Michelle Conover was appointed to fill a vacant seat on the Dennis-Yarmouth Regional School Committee when a member moved away. She successfully stood for election in 2016 to fill the rest of the unexpired term. One year later she has announced her candidacy for a full, three-year term on the school committee.
As she launches her campaign, Ms. Conover took a moment to share with Cape Cod Today news some reflections upon her time in office thus far.
During the 2016 election to defend her seat on the Dennis-Yarmouth Regional School Committee, Michelle Conover pledged to focus on six main areas: Child Safety, Transparency, Challenging the Status Quo, Student Achievement, Zero Based Budgeting, and Empowering Parents.Nearing the end of her one year term, Conover reflects on the work that she has done.
“When it comes to child safety, I think I am most pleased that we got the anti-fraternization policy passed.” Prior to Conover joining the board, the sitting school committee, including Andrea St. Germain and Phil Morris, who have both pulled their papers to run for a seat in this year’s election, had unanimously supported the superintendents’ handling of a case where a teacher had sex with a student and rejected the idea of developing an anti-fraternization policy, something parents in the district petitioned for. “As a parent and as a member of the school committee, it made no sense that we didn’t already have such a policy in place and it was something I wasn’t going to let go.” Conover, along with other newer school committee members Brian Sullivan (Yarmouth) and Jeni Landers (Dennis), pushed for the drafting of this policy, which was adopted by the full committee earlier this year.
Another focus of Conover’s platform was transparency. “Having transparency in school and board policies, procedures, operations and communications is essential to the success of any organization” said Conover. “You can’t make educated and informed decisions if you don’t have all of the information and I’ve really worked hard this year to get more information to the committee by asking questions and continuing to ask questions until I was satisfied with the response.” As secretary of the school committee, Conover has also provided the Yarmouth Town Clerk with approved copies of the meeting minutes to post on the town’s website and to make available to the public. “While the minutes are public record, this is the first time I am aware of that the minutes have been electronically accessible to all.”
During each meeting, it was no surprise that Conover was ready to drive conversation, keeping her commitment to challenge the status quo. “I wasn’t interested in serving on a committee that just functioned as a stamp of approval. That is not in the best interest of anyone, especially our students.” And if you’ve watched recent meetings, you may have noticed that this committee does do business a bit differently than committees past- and Conover believes she is to credit for some of that. “At first, it felt like I was the only one asking questions, but now I don’t even have to be the one to ask the first question. Now, everyone asks questions, shares their opinion, and is engaged in the conversation. It’s a great feeling to have moved away from the stamp of approval mentality and to see the board be okay with engaging in discourse.”
Conover also feels asking questions and demanding answers leads to accountability, which impacts student achievement. “Holding our administrators accountable to the district goals is essential in ensuring district improvement and student achievement.”
And while the board has not adopted zero-based budgeting, a method of budgeting where you start from zero each year and justify each budget inclusion, Conover hasn’t given up. “One of the most important discoveries I have made this year is that our budget does not adequately fund our top district strategic plan goal, to maintain and enhance a challenging and rigorous curriculum, and our top budget goal of increasing academic achievement.” In fact, Conover recently voted against approving the FY 2018 budget for this reason. “To me, the total budget number was less of a concern than how the resources are being allocated. To be successful, the budget must be developed around the district’s current needs, vision, mission, and goals. I am hopeful that after budget discussions, when it comes to spending, the superintendent will continue to take steps in that direction.”
As a mother herself, Conover knows the value in having leadership that is approachable. Through attendance at district events, coaching youth sports and having a presence on social media, Conover is there to support, encourage and empower parents to advocate for their kids. From fielding phone calls to meeting parents at the local coffee shop, Conover cares about each family’s experience in our district.
“At the end of the day, I am a mom first, and as a mom I know that parents usually know what’s best for their kids.” For 2017, Conover believes running hard to defend her school committee seat in the upcoming election is just that for her kids and the kids in our district- and she hopes that the citizens of Yarmouth agree.