Three Shaftsbury residents seek SVUESD seat

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SHAFTSBURY — Three residents are seeking an interim seat on the Southwest Vermont Union Elementary School District board after the spot became available this summer.

The three candidates, each of whom briefly addressed the Shaftsbury Select Board on Monday night, are Mike Fenwick, Jeff Leake and Joan Dornhoefer.

The seat on the SVUESD board — which as a result of a merger completed last year oversees elementary schools in the towns of Pownal, Shaftsbury, Woodford and Bennington — opened up when vice chair Tony D'Onofrio accepted a job with the Mount Anthony Union School District, according to past meeting minutes. D'Onofrio announced his departure "with [a] heavy heart" at the SVUESD board's June 17 meeting.

Whoever is tapped for the interim post by the Select Board will hold the seat until a replacement is chosen by voters next year in March.

Fenwick said he had been involved in education for most of his working life in three different countries — the U.S., Australia and England — and would pair his experience with an open mind to address whatever issues arose during his tenure. The appointment would "enable me to make a contribution" to the community, he said.

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Leake, a parent of a child within the district, previously served on the now-defunct Shaftsbury School Board but resigned in 2018 during his second term because of a change of address. He narrowly lost to incumbent Francis Kinney earlier this year in a race for a board seat representing Shaftsbury with the Mount Anthony Union School District Board.

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"I think it's important to be engaged in the community and really look at the education of our children, because you need a good, solid education for your kids for them ... to succeed," Leake said.

Dornhoefer said she has decades of experience as a licensed clinical social worker, describing herself as a "strong advocate" for families and children. She spoke of how a past role with a Manhattan medical center taught her "the pushes and pulls of good, ethical work" and how she wanted to give back to her community.

Before the candidates addressed the board, Chris Murphy, of Bennington, who chairs the SVUESD board, asked the body to consider any potential pick's "ability to think beyond the town lines of just Shaftsbury" to bolster the relatively new district.

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"Now at the elementary school level, instead of the representative from Shaftsbury strictly keeping an eye out for the well-being of Shaftsbury and its school, it's coming to think of it as this unified elementary school district," Murphy said.

Select Board Chairman Tim Scoggins said the board intends to announce its selection at its next meeting, which is scheduled for Sept. 21.

The chairman applauded the three residents for stepping forward. "It's a very good thing that we have this kind of participation and desire to get involved here in Shaftsbury," he said.

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