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NATICK — Two contested races highlight the annual town election on Tuesday. 

Matthew Brand and Shai Fuxman — both incumbents — and Catherine Brunell vie for two open seats on the School Committee. Paul Joseph and Guimel DeCarvalho compete for one open spot on the Select Board.

Each candidate responded to questions posed by the Daily News. Here are their responses:

Matthew Brand

Why are you running for School Committee, and what skills do you have that make you qualified for this position?

I am seeking re-election to the Natick School Committee because the skills and experience I bring to the table will be critically important over the next three years. The challenges we face as a community require thoughtful and objective leadership that considers ALL perspectives. I have spent the past three years engaging with the community and helping to lead our district through historically challenging circumstances, including Natick’s pandemic response for schooling, critical budget issues and leadership decisions. My professional background as a technology entrepreneur for 20+ years, a software engineering manager, and an overnight summer camp director all contribute to my data driven and analytical abilities while also maintaining a high level of empathy and creativity.

What is the single biggest challenge currently facing the schools, and what are your ideas to solve it?

The single biggest challenge we face is a full return to in-person school for our students and our educators after more than a year of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. This monumental challenge has implications from both a social and emotional health perspective and on our school budget. Over the past year educators and students have adjusted on the fly to a whole new way of teaching and learning and have done a remarkable job. I am very proud of our teachers and staff for reinventing the way they do their jobs with almost no time to prepare for the change. I am also proud of our students for being incredibly resilient during this time and adapting to learn in a whole new way. As a member of the School Committee, I’ve been honored to work with our district leaders to provide and support an environment where this new way of learning has been possible, and I am proud that our school district’s hybrid and remote learning models have been used as examples for other school districts in Massachusetts.

An example of my support comes in the way of math specialists. Our district does a great job of providing reading and literacy support for students and we need to do the same for math; our students need this assistance, particularly this year. Data have revealed that math skills are slipping at a greater rate than literacy skills. Math specialists have been included in proposed budgets for 8 years but due to funding limitations were removed from final budgets. This year I will make certain they are funded.

In addition, we need to make sure that all of our educators feel safe returning to work. Educators were only recently added to the state’s vaccine priority list by the Governor and it is my hope that they all receive their vaccinations as soon as possible.

Can you reveal one fact about yourself that most people don’t know about?

For more than 11 years, I have been writing a blog based on my parenting experience (mattbrand.com) and have also been working on a book version. I love writing and my experiences with my daughters as they grow have been incredibly fun and rewarding to share. I just hope the blog doesn’t embarrass them too much when they read it all someday. 

Shai Fuxman

Why are you running for School Committee, and what skills do you have that make you qualified for this position?

I’m running for School Committee re-election to make sure ALL students in Natick get the instruction and supports they need to be successful — however success is defined for each and every one of them. I bring to this role my professional background in education and my passion for service. Professionally, I have a Doctorate in Education and over 20 years of experience applying research to improve educational practice and policy. I work with states’ departments of education — including the MA Department of Education — and districts across the country on the implementation of Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) programs and school-based mental health supports. I also bring years of commitment to serving the Natick community. Since I arrived in Natick over 11 years ago, I got involved in various volunteer roles including the Natick Education Foundation, Natick Soccer, and as chair of the Special Education Parent Advisory Council (SEPAC). Finally, I bring a unique set of personal experiences. As a new and proud American, I am committed to being an active and responsible citizen and member of town government. As a parent of a child with special needs, I’ve suffered seeing my daughter excluded because of who she is, and I want to make sure that doesn’t happen to any child in our district moving forward.

What is the single biggest challenge currently facing the schools, and what are your ideas to solve it?

The top challenge facing our schools is finding the balance between three critical areas of need for students’ well-being: COVID-19 health concerns, academic recovery and social-emotional well-being. First, it is likely that next fall we will need to continue to put in place health-related precautions. The process for easing these precautions over time will be determined by the school committee and the school administration, based on recommendations from federal, state, and local health agencies. As a School Committee member, I’m committed to using the latest science to protect our students and teachers. Second, we know from both national and local data that students are likely to come back to school with varying degrees of academic regression, particularly in math. That is why we need to make sure our schools are implementing effective strategies such as differentiated learning and Response to Intervention to help all students meet and surpass academic benchmarks in the years to come. As a researcher in education, I will collaborate with the school administration to ensure that we have the right staff, resources, and strategies to make this happen. Lastly, the sense of isolation from peers, lack of structure and routine provided by full-time school, and the general health and economic uncertainty due to COVID-19 have taken a toll on our students’ social and emotional well-being. As an expert in SEL and school-based mental health supports, I bring both the know-how and the commitment to work with the NPS administration to ensure our educators are well-prepared to support our students when they come back to school.

Can you reveal one fact about yourself that most people don’t know about?

I grew up in three different countries: Israel (ages 0-7), Mexico (ages 7-10) and Venezuela (ages 10-17). In Mexico and Venezuela, I attended English-speaking schools.

Catherine Brunell

Why are you running for School Committee, and what skills do you have that make you qualified for this position?

  • I am a community organizer: I believe in authentic community involvement in government.
  • ​​​​​​I am a former teacher: I believe that details, data, and long range plans support students, families and schools.
  • I am a parent with 5 kids in this district: I believe best practices used by our School Committee will benefit all of the students in our district and school/town government relationships.

The budget crisis last year, the activation of my involvement in our School Committee, was caused by COVID but it was exacerbated by a lack of leadership. At the time, encouraged by Dr. Nolin, Natick’s school superintendent, I used my skills as a community organizer and as an analytical thinker to create Protect Natick’s Future, a group with 1,500 members. Thankfully, we were able to avoid some of the unnecessarily draconian cuts the School Committee considered including eliminating sports, theater and the closure of an entire elementary school. None of these cuts were ultimately made because our community rallied and pressed our leaders for different options. 

If elected, I will focus on the budget and policy decisions that are the central purpose of the School Committee. I will also follow through on the details throughout the entire year to ensure transparency in all of the decisions that this committee is entrusted to make. Finally, I am uniquely positioned to be a voice for the community on the board because my family has been part of Natick Public Schools for a decade and now have kids ranging from 1st grade to High School. I have the openness, the energy and the community connections to serve as a voice for Natick’s diverse community. 

What is the single biggest challenge currently facing the schools, and what are your ideas to solve it?

The single biggest challenge facing the schools is the creation of a long-term, financially solvent, student-centered plan to address what our students, families, teachers and staff have endured for the past year. While COVID lingers, we have students that have real needs now. We have equity issues to address. We have families and students for whom social distance has become social isolation. We have learning loss to measure, share and disaggregate in order to address all of the needs. And, we have an overcrowded high school that may lead to facility decisions that will impact the entire district. All this comes at a time when financial resources are limited. This puts us at a critical crossroad where the community needs to be part of the process; where best practices by our town leaders – elected, appointed and hired – absolutely need to be used every step of the way; and where long range budgets and policy decisions are made with our students at the center.    

Can you reveal one fact about yourself that most people don’t know about?

My spiritual practice used to include five-day silent retreats. Now with five children, I find micro moments of silence and ground any work that I do in the benefits of that quiet — love, truth, compassion and resilience.

Paul Joseph

Why are you running for select board, and what skills do you have that make you qualified for this position?

In 2021, the Select Board will hire Natick’s third Town Administrator in five years. Economic uncertainty and structural deficits between municipal and school budgets require leadership with deep local experience and knowledge, the ability to listen, make difficult decisions, and work collaboratively from Day One.

I’ve been a Natick selectman (2010-13) and additional highlights from 13 years of local service include:

  • Natick Economic Development Committee chair (6 years)
  • Town Meeting member (9 years)
  • Board member of the Natick Service Council and Natick Center Associates (combined, 8 years)
  • President and CEO of the MetroWest Chamber of Commerce (3.5 years)

I bring 30 years of business leadership and teaching experience, from starting three successful businesses to managing high performance teams to developing and implementing strategies for change and growth. Learn more at: www.onenatick.com/experience.

Selecting a town administrator who can successfully navigate our fiscal challenges while simultaneously establishing a culture of collaboration with the superintendent of schools and departmental staff is the single most important decision the Select Board will make in 2021.

Possessing skills is not enough to succeed in this role; rather, it’s the ability to apply those skills in a 2021 context, with sensitivity to the impacts of the Board’s rhetoric, actions, and policies on all of our community members.

What is the single biggest challenge currently facing Natick, and what are your ideas to solve it?

Natick’s biggest challenge is maintaining its affordability while balancing the needs to address competing and compounding factors like making the town more accessible and equitable to improving accountability with better metrics and communication.

Addressing affordability in an equitable way requires (a) effective economic development strategies to ensure Natick retains a strong commercial tax base to offset increasing tax burdens on residents; (b) holistic and unified approaches to planning and budgeting both school and municipal services to keep overall costs down while increasing investments in our schools and vital services; and (c) removing barriers imposed by current approaches, existing silos, and lack of diversity.

Specific, achievable ideas we can implement while working toward a longer-term solution include:

1) Broadening the charge of Natick’s Financial Planning Committee to conduct five-year scenario planning and forecasting to establish and inform annual budget expectations and performance goals for Town and school administrations — this will help inform residential tax policy decisions;

2) Inviting community members to a Housing Plan charrette — including more diverse perspectives to help SOLVE the challenge — and engaging the public, Town and NPS employees and volunteers, local agencies (e.g., NHA, Family Promise, Natick Service Council, etc.), and employers to discuss HOW we might implement some of the ideas surfaced in the 2030 Master Plan and Golden Triangle Study.

3) Establishing Select Board Goals for FY22+ that include measuring progress on a resulting housing strategy.

Can you reveal one fact about yourself that most people don’t know about?

It’s believed that I delivered the first ever co-educational business strategy simulation program in Saudi Arabia. Due to unforeseen circumstances, the school had to combine previously segregated classes of female and male graduate students. A team of three, self-proclaimed “housewives” outperformed teams of six male executives from various global businesses to win!

Guimel DeCarvalho

Why are you running for Select Board, and what skills do you have that make you qualified for this position?

I moved my family to Natick six years ago and I have been serving the people of Natick through my work on the Finance Committee, as a founding member of Natick Is United, and recently as an appointed member to the Natick Equity Task Force. I’m running to bring an equity focus to the work of the Select Board. An Equity Focus for Natick is ensuring that a critical eye is given to how our local ordinances, policies, and procedures impact ALL of Natick’s residents. It is making sure elected and appointed officials are hearing from a diverse range of stakeholders and that those stakeholders feel welcome and respected. It is the commitment to advocate for these voices and to pursue important changes when necessary. Natick is a beautiful & diverse community in so many ways. I believe that my personal & professional experience and expertise can be particularly helpful for thoughtful decision-making that reflects the needs of all Natick residents. Find out more at www.guimelfornatick.com.

What is the single biggest challenge currently facing Natick, and what are your ideas to solve it?

We are starting to see an opportunity to contain COVID-19, but the negative economic and social impacts will last for years to come. The most pressing issue we have right now is to set Natick up for a successful future and that includes addressing the social, financial, physical, and mental impacts of the pandemic. For people in town government that means looking at the new, increased needs of the children in our schools. It means considering the new financial situations members of our communities find themselves in due to job loss. It means taking an honest look at the health and economic disparities COVID laid bare. But we can only do this if everyone has a seat at the table and a voice in how we move forward. This is why I want to be sure we bring an equity lens to our efforts — we need to engage people from all ages, races, backgrounds, economic situations, etc., to determine how we can best move forward after COVID-19 in a thoughtful way that takes advantage of what we all have to offer. 

Can you reveal one fact about yourself that most people don’t know about?

When my family applied for residency to the U.S. we had to travel back to Brazil for the interview and didn’t know if we would ever be able to return. As a child sitting in an office building in Rio de Janeiro, I saw family after family be denied. Then when my family went in to be interviewed, my siblings and I stood in the back of a small room while my parents talked to someone behind a glass. My brother and I got into our usual sibling squabble and began arguing with each other in English. As my father tells the story, the interviewer looked up and said, “Look at them, they’re Americans already!” We were the first family to be approved for a path to U.S. citizenship that day. 

Henry Schwan is a multimedia journalist for the Daily News. Follow Henry on Twitter @henrymetrowest. He can be reached at hschwan@wickedlocal.com or 508-626-3964.