Three candidates on ballot for two at-large School Committee seats in Northampton
Samuel Welson is a candidate for an At-Large School Committee seat in Northampton.
Photo courtesy of Sam Welson
Samuel Welson is a candidate for an At Large School Committee seat in Northampton.
Photo courtesy of Sam Welson
Blue DuVal, school committee at-large candidate
NORTHAMPTON — In the only contested School Committee race on the Nov. 5 ballot, three candidates are vying for two at-large seats — incumbent Blue DuVal and newcomers Kari Nykorchuk and Samuel Welson.
Incumbent at-large School Committee member Michael Flynn is not seeking re-election.
The public will have a chance to meet the candidates Tuesday at an informal gathering hosted by the Ward 3 Neighborhood Association from 7 to 8 p.m. in the Bridge Street School library.
Following are brief profiles of the candidates, in the order they will appear on the ballot.
DuVal, 53, a city native seeking a second term on the School Committee, said that as a product of the Northampton schools, she wants to serve on the board to support programs for students.
“I went to the Northampton schools, I saw what it was and what it is today. I see the things that have been taken away,” said DuVal, who grew up on Park Street in Florence, where she still lives. As examples, she cited school-sponsored sports programs that used to exist at JFK Middle School.
DuVal, who is a single mother, has a daughter, Jett, attending JFK. She also has two older children, France, 23, and Carl, 25.
The biggest challenge facing the Northampton schools is resources, said DuVal, who cast one of two board votes against this year’s schools budget because it called for cuts in arts and electives classes at Northampton High School. She also voted in favor of a property tax override approved in June to fund schools and municipal services.
“We need to work on the state level to change the formulas” for funding for public schools, DuVal said. “And we need to change the unfunded mandates on schools” such as new teacher evaluations and new standardized tests.
She also cited school safety and technology infrastructure as key issues for Northampton.
After graduating from Northampton High in 1978, DuVal lived in California, where she studied psychology, before moving back to Northampton in 1998 to be near her extended family. She is currently on disability for fibromyalgia.
During her first term on the School Committee, DuVal said she has tried to raise questions about issues before the board and has made regular visits to all six city schools.
“I’ve tried to be a good listener and to look at the whole picture,” she said. “I’m interested in making sure all students have equal opportunities to the best education.”
Nykorchuk, of Woods Road, said her 15 years of experience as a family law attorney inspired her to make her first run for a seat on the school board.
“Working with the child welfare system and the courts, I see how important education is to the kids who don’t get it,” said the 42-year-old Lenox native. “Kids that are not getting a good education start getting into trouble.”
Nykorchuk, who runs Nykorchuk Law Office on Main Street, said the quality of the city schools is among the reasons she moved to Northampton from Worcester in 2000 with her wife, Melissa, and two young children, Ella, 4, and Mia, 21 months.
“I’m invested in the community and I plan to stay here,” Nykorchuk said. “Education is the most important thing we do for our kids and I wanted to provide my perspective.”
She said she supported the recent tax override because it prevented cuts in arts, music and other electives in city schools. “The research is clear about how things differ when kids don’t have those things their lives,” Nykorchuk said.
She also supports a later school start at Northampton High School because of research showing teens who get more sleep do better in school. “It was frustrating to see that it took the board five years to make that decision,” Nykorchuk said.
If elected, she said she will “help make things happen” on the board. “My ability to express myself is something I bring,” Nykorchuk added. “I’m not afraid to say what I think.”
Nykorchuk earned an undergraduate degree in economics from the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 1993 and holds a law degree from Western New England University School of Law.
A city native, Welson, 56, cited his background as a manager and business owner as experience that could benefit the School Committee. A 1975 graduate of Northampton High, Welson worked for 20 years as senior manager of support services at the University of Massachusetts until he was laid off in 2011. He also owned and operated a weight-lifting gym at the former Mountain Farms Mall in Hadley. Welson said he is now retired.
At UMass, he managed a 14-person staff and a $3.5 million budget. “As an administrator, I fought for money and figured out how to implement budget cuts,” Welson said. “I think that experience translates very well to the School Committee.”
He said he also served on contract negotiating teams for both the Professional Staff Union and management at UMass.
Welson, who is a member of the Ward 3 Neighborhood Association and the city Parking Committee, said he aims to bring more of a “can-do attitude” to the school board. He cited a federal pilot program in the Boston public schools that provides free school meals to all students as an example of what could be possible for Northampton.
Welson said school leaders need to fully examine the impact of the budget on classroom instruction. “We always talk about classroom size but classroom time is also important,” he said. “Cuts don’t necessarily mean a savings if there is time away from the classroom” because teachers are taking on other tasks.
Welson said he “begrudgingly” voted for the recent property tax override in order to prevent cuts to school staff and programs.
His son, Garrett, who attended city schools, is now a sophomore at Williams College. Welson’s wife, Susan, is a teacher at White Brook Middle School in Easthampton.
This is Welson’s second bid for a seat on the city school board, after running for a Ward 3 seat in 2005, when he was defeated by Margaret T. Milne.