Concord School District on voters minds as they send two new members to school board 

  • David and Deborah Blanchet talk after voting at the Ward 6 at Christ the King Parish Hall on Tuesday, November 5, 2019. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • School board candidate Max Shultz outside West Street Ward House on Tuesday. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Gil Desjardins talks outside the Ward 6 voting place at the Christ the King Parish Hall on Tuesday, November 5, 2019. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Concord School Board candidate Max Shultz outside the West Street Ward House on Tuesday, November 5, 2019. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Concord School Board candidate Jim Richards outside the Boys and Girls Club on Tuesday, November 5, 2019. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Dorothy Currier talks after voting at the West Street Ward House in Concord on Tuesday, November 5, 2019. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Brian Harlow outside the Boys and Girls Club on Tuesday, November 5, 2019. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Margaret Mithcell talks outside the Boys and Girls Club on Tuesday, November 5, 2019. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Candidates and their standins greet voters outside the Green Street Community Center on Tuesday, November 5, 2019. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 11/5/2019 9:15:41 PM

School safety was the number one issue that Concord voters were talking about at the polls on Tuesday.

“I think it’s time for a change, some new blood on the school board,” said Peg Smith, who was voting in Ward 10, where newcomer Gina Cannon beat incumbent Pam Wicks by 44 votes. “Somebody’s got to step up and start explaining things.”

The leadership of the Concord School District has been a major topic of conversation in recent months as the school board has examined a report by an independent investigator into administrators’ handling of misconduct complaints made by students after the arrest of a former Concord High teacher, Howie Leung on sexual assault charges.

Both Concord High Principal Tom Sica and Superintendent Terri Forsten have resigned in recent days after the school board voted to terminate their contracts. The board has kept the investigator’s report private and hasn’t explained why two of the district’s top leaders were removed, citing personnel reasons, leaving some members of the community frustrated and looking for new leadership on the school board, too.

That frustration was clear in Tuesday’s election results.

Two newcomers will join the school board after Tuesday: Parker Academy founder David Parker will represent Wards 5, 6 and 7 and Community Bridges Program Support Coordinator Cannon – who got Smith’s vote – will represent 8, 9 and 10.

Jim Richards, representing Wards 1, 2, 3 and 4, kept his seat.

Wicks narrowly lost her seat to Cannon, 674 to 777 across the three wards. Patrice Myers lost to incumbent Richards, 598 to 387. Assistant Director at the State Fire Marshal’s Office, Max Schultz, lost to Parker, 844 to 947.

Jeff Wells, who was voting in Ward 5, said he would have voted against any incumbent on his ballot if he had the chance, but both Parker and Shultz presented new membership on the board.

“Things are not going well. It’s obvious that the school district is out of control and needs a lot of work, so hopefully we’ll get some fresh ideas and faces in there that will bring things more back in line to where they should be,” Wells said.

Wells thought Parker would be the better fit over Shultz..

“I thought David Parker will speak his mind, which I think we need people to do,” Wells said. “I think he’ll bring people out of their comfort zone. He’s going to ask the hard questions.”

While standing with campaign signs outside Ward 5, Schultz said he wanted to bring a different perspective to the school board in the area of public safety and management.

“I hope people will give me a chance and vote for me,” Shultz said. “I know David Parker is a pretty well-known name in the community.”

Over on the Heights, Gina Cannon was moving periodically between Wards 8, 9 and 10, bringing coffee to people standing outside with her. Cannon said her willingness to speak her mind was something that she thinks will attract voters, given everything going on in the district.

“I think that I am less likely to keep my mouth shut about my opinion. I’m not shy to speak up,” she said. “We’re in a very large mess right now and I think I have the ability to be thoughtful about how we maneuver through it to get to the other side.”

“I hope what I bring is some logical thinking, some measured thoughtful communication about that,” she added.

Melissa Hinebauch was holding a sign for Cannon outside Ward 8. Hinebauch said as a former lawyer and a parent of a child with a disability, Cannon will bring an important voice to the board.

“I think the more that parents with kids who have disabilities are included in the process, the better. One of the mottos of the disability community is, ‘Not about us without us.’ I think we need more representation, more voices, more people who have been there with first-hand experience, and Gina certainly does,” Hinebauch said.

Over the summer, the Concord School District reviewed its policies around sexual harassment, reporting and bullying, among others.

Hinebauch sat on the policy group on bullying with Cannon, and was impressed by her work there.

“She’s very smart, very clear-headed, really tries to distill things down, make it easier to understand, and has that lawyer background, so she has a vast body of knowledge that she can draw upon,” she said.

Janet Shipp, also at Ward 8, said she decided to vote for Wicks. Shipp said she understands the community’s wish for new leadership, but that she wanted to give the situation time before making harsh judgments.

“I had mixed feelings. Part of me would like to just kick them all out, but then on the other side, I don’t know that we can blame everybody. Give them a chance,” she said.

“I’m glad they finally fired them both,” she added, about Sica and Forsten. “I was very glad to hear that Tom Sica went last night.”

Early in the morning at Ward 4, Jim Richards said he was feeling hopeful.

“I’ve worked hard and I’ve been honest and I’ve done the best I can, and as much as I can, and I trust that the voters will make good choices,” he said, standing outside the Boys & Girls Club as rain started to fall.

“It’s taken some time to work through things, and I think the citizens appreciate the work that we’ve done, but we have a whole lot more to do,” Richards added. “This is a big issue and it’s one that’s really affected the community very deeply and myself as well. I’m angry and frustrated as well and it’s going to take us time. We can’t think there’s a quick fix – we’ve got to keep working on it.”

Margaret Mitchell, whose daughter is in kindergarten in Concord, said Richards had all the qualities she was looking for in a candidate: he is prioritizing school safety, he believes in communication and honesty, she said.

“I know these things take time, so I have confidence things will be better if we have people in leadership roles that we can trust,” Mitchell said.

Also in Ward 4, Brian Harlow said he voted for Richards because of his response to the events surrounding Leung.

“I think it’s shaken up a lot of people that, sexual assault and abuse happens everywhere,” Harlow said. “We can try to minimize the impact of it, but we can’t stop it. It’s more about how we react when these things happen, what we do to help the community heal.”

“I voted for Jim because Jim was receptive,” Harlow continued. “Nobody is perfect, but Jim was willing to change and willing to be educated when need be. There are some members that, I hate to say it, but I don’t think they’re willing to change. It’s the old boys and girls network.”

On the city side of the ballot, incumbents ruled.

Incumbent Byron Champlin won his at-large seat with 3,214 votes. Lawyer and former school board member Nathan Fennessy won the other at large position, with 2,738 votes. Edith Chiasson came in third with 1,659 votes.

In Ward 1, incumbent Brent Todd won narrowly over Kevin Miller, 246 to 225. In Wards 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 9 and 10, city council races were unopposed by incumbents, besides ward 2, where Erle Pierce won. Former Ward 2 councilor, Allan Hershlag, decided not to run for reelection.

In Ward 8, Gail Matson won over Dennis Soucy, 274 to 103.

In the mayoral race, incumbent Jim Bouley won over Linda Rae Banfill, 3,901 to 994. This will be Bouley’s seventh term in office.

(Leah Willingham can be reached at 369-3322, or on Twitter @LeahMWillingham.)

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