Natick 2020 Election Profile: Donna McKenzie For School Committee

Neal McNamara
·6 min read

NATICK, MA — The Natick 2020 election — postponed from the original date because of coronavirus — is now just a week away with key races for the Board of Selectmen, School Committee and five other boards and commissions on the ballot.

There are no contested races in this spring's election, but Patch reached out to candidates running this year to find out why they are seeking another term (or in some cases a first term) in office.

Natick School Committee member Donna McKenzie was first elected in March 2017, and is now seeking another term. In seeking a second term, McKenzie says she's focused on making sure Natick schools are adequately funded, and, in light of recent events, addressing issues like racism and inequality.

Donna M. McKenzie, PhD

Position Sought: A second term on the Natick School Committee

Family: Wily Mio my 13 year, 10-month old Boston Terrier who was born in my living room. I lost his mother and two sisters within a 10-month period and was heartbroken. My father loved these dogs, and they kept him alive longer than his doctors thought possible.

Education: BA, Smith College; MDiv, Weston Jesuit School of Theology, (now Boston College) and PhD, Graduate Theological Union

Occupation: Scholar, Teacher and Chaplain. I have taught at Cornell and Fordham Universities and served as a chaplain at Albertus Magnus College, as well as Smith College. I presently serve as the Catholic Chaplain at Babson College. I also had the privilege of taking care of my mother when she was dying and my father when he was no longer able to live alone.

Previous or Current Elected or Appointed Office: Natick School Committee, Long-standing Natick Town Meeting Member, Precinct 4

Campaign website: FB page Donna McKenzie for School Committee

Why are you seeking elective office?

Gratitude and capability motivate me to continue to serve. I attended Natick Public Schools from kindergarten to 12th grade and received an outstanding education that enabled me to earn a doctorate in ethics. This was no small achievement for a first generation college student and third generation Irish immigrant. I am thankful for what I received and want to help future generations of Natick children have what they need to achieve success and flourish. As a life long college educator, I think I have the experience and wisdom to contribute thoughtfully to guiding the district as the School Committee formulates budgets, institutes and revises policies, and oversees our superintendent who I am proud to have had a part in hiring.

The single most pressing issue facing our school district is _______, and this is what I intend to do about it.

Two weeks ago when I started this survey, I answered this question with adequate funding, especially in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis and economic recession. I will continue to advocate for the funds necessary to operate our school district which is outstanding. If cuts need to be made in the immediate future, I will support cuts that do not impact direct services to Natick’s children.

After this past week when three members of the finance committee resigned, I also remain concerned about leadership. How do we inspire healthy civic engagement? I do not want or need to be surrounded by people with whom I agree all the time. I appreciate rigorous and challenging debate and those who are able to stimulate my thinking with their ideas and questions. The school district budget is better with the rigorous vetting of the Finance Committee and others. The newly formed group, Protect Natick’s Future, includes many smart and strong leaders who I hope will step up to elected and appointed leadership positions in the town in the coming days.

What are the critical differences between you and the other candidates seeking this post?

My race is uncontested and I consider Hayley Sonneborn and Shai Fuxman to be my colleagues. I currently have the privilege of serving with them and each of us brings our own skills, expertise and wisdom to the committee.

If you are a challenger, in what way has the current board or officeholder failed the community (or district or constituency)

Does not apply although I suppose “blank” or a write-in could win. I do not take the support of the people of Natick lightly and try to earn continually their trust in me.

Describe the other issues that define your campaign platform

Student achievement which means the financial and intellectual resources necessary for students to succeed, strong communication between and among all of our constituents and plans that reflect a commitment to anti-racism and eradicating inequalities due to poverty and/or lack of resources are important to me, as well as a district that promotes and embodies inclusion in all of its practices and policies.

What accomplishments in your past would you cite as evidence you can handle this job?

I have done work in community organizing and that together with my work as a chaplain have helped me to bring people together. I have spent time in developing countries, tutored children suffering from poverty in inner city Philadelphia and lived in a 99 percent Black neighborhood in Detroit, Michigan. I know how to thrive in all kinds of circumstances and am committed to eradicating systemic racism and the real disadvantages suffered by those living in poverty. I also have a sense of humor and a lot of hope that we can improve the world, leaving it better for having been here.

The best advice ever shared with me was:

“Sometimes the correct answer is not always the best one” said my cabinetmaker dad long ago while helping me with a math problem. “This is how they will expect you to answer this problem, but if you did it this way your materials would go further and you would save money.” That kind of creativity, imagination and common sense have served me well and made me skeptical of formulaic responses. My father also told me when I needed something that if I drew it, he would build it for me. This “can do spirit” helped me to persevere and gave me confidence to realize that I could do more than I thought possible.

When I first ran for School Committee. Former Superintendent Dr. Joseph Keefe told me that “no surprises” was the best way to engage in committee meetings. His words continue to inspire me to do the hard work necessary to ensure our district is run thoughtfully and well. He is an educator who set high standards that motivated students to be more than they imagined they could be. I am one of those Kennedy School students. Natick is so fortunate to have him leading the Board of Trustees for our libraries.

What else would you like voters to know about yourself and your positions?

I listen well and do my best to collaborate with others. I love Natick and the flourishing of all its residents is important to me. We need our empty-nesters and seniors to support our schools, and they deserve the services they need too. Someone recently suggested struggling seniors could take out reverse mortgages to support increasing taxes, a suggestion I find abhorrent. We need to do more for those who are struggling in our community and I look forward to Select Board Member
Sue Salamoff’s work in this area. I think that in the end, respect and kindness are essential attributes for town leaders.

More Natick candidate profiles from the spring 2020 election:

This article originally appeared on the Natick Patch