Candidate Questionnaire: Tracy O’Connell Novick

Tracy O’Connell Novick, School Commitee

What are the first 3 steps you would take to address the disparate impacts COVID-19 has had on women, people of color, and especially women of color in the City of Worcester?

  1. Acknowledge those disparate impacts. There continues to be far too much “back to normal” in the language around COVID, which ignores not only that the pandemic isn’t over, but too quickly brushes aside the losses that have occurred as a result of them. That starts with actual deaths–one out of every four is estimated to have impacted a child–of which we know the rates have been much, much higher in communities of color, both here and across the country. That also, then, recognizes everything from job loss to housing instability to the emotional impacts that have resulted.
  1. That last is my second point: our focus as a community and as a district needs to start with building and rebuilding relationships, and getting students the support that they need. That is why I made the successful motion in our FY22 budget to transfer funds to allow for the hiring of 14 additional school adjustment counselors this school year. Students need to have that support available to them in schools. We need, I am sure, still more.
  1. This, to me, has also re-emphasizes how unequal access to health care and even health information has been. This may seem a bit unrelated, but this has reconfirmed for me the importance of the Worcester Public Schools having comprehensive health education in our schools. Our students need quality, scientifically grounded health education in a supportive atmosphere. We owe this to them.

The past 15 months has been especially hard on students in Worcester. How do you plan to improve and increase access to mental and social emotional supports for Black and brown girls in Worcester? What is your plan to prioritize their voices in the City’s recovery?

The above motion transferring funds from our budget to add 14 adjustment counselors is one way. I was very concerned to receive a recommended budget from administration that did not prioritize that need; it is up to the School Committee to step in and ensure that value is backed up with funding.

In terms of voice, I see two things. The first is that we haven’t, thus far, had any public input into our federal ESSER funding. There are substantial funds that we have plans for, but there is certainly room for public, including student, discussion. I have filed an item asking that this be taken up by our subcommittee on Finance and Operations.

The second is we don’t, as things stand, incorporate student voice into our work as a school committee as we are legally required to. While we do have student representatives, as required, which I have continued to check are actually elected rather than appointed, we don’t have the student advisory council required by MGL Ch. 71 sec. 38M which is to meet with the committee every other month. I have proposed this as part of our rewrite of our rules in our Governance subcommittee. I hope that this is taken up by the end of this calendar year, so we may start the new term with this in place.

Provide an example of when you have organized a diverse and inclusive group of people in your work. How do you plan to build an intersectional leadership team if elected?

I honestly feel as if this is something I’m still working on. During the pandemic, though, I’ve been glad to see that my outreach through Instagram has been picked up by students, who then are weighing in on items that are of interest to them. I think this is something we need to continue to work on as a committee as well as individuals, to move that forward as a district. I would say that I see an elected student advisory council, regularly consulted by the Committee, is a part of that.

How have the events of last summer’s racial reckoning impacted your policy decisions? What work is still left to be done?

I think it has emphasized to me how urgent it is that leadership in schools really concretely understands and takes action about things like implicit bias. We cannot run a just school system if combating the history that yields such disproportionate impact is denied.  I was encouraged that the committee was willing to take on this work this term, and I am hopeful that the leadership to come will embrace this as a centerpiece of the work of the district.