Eight candidates vie for six seats on Easthampton School Committee 

  • Marissa Carrere 

  • Cynthia Kwiecinski 

  • Shannon Dunham

  • Laurie Garcia 

  • Marin Goldstein 

  •  Jonathan Schmidt 

  • Easthampton School Committee Candidates Laurie Garcia, left, Shannon Dunham, Marissa Carrere, Jonathan Schmidt, Cynthia Kwiecinski and Marin Goldstein listen as former Easthampton mayor Michael Tautznik moderates, at center, during Easthampton Media's School Committee Forum Oct. 6, 2017 at the high school.

  • Alexandra Dodge

  • Rose Spurgin

Published: 11/1/2017 2:46:43 PM

EASTHAMPTON — Eight candidates are seeking six seats on the School Committee that will deal with major issues including a building project, the search for a new superintendent and the aftermath of a critical report by the state attorney general’s office about bias-related incidents at Easthampton High School. 

Only two incumbents are seeking re-election, Marissa L. Carrere and Cynthia Kwiecinski. Newcomers on the Nov. 7 ballot are Alexandra Lynn Dodge, Shannon M. Dunham, Laurie Garcia, Marin Goldstein, Jonathan Schmidt and Rose J. Spurgin.

All candidates said they support building a new pre-kindergarten through Grade 8 school.

Here is a look at each candidate:

Marissa L. Carrere

Carrere, 33, of 135 Loudville Road, is an adjunct professor of political theory and public policy at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and  Bard College microcollege in Holyoke. She is seeking her second term on the School Committee.

  After the attorney general’s report was released in August detailing racial discrimination at the high school, Carrere issued  a statement saying that they are unacceptable and “that district leadership owes a profound apology to the students and their families who have been affected by racism and discrimination in the school environment.”

She said one of the things she’s learned is to think long-term about making improvements. “You may not see an immediate benefit,” she added.

As chairwoman of the policy subcommittee, Carrere has worked on establishing protections for transgender and non-binary students, as well as passing a protocol on protecting the rights of undocumented students.

She also led the subcommittee in developing a new memorandum of understanding with the Police Department which aligns with the School Department’s philosophy of restorative discipline that emphasizes accountability and minimizes school-based arrests.

Carrere said the proposed new consolidated pre-kindergarten through Grade 8 school is a financially efficient way to address the problems of the city’s three elementary schools and White Brook Middle School.

She has a 2-year-old daughter and a 10-year-old son who attends fourth grade at Maple Elementary.

Alexandra Lynn Dodge

Dodge, 40, of 282 Main St., the operations manager at the software company Autodesk Inc., said she decided to run when she learned there were so few candidates for the six seats. 

She has two children, including one who just started at Center Elementary School. While she said the school has an amazing administration, Dodge added that office and learning space is crammed at the century-old school. “They have nowhere to expand,” she said.

Dodge said the findings in the reports by the superintendent and the attorney general’s office about racial bias at the high school are troubling. She said what struck her the most was the attorney general’s report about disparities in discipline, with minority students being treated more severely than white students.

Dodge said the superintendent’s 10-point action plan addressed immediate needs, such as updating the high school’s discipline policies and procedures.

“So much is going to be learned,” Dodge said about implementing the plan.

Dodge said she supports the two incumbents seeking re-election, because  it is important to have consistency on the committee. “I hope I get to work with them,” she added.

Shannon M. Dunham

Dunham, 42, of 56 Bryan Ave., said when she learned that four School Committee members were not running for re-election, she decided to step up.

Dunham, a UTC account representative at Aerospace Alloys Inc., was involved in an Easthampton High School parents’  group that advocated for change and called for an investigation of bias-related incidents.

She participated in a sit-in during May at the high school to create a “disruption” when a student was allowed to wear a Confederate flag sweatshirt to class. 

Dunham said she decided to run for the School Committee to make sure there is follow-through on the superintendent’s 10-point action plan, which she described as “a good start.” 

Dunham said the construction of a new pre-kindergarten through Grade 8 school could attract new students to Easthampton and minimize the amount of money leaving the city for choice and charter schools.

She said she moved to Easthampton so her two children could attend the new high school.

Laurie Garcia

Garcia, 55, of 30 Holly Circle, is a Spanish teacher at West Springfield High School. She has been an educator for more than 25 years, teaching English as a second language and Spanish.

She also has worked as an outreach counselor at the West Springfield school, attempting to keep students from dropping out.

Her children, who are in their 20s, attended the Smith College Campus School in Northampton. Garcia, whose family is Hispanic and Jewish, said she was hesitant about enrolling her children in the city’s public school when she heard there were issues regarding diversity.  Her children then attended the Williston Northampton School where her husband teaches.

Garcia said she previously considered running for School Committee and decided to do so this year because of the problems at the high school. 

Garcia said her training for a master’s degree in intercultural relations will aid in the oversight of the 10-point action plan at the high school. “I feel that we are moving in the right direction,” she said.

As a school board member, Garcia said she would promote foreign languages as part of the curriculum and after-school programs.

Marin Goldstein

Goldstein, 44, of 16 John St., serves on the School Building Committee  working on plans for a new pre-kindergarten through Grade 8 school. His son is a student at White Brook Middle School.

He has a master’s degree in education and works as a project manager at Trinity Solar in Holyoke. He also has served on the city’s Energy Committee.

Goldstein said the proposed new consolidated school would save money because the middle school is a huge energy consumer — the largest in Easthampton — and work is needed for the elementary  buildings to meet current codes, such as being handicapped accessible.

Regarding the bias issues at the high school, Goldstein said it’s unfortunate the School Committee did not review and discuss the attorney general’s report at a public meeting. 

And while he believes that the superintendent’s 10-point plan is a good starting point for change,  there should be more input from students. “Their voice is the strongest,” Goldstein said.

Cynthia Kwiecinski

Kwiecinski, 61, of 47 Hannum Brook Drive, is seeking her second term on the School Committee. Her children, who are now adults, attended Easthampton schools.

Kwiecinski said she is dedicated to helping the city heal after the difficult year at the high school and will ensure that the 10-point action plan is implemented and further developed.

“We need to improve the culture and the climate of the district,” she said. But she added that many changes are not going to happen overnight, and they require input from students and teachers.

Kwiecinski, a special education teacher at Smith Academy in Hatfield, said she decided to run for the committee in 2015 because it  needs a public school teacher  who understands the impact of policies voted by the school board on teachers and students.

One of her goals is to make improvements that will keep children in the district who otherwise might choose to go elsewhere. That is why she strongly supports building a new school.

“If Easthampton wants to continue to grow, we need a K-8 school,” Kwiecinski said.

Jonathan Schmidt

Schmidt, 28, of 24 High St., is new to local politics. “The current political climate has gotten me interested in making a difference in the world,” he said.

He is the youth services librarian at the Emily Williston Memorial Library and has been involved with the library as a volunteer since he was a teenager. He grew up in Easthampton and graduated from Easthampton High School in 2007.

He said the School Committee seemed like a natural fit because as the youth services librarian, he has worked with parents and collaborated with teachers. He also said he has been a role model for children in the community and has listened to their concerns.

As a school board member, Schmidt said he would advocate for strengthening the school library.

Schmidt said he did not find the attorney general’s findings about the high school surprising and that the issue is more widespread than Easthampton.

“I think that racial bias is nothing new,” he said. “It’s something a lot of schools are experiencing.”

Rose Spurgin

Spurgin, 35, of 15 Cottage St., said she decided to run because of the issues at the high school.

“I think it’s really a super-important year in our school system,” said Spurgin, an account executive for Combined Worksite Solutions in Springfield. “A big reason for wanting to get involved is the AG’s report.”

She said the findings that black and Hispanic students have been suspended at significantly higher rates than white students for similar infractions were jarring and “it broke my heart.”

Spurgin said her two children participated in Tiny Tots, an early education program at the high school, and bonded with some of the older students. “They did wonderfully with my kids and gave them so much attention,” Spurgin said.

She added that high school students are not being supported by the administration in terms of handling bias-related incidents and unequal discipline.

Spurgin said she respects what the School Committee has done so far to help change the culture and climate of the high school, but said if elected she would encourage more parents and students who want to share their experiences about hostility at the school to talk about it and how change can occur.

Caitlin Ashworth can be reached at cashworth@gazettenet.com.

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