Eight Candidates Seeking Six Seats on Pittsfield School Committee
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — There are eight candidates looking to fill the six seats on the School Committee this year.
Two other candidates, Nyanna Slaughter and Kate Lauzon, have indicated that they will no longer be running but their names will be on the ballot because the deadline has passed to withdraw.
Of the eight candidates still running, half of them are incumbents seeking re-election: William Cameron, Mark Brazeau, Alison McGee, and Daniel Elias.
The ballot list is as follows: Cameron, Brazeau, Vicky Smith, Lauzon, Slaughter, McGee, Sara Hathaway, Karen Reis Kaveney Murray, Elias, and William Tyer.
Candidates were asked to send a campaign statement to iBerkshires. This is a summary of their responses in the order that they appear on the ballot.
Incumbent William Cameron is seeking a third term on the School Committee. He is asking for votes for two main reasons, the first being his service on the Pittsfield Public School Committee in the past four years.
"In that time I have, I believe, demonstrated sound and informed judgment in dealing with the matters that have come before the committee," Cameron wrote to iBerkshires.
In his time on the committee, he promoted the expansion of home-based preschool programming and will seek further expansion in the next budget round.
During the fiscal 2022 budget approval, Cameron motioned to further amend the budget to re-allocate up to $160,000 within the line items from administrative costs, instruction costs, operations, and maintenance, or other funding sources to fund the Parent-Child Home Program, which is an early literacy/school readiness organization.
He also pressed the district and city government to begin detailed planning for the future based on 30-year demographic trends and outdated educational facilities, which he will continue to support if elected.
Cameron gave as his second reason his 38 years of experience working in public schools. This includes working as superintendent of schools in Salem and Central Berkshire Regional.
Since his retirement, he has worked as interim superintendent in Supervisory Union No. 70 and in Lenox.
If elected, Cameron intends to promote improving educational opportunities for all elementary-aged students through the introduction of a "continuous progress model," where students learn new materials as they are ready, regardless of their age, and teachers help them advance as far as they are able.
He proposes using emergency federal funds to plan and train staff for the introduction of a secondary level International Baccalaureate program to help keep students in the district.
Cameron's candidacy is influenced by the number of major issues Pittsfield Public Schools are facing in the next two years. Some of which include accelerating the pursuit and retention of well-qualified teachers and administrators of color, lifting the five Pittsfield schools the Commonwealth deems to be underperforming out of that status, and determining whether Taconic High School should begin conversion to a school focused solely on high-quality career and vocational-technical education.
Incumbent Mark Brazeau is seeking his second term on the committee because he cares about the education and well-being of the city's youth.
Brazeau had three children go through Pittsfield Public Schools and is interested in continuing to advocate for the district and the wider community.
"I was actively involved in the education of my three children within the Pittsfield Public Schools and will continue to be an active advocate for our district," he wrote. "I have built strong ties in our community and will continue to build lasting relationships for the betterment of our children and our community as a whole."
Brazeau is a strong supporter of higher pay, staff and student retention, and the mental stability of the school community.
He petitioned the district to increase the amount of school adjustment counselors to support the well-being of students.
During the FY2022 budget approval by the School Committee in April, Brazeau brought to light the "crucial need" for additional support staff — specifically school adjustment counselors — in the district.
In a presentation, he proposed that the district increases its recommendation of 20 full-time equivalents (FTE) adjustment councilors to around 35.
The city currently has 26 school adjustment councilors, as more money needs to be secured to reach the number he recommended.
Brazeau is happy that he was able to get the district to a starting point with increasing the number of school adjustment councilors.
If elected, Brazeau would like to build the district's foundations even stronger by advocating for improved safety within the schools and assisting with building a stronger community presence.
He believes the next few years are crucial to continuing to build on the foundations put in place at the start of this school year and asks for the city's vote to continue that work.
Candidate Vicky Smith has worked as a Pittsfield Public School substitute teacher over the past few years and has been an educator for more than 15 years. From her experience, she believes that the "sit-down, do-what-you're-told" approach is alive, but not well.
She felt compelled to run for the School Committee to address four areas she believes are most critical: student engagement; teacher autonomy; the role of parents; and the role of community.
Smith believes schools need to provide more authentic and interest-based learning opportunities for students, that they need to give teachers the space to be professionals, that all parents are welcome as equal partners, and that more "public" needs to be put in public schools.
She worked with public schools in the Midwest, private schools in El Salvador and Saudi Arabia, and charter schools in Kansas City and Washington, D.C.
Smith has earned a doctorate in curriculum and Instruction with an emphasis on reading and her dissertation was a self-report case study of teacher-initiated change. In the dissertation, she described her time at a school with 90 percent of fourth-graders reading below grade level at the beginning of the school year and all but one of the students reading at grade level by the end of the school year because of using a "workshop approach."
This approach is where students chose what they read and wrote, with continual coaching from me and with peers.
She became a principal because she felt strongly that schools could be better. To this day, she believes that students deserve more opportunities for authentic learning and a caring, creative and effective teacher every year.
"After six years leading an elementary school, we were recognized by the governor in (Iowa) for our innovative approach to student and parent engagement," she wrote.
"Parents requested that I move with their children to middle school to continue the progress. Together, we increased student achievement and improved school culture to the point where our school was used as a model by the state."
As a parent and grandparent, Smith struggled to be heard as an advocate for students' best interests and has gathered the same concerns from parents whom she speaks to in the community.
When she volunteered at a Pittsfield school, it took her almost a year to get access, and reported talking with local organizations that serve children and families that have also had access issues.
She believes that all guardians need to be welcomed as partners in their child's education and also would like to see community involvement in schools.
"I started my career as a kindergarten teacher and had my last administrative job as Director of Early Childhood Programs in Kansas City, Mo. Students have taught me, more than any so-called research experts, the importance of a holistic, interest-based approach to education," Smith wrote.
"But I've also experienced how difficult it is for systems, steeped in a top-down control/compliance approach, to embrace the whole child. I believe my life experiences and skills would make me a strong asset to the School Committee. Education is so foundational for every child. Together we can do better."
Incumbent Alison McGee is seeking a second term and says she has a passion for developing and using creative, structured approaches to meet student needs and create deeply successful learning environments.
Her primary goals for her work as a School Committee member are to help make both committee meetings and district operations, in general, more accessible; address enhanced and effective proactive supports for both academic and social-emotional needs to reduce high-cost supports and improve the overall educational environment in the schools; and support meaningful changes that address difficult issues such as teacher recruitment and retention, diversity and equity in all aspects of the district, and efficacy of procedures and processes to support financially and organizationally responsible decisions.
McGee is a current special educator in the Berkshire Hills School District and a former Pittsfield Public Schools educator. She holds an advanced degree in special education after receiving a master's in both language-based learning disabilities and special education.
Her teaching passions came from having worked in multiple Pittsfield schools with a focus on populations of students struggling academically, social-emotionally, and economically.
McGee feels that her creative and structured approached to learning has made for better discussions to reach the needs of more children and that she brings a unique voice to district discussions.
"As a member of the Pittsfield School Committee, I was intent on supporting those same approaches and drawing out thoughtful, meaningful discussions to work towards meeting overlooked or underserved needs and issues in the district," she wrote. "As an educator, I bring a unique and important voice to district-level discussions."
Candidate Sara Hathaway believes that becoming a teacher changed her worldview because once she began to see through the eyes of her students, her perception was changed forever.
Hathaway has worked as an urban planner, a district director for a state senator, and a term as mayor of Pittsfield from 2002 to 2004.
She asserts that those were great experiences that gave her insights and useful skills for dealing with policy, state rules, budgets, and community issues.
Regardless, she loved teaching. She taught English Language Arts at Reid Middle School for four years and still has teacher thoughts on a daily basis such as "That would make an interesting non-fiction lesson," or "Wouldn't this museum be a great field trip?" or "I wonder whatever happened to that student from my homeroom?"
She also recalls with great pride the moments when students were sparked by learning by asking to read a sequel, completely absorbed in a word puzzle, or turning down an offer of free time so they could keep reading a novel.
"I also remember parents who shared information with my colleagues and me: a father who hadn't learned to read until his cousin sat him down at age 13 to help him match the letters with their sounds," she wrote.
"A mom who skipped a meeting to talk about an IEP for her daughter with the explanation, afterward, that she couldn't talk with teachers because they make her cry. A more upbeat example was a parent who said her son was so excited about the novel we were reading in class that she ran out and bought a copy for herself."
Hathaway recognizes that the school district has issues. Over the last few months, she reported hearing families coping with bullying and special education issues.
On Sept. 29, she attended the superintendent's presentation on equity and inclusion issues, and while she has heard concerns that leaving behind the "feel good" history of old textbooks somehow requires educators to teach "feel bad" history, Hathaway does not believe the two go hand-in-hand.
"Students want honest and fair information. Teachers want to see the sparks of learning in their students," she wrote. "Our curriculum should reflect the lives and experiences of our diverse world. Improving equity and inclusion in our schools will benefit the community and all students."
Hathaway asserts that kids, teachers, and families deserve great schools and that everyone should have a spark of excitement about learning.
Karen Reis Kaveney-Murray
Candidate Karen Reis Kaveney-Murray is running for the School Committee to give a voice to the parents of children who attend the Pittsfield Public schools. This, she believes, has been something that has been missing from the Pittsfield School Committee for far too long.
Kaveney-Murray would like to see all parents able to advocate for their children in the district and fears that when parents are not able to successfully navigate through the complexities of the school administration, their children are not getting the best out of their school experience.
As the mother of a daughter who attends Morningside Community School and is in the individualized education program (IEP), she says she has experienced exercising her voice as a parent and would make a large difference on the school committee.
Kaveney-Murray also asserts that schools will be improved if the administration further prioritizes teachers' voices, as they are the people who are closest to students in the classroom.
"In my experience, I have seen that the perspective of our teachers is not often taken into consideration as we make some of the most important decisions for our children in our schools. As a School Committee examines and approves the school budget, as we make large policy decisions impacting every family, and as we move ahead with a vision for our schools — we need to incorporate the creativity, the innovation, and the wonderful ideas generated by the people who have dedicated their careers to teaching our children," she wrote.
"Our teachers need to be listened to, and I will bring this perspective to the School Committee. For far too long, the perspectives of our truly talented, experienced, teachers have not been incorporated into the policies that run our schools day to day."
Kaveney-Murray is originally from São Paulo, Brazil. She has lived in the United States since 2011 and became an American citizen in January 2018.
She is a mom, a wife, and a professional in the community with a bachelor's degree in letters/education (Portuguese and Spanish) and a master of business administration in finance.
She speaks Portuguese, Spanish, and English and has worked as a translator/interpreter in the Pittsfield Public Schools for several years and as an advocate for many individuals who struggle with language barriers in the community.
With the support of the Multicultural Bridge and Women's Fund of Western Massachusetts, Kaveney-Murray graduated last year from a Leadership program at the University of Massachusetts.
She is grateful for this support and thinks education has been so critical to her own success, as it is for so many in the community.
On top of her experience navigating the school system, Kaveney-Murray believes that she is truly accessible to the residents of Pittsfield because she works as a customer relations professional who solves problems and deals with the public.
"You need a representative who will listen, take your views into consideration, and be a voice for change when needed. I am here for you. I am a voice for you," she wrote. "I am passionate about education. I am passionate about making sure that every family has a great education for their child. I'm an immigrant, I've worked in the schools and I care about our community. We need to listen to our teachers and advocate for our students. I will represent all the parents and kids in our community."
Incumbent Daniel Elias has been on the School Committee for the past 24 years, the last 18 years as vice chairman.
He would like to be a part of the many things that the district needs to address going forward.
These include a long-term comprehensive game plan that must include declining enrollment and its effect on the school system; the condition of some of the current schools; addressing the needs of a student population that is becoming more diverse economically, racially, culturally, and with fewer home supports than ever; a continued positive approach to the mental health issues that affect so many; examining the results of many administration driven surveys to help determine the future direction of our school system and addressing some long outstanding issues such as a strategy to combat school choice loss; and teacher and staff retention.
Elias is a 1989 graduate of Pittsfield High School and a 2002 graduate of Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts.
He received a lifetime achievement award from the Massachusetts Association of School Committees seven years ago and has had a number of other community involvements.
Elias is a longtime athletic coach in a number of sports encompassing well over a hundred teams and works at Berkshire Bank as a customer service associate.
Overall, he is pleased with the Pittsfield Public Schools system while being vocal about areas where it could improve.
"There are many excellent programs and wonderful people involved in them. I am proud to have been a part of it. As with anything it has its problems, some of which I mentioned, and I never hesitate to address them," Elias wrote.
"I believe I am a vocal and visible member and speak to my concerns and to the concerns of others. I will make no promises in regards to any agendas, the only promise I will make is that after hearing all ideas I will always advocate for what is in the best interest of the entire school system."
During a term on the Pittsfield School Committee, candidate Bill Tyer wishes to look deeply into the special needs programming to see how the district can improve city outcomes and analyze how money is spent to make sure it is in the most productive way.
He supports and will advocate for adjustment councilors and resource officers in each of the city's schools and will advocate for a 3 percent increase for teachers, who he describes as being vital to our children, families, and the community as a whole.
He has advocated for school safety by announcing an intent propose that the committee review, update and enforce conduct policy in all Pittsfield schools.
These reviews/changes should include physical contact with students and staff; cell phone usage, smoking/vaping, and vandalism in all school properties, he said.
Tyer also plans in touring the district's schools to see firsthand how they are operating.
"Together we can build a stronger Pittsfield school district for our students, teachers, parents, and our community," Tyer wrote.
He wants to bring to the committee a passion to be a strong advocate on behalf of the students, teachers, parents, and taxpayers.
He served on the Lee Planning Board and as a selectman for that town.
"I was elected by a very large margin to serve on the Planning Board. I am very proud of the accomplishments that we brought to the town at the time," he wrote. "We focused on growth, building reuse and we gained enormous increase to the town's tax base, that lasts to this very day."
In Pittsfield, Tyer was a K-B Toys representative to the first-night committee, which was a mayoral appointment from former Mayor Edward Reilly. He was also a founding adult member of the Pittsfield Youth Commission and served as a board member of Girls Inc.
In addition, he describes being connected to many political races over the years, some won, some lost, but found the good in all.
Tyer believes he brings a very unique view to the committee. He is raising his two daughters after the death of his wife, Samantha, in 2018. His stepson is autistic and after a lot of advocating for him by Tyer and his wife, he passed his MCAS testing and has a high school diploma.
Tyer's oldest daughter was named to the Student Honor Society at Allendale Elementary School and now holds honors at Herberg Middle School. His youngest daughter attends Allendale until 2022 and will then enter the district's middle school program.
"I have seen and felt first hand how our schools interact with families and how important this is to families, and the community," he wrote.
Tags: election 2021, municipal election, Pittsfield School Committee,