Two longtime Smith Vocational trustees ousted in Tuesday’s election

  • Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School STAFF FILE PHOTO



Staff Writer
Published: 11/3/2021 11:53:20 AM

NORTHAMPTON — Voters removed two longtime incumbents from the Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School board of trustees on Tuesday, replacing John Cotton after 20 years and Thomas FitzGerald after 16 years.

Unofficial results from the city clerk’s office show Julie Spencer-Robinson with a resounding victory for one of three trustee seats, followed by incumbent Michael Cahillane and newcomer Richard Aquadro. Spencer-Robinson earned 3,839 votes, putting her in first place by a margin of more than 1,200 votes.

A sixth candidate, Thomas Pease, was eliminated.

Spencer-Robinson, a resident of Florence, is a Ph.D. candidate in educational policy, research and administration at UMass Amherst. She worked as a Northampton public school teacher for 27 years, sent two children through Smith Vocational and served as president of the Northampton Association of School Employees (NASE) union from 2014-2018.

“I love this school, and I want to elevate the visibility of the board and the work of the school,” Spencer-Robinson said on Wednesday. “I want to ensure that the school is a great place to learn and to work.”

She said she was “humbled” by and “grateful” for her first-place finish, and that it reflected voters’ belief in her leadership abilities.

“I took a collaborative approach to the union leadership, wanting to bring educators into the policy discussions because they are on the receiving end of so much policy,” Spencer-Robinson said.

Aquadro spent 35 years at Aquadro & Cerruti Inc., a general contracting and construction management company located on Texas Street, before stepping down as the owner in 2016, and served for 20 years on Smith Vocational’s carpentry advisory board.

“I worked hard at it. I thought the level of commitment I put into the election was appropriate. I wanted to take the next step and try to contribute more,” Aquadro said. “I’ve employed many Smith graduates through the years. I’ve worked with tradespeople all my life, so I have great respect for them.”

He said it’s critical that Smith Vocational students learn using the most modern tools and curriculum in order to become competitive in the workplace.

On Tuesday, the three losing candidates had nearly identical vote totals. Cotton earned 1,701 while FitzGerald earned 1,708 and Pease picked up 1,720.

Cotton was first elected as a trustee in 2001, followed by FitzGerald in 2005. Since Cahillane was elected in 2009, the only other contest for the seats came in 2013, when the three incumbents defeated two challengers.

“It seems that Northampton wants a different group to be in charge this time around, and all you’ve got to do is go with the flow,” Cotton said on Wednesday. “We’ve done a darn good job.”

Cotton said he worked as a Smith Vocational teacher for 23 years starting in 1977 before retiring and running for the trustee seat. He said he was glad that he encouraged Cahillane to run for the board because he has “worked out for the school.”

The trustee board also has two ex-officio members: the Northampton mayor and the superintendent of Northampton Public Schools. Voters on Tuesday elected City Council President Gina-Louise Sciarra to a four-year term as mayor.

Brian Steele can be reached at

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