Editor's Note: This article has been updated. The original article read the Mr. Severson had once served on the board. He has not: This is every candidate's first time running for a seat.
CAMBRIDGE -- Cambridge Central School held its "Meet the Candidates Night" on Thursday to allow residents and parents to ask questions and get a likeness of each candidate running for the board of education.
Three candidates are running for two open three-year terms that are being left behind by Dr. Thomas Wolski, who is retiring from the board after two consecutive terms, and Vice President Lillian Herrington after one term.
The forum was open to the public. Everyone was asked to submit questions that were read to the candidates by moderator Christine Kopec, a professor at Skidmore College and previous CCS board member.
Candidates were asked to point out good and poor aspects of the school's performance, what needs of the school are when balanced with the needs of taxpayers and what qualities a board member should embody.
The three candidates include Neil Gifford, Dede Nash and Daniel Severson, retired interim superintendent of CCS. Their responses to the questions overlapped with similar stances on issues. Polls will be open for voting from noon to 8 p.m. in the CCS auditorium, 24 S. Park St., in which Cambridge residents will be able to select two of the three candidates.
In past years, the board of education members held a diverse spectrum of viewpoints, which led to disagreements and distrust among members. Vacancies in 2013 led to holes in the five-member board, which board President Paul Baker-Porazinski said hindered its ability to make unanimous decisions or serve in the interest of the school's education.
Gifford, Nash and Severson all expressed opinions about previous board issues and their belief that the board is now on the right path.
Severson is the most weathered candidate, and graduated from CCS himself. He went on to the University of Maine, and later spent 23 years in the military. Upon returning to Cambridge, he became a teacher, football coach, school principal and eventually the interim superintendent.
Severson said he wants to return to the school board based on the events that unfolded last year between the board members. "The more I learned about what was happening, the more anxious I became. After several years of being retired and getting good nights of sleep, I began to think about how much energy was being drawn from the school by a dysfunctional school board."
Severson said it's the responsibility of a board member to be educated on all school issues, which he feels he is. He said he wants to make a commitment to reducing classroom size, and bettering academic results through good policy making.
Nash is a 24-year Cambridge resident with two children who are CCS graduates. She is an alumna of the University of Oregon and Columbia University. With 25 years of experience as an architect, she is a senior specification writer at EYP Architecture and Engineering, which she believes will be beneficial to the buildings and grounds committee. In her experience working for the preservation League of New York State, a nonprofit, she said she can assist the school in future grant writing. She also spent six years on the village board and one term as Cambridge mayor.
Nash said she feels passionate about the school board regarding the potential for developing teacher's career paths. "I want to support programs, fundraising and initiatives that will help them succeed, because when our teachers succeed, our kids succeed."
Nash said she wants to see a school board in which members' talents aren't duplicated, but one in which decisions are made collectively. She focused on the need to promote the professional development of teachers and to be conservative with spending.
Gifford is a Cambridge resident with three children currently enrolled in CCS. An alumnus of Paul Smith's College and Plattsburgh State University, he made a career serving various nonprofits dealing with environmental conservation. He currently directs research and management at the 3,200-acre Albany Pine Bush Reserve. He serves as a commissions liaison for the municipal planning boards surrounding the reserve. He also serves as the chair to the White Creek planning board.
Gifford said he believes his work and volunteer experience will make him an effective board member. "I understand that teamwork and collaboration are essential to quality decision making The board members should be providing the policies and the resources to support the professionals we've hired to run the school district. The board doesn't run the school, administrators and teachers run the school."
Gifford stressed the importance of community and parental involvement in the school, pointing out that as the largest employer and provider of activities in Cambridge, the school's hand in the community should be enhanced.
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