The three candidates for two seats on the School Committee last night discussed the School Department's needs and what they can bring to the table as potential members.
Incumbent Mario Marchese, Mary Jane Byrnes and Manny Mulas offered their perspectives on what the most pressing need is for Wilmington Public Schools.
"Right now, the is the priority," said Marchese. "The (current building) was built in the 1950s it has had minor modifications but we know right now ... we have teachers who don’t have classrooms who float around, it's undersized for today," he said. The next priority after that would be getting the elementary schools in tip-top shape, he said.
Byrnes said in addition to the high school, getting technology into the lower level schools is also a pressing need.
"It is imperative to make sure our lower schools have that technology ability … we’d hate for any kids to get into middle school and be discombobulated with technology," she said. "We're looking for a smooth transition."
Mulas agreed, saying in addition to the high school, the district needs to look toward technology to enhance education.
"By having a strong foundation in areas of technology, we allow students to compete with local towns but also rest of the world. That’s very important, right now we are in process of moving toward that goal," said Mulas, mentioning the wireless capabilities coming to the middle school. "We need to bring it further ... with one-on-one education. Students should have access to laptops or tablets...tools that allow them to learn."
The candidates also discussed the shift of the state moving away from the standard MCAS testing and toward national standards in an effort to receive Race to the Top funding.
Mulas said he generally disagrees with using standardized tests to measure students.
"MCAS is a way of testing students that may not be fair, it puts pressure on them and at a very young age, students are having to study to pass standardized tests ... I don’t believe a standard test is a way that a student can be measured," he said. "I want to learn and understand it a little bit better…but I want to make it clear I don’t believe in federal standards when it comes to testing. I don’t believe they’re fair and changes should be made."
Marchese also said he was "not the biggest fan of MCAS" but going to a national standard is not the answer, either.
"We are leaders of education (in Massachusetts), we have the best cities and towns and the best universities. I think going to a national standard is not the right thing but taking the MCAS and just throwing it away is a bad idea. We should look at the model and modify the model to make it work for Massachusetts," he said.
Byrnes said she likes the idea of MCAS in theory, but it is not effective.
"Nor does it qualify our children as getting a well-rounded education, I feel teachers are teaching to it," she said. "As for going to national testing, I don’t think that’s a solution either. I’d like to see an overhaul, going in and re-structuring it. I believe MCAS is going through a revision in 2013 or 2014 to address the special education piece ... so I think they're taking steps but I don’t think either is a great solution, it doesn’t appeal to me either way."
All three candidates, who focused much discussion on technology and the importance of "21st Century learning" were asked what that term means to them aside from the use of technology.
Byrnes said the School Department has an obligation to make sure children want to learn, and support emotional development.
"(It's about giving an) education that inspires children to learn outside of classroom and getting into conversation outside of the 'tween' sector, but asking questions, and wanting to learn about the world around us," she said.
Mulas said a 21st Century education is about project-centered learning.
"It's about ... critical and analytical thinking, research skills and analyzing information you get. Anybody can do research but it's what do you do with that information," said Mulas.
Marchese said he considers 21st Century learning when students getting up from behind their desks and work with real-life situations.
"The world is changing," he said. "Yes, books are good ... but once they have the basis then take it to the next level, putting the kids into a real situation and giving them circumstances where the decision (they) make today is going to affect tomorrow… thinking outside the box. Let the kids do what they do best use their imaginations," he said.
Election Day is April 28, and the polls are open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. For coverage of the Board of Selectmen debate, be sure to check out our .