Easthampton School Committee hopefuls make their case for 2 open spots through rest of year

By EMILY THURLOW

Staff Writer

Published: 05-25-2023 3:15 PM

EASTHAMPTON — With varied backgrounds, nine city residents have volunteered to serve on the School Committee until Dec. 31.

Eight of those in the running for the spots vacated by Laurie Garcia and Shannon Dunham in the wake of the failed superintendent search were interviewed last week at a joint City Council-School Committee meeting.

As a prompt into the partial term, the members of the two city boards encouraged candidates to discuss their interest in the position, their thoughts about participating in the interviews for interim superintendent and what they’re looking for in that candidate. The committee candidates also fielded follow-up questions.

Here are the answers from the candidates.

Sean Bates

A native of upstate New York, Sean Bates, who is an adjunct professor of English and writing at Westfield State University and in the English department at Holyoke Community College, said his ideal candidate for superintendent is one who is pragmatic, forward-thinking and is “familiar with the lived experiences of students and the community,” especially historically and currently marginalized groups.

“For me, this is not about grand narratives, or scapegoats, or culture wars, or conspiracy theories. This body has a job to do. The district needs an executive. Easthampton needs to move forward and I’d like to be part of that,” he said.

Sarah Hunter

Hunter, who served on the School Committee from 2014-2018, works at the Department for Developmental Services. A native of Philadelphia, Hunter said she was looking for a candidate who is able to balance the needs of the community with the needs of the individual students.

“This is a really tricky job and there are times where the needs of individual students and the needs of the community may appear initially to be at odds with each other,” she said. “I would want a candidate knowledgeable of the landscape of education in our state more broadly, who would be able to seek out opportunities for additional resources in our district.”

Catherine Wauczinski

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Wauczinski, who has volunteered in the past as a Girl Scout leader and a soccer coach, said she has been a special education advocate in her job for more than 30 years.

In her statement to members of the City Council and School Committee regarding the superintendent search, Wauczinski said that she was looking for a candidate outside of the district that could “help figure out what the conflict has been” between some of the teachers and administrators, adding that she has heard from some teachers that they have been “pressured not to engage in this process.”

Laura Scott

As part of her statement, Scott, who previously served on the School Committee, said she brings experience as a former public school educator and as a parent of two children who attend school in the district. She said that the top quality in a candidate for the interim superintendent position would be competency, and weigh that against the support staff they’d be working with in the district.

In reflecting on the previous superintendent search, Scott said she believes that the district needs some steady leadership experience and an attempt to “restore public confidence” in public officials and the school administration. 

She also encouraged her fellow candidates to pull papers as a candidate in the upcoming municipal election in November. 

Timothy St. John

St. John, who has volunteered as a coach for baseball and soccer as well as within the schools, served on the initial superintendent search committee. As a part of his statement, he spoke to the support the community provided his wife after unexpectedly losing her father as well as her mother’s battle with cancer and subsequent passing. He also spoke to the community’s support with his own battle against cancer.

St. John said humility and self-awareness were among the top qualities he felt the interim superintendent needed to possess.

“So the community that has so selflessly supported my family through so many of our challenges, has found itself facing challenges of its own. There’s work to be done here and I would be honored to be a part of it. Can I help? I believe that I can,” he said.

Albert Sanchez

A veteran of the U.S. Army Reserves and a volunteer with organizations like Big Brothers Big Sisters, Sanchez said he was a big believer in volunteer service. He said that the interim superintendent should possess good leadership skills, critical thinking and transparency.

“I think the most important quality is problem-solving because you’re gonna get hit with a multitude of issues and questions and dilemmas and if that person can think through those, then everything can fall into place,” he said. 

In building trust in the community, he said he would reach out to high school students and parents to hear what they have to say, and advocate for further transparency.

Lynda Broadhurst

A resident of Easthampton for more than 25 years, Broadhurst submitted a statement of interest in an effort to be a part of “helping students succeed.” She also noted that she previously served on the superintendent search committee that ultimately led to the hiring of current Superintendent Allison LeClair. Broadhurst said she would look for a candidate who was compassionate, caring and would be active in listening and responding to people.

“It’s no secret that there have been some struggles lately, and I believe we can get past this and favorably move forward. I’m willing to work together and show everyone the respect they deserve,” she said. 

Louise Jacob

Jacob, who served on equity committees in the school district as well as the community-based, grassroots group A Knee Is Not Enough (AKNINE), said while it was important to choose an interim superintendent candidate with the requisite professional competence and experience, it was equally important to ensure that all children in the district feel secure, are treated fairly and are able to turn to qualified, unbiased adults when they need support or help.

“It’s basic justice. We’ve got to do it,” she said.

Heather Brophy

Though Brophy did not attend the interview, President Homar Gomez said her name will be placed on the ballot. In her statement of interest, Brophy said she has been volunteering in the Easthampton Youth Football and Cheerleading program and has more than a decade of service with the Girl Scouts. A resident since 2009, she said she would love to be considered because she felt she could be “the voice for those who can’t speak up.”

At the meeting, Gomez also encouraged the public to reach out to members of the City Council and School Committee with opinions on the candidates.

The public bodies are expected to fill the two positions at a May 31 meeting using sequential, ranked-choice voting. The meeting will be held at 6 p.m., both virtually and in-person at the City Council chambers at 50 Payson Ave.

Emily Thurlow can be reached at ethurlow@gazettenet.com.]]>