Northborough Candidate Statement – School Committee – Kristen Willems-Tietjen


Northborough Candidate Statement – School Committee – Kristen Willems-Tietjen
Kristen Willems-Tietjen

Please provide a brief biographical background on yourself. What should voters know about you?

I grew up in Northborough and am a proud alum of Proctor, Melican (Northborough back then) Middle School and Algonquin. After earning a bachelor’s degree and meeting the love of my life Michael Tietjen at Rutgers University, I returned to Massachusetts to earn a PhD in Biomedical Science at UMass Chan Medical School in Worcester, MA. When it was time to buy our first house we chose to settle in Northborough and have loved the past 9 years as parents in this community.

As an Associate Professor in the STEM department at Regis College, I teach numerous sciences courses, advise and mentor a diverse student population, serve as the pre -medical/dental/optometry/veterinary program director and develop curriculum, degree programs and academic content and delivery in courses.

I have attended Northborough School committee meetings for years taking an active interest in the proceedings and important topics coming before the committee.

Why are you running?

As a proud alum of the great Northborough schools which prepared me to pursue my dreams and the parent of 4 young kids, 3 of whom are in the school system now, I am deeply invested in ensuring that our schools provide every student with the skills and knowledge they need to pursue their dreams.

I know Northborough and our schools. I grew up here, was educated here and chose to raise my own kids here. Over the past 6 years I have been actively involved in issues before the school committee including the effort to bring free kindergarten to Northborough and joining the school model taskforce. I am already familiar with and have passion for the proceedings, purview and responsibilities of the school committee. If I earn the open seat on the I will work hard to keep the excellence, we all want from our schools.

What are the three biggest issues facing the Northborough School Committee?

1. The gap in learning created by the COVID-19 pandemic. This includes academic content, skill competencies as well as social emotional learning. The pandemic had a large effect on every child. The effect varies greatly and is dependent on the child’s developmental stage. This is a challenge for the students, parents, teachers and administrators to work on together in various ways to support the whole child.

2. Multiple school buildings in Northborough are old and in need of updating and repairs. The challenge is how to improve facilities when resources are limited and without interrupting student learning.

3. Our schools are having to use closets as offices and mobile carts as art rooms to create space for more students. As future construction projects are proposed and turn over in existing homes increases, the population of k-8 kids in Northborough is a challenge for our current buildings.

How would you address these issues?

1. We must spend the time and resources needed to get the COVID generation caught up with compassion and space but also expectations of competency in key educational areas especially math and reading. Input & ideas from parents, staff, faculty and recognized experts in education and child psychology is where the ultimate best course of action can be found.

2. Northborough needs to identify alternative sources for funding to increase the speed at which capital projects can be addressed as well as reduce the burden on taxpayers. The school committee should work closely with other areas of town government to make sure funding is available from federal and state sources when applicable or even the “rainy day funds” Northborough has accumulated if needed.

3. Student space is a crucial challenge as schools are near capacity. To ensure that we can maintain our class size policy we need to consider how growth affects our schools. All options should be considered while increasing cooperation between departments of the town government.

After more than two years, COVID-19 has started to recede. How do you believe the schools are handling the impact from the pandemic – mental health, MCAS scores, etc.?

Having young kids and working in higher education has allowed me to see the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic across a broad spectrum from toddlers to college students.

Students suffered academically and emotionally; a clear plan is needed to close academic gaps and heal emotional wounds. While overall the schools have worked hard to cope with the impacts of COVID, using MCAS scores to identify gaps across the district in students’ knowledge which is an appropriate use of this assessment tool and increasing the in-school therapy dog program, more work is needed.

One unintended consequence of the district response to COVID is that every student k-8 now has a device. Students have found ways around firewalls and apps meant to block video games or other content. While technology is a great tool in education it can also be a hindrance with children on devices at school and at home. How and when these students are given access to devices should be under constant review.

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