NEWBURYPORT — There are seven candidates vying for three School Committee seats in the preliminary election today, Sept. 21. 

Voters can select three School Committee candidates on the ballot today. The top six candidates will then move to the general election on Nov. 2. The polls are open until 8 p.m. today.

Each candidate recently responded to two questions from The Daily News:

1. The district is currently working on its strategic plan for the next five years. What would you like to see the city’s schools prioritize over the next few years and why?

2. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect the community, do you believe the district is doing everything it can to support its students and recover from potential areas of learning loss? Is there anything you would change?

Dan Blair

Age: 38

Occupation: Director of athletics, recreation and fitness at Northern Essex Community College.

Education: Bachelor’s degree in psychology and special education, Bridgewater State University; master’s degree in sports management, Franklin Pierce University.

Boards/committees: Executive Committee of the National Association of Two-Year College Athletics Administrators Association; Chair of Matt Eaton Memorial Golf Tournament; Men’s Director of NJCAA Region 21.

Website: www.facebook.com/ElectDanBlair.

1. In addition to mitigating lost instructional time, the city’s schools should prioritize education technology, infrastructure of buildings and ventilation, instructional materials and curriculum, and additional staff to reduce learning gaps. The schools should prioritize accessibility to ensure all students can be successful in our district, especially those for which disability services were disrupted, and set a goal to keep more students in the district; as this would lead to future cost savings if we do not have to pay for students leaving the district to get the services they need and utilize these funds elsewhere.

2. The district has made a concerted effort to support students, but we need to find a balance between social distancing and addressing the social, emotional and physical health and safety of students (and staff). Moving to symptom testing and test and stay programs allows the district to focus on safety, while also reducing potential learning loss for inaccurate results. Instead of focusing on what has been lost, look ahead to what is needed to ensure students are ready for the next level. Further, the district also needs to support the staff (not just students) as it looks to recover.

Brian Callahan

Age: 49

Occupation: Owner and lead designer at Helium Design, a graphic and web design company.

Education: Associate degree in communications, 1992.

Boards/committees: School Committee, 2017 to present, vice chair, January 2021 to present; Newburyport PTO, website and associated systems, 2012-16; Newburyport Education Foundation, graphic design services, 2014 to present; Newburyport Youth Services, graphic design services, 2012 to present.

Website: https://bcforsc.com.

1. I’d like to see Superintendent Gallagher’s 1:1 MacBook Air plan get started. Getting high school students a well-made device that will last them well into their college years would be great. I’d also like to see technology across the district standardized. Having Lisa Furlong in her new position as director of communication and instructional technology is an important step.

2. Yes. The district is doing all that it can both practically and legally, and is doing it well. We were one of few districts in the state that went full in-person last spring. There are a lot ideas about recovering from learning loss here, however, curriculum falls outside the School Committee’s purview. While we can support the district, we cannot mandate or vote on programming.

Steven Cole

Age: 63

Occupation: Retired human services administrator/residential services program manager and consultant; maintains both social worker’s license and consulting business certificate.

Education: Newburyport Public Schools graduate; bachelor’s degree from Boston University; earned multiple certificates from BU Management Development Program and UMass Boston, Managing Human Service Organizations; Certified Malcolm Baldrige Quality Award Examiner through the Massachusetts Council for Quality Inc.

Boards/committees: School Committee member, 2004 to present, vice chair, 2006-08, selected to 2010 All-State School Committee by Massachusetts Association of School Committees; chairman, Newburyport Charter Commission, 2009-12; member, Newburyport Adult and Community Education board of directors, 2004 to present; secretary and treasurer, Newburyport High School Alumni Association, 2015 to present; board of directors, Greater Lawrence Educational Collaborative/Collaborative for Regional Educational Service & Training, 2012-16; past president, Newburyport Kiwanis Club; past chairman, Salvation Army advisory board.

Website: www.reelectspcole.com.

1. As the school administration and School Committee prepares to begin a strategic plan process to identify tactics and strategies for the next three to five years, it will involve the participation and voice of many stakeholders. I would like to be a part of a collaborative process where the School Committee and school administration identifies priorities that will drive the strategic plan. Those priorities, within a properly resourced strategic plan, are vital in sustaining the quality of education in our district for the future. How we do that together is the challenge.

2. The School Committee supported the efforts of administration to return students back to the classroom well ahead of state guidelines; and a spring internal assessment showed a less significant learning gap than expected. The Wednesday schedule allowed classroom hours and time for teachers to collaborate with student assessment. A summer school program utilizing ESSER II funds and a literacy camp provided learning opportunities for more than 100 students. Today, Assistant Superintendent Lisa Marie Ippolito has developed an assessment calendar to monitor student growth on a regular basis. Utilization of ESSER III funds will continue to provide definition of student needs and learning gaps.

Sarah Hall

Age: 51

Occupation: Environmental educator

Education: Bachelor’s degree in psychology, Bates College; master’s degree in elementary education, Smith College

Boards/committees: Molin School Council, 2016-18; NHS Council, 2020 to present; Newburyport Re-Opening Task Force, summer 2020

Website: www.sarahhallnbpt.com.

1. My goal is for the schools to provide the necessary programs and accommodations to ensure that all students feel welcome and challenged. Guidance counselors and interventionists play a critical role in ensuring students don’t “slip through the cracks.” These positions tend to get cut when money is tight, so they need to be preserved and prioritized. Expanding programs in music and world languages and increasing dual enrollment opportunities will attract more students who might otherwise attend private school. Finally, I’d love to see more internships and vocational support for high school students who are entering the workforce.

2. The best way to support our students as the pandemic wears on is to keep them learning in person. Even teachers with the best training and best of intentions struggled to meet the needs of many of their students through remote learning. Testing and remediation are particularly challenging when remote. I’m especially pleased with the new “test and stay” plan which allows students who are exposed to COVID to avoid a lengthy quarantine and continue learning in school as long as they test negative. Moving forward, the best way to minimize learning loss will be to minimize remote learning.

Laura Viola Maccarone

Age: 40

Occupation: Owner/creative director for Rizbee Design Studio.

Education: Bachelor’s degree in graphic design and is working toward a master’s degree in graphic design.

Boards/committees: Board member, Newburyport Youth Hockey League, 2019 to present.

Website: www.laura4nbptsc.com.

1. As our district’s strategic plan for education will be coming up for review, I would prioritize continued use of the frameworks already established. I would like to see our schools continue to focus on the social emotional learning of our students through renewed partnerships with organizations such as Culture7 Coaching. Emotional intelligence allows our students to access critical thinking and apply it to any situation throughout their lives. Kindness, compassion, empathy and open minds are tools that will help our students communicate effectively. In my opinion, these are crucial in developing well-rounded thoughtful citizens of our local and global communities.

2. The pandemic has certainly affected the educational path of many of our students. It’s important that we continue to meet our students where they are to address any concerns around learning loss. I applaud all the work the district did during the response to last year’s unprecedented challenges. However, I am concerned about the ability of students to effectively access the curriculum should it be necessary to move to hybrid/remote learning again. I would be eager to work with the School Committee on developing new ideas to help students who struggle with remote learning.

Richard Salus

Age: 77

Occupation: Prior to retirement 10 years ago, served as an education specialist at the Massachusetts Department of Education for 38 years

Education: Bachelor’s degree in biology, Brandeis University; completed educational coursework at Boston University; master’s degree in education, Tufts University.

1. The strategic plan needs to prepare students to compete for employment with students globally. To do that, our students will need an academically rigorous program with a sequence of STEM courses from the primary grades through 12th grade and an emphasis on assisting students in the development of strong problem-solving skills and written expression skills. To compete in world markets, the district’s foreign language offerings need to be expanded to include Chinese and Russian beginning in the elementary and continuing through Grade 12. How well do Newburyport students perform on AP exams? How many scores are 3 or better? How well do Newburyport students perform in dual enrollment courses? Does Newburyport High School seek feedback from its graduates at the end of their college freshman year? If so, how is this information used?

2. There are number of unknowns in this question, specifically, what will be the future severity and the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic. Let’s assume that the pandemic continues but the severity remains unchanged. Private, parochial and charter schools remained open since the initial stages of the pandemic. Let us say then that the public schools follow that example and remain open. If the public schools were to follow the practices set by the staff and students at the schools that remained open, Newburyport teachers and staff would wear face masks in class and do lots of handwashing and make frequent use of hand sanitizers. Students continue handwashing, and wear face masks (if pediatrician recommends). With those conditions in place, assessments of student learning deficits would set a baseline that would serve as a starting point for learning.

Juliet Walker

Age: 46

Occupation: City planner

Education: Bachelor’s degree, University of Pennsylvania; master’s degree in regional planning, University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Boards/committees: YWCA Greater Newburyport board of directors, Newburyport Charter Committee, NHS School Council.

Website: https://julietfornbpt.com.

1. It will be important for the strategic planning process to seek input from a variety of stakeholders to help set priorities for the district over the next few years. After weathering a global pandemic, one of our top priorities should be getting our learning back on track and addressing the needs of all of our students who have been impacted by this past year in different ways. I also look forward to continuing to create and sustain a world-class curriculum, not only in our core academic subjects, but in our foreign language, theater, arts and music programs as well.

2. I am proud of how our school administration, staff and students navigated the past year facing unprecedented challenges. I’m sure we will not understand the full scope of the impact of the past year on our students learning progress for some time, but I have a high degree of confidence that our school administration, School Committee members, and our city government will provide the necessary support to our schools to make sure we are successful in our efforts to get all of our students back on track and recover any learning losses as quickly as possible.

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