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Betts brings teaching, law experience

GREENFIELD — As an active teacher with legal experience, Margaret Betts believes she has a “unique set of skills” to bring to the Greenfield School Committee.

Betts, 35, of 16 West St., has taught first grade at Maple Elementary School in Easthampton for the past six years and runs Roundabout Books with her husband, Raymond Neal. The six-year town resident is running Tuesday against ballot candidate Wesley Blixt and write-in candidate Donna Gleason for one of two vacant three-year school board seats.

Active teachers don’t often have the time to serve on a School Committee, she said, and she believes that she’ll be able to offer in-classroom and in-school perspectives on issues that might not otherwise be included in discussion.

“Classrooms have changed so much,” she said. “It’s not that kids have changed, but the amount of oversight of kids has dramatically increased, the amount of expectations of what teachers and administrators are supposed to do has increased. ... Almost anything could (be interpreted as) an incident because everything is supposed to be reported at all times, but it’s an unrealistic expectation.”

For instance, when Middle School Principal Gary Tashjian addressed the School Committee earlier this month about a stranger who wandered into the school one morning and onto school grounds the next day, Betts was present as a public observer. Within minutes of Tashjian’s report, she felt she had an appreciation for the situation and his response to the second incident — posting an employee at the door for security and informing the authorities.

“That seemed like exactly the right response. ... He didn’t have to say more than about five sentences for me to know exactly how it happened and exactly why it didn’t make Greenfield Middle School a bad place to go to school,” she said. “It was a fine administrative moment, in my opinion, and I felt that the learning opportunity was equally good.”

At the same time, Betts feels that the school board should be focusing its time and energy on the “large, overarching” school department issues.

“The School Committee has to be able to place trust within a superintendent that the superintendent is making day-to-day decisions that are in the best interest of the town and the school,” she said. “I hope to help move us in that direction.”

She also wants to ensure that the school department is effectively monitoring and analyzing student data. After being trained as a “data coach” last year, she met other data coaches from around the country — who were surprised to learn, when they looked at statistics of their successful schools — that they were sometimes underserving certain minority populations.

“I think every school system has tipped so far toward a pure numbers game that there isn’t the moment of thinking about, ‘How do we actually improve teachers and learning?’” said Betts. Standardized testing is only justifiable if it’s being used to make true improvements to a school department, she said.

Betts earned a master of education degree from Smith College in 2007, including one year as a teaching fellow at Smith College Campus School.

But she also has a legal background. She earned a law degree from Yale Law School in June 2003, was licensed by the Maryland State Bar that December and then worked as an assistant public defender for two years.

If elected, Betts’ other priorities would include increased transparency, including a better public understanding about kindergarten enrollment procedures.

She wants to work with local and state government to ensure proper funding, improve school community opportunities and pursue a complete strategic plan for the school department.

And she wants to support teachers as they move their curriculum to align with the Common Core state standards.

When asked for a comment after Gleason entered the race as a last-minute write-in, Betts said she was excited to be a candidate in the school board race and that “Wes Blixt and I are completely committed to moving the school system in a positive and purposeful direction.”

Betts and Blixt have campaigned at events together and posted lawn signs around town that contain both of their names. Both candidates have attended school board meetings since April. The Democratic Town Committee has endorsed both Blixt and Betts.

She and her husband have a 3-year-old son, Thomas Neal.

You can reach Chris Shores at:
cshores@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 264

Yale Law and she gave up the practice of law. Excuse me for seeing that as a gigantic character flaw.

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