Getting to Know Jen Benham, Candidate for School Committee

As the 2020 Town Election date nears, (June 27th or you can vote absentee now!), the Anchor would like to help you get to know each of the candidates seeking positions on two important board races -- school committee and selectman.

Allow us to introduce you to our second candidate for Hingham's School Committee, Jen Benham.

Hingham, meet Jen. 

Which of your qualities and experiences, prior or current, would benefit the school committee if you are elected?

As a former special education teacher, I am well-versed in a variety of areas, including school finances, instructional practices and state and federal regulations. In addition to my past work experience, I have held a variety of leadership volunteer positions within all three levels of our schools, including PTO President at South Elementary, elected member of School Council at Hingham Middle School and class parent at Hingham High School. I’ve also served three years as a member of the All-town PTO group, which allows all six Hingham PTOs to work together, share ideas, and find solutions to issues facing not only each individual school, but the district as a whole.  Through my work within the Hingham community, I have enjoyed working alongside a diverse group of volunteers, students, educators and community members. Hingham has a strong school system and I want to use my experience to continue to build on that and support our students, educators and town.

What do you think are the biggest challenges facing the HPS at this time?

It is critical that we protect the integrity of our schools in the recovery and aftermath of the pandemic. The biggest challenge that we face is returning our students, teachers and staff to a safe learning environment. We will need to adapt our teaching styles and develop innovative techniques, while providing professional training to the teachers.  We will need to comply with the evolving public health regulations. And we will need to do so in a fiscally challenging situation.  We do not yet know the full financial impact of COVID-19 on the town, state, and federal budgets, but it will likely be significant. We need to ensure that we as a town make fiscally responsible decisions while still putting students first and delivering a high quality education. Finally, we must be ready to address the social and emotional consequences of the school closure by making sure our students have the resources and support they will need when they return.

What are your thoughts on balancing the needs of the schools within overall town budget limitations, especially during the COVID-19 challenge?

The School Department budget comprises approximately 50% of the Town’s budget and has a responsibility to consider its spending needs within the context of the financial constraints of the entire community.  Crafting an equitable budget means that we may need to do more with less. Hingham needs to think creatively about how to make the best use of the resources available to the town and the school system. While there will likely be state and federal grant opportunities, which we should pursue, I believe together we can think outside the proverbial box and find a solution to pool resources to increase efficiency.

What are your hopes for/ideas to enhance the HPS recently-updated Remote Learning Plan should school closures continue into the 2020-2021 school year?

The current school closures have teachers and students facing unique learning challenges. One hope of mine is that we continue to adopt innovative technology and evolving best practices to address student’s needs.  This could include practices such as project-based learning and also flipped classrooms, in which students are first exposed to a new topic outside of class through a reading or video, and then process the material through real time discussion, problem solving and debate.  We also need to be mindful of our most vulnerable students and how we can integrate more support into their individualized plans. Lastly, we must ensure that our educators and families receive the support they need as we work together to deliver the best possible education to our students.

If school resumes this fall as hoped, what are your thoughts about how to best implement social distancing and other precautions to ensure the safety and well-being of all teachers, students, administrators, and staff?

We should look to the recommendations recently published by the CDC and the practices being adopted by other school districts and countries that have started to reopen their schools.  For example, when school resumes, we should develop and implement practices to ensure schools are a safe learning environment, including social distancing measures, regular intervals for school staff to wash their hands, readily available hand sanitizer, and guidance on how to properly and frequently sanitize equipment and common surfaces. Routine cleaning and disinfecting is key to maintaining a safe environment for students, teachers and staff.  Additionally, students will need to be taught to abide by new social norms and health practices.

What is the most important role of the school committee?

Under Massachusetts law, the School Committee is responsible for hiring the Superintendent, approving the school budget and developing policies for the district. All of these responsibilities are crucial for the success of the Hingham Public Schools, but I believe that the most important role of the School Committee is to develop policies for continuous improvement in student achievement. The Committee should ensure that these policies address strategic goals and are focused on student development. Additionally, School Committee members serve as representatives and advocates for their community by being as informed about the strengths, challenges and needs of the schools and our students.

What are your best/most fun memories from your childhood school years?

My fondest memories happened in high school with all sorts of different clubs and organizations to be part of, but a highlight will always be when I visited Russia my sophomore year as a student ambassador. Russian architecture is even more impressive in person, but to witness a very different way of life was also incredibly eye opening and made an impression that I’ve never forgotten.

What was your favorite subject in school? Least favorite?

I have always loved math. The more challenging the classes, the more I enjoyed the feeling of learning something new or finding the solution. This is probably why I enjoy digging into budgets. As for my least favorite - no hablo bien Español. While I enjoy the cultural aspects, foreign languages never came naturally to me.

What do you like best about living in Hingham?

The list is endless but I would say that my top three are: Hingham’s history, the high level of engagement within our community, and the open space such as World’s End and Wompatuck State Park.

What is your favorite spot in Hingham?

Hands down, Turkey Hill. I loved to hike through the woods and into the green meadows. It’s so peaceful and offers a terrific view.

If you could give one piece of advice to the class of 2020, what would it be?

Imagine your future, work hard to achieve it, and enjoy the journey.

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