that can strengthen their ability to provide a first rate educational environment for all of our students. 
I think we should stop referring to this as learning loss and focus more on this opportunity to transform and optimize our public education system to ensure that all Shrewsbury students are able to thrive despite changes in the landscape. We never know when another pandemic or other transformative situation may arise that would cause us to have to navigate new styles of teaching. The best way to prepare for this is to implement systems that prevent educational disruption in the future, which might include allowing continued zoom access to classes year round for absent students or offering teachers additional education around technology in the classroom. The more agile we are in this regard, the easier we will be able to adapt to an ever changing academic landscape to ensure that our students do not suffer and are better prepared for future learning opportunities.
When talking about mental health, it’s important to highlight and commend ways our schools are currently addressing this issue, because not every family has had to navigate these resources and may not even know that they are available. Shrewsbury High School for example has been participating in the BRYT program, which offers transitional mental health resources for students with extended absence from school due to mental health crisis or hospitalization. This is a well documented and successful program that was recently expanded to Oak Middle School and prioritizes our highest need students. I am happy to see that additional investment is being made into this program. Continuing to host information sessions will also provide a lifeline to families struggling with how to support their children.  Beyond this, there are some systematic changes we can make with data supporting improved mental health outlook for students, such as permanently removing homework for students before 4th grade and delaying the start time at the High School. 

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