15 seek seats on New London school board

New London — Just two of the seven members of the Board of Education are seeking re-election this year as the district looks to hire its next superintendent.

The 15 candidates for the school board are as follows:

Democrat Rebecca Amanti, 65, is a mother to two children and political newcomer. She is a former English teacher, cheerleading coach, dean of students at New London High School and worked for 17 years as the assistant principal at Waterford High School. She volunteers as academic advisor to the New London High School Football team.

After retiring in 2014, Amanti said she missed being involved with students and felt she had much more to offer. “I loved my experiences both as a teacher and administrator and just want to see the best for the kids and allow them the best opportunities possible,” she said.

Alisha Blake, 32, is running as a candidate with the Working Families Party, a first in New London. She works per diem as a doula at Lawrence + Memorial Hospital and in 2016 founded New London Birth Services, where she works with families during and after pregnancies. It is the first time she has run for elected office.

A mother of three, Blake said one of her three main areas of focus is “hiring a superintendent with a commitment to New London who will work for our students and be accountable to our parents.” She said she is also focused on teacher retention and staff diversity and wants to eliminate the “school to prison pipeline” by expanding restorative practices and preserving quality food access for all students.

Green Party candidate Erick Carrión, 24, is a political newcomer. Born in Puerto Rico, he is a 2010 New London High School graduate and former community and youth organizer for Hearing Youth Voices and FRESH New London. He is now an early intervention specialist with Alliance for Living.

Carrión said running to be able to be an advocate for the community, to ensure students’ voices are heard and update curriculum, “that is culturally appropriate for the diversity of our town and that reflects our town values.” He said, “I believe our education system is the root to everything. I always believe that with a better school comes a better community. We need to tackle the issues students face in school to be able to make changes in the community.”

Democrat Jason Catala, 42, is the father of one daughter and served six different terms on the school board, with some earlier terms as a Republican. He is one of the two school board members seeking re-election.

Catala is in favor of a hiring policy change that would allow the school board to make decisions on administrative hires, a power given away by the board to the superintendent. He also is critical of the amount of information he says that central office does not share with the school board or the public. “The transparency of our spending, that’s the big issue of mine,” he said. “More transparency and I’m definitely in favor of restructuring central office, one or two positions could easily be cut.”

Jasmine Collins, 41, is registered as unaffiliated voter running on the Republican slate. She has one child, is a U.S. Navy veteran and said the school board is a “perfect way to give back to the community.”

A political newcomer, she is a former preschool teacher who now works with boys, ages 12-18, with mild to severe behavioral and emotional challenges for the state Department of Children and Families. “I feel like parents are not involved the way they could be,” she said. “We need to figure out why and how to fix that. Parents are a key to the students’ success in the education process. It can’t all be left to the teachers.”

Democrat Jefferey Hart, 35, is a painter making his first run at an elected office. He is chairman of the Pedestrian Advisory Committee. He is a father of two, with another on the way.

“I have every reason in the world to make it the best school system it can be,” Hart said. “I’m running for the board because I’m deeply committed to serving our city.” To solve some of the budget woes facing the school district, he said the district needs to look seriously at consolidating services with neighboring towns. “One of my philosophies is that cooperation tends to improve outcomes. Cooperation with other towns could bring down administrative costs,” he said.

Mirna Martinez, 44, a member of the Green Party, is seeking her third term in office and is one of only two incumbents. She is a mother of two, a former teacher who, as a member of the school board, introduced and helped to pass an Equity and Diversity Policy.

She said her primary goal is creating an engaging learning environment for students and closing an achievement gap, one of the reasons the district set out to create an all-magnet school district. “We are moving forward, making great strides, but we have a long way to go,” she said. “Right now, we do need to return some experience to the board.”

Democrat Mike McLaughlin, 70, is a political newcomer who has been the voice of local sports for three decades on the radio station 94.9 FM. He is a former adjunct professor at the University of New Haven, retired from the state Department of Social Services, a volunteer who works with students in the school district and is an academic coordinator for athletes at the University of Connecticut Avery Point.

“I want every kid every child to have the same opportunities that the New London Education system gave me,” he said. He said the school district needs to be more efficient with its resources and looks forward to the next school board naming the next superintendent.

Regina Mosley, 42, is a mother of three, a lifelong New London resident and a co-founder of New London Youth Parent Advocates. Along with teacher retention and the hiring of more minority teachers, Mosley said she wants to be a part of shaping policies and curriculum in the district.

“I’m really passionate about our students and the progress we’re making now," Mosely said. "It’s about being engaged in what’s happening in the school.” She said the district also needs to be more engaged with the community.

Antonello Muscarella, 42, says she is “definitely not a politician” but seeking her first term to elected office on the Republican slate. She is a former substitute and English language learner instructor who has volunteered at New London public schools for past four years. She works at E2 Engineers in New London.

“I feel like the teachers and students need someone to speak for them,” Muscarella said. “It’s time that new blood come into the board of education and make some changes. We need to be there for the students.” She said her impression of the current board is one of dysfunction and she is hoping to be part of a new group that responds to parents’ concerns.

Karen Paul, 78, is a Republican, mother of three, the chairwoman of the Senior Affairs Commission and member of the Ethics Board and Pedestrian Advisory Committee. She is also a member of the Neighborhood Alliance and Looking Out for Taxpayers. She hosts a public access show called “Time on Your Hands.”

“I’m running because I think the school system needs a complete revamping,” Paul said. “I have a lot of inside information about a lot of what goes on in the school systems.” She is a critic of the school district's expenditures related to administrative positions and calls the district’s central office “top heavy.” She said if elected, she would advocate for the diversion of funds from administrative positions to the “kids and teachers and classrooms, not central office.”

Democrat Manuel Rivera is the former New London school superintendent who retired earlier this year and re-emerged to fill a vacant slot on the Democratic slate of school board candidates. Rivera said he brings 40 years of experience working in different school districts, “seeing some of best and seeing some of the worst and knowing good practice.”

In reference to his retirement, Rivera said, “That doesn’t mean I don’t care what happens in our schools or care about the students. That’s why I came back here several years ago, to work.” He said his desire, if elected, is to help be part of a “cohesive board with a focus on education” that can aid the new superintendent.

Kathy Skrabacz, 49, is running on the Republican slate. She is a mother of four children and never run for an elected office. She is former member of New London Youth Parent Advocacy and said she has been involved in the district for the past 14 years. Skrabacz is a licensed and certified alcohol and drug abuse counselor who works for SCADD’s outpatient clinic in New London and a therapist at Light House Counseling in Groton.

“I am running because I’ve seen a lot of things in the schools go great. I have seen a lot of things in the schools that are not so great,” she said. “I think now it’s time to have more parents on the board of education who have seen different things going on. I want to be more vocal in seeing changes happen.”

Susan Tierney, 45, who is registered as an unaffiliated voter is running on the Republican slate. It is her first time seeking office. She is the co-owner of Captain Scott’s Lobster dock and a mother of three. Tierney said she has had positive experiences with the school district and hopes to be part of a smooth transition for the next superintendent.

“It’s not something I thought I’d be doing but I decided to run this summer when our superintendent resigned and five members of the board of ed decided not to run again," Tierney said. "I just decided I would step up and see if I could do something to give back to the community.”

Eleanor Day, a Republican candidate for the school board, did not attend the recent debate or candidate forum, and she did not respond to requests for comment.

A meet-and-greet and debate among the school board candidates will be held Monday, starting at 5 p.m., at the Science and Technology Magnet High School of Southeastern Connecticut.

g.smith@theday.com

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