Seven candidates vying for five seats on the Amherst School Committee








  • Amherst Regional High School GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 10/26/2021 8:01:08 PM

AMHERST — Seven residents, including four incumbents, are vying to serve on the five-member Amherst School Committee in the Nov. 2 town election.

The candidates are Peter Demling, Benjamin Herrington, Heather Lord, Allison McDonald, Phoebe Merriam, Jennifer Page and Irv Rhodes.

Rhodes, who served on the School Committee from 2009 to 2012, said he wants to return to the panel to bring his educational and financial experience and an understanding of equity issues.

“My commitment is that no student or parent feels marginalized or is treated as such, and that the Amherst schools will be seen as safe, nurturing and an educationally excellent place for kids to be,” said Rhodes, 79.

Page said she will advocate for better access to public meetings and engagement with community members, including low-income and Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) students and families.

The biggest issue in the short term is supporting the well-being of students during pandemic recovery, providing opportunities for academic achievement and learning recovery and ensuring that educators are supported, said Page, 49.

Over the next few years, Page said, school buildings will need significant upgrades. “In addition, I will advocate to prioritize improving outcomes for Black, Latinx, special needs and low-income students,” Page said.

Page has a child in the middle school.

Merriam’s interest in being on the School Committee comes from wanting people of different backgrounds and walks of life serving, and for decisions to be made by a wider spectrum of Amherst.

“We need to ensure that every family member of an Amherst student understands that they have the right to stand up, ask questions, challenge the committee to do better and be heard when it comes to the education of our children, and we need a School Committee that is going to create those opportunities,” Merriam said.

Merriam, 40, said dealing with COVID-19 is a top priority, as is addressing budget cuts and how to use spending to better support education.

Her three children are a third grader at Crocker Farm, a seventh grader at the middle school and an 11th grader at the high school.

McDonald said she wants to continue being part of a school system that plays a transformative role in the lives and well-being of children and families.

“In my three years of service on the committee, I’ve made significant contributions in the work of the committee and the district, most recently as chair of both the Amherst and the Regional school committees, and helped us navigate the many challenges of the past year and a half,” McDonald said.

McDonald, 55, said top objectives are making sure the elementary school building project succeeds, that elementary and secondary schools have appropriate funding, rebuilding a relationship with the teachers union, and making progress on diversity and anti-racism goals.

McDonald has two sons who have attended Amherst elementary and regional schools since 2011.

Lord joined the School Committee 18 months ago and aims to stay on as a voice for those who haven’t participated in the past.

“I enjoy bringing different perspectives, opinions, needs and challenges to the committee from living and being in community with families who have not been invited or even welcome sometimes, to the table,” Lord said, who suggests outreach in new ways, such as at the annual MLK Breakfast or sporting events. “There is a saying that hits this home for me: ‘nothing built for us without us, is for us.’”

Lord, 50, said the pandemic has exposed for some and exaggerated for others the areas where schools are not equitable and inclusive, and this has taken an emotional toll as well. Lord’s youngest child just graduated from the high school.

Herrington is interested in continuing to serve for the same reason he ran in the past, to offer different perspectives from others.

“I’m running for reelection because I still believe that I have something valuable to contribute to the School Committee and to my community as a whole,” Herrington said.

Herrington, 44, said COVID-19 has to take precedence above all at this moment, and that he understands a new elementary school is crucial. However, he’d still like to see a facilities development policy that ensures upkeep of buildings in an environmentally responsible manner and positively enhances the learning environments for students.

Herrington has a son in middle school and another child who attended Amherst schools.

Demling, serving since 2017, said he would like to continue as part of a dedicated group who have done good work for students and the school community.

“I believe in the mission of our public schools, to provide all children equal access to the highest quality education regardless of background or ability and to promote their overall well-being,” Demling said.

Demling, 49, said different perspectives can help committee members collaborate productively with the superintendent to improve the schools in support of students, including constructing a new elementary school building, advocating for increased funding and reforming charter school funding. Demling is the parent of three Amherst public school graduates.

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