WESTBOROUGH – On Monday, Feb. 5, residents, students and staff got their first opportunity to meet the three finalists for Westborough Public Schools superintendent.
Allison Borchers, Kristin DeFrancisco and Brian Callaghan spent the day touring the school district, followed by a public forum in the early evening.
During the forum at Mill Pond Elementary School, each candidate had about 30 minutes to answer the same set of questions that had been submitted in advance.
The questions, presented by School Committee member Kristen Vincent, ranged from the candidate’s first job to the role of artificial intelligence in schools, diversity, what constitutes high-quality instruction, and how to handle opposing viewpoints.
DeFrancisco, the current assistant superintendent at Groton-Dunstable Regional School District was first up. She recalled her first job teaching in a Catholic school, where she learned “how to be a good listener … if I stopped talking long enough, the students will tell me what they need.”
Listening would also be a key skill when it comes to understanding opposing viewpoints.
On how to provide high-quality instruction, she said it starts with teachers.
“They need to be supported,” she said.
On the use of artificial intelligence in the classroom, she said that while AI has its advantages, she “expects students to hand in their own work. They need to use their own critical thinking skills.”
When it comes to the value of visual and performing arts in the schools, DeFrancisco – a classically trained clarinetist – said the arts helped her communicate with more confidence.
Next up – Borchers, the current assistant superintendent for Westwood Public Schools. She recounted her days as a middle school teacher, when she heard students regard school as “something to get through.”
“I found it disturbing,” she said.
Borchers also considers the ability to listen a key skill when it comes to diversity and handling opposing viewpoints.
On high-quality instruction, Borchers said students need to “learn the habit of curiosity” and “to learn the habit of work.”
She added that artificial intelligence will “transform a lot within education” and “communities need to think about it seriously.”
Callaghan knows a bit about Westborough Public Schools – he’s been with WPS since 2000, working a variety of roles, including director of athletics. He has been the principal at Westborough High School since 2013.
He recalled switching from law to education while still in college. His mother, an elementary school teacher for 44 years, got him out of bed one morning and told him he was substitute teaching for a fourth-grade class. There, he met James, who had “behavioral challenges.” He worked with James at a desk, even after he was told to place James in “his” chair with a partition.
“I’ve never forgotten about James,” he said, adding that the experience showed him how to “put students first.”
On diversity, Callaghan mentioned the high school’s gender equity social inclusion committee, which includes staff and students; the Black Student Union; and Unity Week.
He said that high-quality instruction must include resources and materials, as well as discourse among staff and students.
When asked about what resonated most with him during the school tours, Callaghan said, “I am very proud and excited to see passionate, talented and dedicated teachers putting students first.”
“The reasons I stayed in Westborough were the right reasons – the people,” he added.
The School Committee was scheduled to meet the candidates on Wednesday, Feb. 7, in Town Hall, Memorial Hall, starting at 5:30 p.m. A choice could be made before February school vacation.
Whoever is chosen will replace Amber Bock, who is stepping down after 10 years.
Any questions or concerns may be directed to the School Committee at [email protected].