Three candidates vie for two BSD seats
Incumbent Meridy Capella is running for the seat she has held for a year, after she ran unopposed for the term remaining on Genevieve Plunkett's vacated seat. She is opposed by first-time candidates Jodie Hudson and Katrina Snide. The second seat had been held by George Sleeman, who decided not to run for re-election.
"I have been here long enough to see the changes our community is going through and feel strongly about seeing it through to the other side," said Capella. "I have 2 children at elementary school age and I think this affords me a unique perspective as a board member... I'm deeply rooted in the community as I've lived here for 25 years. I served on the Bennington School Board from 2009-2011. I'm a property owner and business owner."
"I have been an elementary teacher in Bennington County for 15 years," said Hudson. "While in the BSD, I taught 2nd grade at Molly Stark Elementary as well as (first and second grades) at Bennington Elementary. As a candidate for a school board, it is important to share that I have a master's degree in education and am a Vermont licensed educator. I have seen firsthand how decisions made by the BSD board and district level administrators directly impact our students and the quality of their daily education. I am the ideal candidate for the BSD school board because I have worked within BSD schools and understand what these schools need to be safe, nurturing, and thriving learning environments. It is my hope that Bennington voters will give me the opportunity to use my teaching and leadership experience to help the BSD board better understand what families and schools truly need to be successful."
"I have been a Vermont resident for my entire life," she continued, "proudly attending pubic school in Arlington and earning a BA at Champlain College. In 2013, I completed my master's degree in education. I currently reside in Bennington with my husband and our 4 year old daughter. In 2016, I made the difficult decision to leave employment with the Bennington School District after 13 years. I accepted a teaching position at The Village School of North Bennington. In my current position as first grade teacher in North Bennington, I have seen the success of students when there is an emphasis on child centered learning and opportunities for integrated arts. During my years as a teacher in the BSD, I was able to be an advocate for both families and colleagues. It is my desire to continue this work by being elected to the BSD board."
Snide, 35, has lived in Bennington for 15 years. During that time she has worked and volunteered in various educational settings, including on the board of the Seedlings program, which operates at Bennington Elementary and Molly Stark Elementary, and on the Bennington Elementary Parent-Teacher Group. "I am a parent, though that does not immediately qualify me to serve on this board, it does offer me perspective," she said. "My children attended elementary school in this town, opening the opportunity to have spent numerous hours in the these schools, especially Bennington Elementary, both as volunteer and substitute teacher. This has afforded me intimate knowledge of what day to day life is like in our schools. Currently I work at PAVE and The Tutorial Center, utilizing my bachelors degree in psychology. At PAVE I am the volunteer coordinator as well as serving as a hotline advocate. At the Tutorial Center I have been a tutor for three years. Both these positions help connect me to the community in an unique and beneficial way."
"If elected back into this position, my goal would be to continue to represent the parents and students of our community on our board," said Capella. "I do not have a background in education but I do have a passion for making sure our children are given the best possible opportunities that we can afford them. I think the best way to achieve this goal is by supporting our teachers and administrators."
"I think the most pressing issue is to make sure that all children get the education that they deserve," she said. "I'm thrilled that the pre-K program has been such a success. I look forward to the continued benefits our district sees from early education opportunities, as well as the opportunity for special needs children to be identified in the district at an earlier age, giving them the opportunity to start kindergarten as prepared as possible. I would like to see more parents getting involved in their school community and showing support to our next generation of Benningtonians. I do not believe that education only happens in our schools, but that families and educators need to work together."
"My contribution to this elected office will be unique, as I will be able to share my 13 years of classroom teaching experiences in BSD schools with my fellow board members," said Hudson. "As a past teacher in Bennington schools, I understand what works and what does not work for children, families, and educators. My contributions will assist the school board in making more informed decisions about our elementary schools. One of my top goals if elected to this office, is to support important improvements to our district, so that families take pride in their opportunity to attend local BSD schools. Academic success cannot be viewed solely through the narrow lens of standardized testing. Tests are a small part of guiding successful instruction. BSD must strive to promote learning environments that also foster areas of art, music, and sciences; so that students develop into well rounded, lifelong learners. I will dutifully serve the community with transparency in all decisions and actions if elected to the BSD board."
"Bennington's elementary schools are long overdue for direct, on site collaborations with community agencies that can meet the diverse needs of our youngest community members and their families," she continued. "Within our identified schools we need the people and programs that will help students with the serious life circumstances that they are facing. Creating community partnerships to address necessary areas of need will bring immediate assistance to those children in crisis, and will ultimately result in classrooms and schools that run smoother. Another pressing issue is the current relationship between the board and the community it serves. The BSD board makes decisions based on recommendations of its superintendent, however the board, as elected officials, must also consider the input of the community that it represents. The board should make it a priority to listen to the input of educators who are in Bennington's schools. If elected to the board, I will listen to community members who put their trust in this district to provide quality education and will encourage the board to retain the devoted faculty members of our schools."
Snide broke down her goals into three categories: Informed decision making; greater collaboration throughout the community; and safe and outstanding schools.
"Most important to me is to help the other board members understand what is happening in the schools," she said. "It is so important that there be an active connection between the board and the schools. This should mean that board members spend real time in the schools that we serve. I think that with this enhanced connection, all parties will have a better understanding of what each side is doing and why. One thing I have always tried to do, no matter where I am working or serving is to reach out to others who have something great to offer. There are services in town who are already doing great things for our community, let's make sure we tap into their expertise.
"One thing that I have heard from other parents is that they want to make sure that their child is properly cared for, especially when another student is struggling to make safe choices," she said. "It is important that schools are able to offer appropriate programing for those that chronically and severely disrupt others' learning environments, are adequately supported by administration, and that there are enough people to meet the diverse needs of our schools."
"I know that our schools struggle, especially in comparison to the rest of the state," said Snide. "It is disconcerting to see greatschools.com ratings that put our schools in a bad light. I know that the test scores are not at the level we desire, but we need to continue to address the underlying issues. We have a high percentage of people in poverty and the news is littered with issues related to drug use. Our town keeps motels in business by housing the overflow of homeless families. As a community we need to keep working together to address those issues. Schools have made great strides in recent years to address those needs and we need to make sure they have what they need to continue that work. As a board member I will need to keep all this in mind when making decisions."
One of the most controversial issues facing the Bennington board has been the fate of Bennington Elementary assistant principal Jerry O'Connor, who was told by the board in January that his contract would not be renewed, sparking outcry and protests from the public. Capella, like other members of the board, has not spoken publicly about the decision, but unlike the other six members of the board, she was not part of the vote to remove O'Connor as she was not present when the vote was taken. None of the four who voted to not renew the contract, Chairman Chris Murphy, Vice-Chairwoman Chaila Sekora, Jackie Kelly, and Dan Monks, are up for re-election this year. Sleeman voted to renew O'Connor's contract and Jackie Prue abstained. Hudson and Snide said in a joint statement that they were disappointed in the board's decision not to renew O'Connor's contract, and called for the board to be more transparent and listen to the views of the community.
Derek Carson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @DerekCarsonBB on Twitter and 802-447-7567, ext. 122.
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