School board candidates discuss disparities

  • Candidates for Concord School Board's District B race speak during a forum held by the Concord Monitor at Concord High School on Monday, Oct. 26, 2020.

Monitor staff
Published: 10/27/2020 6:25:21 PM

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on education was foremost in the conversation among candidates for Concord School Board this week, as most candidates say that issue – and student safety in general — is their top priority.

In a candidate forum hosted by the Concord Monitor and the Concord School District Monday night, ten candidates who are running for four open seats on the board stressed the importance of helping the district recover from educational disparities as a result of COVID-19, as well as social-emotional challenges for younger students who have felt isolated.

The candidates have different ideas about how to get there. Some candidates emphasize giving extra assistance to the district’s most disadvantaged students to make sure they do not fall further behind. Other candidates say bringing all students back to in-person learning as soon as possible is the best way to solve the problem.

The candidates also emphasized the importance of balancing spending with people’s ability to pay their property taxes, and hiring a capable permanent superintendent to take over the district next year when interim superintendent Kathleen Murphy’s term ends. Candidates responded to a variety of questions about the school budget, improving racial equity, and rebuilding trust in the community in the wake of the arrest of a former teacher on sexual assault charges.

The forum can be viewed in full by visiting the ConcordTV YouTube channel or

At-large race – Jane Presby and Pamela Walsh

Increased transparency is high on the priority list for both at-large candidates this year. Pamela Walsh wants to improve communication between the school board and the community, particularly to build trust with the community following the release of a report about the district’s handling of accusations of inappropriate behavior by former teacher Howie Leung.

At-large candidate Jane Presby spoke of her goal of creating a solid vision for the district’s future. As part of that goal, she emphasized the importance of being transparent with the community about the development of educational programs, and choosing a superintendent who will speak openly and understands the Concord community.

“To have a superintendent who can communicate with the board and with the community and who is glad to do it,” Presby said. “A superintendent who has a vision, not of tomorrow but of leading the educators, students and parents to the future.”

Walsh said she’d like to hire a superintendent who respects teachers and takes their voices into consideration.

“I’d like to see a superintendent who has a record on those things, of getting results, of having a vision, of being innovative,” Walsh said. “We are the capital city, I’d like to see us have the best schools in the state.”

District A – Roy Schweiker and Kate West

School board candidates Roy Schweiker and Kate West both emphasized the importance of equity during their session. For Schweiker, that means fixing the learning disparities between the students who thrive in remote models and the ones who have fallen behind.

“Some students may learn more being left on their own than they would sitting in class, and I understand that some are just not engaging with learning remotely and not doing well at all,” Schweiker said. “We are going to have a real problem next year: what are we going to do with this class with such a wide variety of learning until we can find a way to reduce this disparity?”

For West, that equity means making sure the district’s most disadvantaged students are able to succeed academically.

“A lot of the disparities among students and families in our district have been exacerbated by the pandemic...,” West said. “It’s about finding each individual problem for each student and working to solve that problem for them.”

District B – Melissa Clark, Allie Maltais, Jonathan Weinberg

The top priority for Allie Maltais is helping the district adapt to the changes of COVID-19 while keeping the quality of education high.

“I believe with my nursing and health care background, I can navigate us through COVID-19 with being extra safe and extra vigilant with the precautions and making sure all of our children, whether remote or hybrid are getting quality education,” Maltais said.

For Jonathan Weinberg, the most important thing is to address the impact that COVID-19 has on Concord’s students who are already disadvantaged.

“We see how systemic inequities are magnified, students from low-income backgrounds receiving the necessary resources to continue: a reliable internet connection ... free and reduced lunch ... access to paraprofessionals, ELL tutors, all this needs to be considered in the wake of COVID-19,” Weinberg said.

Melissa Clark said she is interested in working with the school budget and believes choosing the right superintendent for the district is key to future success. She also said bringing students back into the buildings is the best way to help the academic and social-emotional disparities caused by COVID-19.

“When our students are not in the building, we cannot fully see what their needs are,” Clark said. “We need to be back in the building, all of our students need to be face-to-face with their teachers, for mental health issues but especially for the special education department.”

District C – Brenda Hastings, Tim Fanelli, Kate Vaughn

One top priority among District C’s candidates is to improve learning during COVID-19. Kate Vaughn said this means doing in-person learning as much as possible, and also developing a success plan for the future.

“To the extent that we are able to, get as many students in-person and in classrooms, not just so they are getting their academics but also the social and emotional piece of it, and so that we are laying eyes on children and making sure that they are safe,” Vaughn said.

Tim Fanelli said beyond the direct impact of COVID-19, the pandemic has revealed existing inequalities in the district that need to be addressed to improve students’ access to learning.

“Over the past year it has brought to the surface gross inequalities across our community, unequal access to technology and comfortable learning spaces in the home, unequal access to the ability exercise flexibility at work, all these things have disproportionately affected certain communities with respect to the quality of education they have been receiving during this unprecedented time,” Fanelli said.

Brenda Hastings’s top priority is safety for staff and students, both from the COVID-19 virus in schools and ensuring that students are safe following the arrest of a former teacher that exposed problems with the district’s system of reporting abuse.

“It includes physical safety of students and staff in buildings, emotional safety of students and staff as well as social safety,” Hastings said. “Making sure people are safe and able to focus on education.”

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