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Elisabeth Beck and Jose Constantine are running for Mount Greylock School Committee as the Greylock Forward ticket.

Mount Greylock School Committee 'Ticket': No Intent To Be Divisive

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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Carolyn Greene is running to serve out the last two years of the term she was appointed to in May. She is running against Elisabeth Beck in the only race for Mount Greylock School Committee on Nov. 3.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Read the platform of the Greylock Forward ticket for the Mount Greylock School Committee, and it is clear that the candidates' intent was to promote inclusion and healing in the school district.
 
Imagine the candidates' surprise when they were accused of being a source of division in local politics.
 
"When you put your hat in the ring, you have no idea who else is putting their hat in the ring," candidate Jose Constantine said. "It's hard to know how to engage or who to engage with.
 
"Hindsight is 20/20. Could we have managed it differently and been more inclusive? Certainly. But our intention was never to be divisive. Our intention was to make it clear that these three candidates held these values and principles central to what they felt their service on the committee would be."
 
Constantine and Elisabeth Beck are the two remaining members of the Greylock Forward partnership who are actively campaigning for a seat on the School Committee in the Nov. 3 election. A third candidate, Jude Higdon-Topaz, remains on the ballot but this weekend announced that he is withdrawing from the race.
 
On Tuesday, Higdon-Topaz' campaign manager posted on Facebook that the candidate was "bullied" out of the three-way race for two four-year seats on the committee.
 
Over the last week, Chad Higdon-Topaz had used the same social media venue to defend the Greylock Forward ticket against accusations that it was a "divisive" and a "political party."
 
In all, there are four School Committee seats up for grabs in November. One, the lone seat for a Lanesborough resident up for election this cycle, has a single candidate, Michelle Johnson, running unopposed for a four-year term.
 
Normally, two of the four Williamstown-resident seats would be on the ballot in each biennial election, but because of a mid-term resignation, the person appointed in May to fill the remainder of an unexpired term, Carolyn Greene, has to run for the right to serve the last two years remaining on that term.
 
Greene is opposed by Beck for the remaining two years on that seat in what is now the only contested election on the ballot. With Higdon-Topaz' departure from the race, Constantine and Julia Bowen are the only candidates for two four-year seats.
 
Constantine and Beck each say they are running not so much against the other candidates in the race as for a statement of principles.
 
As detailed on the Greylock Forward website, the group stands for: student-centered learning; transparency, engagement and operational efficiency; and equity, diversity and inclusion.
 
Beck said she realizes some people may have read the ticket's platform to mean the Greylock Forward candidates are the only ones to share those values, but that was not the intent.
 
"I understand if making a statement of values is seen to be an implied argument that someone else doesn't hold those values," she said. "If that's how you read it, I understand being put off.
 
"But never at any point was that the intention. I am trying to think hard about how to not pull back from what I think is a really useful tool, a really explicit statement about why I'm running, why Jose and I are running, in part so that whoever is elected, we'll have hard evidence that there is support for these issues in town. There is support for a mandate. I want to be really clear about that."
 
Those values deserve to be front and center in the campaign and deserve a voice in the district going forward, Beck said.
 
"I think it's possible to say without making a statement about the values of anybody else or the values of people currently on the School Committee that these issues have not been prioritized yet in the ways they need to be prioritized," Beck said. "Giving that a central place and a focus in terms of working together, I see that as practicing collaboration for a role [School Committee member] that is collaborative."
 
In fact, Beck said she wants to shift the conversation away from Greylock Forward's "values" to the ticket's "priorities."
 
"From what I know of the other candidates, they sound wonderful, and they have great values, and I'm not interested in criticizing any of them," Beck said. "I think the framing that's been more useful for me is that Jose and I are making an explicit commitment to prioritize issues of inclusion and equity in the school system and prioritize processes that will promote transparency and community involvement so people's needs are heard and met."
 
All three of the remaining candidates not running on the Greylock Forward ticket said they generally support the issues detailed on the group's website.
 
"I am incredibly committed to diversity and do appreciate their effort to make sure diverse candidates ran," Bowen said.
 
"I have a deep commitment to issues of diversity, inclusion and equity, which I think is at the core of their platform. I did look at some of the activities they want to propose, some of which are already in the works in the district. I don't know how different their platform is from the values people have now. For example, they mention restorative justice, which is part of the mission statement at Mount Greylock. I instituted restorative justice at BArT five years ago, and it still is an essential part of the BArT experience."
 
Bowen was executive director of Berkshire Arts & Technology Charter Public School until stepping down in 2016.
 
All three of the candidates not on the ticket confirmed they were not approached by the group before the ticket was formed.
 
"As for their platform, if you are asking whether I support student-centered learning, transparency, engagement and operational efficiency, equity, diversity and inclusion, the answer is of course I do," Greene wrote in response to an email asking to talk with her about the race. "I also support working within Mass General Laws, School Committee policies and protocols, and goals set forth by both the full School Committee and superintendent."
 
Greene, the lone incumbent on the ballot, said there is value in her years of experience serving the district.
 
"Bottom line, while I support their values, I do not support having the majority of people on the School Committee brand new to the work at hand at the same time we are on-boarding a new (to the district) superintendent," she wrote. "Electing a candidate with over 10 years of School Committee experience, with a track record for getting things done, who is currently serving in the position and who understands the commitment of time and energy it will take to continue to move the district forward makes more sense to me than electing a fourth person with no experience in this particular job."
 
Lanesborough's Johnson said on Sunday she did not talk to the Greylock Forward candidates as the group was forming but has been approached by the ticket during the campaign about a meeting.
 
"I agree with the general principles on the website," Johnson wrote in reply to an email seeking comment. "They are all important to a school system in general."
 
Beck said Greylock Forward grew out of a network of Williamstown parents, but the priorities are shared by residents in both member towns, not to mention New Ashford and Hancock, which have tuition agreements to send their children to district schools.
 
"We really do have to keep working harder to make sure our idea of inclusivity is never too narrow," Beck said. "I don't think we're there yet. But I don't think we're done yet."
 
Like Beck, Constantine agreed that the Greylock Forward campaign is not about attacking its opponents.
 
"I spoke to the other candidates, and they equally share our values and goals," he said. "I'm excited by the fact that no matter who gets on this committee, the future is bright. That's what I think our focus should be -- less on the awkward mechanisms we put together and more on the great potential for this good work to be done."
 
Although seats on the Mount Greylock School Committee are allocated to three Lanesborough residents and four Williamstown residents, voters in both towns vote in races for all seats. The Williamstown League of Women Voters planned candidate forums for the two contested races for Mount Greylock School Committee. These will be taped by WilliNet on Wednesday, Sept. 30. The League is welcoming questions from the public; they can be submitted to Anne Skinner, askinner@williams.edu, by Monday, Sept. 28.

Tags: election 2020,   MGRSD,   


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Mount Greylock School Committee: No Need to Gauge Community Support for Fields Project

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Without an actionable measure to vote, the Mount Greylock School Committee on Thursday spent nearly an hour talking about the athletic field decision that will be left to the next iteration of the panel.
 
And three members blocked a proposal to collect data to help inform that decision.
 
The committee learned Thursday that its architects had not yet given the district a price for drafting new detailed design documents needed for a request for proposals to do upgrades to Mount Greylock's athletic fields.
 
Those same architects also advised the committee not to review potential "value engineering" deductions from the project or follow a proposal to put out simultaneous RFPs for a synthetic turf field and a natural grass field.
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