- Written by Sarah Vicidomini
- Published: 27 February 2013
Duxbury resident Martha Dennison moved to town over 10 years ago and, at the time, found suburban life a bit of a shock. A mother of three, she is president of the Chandler PTA and an active member of the community. We recently chatted with Martha about Chandler, Duxbury schools and how she spends her busy days.
Do you have children in the Duxbury school system?
Our oldest child graduated DHS this past year and our two youngest are at Chandler School right now.
How did you get involved with the Chandler PTA?
I went to the first PTA meeting of the year when my son was in kindergarten, like so many moms do. During the meeting, Jen Quinlan, who was President at the time, indicated that there were some positions open and a friend of mine nudged me (thanks, Sharon Hocking!) and said “you’d be good at that!” in a way that got some attention. I volunteered that day to join the board and organize Academic Enrichment activities -- and I was hooked.
What is the most enjoyable aspect of working as President of the PTA?
I love being at Chandler School. The children are happy, engaged and interested in everything. And all the adults – Principal Suzanne Billingham, administrators, office staff, teachers, the custodians and the parent volunteers – are completely committed to the kids. It’s fun, joyful and uplifting to be at Chandler School and interacting with everyone there – it’s a wonderful place to be and a great environment in which to get things done.
What is the most challenging part of your role?
I find that balancing priorities is the biggest challenge. There’s so much we’d like to do, but really we have to pick the right activities and ways to use our resources. Each year we need to identify the best way to raise the right amount of money in a family-friendly way to allow us to accomplish our goals. We want to engage the Chandler community without overwhelming them.
Who comes up with the enrichment activities and ideas?
This is my favorite part of what we do! We take ideas from everywhere – board members, parents, teachers and the Chandler administration. Sometimes we go searching for a particular curriculum that we want to reinforce and sometimes programs are recommended that sound amazing and we go with it. This year we’ve gone looking for some interesting science enrichment programs for each grade level as well as traditional literacy activities. Our visit from Wally the Green Monster, which stresses the importance and fun of reading, came as a recommendation from Mrs. Billingham.
What is your most important goal as president of the PTA?
We’re really focused on communication this year. When parents send their children off to Chandler, I think they feel an enormous desire for information. When the schools went “paperless” last year, the PTA Board struggled with how to inform families about our activities. Now we’re trying to determine the best methods and frequency for effective communication – we’re doing fewer newsletters and more quick emails, leveraging Facebook and our Web site. In my mind, figuring this out is critical to our long-term success.
How important is a child’s elementary school experience to his or her academic success as a whole?
Mrs. Billingham and I talk about this a lot – Chandler is where children form their ideas about school and education. The experience is formative and critically important. For sure, they learn the structure of the school day, the rules and the social interaction, but most importantly, at Chandler, children learn the amazing things that happen when you open yourself up to learning. They learn that failure is a step on the path to knowledge, that there is always more to learn,and that engaging your brain is one of the most rewarding activities in life. Hopefully they learn to embrace school and education in general; their Chandler experience is truly the foundation of our children’s academic success.
How do you think Duxbury schools could improve?
I think it’s really important to always be thinking about improvement and I know that the school system does that on a regular basis. As a parent, I think I’d like to see more variety in the ways that we expect kids to learn. I am excited to see technology use expanded as project-based learning is integrated at every level. As a taxpayer, I’d like to see more communication from the School Committee and the Superintendent about their priorities and strategic vision for educational development. As a professional, I’d love to decrease the stress that middle and high school students have on tests and grades and see more focus on internships and real-world experiences.
How did the horrifying event in Newtown, CT affect life at Chandler?
Oh, man, it was a major shock and wake-up call. The idea that an intruder could and would walk into an elementary school in that way --- it was so horrifying. I’m still very confident that Duxbury is a safe place to live and send your children to school, but it became clear that some things had to change at Chandler. Within days, the Superintendent and the Principal worked out new security strategies to handle the large number of unknown adults who enter the school for holiday parties. We returned after the holiday break to find the doors locked during the day with new secure entry systems. The changes are dramatic and are a nuisance, for sure, but the Administration did an amazing job to quickly address common concerns for our children’s safety.
How do you spend your time when not working with the PTA?
I’m working about half-time right now - I’ve been a business operations consultant for the past dozen years or so, but scaled back a couple of years ago to part-time. This year I have just three clients with whom I’m working – it’s interesting and diverse work that challenges me every day, so I’m really lucky.
Do you have any hobbies?
I’m sort of obsessed with technology, whether it’s searching the internet for interesting activities to do with the kids, reading a book on my kindle app, or helping my son, Mills, download new mods to play Minecraft.
How would your friends or family describe you in five words or less?
Interestingly, there are a lot of attorneys and academics among my family and friends, so no one can describe anything in five words or less!
Where is your favorite spot in Duxbury?
This may sound really anti-social, but it just might be my backyard. It’s private; we’ve got a big deck with a hot tub, a koi pond, and a swing set. There’s nothing better than sitting back there, watching the kids play, having a big glass of wine and some laughs with my husband or a friend … but I love the beach, too!