Four in running for two South Hadley School Committee seats

  • Candidates for School Committee in South Hadley, clockwise from top left: Danielle Cooke, Jennifer Matos, Brian Morris and Roxanne Sprague. —SUBMITTED PHOTOS





  • Candidates for School Committee in South Hadley, clockwise from top left: Danielle Cooke, Jennifer Matos, Brian Morris and Roxanne Sprague. —SUBMITTED PHOTOS

Staff Writer
Published: 4/8/2021 8:53:48 PM

SOUTH HADLEY — With town elections approaching next Tuesday, four candidates are vying for two open seats on the School Committee.

Residents Danielle Cooke, Jennifer Matos, Brian Morris and Roxanne Sprague are the four candidates seeking office on the five-member School Committee.

Two of them will replace current member Christine Phillips and the committee’s chair, Kyle Belanger, both of whom decided not to seek reelection.

Election day is April 13, and in-person voting hours are from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. All voting will take place at South Hadley High School. Absentee and mail-in ballots must be received by the town clerk by 6 p.m. on that day.

Danielle Cooke

Danielle Cooke, 30, grew up in the town’s schools and now has a son who is a third grader at Mosier Elementary School. A licensed behavior analyst who works primarily with students on the autism spectrum, she said she hopes to ensure that students who fell behind during the COVID-19 pandemic get the support they need in school.

“A lot of why I’m running for the School Committee is because this past year has been tremendously hard and there’s a glaring need for someone with a special education background on our board,” Cooke said.

As a professional who works to help districts support students with skill deficits or behavioral needs, Cooke believes she’s the right candidate.

Cook, who’s also a former student athlete who now enjoys coaching her son’s teams, has been involved in the town’s recreation department and loves working with children.

If elected, Cooke said her other priorities would include working with the new superintendent on staff retention and other aspects of the district’s improvement plan, as well as improving professional development programs and hiring practices to ensure that South Hadley schools are welcoming and inclusive.

“As a parent, I want other parents to know I’m coming into this with the idea that we need to all be more transparent and more communicative, and if we can do that we will be able to move forward together,” Cooke said.

Jennifer Matos

Jennifer Matos, 46, is a Mount Holyoke College assistant professor in the Department of Psychology and Education who works with teacher candidates, including some placed in South Hadley schools. A member of the district’s Racial Justice Task Force, she said the impact that committee has motivated her to run for School Committee.

”Just seeing there’s a need for more work on racial and social justice issues,” Matos said. “I just wanted to have a broader impact through the School Committee … And not just focusing on racial justice.”

Matos, who has a doctorate in education from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, said that in addition to helping provide teachers the tools to have meaningful conversations with students around race and social justice, she wants to make sure families have the resources they need after COVID-19 disrupted last school year. That includes families who decided to return to in-person schooling and those who decided to stay remote, she said.

“We need to make sure we have resources in place — we haven’t seen our kids in a year,” Matos said.

She said she has a track record of bringing diverse groups together, and would work on helping the school community grieve the losses of the past year and come back stronger.

“We have a changing demographic all over the country and I want to make sure all parents feel they can approach the School Committee and make sure the School Committee is ready for that, ready to hear all voices in a nonjudgemental way,” she said.

Brian Morris

Brian Morris, 36, is a firefighter paramedic with two young sons in the town’s school system. He said he is running for office because he watched his own children struggle immensely with remote learning, and questions whether the district could have done a better job of getting children back into the classroom.

“I believe kids need to be in school, but I believe the schools should be safe,” he said.

Morris said his family began to engage with others after he started a Facebook group and started hearing from other families who faced similar struggles. He said he understood and respected the decision to initially switch to remote education last spring. But as winter ended this year, he said he thought the district “should have been a lot quicker to send the students back.”

“Both of my sons have some sort of high needs assessment, so it was even more difficult watching them” struggle, he said.

If elected, Morris said that other issues he would focus on include looking into ways to address the turnover of administrators in the district, improving enrollment numbers in town schools, and working to deal with deteriorating buildings while taking seriously the impact that will have on taxpayers.

“My plan is to really focus hard on getting the schools back to where they were prior to the pandemic,” he said. “With a plan, I think we can do it together.”

Roxanne Sprague

Roxanne Sprague, 39, is a physician’s assistant with four children in the South Hadley school system. Sprague is an assistant professor in Springfield College’s physician assistant program, and she said her priority would be for all of the district’s children to have equal access to the high-quality education and support they need.

“I’m a parent, I have four young kids all attending South Hadley Public Schools,” she said. “I will be fully invested in the school district for the next 13 years.”

Sprague said that as a medical provider, she has experience making data-driven decisions — a skill she said is important during these times. A primary reason she decided to run was seeing the conditions in the schools that resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“My plan would be to really listen to families and to collaborate with the expert groups — both the administration and teachers,” she said. “Ensuring that teachers are being supported and empowered with the resources they need.”

Among the challenges Sprague said she hopes to address with administrators and teachers are decreasing enrollment and changing safety measures, along with the financial burdens that accompany those.

“I believe that if I was elected I’d be a strong voice for the committee,” she said. “I bring some different points of view. I believe that really good committees are made of people who have different views, who represent different groups in their community so that everyone has a voice.”


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