2017-10-20 / Front Page

Election 2017

Three in line for two South Portland school board seats
By Wm. Duke Harrington
Staff Writer

SOUTH PORTLAND — There doesn’t seem to be a lot of interest among South Portland residents in serving on the city’s board of education, or at least in running for election to a seat on the school board. One seat on the seven-member board (District 2) is currently vacant, and of the remaining six, half have been filled in recent years either via council appointment, or as a result of write-in campaigns. Two of those seats are up for election this year, and both incumbents – District 4 representative Matthew Perkins and District 4 candidate Elyse Tipton – are running unopposed in their first formal go before voters. The District 2 seat left vacant by the resignation last month of Otis Thompson drew no candidates and, according to City Clerk Emily Scully, the seat will likely be offered by the council to whomever captures the most write-in votes.

That leaves the two at-large seats, for which there are three candidates. On the school department’s new website, school board Vice Chairman Mary House is listed with a term of office through 2019. However, her seat is up this year and she is on the ballot. For the other at-large seat, long-time school board member Karen Callaghan chose not to run for re-election. Instead, the ballot will show the name of Stanley Beretsky and Heather Johnson. The two available spots will go to the top two vote getters.

South Portland voters citywide may vote in the race. Absentee ballots are available now at the city clerk’s office. In-person early voting begins at city hall Oct. 12. All polling place will be open from 7 a.m. until 8 p.m. on Election Day, Nov. 7. Directions to each polling location are available on the city clerk’s section of the South Portland webpage, www.southportland.org.

The Sentry sent all three school board hopefuls a candidate survey to fill out. Their answers are listed below in alphabetical order.

Name: Stanley Beretsky Age: 73 Address: Adelbert St. (five years).

Contact: Phone: (413) 214-8159; email: beretsky4444@gmail.com Occupation: Largely retired, but still teaches mathematics at Southern Maine Community College (two years); previously, taught math for South Portland Adult Education; before that, was math department chairman at Belchertown High School in Massachusetts (15 years, with 22 years of education experience in all; also has worked 30 years as a business consultant in information technology. Family: Married, with three adult children, four grandchildren. Education: Stuyvesant (New York) High School; bachelors degree in mathematics from the University of New York; masters degree in education and a (Certificate of Advanced Graduate Studies) degree with a

specialization in curriculum study earned from the University of Massachusetts – Amherst. Organizations and activities: Member of the school council and superintendent’s advisory committee in Belchertown, Massachusetts. Chairman of the NEASC Accreditation Committee at Belchertown

High School. Political experience: None.

Top three issues:

1) Student learning: Improving student learning by exploring different pathways to graduation, encouraging student voice in their learning, and encouraging them have a place at the table for larger conversations about their education. Often we focus on teaching, but it’s learning that matters most. We need to listen to students and make school a place in which students want to be. We need to encourage students to become life-long learners. I would like to see that as a the first goal of our district, because it will help to ensure high achievement for our students.

2) Technology: Technology is still a hot button issue. Some people love it and use it flawlessly every day, while others hate it and don’t see why they need to be forced to use it at all. In addition what makes it complicated is that some schools seem to have endless resources, while other schools have to use what wealthier schools have discarded as old. There is no doubt that students are experts in technology before they enter school. Technology can be used to enhance the learning experience but it is important to me make sure it is not used to replace the live teaching experience.

3) Common Core standards: We need to assure that our district has the highest level of curricula. Common Core standards come from organizations like the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics or the National Science Teachers Association, which have studied curricula and teaching for years. Curriculum has always been important to me, which is why it was my area of specialization. Good curricula encourage the best teaching practice to help prepare our students for the future.

Why are you seeking elected office?

I am an advocate for public education. Public education is an important means by which middle and working class people achieve the “American Dream.” It is a key component of my own life and why I am where I am today. I am seeking a position on the South Portland School Board to help the students of South Portland achieve that dream. I believe the goal of education is for students to think critically and become advocates for social environmental justice. In our country today, things are different from they were when I was growing up. We are governed by an administration which is trying to privatize education. We need to stand up against this and I feel I can help make public education better and help our students achieve this goal.

What do you view as the best outcome for the current middle school renovation project and the ultimate fate of Mahoney Middle School?

I’ve only read the articles in (a local paper). I would like to see the following option explored: Renovate the Mahoney Middle School and make it a grade seven/ eight junior high school. Update and/ or renovate the Memorial Middle School and make it a grade five/six elementary school. In my opinion, the emotional, social and academic needs of those two school age populations are very different and this might begin to relieve some of the problems at the lower levels. I believe the foundations learned at grades five through eight are very important for ensuring success at the high school level.

What, if anything, do you feel can be done to control the spiraling cost of public education?

I don’t think there is much that we can do as a community to control the spiraling cost of education. Good teachers are the backbone of good education and an investment a community needs to make.

Although effective administrators are essential to teachers being able to do a good job, sometimes there is too much administration, and perhaps that is something to be studied. There is a lot of grant money available and I would hope that administrators in South Portland are going after those grants. Technology can

help bring down the cost of education if it is used in conjunction with good teaching and not as a replacement and may help reduce costs. Public education is the foundation of democracy and we must make sure that the federal and state levels of government do everything possible to fund and support that education.

Name: Mary House Age: 46 Address: Elderberry Drive (20 years, with

22 years total in South Portland).

Contact: Phone: 632-4984; email: housema@spsd.org. Occupation: Managing of client accounts at environmental consulting and engineering firm Woodard & Curran (22 years); a member of its board of directors since 2014. Family: Married with two school-aged children. Education completed: Penquis Valley High School in Milo; bachelors degree in chemistry and environmental studies from Bowdoin College, 1993; masters degree in environmental science and engineering from the Colorado School of Mines, 1995. Organizations and activities: Seven years volunteering in children’s schools and at various sporting activities, including cheering and softball. Political experience: South Portland Board of Education, 2012-present (vice chairman, 2015-present).

Top three issues:

1) Rich and diverse educational experience: I think it is important for students to have a rich educational experience with numerous and diverse opportunities to explore individual interests. Each student should have a meaningful connection to school and for each it is different – it may be a specific teacher, subject or extra-curricular activity. Having a wide range of opportunities available, fostered by great teachers, administrators and staff, give students important resources to stay engaged in school in a positive way.

2) STEM in Schools: I have been and will continue to be a strong advocate for STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) in our schools. I believe we need to give students a strong foundation in these areas to fully prepare students for the future. This has been challenging at times, specifically staying current with technology that is rapidly changing. I’m very proud of the math coaches we added last year, to have one in each elementary school. That was an important step to further support our math programs.

3) Health and safety of students: Student

should be able to focus on school work and student activities and not the health and safety of our schools. Health and safety means a lot of things to me – safe buildings that are well maintained, policies that protect students from bullying and other unhealthy situations, food to eat so students aren’t distracted by being hungry, resources to handle student medical and mental health conditions, and the ability to respond to emergencies. All of these need programs and trained professionals to run the programs well.

Why are you seeking this particular elected office at this time?

I’m very proud to be a South Portland resident and are proud of our schools. The schools are a very important part of our community. I want to continue to be a strong voice and support our students to make sure students have the best educational experience possible given the fiscal constraints we face. After this election five of our seven board members will have served on our board for less than two years. Maintaining a level of consistency is important to continue to drive our mission through understanding of our operations, policies and budgets.

What do you view as the best outcome for the current middle school renovation project and the ultimate fate of Mahoney Middle School?

The best outcome is the one that best serves our students and community. There has been a lot of work done already to help make that determination, which has involved examining the condition of both of our middle schools and working with the state to understand the options that might be allowable through a state funded project. The next and critically important step in that process is to understand the views of the community. Forums will be held this fall to gain those insights. I will attend those forums and listen closely. As we move forward, I will ask questions to understand what option gives our students the greatest opportunity to succeed in a safe environment with the tools needed to provide the best education possible.

What, if anything, do you feel can be done to control the spiraling cost of public education?

Education is certainly expensive, just like other costs that taxpayers face. I firmly believe our students are worth it! I don’t believe the costs of public education are spiraling out of control in proportion to other expenditures. I have worked on the finance committee during my tenure as a school board member and I know the board and administration is fiscally responsible in its expenditures. Our budgeting process is incredibly detailed and accounts for each penny spent and how it serves the needs of the students. We can control our costs by continuing to be responsible in our expenditures and balancing student needs with the financial resources available.

Name: Heather Johnson Age: 43 Address: Colchester Drive (two and a half years, with 30 years total in South Portland).

Contact: Phone: 632-4636; email: hjeanjohn33@gmail.com; LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/heather-johnson-49595534/. Occupation: Owner of Core Strategies, LLC, a strategic planning, business development and project management services (one year); Previously, digital media and event director for Diversified Communications (12 years). Family: Married, with three school-aged children. Education: South Portland High School; Bachelor’s degree in business administration and marketing from the University of Maine, 1996. Organizations and activities: South Portland American Little League coach, T-ball, rookie leagues (2015-2016); AA assistant coach (2017). Political Experience: None.

Top three issues:

1) Bullying and cyber-bullying: Attending

school for most children is an easy task, however for some, the interpersonal relationships with their peers can make their experience unbearable. This can be a huge barrier for those children to focus adequately on learning and can lead to a number of other issues. There seems to be increasing awareness of bullying and cyber-bullying, however “bullying” can be subjective and sometimes ignored. I feel the dialogue needs to be ongoing around this issue, and policies should be revisited as appropriate to ensure children have positive experiences and carefree school days.

2) Optimal learning and engagement: believe every student has his/her own set of criteria for what makes them an optimal and engaged learner. For those that struggle with the core curriculum, their path to obtaining the help and tools they need should be frictionless. Other students, who are self-motivated and high-achieving should also be given the opportunity to be challenged.

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3) Financial resources: The school budget is an investment shared by all property owners in the city, and I feel it’s important to keep this in mind when reviewing and setting future budgets. Funds should be used for maximum benefit and expenditures should be evaluated and measured against the intended outcomes.

Why are you seeking this particular elected office at this time?

I have three children in the South Portland school system, at the elementary and middle-school level, which gives me a user-perspective to see first-hand how policies and issues currently affect students. I strongly believe in public education and the right of all students to an education that not only prepares them academically for their future but builds resiliency. I understand that South Portland has some unique challenges, and I’m ready to roll up my sleeves to work with teachers, administrators, parents, other board members and the community to work on solutions and make the system as great as it can be. I also hear and see the successes of students at all learning levels and want to ensure those messages are amplified to the community at large.

What do you view as the best outcome for the current middle school renovation project and the ultimate fate of Mahoney Middle School?

In addition to Mahoney, my understanding is that there are other facilities that require or will require renovation in the near future. This renovation project is a chance to take a long-term view and outline proposals that take into account the vision and desired learning outcomes city-wide. It is important to weigh the impacts (good and bad) for renovating Mahoney against a more comprehensive facilities plan. Another consideration is to ensure that any allotted funds are utilized to maximize the overall benefit.

What, if anything, do you feel can be done to control the spiraling cost of public education?

Fiscal responsibility is important, even when speaking about the investment in the future of students, when only the best outcome for all is desired. Depending on the goals and learning objectives for students, there are well researched and documented areas where monetary funds can make a big impact, and other areas where policy and flexibility in teaching staff and administration can drive change. I believe that predictability and demonstrating return on investment can help mitigate the sense that the costs for education are spiraling out of control – start with a longer-term vision, set milestones and key performance indicators with transparent measurements, and build a projected multi-year budget.

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