This month we shifted from business to education and took a few minutes with School Committee Member, Jenny Graham, about some of the initiatives that the School Committee is leading this year, and why Jenny continues to choose Medford as her home.
You grew up in Bristol County and went to school at Babson. What brought you to Medford?
After Babson, I lived all around Boston — Brighton, the North End, Charlestown, and Somerville. When it came time for my husband, Scott, and I to buy a house, we ended up in Medford. We decided to buy a freestanding house because our downstairs neighbor snored incessantly. We shifted our home search from condos to single-family homes and ended up in West Medford in 2006.
When we moved here, we were engaged and married the same year. The neighborhood feel was different from what we were looking for at the time because we didn't have kids. But when we did have children, we discovered how lucky we were in that there were so many other families and a built-in group of playmates and fellow parents. Like many first-time buyers, we didn't intend to stay in our house forever, but we've grown to love where we are and expanded the house to continue to fit our needs.
What are some of your favorite spots around the city? What makes you continue to choose Medford as your home?
We are big fans of the Sheepfold in the Middlesex Fells because we have a two-and-a-half-year-old puppy who loves to run. She might secretly be part greyhound. She's also an avid swimmer who never met a body of water she doesn't like, so we also spend a lot of time at the Mystic Lakes.
We enjoy the Mystic Lakes, especially for paddle boarding. It's remarkable to me that you can paddle a little bit off the shore, and it's tranquil, and you can't hear the cars whizzing by. And, of course, the spot we are enjoying the most right now is the new Medford Public Library. My kids spend a lot of time there, and we all love the programming they offer.
We were not all that forward-thinking when we moved to Medford, thinking it would be our forever home. We used to think we'd move further out when the kids entered grade school. But we realized that we rely on being close to Boston and enjoy our lives here. Medford can feel like a city when you want city living and offers quiet when you crave it. I grew up in a town that only had quiet; we didn't even have a Dunkin' Donuts. So I enjoy the balance we have here in Medford.
And now you're involved in and giving back to the community as a member of the School Committee. Tell us about what inspired you to run for office.
We had a great experience with our kids in the younger grades and, like many parents, wondered what Medford Public Schools would be like in the longer term. We started listening to school committee meetings, and I got involved in the PTO at the kids' school. What stood out was that there needed to be more collaboration across the elementary school PTOs. So together, we created a structure where we raised funds collaboratively and disbursed the funds equally to each elementary school's PTO. Each PTO had the autonomy to spend their funds as they saw fit for their individual school. We hosted events like the Harlem Wizards and raffled off a $5000 Disney Vacation. I was part of the search committee to find our new Superintendent, and many people were also asking me to run. MPS has so much untapped opportunity, so it did intrigue me. Of course, I said no about 100 times, but I can't be a critic if I'm unwilling to put my hat in the ring and try to do better. So that's how I ended up in my role.
You're also an entrepreneur in a business that dovetails nicely with your work on School Committee. Tell us a little about Zelus Consulting and the clients you serve.
I co-founded Zelus Consulting a little over 18 years ago, and we are process improvement experts. We work primarily across the insurance industry and with some government agencies to create and deliver learning programs that help with workforce development. In short, we identify areas where things can work better for our clients and their customers and then create and deliver the means to do it. Much of what I do professionally transfers to my work on the School Committee, which is the value I bring to the table.
What are some of the initiatives that you're working on with the School Committee?
What's been top of mind for everybody is the ongoing challenges we have with the climate and culture of the high school. As a Committee, we are working with administrators to take a deep, hard look at what's going right — and, more importantly, wrong— at the high school across the entire complex. My goal is to implement a better, more sustainable structure that will allow students to come to a school environment conducive to learning with a strong positive culture.
The high school campus is also a significant priority for the School Committee. High schools are considered the flagship school in many cities and towns, and it's time for Medford to have a flagship school that our students deserve.
Another area where we've placed our focus is modernizing the curriculum at all levels throughout the school district. We recently replaced old, outdated textbooks at the high school, and we have a relatively new math and science curriculum at the middle school level. We are installing a new math and have implemented a state-of-the-art science curriculum at the elementary school. We are also exploring a new literacy curriculum precipitated by the state's requiring dyslexia screening at the K-2 level.
We're also taking a look at our health curriculum from K to 12 to incorporate topics like bullying, being a bystander or an upstander, and other social-emotional issues. We've assembled a review team of an awe-inspiring group of Medford residents to come up with a recommendation for the curriculum that will be infused into the professional development of our teachers.
Finally, we are working to replace the McGlynn Elementary playground with an inclusive playground that will serve students with all sorts of mobility needs and include wheelchair swings and swings that can be buddied up if you have a child who needs assistance. There has been a tremendous amount of thought that went into the design of this playground, and I’m so excited to get shovels in the ground on this project!
Photos, clockwise from top left: Jenny Graham and SC colleague Kathy Kreatz at the MPS high school graduation, a new elementary science curriculum, students at the MPS High School graduation, and the cutest Sheepfold fan in the Graham household.
For those who are considering a move to Medford and are curious about the school system, what would you tell them?
The question I hear people ask most frequently is, "Which school is best? In which part of Medford should I target my home search?" The truth is that only matters from Kindergarten through 5th grade. At the middle school level, it's a lottery, and at the high school level, there's one building. At the same time, at the elementary level, all the teachers use the same curricula and attend the same professional development, so matter which school your children attend, they are getting the same education; the quality is not different.
What distinguishes each elementary school is that they each have different leaders and staff, and leadership focuses on what's best for their specific student body. As a result, what is perceived as a real strength for one school community, you may not see in another because the culture and climate are driven by leadership.
What is more important to focus on is where you want to live within the city because each neighborhood has its own vibe and character. Do you want to live near the train? Then the Hillside and West Medford may be the neighborhood you want to focus on because they are near the Green Line Extension. Or you can consider Wellington to be near the Orange Line. Do you want to be within walking distance of stores and amenities? Then maybe South Medford or Haines Square is a better choice.
So to wrap up, we always ask our guests: If your best friend was considering a move to Medford, what would you tell them?
I've told my best friend to do it many times, and she hasn't been willing to move from Connecticut to us just yet. I ask her to call my neighbors on either side of me and make an offer! We've always envisioned living next door to each other because we have kids the same age, and wouldn't it be great if only one of us had to cook dinner every night?
Seriously, though, I would focus on what's important to her and her family, and being outside is one of the things she values for her kids. We have plenty of parks and green space, and each end of town offers different restaurants and shops. Medford is one of those cities where you can be as urban or suburban as you'd like, and I'm continuing to encourage her to do it!
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