Thursday February 21, 2013

DAWSON RASPUZZI

Staff Writer

BENNINGTON -- Six candidates, three of whom are incumbents, are vying for four three-year seats on the Southwest Vermont Career Development Center school board this Town Meeting Day.

Looking to retain their seats are Gloria Alexander, Francis Kinney and Leon Johnson, while challengers Jessica Gulley-Ward, John MacDonald and Jason Mativi are seeking their first terms on the county-wide board.

Gloria Alexander

Alexander, of Sunderland, is seeking her third term on the board with hopes of continuing the work she has been involved with as chairwoman of the board’s Strategic Planning Committee and to continue efforts of attracting more females to technical education.

Until last year, Alexander, a retired social worker who has also taught college social work classes, had long been the only woman on the 11-member board. Maintaining a female presence on the board, she said, is important as she brings a different and important perspective to issues.

"It’s important to have women on the board, and I can share my experiences as an educator," Alexander said.

The Strategic Planning Committee is in the process of evaluating CDC’s mission and vision, which Alexander said she hopes to continue to help lead as the group seeks input from the community and then updates the school’s mission.

Alexander said she also wants to help with initiatives to get more females to take classes at CDC. In previous years Alexander has helped secure funding to attract more girls to technical education.

"I helped coordinate a gender equity grant to interest more girls in technical skills and technical careers," she said. "I believe all jobs are going to be needing people with technical skills training."

Alexander, who is one of the minority of members who live outside the Mount Anthony Union School District lines, also wants to help come up with new ways to attract more students from other parts of the county. Mount Anthony students currently make up more than 95 percent of the CDC student body.

Jessica Gulley-Ward

A Bennington native and a local professional, Gulley-Ward is running for her first public office position with hopes of becoming more involved and giving back to the community.

With a Master of Education degree in administration and supervision -- a field she worked in for 14 years until recently changing careers and becoming the manager of Curves of Bennington -- Gulley-Ward said she has the experience, knowledge and commitment to offer a lot to the school board.

"I’m passionate about education and devoted my career to education," she said.

The 1993 Mount Anthony graduate took a number of classes at CDC in high school that she said taught her life skills and featured a curriculum she connected with. Gulley-Ward said she believes in the mission of the CDC and now wants to assist its continued growth.

Gulley-Ward said she is not running because of specific things she wants to see changed, but instead she hopes to become a part of the board to learn more about what is and is not working and then offer assistance.

"Making an uneducated decision (or) suggestion is detrimental to any team, organization or board. I will evaluate, absorb and gain as much knowledge on a given topic before voicing an opinion," she said.

Leon Johnson

Nobody has more experience on the CDC school board than Johnson, who has sat on the board since its separation from Mount Anthony Union nearly a decade ago. He has also sat on the MAU board the last 19 years. That history, the North Bennington resident said, is important as similar issues and recommendations resurface from time to time and he can offer insight regarding how those matters may have been handled in the past.

Johnson, who retired earlier this month from Energizer, has also been chairman of the Policy Committee since being on the CDC board, which he said is an important role to ensure policies that govern the school are up to date and effective.

In the three years of the term, Johnson said he wants CDC to restart an agriculture program, which the technical school eliminated two years ago. This time, Johnson said, he wants the program to be more connected to the community and work collaboratively with other entities that share common goals.

"We’re working to make sure that we take and institute a gardening program through the center that represents everybody in the community including the middle school, the hospital and others," he said.

Johnson also wants to continue work to increase enrollment at CDC by strengthening programs and better advertising the opportunities it offers. At the same time, he said it is important to monitor spending to ensure money is being spent efficiently.

"I always want to look at the amount of money we pass on to the taxpayers in terms of a budget and want to make sure these things are sound and really necessary," he said.

Francis Kinney

Kinney is running for a third term on the CDC board because he wants to continue a positive momentum the technical center has gained over the past year and a half since the hiring of Superintendent and Director James Culkeen.

More than any of the previous directors, Kinney said Culkeen is looking to revamp the school by evaluating programs that have low enrollment and either looking to strengthen them or replace them.

"(I’m running) to support the new director, to make sure things get put in place that he wants put in place, to make sure we look at programs and if there’s not enough students in the program then get rid of the program and get a new program, something that kids would want," he said.

Kinney, who also sits on the Shaftsbury and Mount Anthony Union school boards, believes technical education is an important part of the region’s school system. Owner of a vehicle collision repair business, Kinney has benefited from technical education himself and believes CDC offers positive career opportunities for many high school students.

"I just think that technical education is important. You got some kids that are going to college and you got some that are not. (Not all high school graduates) are going to be doctors and lawyers," Kinney said, "we need plumbers, electricians too ... and we need to make sure we got the programs to teach that."

Kinney is also focused on keeping education affordable, which he said can only be done with a critical eye on spending.

John MacDonald

MacDonald, a retired special educator who worked at CDC for 13 years, believes his experience in the school would help bring a needed perspective to the school board.

"I feel like I know a number of the issues and can see what student needs are and that kind of thing because I was involved for a long time there," MacDonald said.

MacDonald, who lives in Bennington, also has experience as director of a special needs school in New Hampshire, a position that, among other things, required him to have oversight of finances. That experience, he said, could also help when it comes time to look at CDC’s own spending.

"I believe it’s important to have somebody who knows both students and teachers and the business end of running anything, but running a school especially," MacDonald said.

MacDonald said the school needs to continue its efforts of working with the community and area businesses to ensure students are learning the required skills in various fields. "I think that more than anything else, meeting the needs of the community in regards to technical education is one of the biggest questions we have over the next few years."

He also wants to ensure the CDC remain a separate entity from Mount Anthony Union -- a discussion that seems to come up every couple of years. Being a separate entity, he said, better serves all of the students in the county including those outside of the MAU district.

Jason Mativi

Mativi, who took a number of courses at CDC while at Mount Anthony, is a network administrator and physics teacher at The Bennington School who believes his experience in those fields can be a valuable asset to the board.

"My background in science and technologies gives me a very strong position to push from for what students are really going to need when they enter that field for a career," he said. "Basically, my goal here is to improve the technological engineering aspect of the CDC."

Mativi, who lives in Pownal, believes CDC’s sole focus should be the STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) fields and it should do away with other programs such as cosmetology.

"I do not think cosmetology should be offered at someplace that is a technical school district," he said.

Based on his own experiences, Mativi said he would like to add to existing curriculum in other areas and create more collaboration between programs -- such as having students in the artificial intelligence program working with instructors from the engineering and machine programs, and even technical English. "It would be really beneficial for students as they progress into the real world or technical career (at which time) they are going to be working with all different fields in whatever career they choose," he said.

Mativi would also maintain a focus on controlling spending, which he said will require allocating money in the right areas and attracting students to the technical center.

Contact Dawson Raspuzzi at draspuzzi@benningtonbanner.com or follow on Twitter @DawsonRaspuzzi