Ward 7 School Committee: Daniell stresses special needs, early education




Published: 11/3/2017 12:06:36 AM

NORTHAMPTON — As a parent of a child with special needs, Elena Daniell said she wants to bring stronger representation to the Northampton School Committee on issues like early education and special needs.

Daniell, 37, has lived in Northampton her entire life and said its schools are among the best.

“I think we aim high,” Daniell, a write-in candidate, said, adding that she would like to keep it strong.

She currently works as a stay-at-home mother of two children, a 6-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter.

Daniell is challenging incumbent R. Downey Meyer in next Tuesday’s municipal election for the Ward 7 seat on the committee.

Her daughter is a special needs student with Pfeiffer syndrome who is wheelchair-bound, and Daniell said that being the mother of a special needs student has made her more conscious of the needs and issues facing other parents with similar circumstances.

“My awareness has been broadened,” she said, discussing her biggest reason for running for School Committee.

The Northampton schools recently adopted a co-teaching model, which sees two educators in a classroom in order to allow special needs students to be educated in the same classrooms as their peers, also known as the inclusion model.

While saying that she supports the inclusion model, Daniell said that she’s heard that there hasn’t been enough support in the process, and that classroom sizes are large.

“The support isn’t where it needs to be,” she said.

At the same time, Daniell said that the rollout has worked for some students with special needs.

Daniell’s interest in running first peaked when she went to the debate between Ward 6 School Committee candidates Lonnie Kaufman and Thomas Davidson to fill the vacant seat on the committee earlier this year. She was encouraged by Northampton school employees to run for the Ward 7 seat, which is her district.

“They sparked some ideas,” she said.

As for the dispute between the Northampton Association of School Educators and the School Committee over the paid release of the union’s president, Daniell said that she supports the union’s position.

“The teacher’s union has a great deal of work to do,” she said. “And if they’re not doing that work, our schools aren’t the best schools they could be.”

She also said that the union’s president needs to be able to do the work she’s been trained to do, which Daniell said will benefit the school system as a whole.

Daniell decided to run at the end of September, but filed her paperwork on Oct. 23 to run as a write-in candidate for the seat, which was after the deadline to get on the ballot. This will be Daniell’s first time running for office. She is a member of the Special Education Parent Advisory Council.

“I know a lot about people and I know a lot about this community,” she said.

Daniell’s husband, Adam Daniell, works as a computer science engineer. The two met at Pizzeria Paradiso when both of them were working their way through the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where she received her bachelor of science degree in psychology.

Daniell described herself as an empathetic and open person who wants everyone in the school system to get what they need. “I want to be a voice and ... a safe zone,” she said, saying that she would like to take in information from all parties if elected.

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.

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