DRACUT — Incumbent School Committee Chairman Joe Wilkie and challenger Susan Koufogazos covered lots of ground Tuesday during a Sun-sponsored debate Tuesday, less than a week before Dracut voters decide who they’d like to fill two seats on the committee.
The first question posed by Sun Enterprise Editor Christopher Scott centered on families leaving Dracut Public Schools and looking elsewhere for their children’s education.
“For us, it’s about competition,” said Wilkie, adding that the district in recent years has gotten better at marketing its AP classes, the success of music & arts, and athletic teams, as well as the teachers and staff.
Koufogazos said efforts should be made to find out through exit interviews what families are dissatisfied with.
“There are families who are choosing to leave for other reasons and I think we need to begin to ask earlier, and get a more concrete answer than conjecture,” she said. “And be able to work with that.”
Wilkie said that Dracut is not alone in the trend of students seeking charter or private schools.
“The bigger opportunity for us is to beat the drum of our staff, of the technology, of the opportunity that awaits a student to go to Dracut High,” Wilkie said.
Asked if they felt that the lack of diversity among teachers in Dracut in the 2016-2017 school year (only 1 percent is non-white) is an issue, Koufogazos said she was “quite certain” that the town has put forth every effort to comply with hiring practices that reach out to diversified background of educators.
Wilkie said that, when hiring, the district and administration do use multiple resources to advertise the positions and also reach out to diverse pools.
On the subject of charter schools potentially showing an interest in moving into Dracut, Wilkie said that this is about equity to him. He did not explicitly say he would be opposed to charter schools, instead saying he would analyze why these schools are coming to Dracut and what they bring to the community.
“The Dracut Public Schools is — and let me be really clear about this — by no means a struggling school district,” Wilkie said. “By any size, shape or measurement are we a struggling school district. We are a performing school district at high achievement levels of academic success.”
Koufogazos said that, as a School Committee member, she doesn’t know that it really is about her role to welcome charter schools (or private schools) or not.
“My job is to make sure that I’m offering such a sound, educational opportunity that people aren’t interested in any other location,” she said. “So I wouldn’t take an opinion one way or another.”
Follow Amaris Castillo on Twitter @AmarisCastillo.