Ten seek election to New London school board
New London — Similar to the expected lineup changes in the City Council this year, the seven-member Board of Education will welcome at least three new faces after the November elections.
Of the 10 school board candidates, there are four incumbents seeking re-election this year: Jason L. Catala, Jefferey P. Hart, Regina Mosley — all Democrats — and Susan Tierney, who is unaffiliated but running as a Republican. Mosley and Hart are cross-endorsed by the Working Families Party.
Joining the fray is Republican Robert Pero, Green Party member Sharmaine Gregor and Democrats Lee Cornish-Muller, Queenie Diaz, Bryan Doughty and Elaine Maynard-Adams.
Several of the candidates referenced the arrest of three school employees over the past year, one for the alleged sexual assault of two middle school students.
Elaine Maynard-Adams, 59, is a native New Londoner and graduate of New London High School and the University of Connecticut. She is the vice president of finance for Jaypro Sports LLC, a sports equipment manufacturer in Waterford, and serves on the city's Charter Review Committee. She is a former member and chairwoman of the Housing Authority Board of Commissioners and served on the school board from 1991 to 1999 and from 2007 to 2009.
“I’m motivated to run again primarily due to recent events,” Maynard-Adams said. “Planning for an all-magnet district began during my last term on the board. Recent events could jeopardize our ability to attract out-of-town students.”
Maynard-Adams said the new superintendent, Cynthia Ritchie, is doing an admirable job but “she will need solid board members who will set the policies to ensure not only that something like this will not ever happen again but to ensure hiring is standardized, fair, open and honest.”
Jason Catala, 44, is seeking his eighth term on the school board. He is employed as a magnet coach in the New Haven Public Schools district. He previously served one term on the City Council and is a confirmation teacher at St. Joseph School and a member of the Centro de la Comunidad board of directors. He serves as chairman of the school board’s Policy Committee.
“There needs to be someone on the board who is not afraid to speak out for children and speak out against the group of people who are OK with sweeping things under the rug, the status quo and don’t question,” Catala said.
He said he is pushing for better transparency and accountability when it comes to school budgets and hiring practices. “The Board of Education must hire the right people to serve our children. We cannot put anyone in front of our children that has a criminal record related to children,” he said.
Queenie Diaz, 21, is a junior at the University of Connecticut majoring in human development and family studies with a minor in political science. She has three siblings and extended family in the New London public school system. She said the arrest of one of the teachers at her sister’s middle school “really opened my eyes.”
“There needs to be someone my age that represents these kids. I felt it was time for me to step up. I want to be the voice for the children ... for those too afraid to speak out,” she said. Being bilingual, Diaz said she also hopes to be help represent Hispanics in the district.
“With all of the chaos that has been happening within the New London Public Schools, I am aware that we, as a community, must come together to ensure that the screening process of potential school employees (is) changed at central office,” she said.
Bryan Doughty, 45, is making his first run at elected position. He is the founder of a small music publishing company. He is a member of the School Building and Maintenance Committee, a parent representative for the Commissioner’s Network at New London High School and previously has served on other committees that include the superintendent search committee. He previously served as chairman of the city’s Solid Waste Municipal Task Force.
He said his focus has always been transparency and communicating the process of how things get done to the community.
“I believe our school district can be better, but only if we choose to elect people who can lead us down a path to success,” he said. “The path must be paved through clearly written policies, partnership with both our elected city officials and all stakeholders both residing in (New London) as well as those attending our school district from other communities.”
Sharmaine Gregor, 30, is a member of the New London Green Party, 2019 graduate of Mitchell College, is vice president of the Southeast Connecticut Community Land Trust, an associate with Partners in a Caring Community and a community gardener with FRESH New London.
Gregor wants to “ensure the safety and well-being of students by creating an environment in which staff, faculty and students feel comfortable sharing concerns, frankly discussing harmful situations, and finding solutions together.” If elected, she said she would look to support community-school partnerships that support youth development, meet student needs holistically, support transparency on budgets, fully fund building maintenance and programs, and integrate “future-focused practices,” such as recycling, urban agriculture and energy conservation into school operations.
Of her decision to seek a spot on the school board, Gregor said it was “seeing where the city is at right now and seeing that potential of where it could be and finding my role in that ...”
Jefferey Hart, 37, is a painter seeking his second term on the school board, on which he now serves as the vice president. He is a Democrat and former chairman of the Pedestrian Advisory Committee. He serves as head of the school board’s Finance Committee.
Hart said he wants to see through the creation of a new trust to benefit New London students using surplus money from things like student activity accounts — concessions, raffles and bake sales — to fund a diversity recruitment program that provides incentives for New London students to get into teaching. “Thanks to diligence of parents over the years,” Hart said there is nearly $500,000 to start such an account.
Hart said the district also needs to address bad behavior on the part of some and what he said is a not only a New London problem but a “societal problem.”
Regina Mosley, 44, is seeking her second term on the school board. A Democrat and co-founder of the New London Youth Parent advocates, Mosley has served as the chairwoman of the board's Curriculum Committee. She was a member of the superintendent search committee and helped advance an Ethnic Studies course that is now a full course and included as a history credit for graduation requirements.
She called her work on the school board a “rewarding and painstaking job, one that I would do for many years to come if the opportunity continues to present itself.” She supports adding a parent liaison to the board and an increase in communication with city government for budget transparency and program development.
“Although we are weathering a storm at the moment, one can only look for the silver lining and remain optimistic that the best outcomes will prevail for the benefits of our students,” she said.
Lee Cornish-Muller, 61, works at Electric Boat for DXC Technology as a senior project manager in the information technology department. She is the board president of the New London 7th Regiment Youth Performing Arts Organization, the treasurer of the Board at ISAAC School in New London and a member of the school’s Executive and Development committees. She has served as the chairperson of the New London Covenant Shelter board.
“I am running for (Board of Education) because I want to be a leader and not a bystander,” Cornish-Muller said. “If elected to the Board of Education, I will focus on academic excellence for all students. Set the bar high and help every student climb over it. I believe if you lower the bar, you lower their chances of success.”
She said she would be promoting the magnet school system, create a plan that focuses on goals and partner with city officials, parents, teachers and students.
Robert Pero, 50, a Republican, served on the City Council for 16 years before leaving in 2011. He serves as the chairman of the Republican Town Committee and the Republican registrar of voters. He is employed as an investigator with the state Department of Consumer Protection.
Pero said he is appalled by recent events in the school district and thinks more work can be done “developing good policy.” He said if elected, he would help the school board develop a better relationship with the City Council and hopes to move toward streamlining services and expenses, such as a merger of the two finance departments. And he said he wants to see more movement on the ongoing high school and middle school construction projects.
He said he is in favor of better transparency in the school district to help the community understand what they are paying for and whether it is the best use of resources.
Susan Tierney, 47, who is registered as an unaffiliated voter, is running on the Republican slate and seeking her second term on the school board. She is the co-owner of Captain Scott’s Lobster Dock. She has three children attending New London Public Schools this year and that is one of the main reasons she said she is seeking a second term. Tierney serves as the board secretary and is a member of the School Building and Maintenance Committee.
Tierney said the board is tackling the work of updating policies to align with state statutes and heavily involved in the ongoing work in the two building projects that eventually will lead to new north and south campuses.
Tierney said she has confidence in Superintendent Ritchie. “I’m excited she is in our district ... I want to be part of a board to support her,” Tierney said.
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