This is the first in a series of candidate profiles. All candidates running in Tewksbury were invited to respond, and we appreciate those who took the time to help the Carnation inform voters.
Name: Kayla Biagioni-Smith Seat sought: School Committee
1. Why do you want to serve on the School Committee?
The decision to run for a seat on the School Committee was not something I took lightly. This leadership role requires transparency, clarity, and a fresh perspective on how to serve ALL of our constituents in Tewksbury. After volunteering and serving in the Tewksbury Public Schools for a number of years and learning the nuances of the schools themselves, taking this next step in serving our community was a natural progression. I am the right person, right now in this critical juncture in education. As your representative, I promise to ask the hard questions and deliver results to help our community, teachers, and students.
2. Give us a brief bio: Where you grew up, family, interests.
I grew up in Medford, MA, which is where I went to public school and later met my husband, Pete. We made the decision to move to Tewksbury when we started our family and purchased our home in 2010. We have two daughters who attend the Trahan and Ryan schools here in town, my husband serves as a Tewksbury firefighter. We are an outdoors loving family and you can find us hiking and camping in the spring, summer and early fall. Giving back is a passion and I spend much of my time volunteering with veteran organizations in the greater Boston area.
3. What is your education?
I attended Medford public schools and understand the importance and impact public schools have on a community. After graduating, I attended Salem State University on a partial scholarship through the Paul Tsongas merit based program. I am now attending the University of Southern New Hampshire where I’ll obtain a Bachelors in Business Administration in June 2022.
4. What is your “day job,” and how do your past or current professional experiences prepare you for service on the School Committee?
I have worked for John Hancock Life Insurance Company for 16 years. My time spent in the insurance industry in positions that span customer service, legal aid, management, and most recently risk analysis, allow me to bring a unique skillset to the committee. I am adept at analyzing processes, risks, and the control environment and using critical-thinking skills to achieve the most rewarding and equitable outcome – something I pledge to do with each challenge I face on the School Committee.
5. If elected, what do you hope to accomplish in the next three years? What is your platform? (feel free to include a link to your website or Facebook page)
There are a number of things I believe are important to tackle in the next three years, but I also understand this is a fluid position and shifting gears from one thing to the next may be necessary. With that said, I believe we must focus on hiring a new district Superintendent, a seamless and exciting transition to the new Center School, and remediation of collective bargaining while rebuilding trust and meaningful relationships with all stakeholders.
6. How do you define your budget priorities if tough decisions have to be made?
When facing any tough decision, it’s paramount to critically analyze all data available and carefully consider each option. I can promise that I would approach any budget decision with the utmost care and attention to ensure that all ramifications are considered and reviewed accordingly. My priorities would be in favor of aligning with established goals and commitments to our schools and broader community.
7. Describe an activity, group or committee you’ve been involved with in town and what you accomplished as part of that team.
I have been a member of the Ryan Elementary School and Heath Brook & Trahan School Parent Advisory Councils for several years. While co-chair with the HBT PAC, I successfully helped to launch the annual Fun Run that has brought the school community together including staff, students, families, and local business while raising over $110,000 for the Heath Brook & Trahan Schools to support school academic enrichment, field trips, social activities, and most recently a new touchless water filling station at the Heath Brook School.
Many of our families know me from the two-week-long fundraising efforts on social media and often saw me dressed in our school mascot costumes, Pride or Topper, to engage students during morning drop-off or around school. A recent article on the Fun Run can be found here: http://homenewshere.com/tewksbury_town_crier/news/article_e4fd061e-31cf-11ec-9260-87b8e78a4064.html
In my role as PAC co-chair:
- Anticipating the return to school from remote learning in 2021, I helped launch the “Tougher Together” t-shirt campaign. Upper and lower elementary schools across town came together to sell t-shirts sporting all mascots with the saying “Tougher Together.” Shirts were purchased from a local vendor, and all proceeds were donated to the Tewksbury Food Pantry.
- For several years I have supported the annual town Safe Halloween event, bringing not only our mascots, but fun interactive activities to the community as well. This past year, I helped organize the large haunted walkthrough experience with help from all lower elementary schools! This was the first time all schools came together at the event and we look forward to more!
8. We know that Covid will be an ongoing challenge. What are three additional, non-Covid-related issues you see in our schools, and how will you address them?
Covid is a part of our current and possible new normal and I do not see that changing any time soon. Regardless, there are issues in our schools that continue to need attention. Specifically, the social emotional needs of all students and staff, the safety of our buildings and those who spend 8+ hours a day there, and ensuring the educational needs of our staff and students are being met with appropriate materials to be successful and productive.
Being new to this role, I look forward to being elected and learning more about the process of getting involved in each of these elements. I also look forward to sharing this learning experience with our community as I believe it is important to represent a position that people understand and may want to contribute their talents to in the future.
9. What are your thoughts on how contract negotiations have played out in Tewksbury? Are you in favor of making future negotiations open and transparent from the outset, or do you prefer a confidential process?
I have had mixed emotions on the contract negotiation process that has been shared with the public recently. As a regular citizen, like many others, much of the information that had been shared was done sporadically and often out of context. This made it very difficult to make an educated decision on topics being discussed, which inadvertently segregated many people who possibly had similar beliefs or questions. I am very much in favor of open and transparent negotiations going forward.
10. In regard to Covid, what is your response to parents who want Tewksbury to defy DESE/State mandates on masking. How would that play out, and are you open to spending School Department funds on an attorney to defend your position?
I agree with experts that long-term masking of children in school is harmful to their social-emotional development. I believe we need to follow state and federal guidance and make every effort to make masking voluntary, giving parents the right to choose what is best for their family. I would not be in favor of spending School Department funds on legal fees to pursue this argument.
11. A bill to ban Native American mascots across the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is currently in committee. Should this bill be signed into law, will you commit to complying in a timely manner? Why or why not?
I respect tradition and school pride, but also respect the law. Should this bill pass and be signed into law, I will be sure to uphold that law in town as it relates to my position on the School Committee.
12. What experiences, education and personal qualities would you prioritize in our new Superintendent?
An impressive background and diverse educational experiences are a must. But, if I had to pinpoint a singular skill to focus on, it would be their communication skills. An effective superintendent will have a history of being not only a great communicator, but also a great listener. Being able to deliver a clear message across various platforms from students to staff, to families and surrounding communities, is critical to the role. As we have learned from the last few years, families are more in tune with their students’ learning environment and messages being delivered.
Our future superintendent will be one that brings our community together and has a long-term commitment to Tewksbury education and the success of all our students.
13. What would you say to residents to encourage them to vote for you?
I respectfully ask for your support and trust that I will always bring my full self to this role while having the best interest of our community in mind. I promise that I am coming into this position with my heart in the best place, and that I will be honest, transparent and approachable at all times.
I have worked across our town to bring our community together and would be grateful for the support to continue to share my passion as a Tewksbury School Committee member.