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13 candidates vying for seats on New London Board of Education

New London — The race for Board of Education this year features 13 candidates vying for seats on the seven-member board. Candidates express a desire to serve the children and help shape the direction of the school district, which is transitioning into an all-magnet district.

There are seven Democratic candidates, which include three incumbents; five Republican candidates and one Green Party candidate.

The League of Women Voters of Southeastern Connecticut hosted a candidate forum on Monday at All Souls Unitarian Universalist Congregation. The video can be found HERE.

Hearing Youth Voices, a youth-led social justice group, hosted a candidate forum on Sunday at Caulkins Park. Video of the event can be viewed HERE.

Republican candidates

Webster Scott, 60, is the orchard manager for Scott’s Orchard & Nursery in Glastonbury.

A grandfather to two Nathan Hale students, he said he would like to have a voice in the decisions concerning the city’s educational institutions.

Scott doesn’t have a formal education but said he is an avid lifelong learner and recently earned a GED through New London Adult Education. He home-schooled his six children over the past 36 years and said he believes that teaching is a primary parental responsibility, “and that our local school system — together with family interaction — is a useful tool for ensuring our students a balanced education.”

“As a Board of Ed member, my emphasis would be on ensuring that patriotism, civic responsibility, and personal accountability are integral parts of the school experience,” he said.

Susan Tierney, 49, a mother of three and the owner of Captain Scott’s Lobster Dock, served on the board between 2017 and 2019. She is a member of the Community Center Task Force and serves on the School Facilities and Design Review Committee.

While her kids are no longer in the school district, she said, “I still care deeply about what’s happening in our schools.”

Tierney said she is interested in continued cooperation between the school district and the city’s Recreation Department, retaining teachers and learning more about how the school will handle marketing to attract magnet school students from outside the city.

“The kids had a rough couple of years,” Tierney said. “We really need to focus on helping the kids get back to a sort of normal.”

Scott Ennis, 49, who is retired on disability because of hemophilia, is a graduate of the New London public school system and a lifelong city resident who said he follows school issues closely.

Ennis said bullying and access to special education are key issues for him in this election.

“In my years at NLPS I was treated differently due to my disability, not only by other students but by the system itself. It seemed there weren't systems in place to help kids like me who needed special accommodations,” he said.

Ennis said new voices are important and he’s not a "go along to get along" guy, and “party alliances get left at the door when we sit down to decide what's best for our school system and its students.”

“My only goal is to make decisions that enhance the lives of New London's greatest asset — our children,” he said.

Marilyn DeShields, 68, is a retired assistant director at the Navy Child and Youth Program, where she worked for 36 years. She said she decided to run because she felt her experience working with children and families could be beneficial.

“There seems to be an abundance of inappropriate interactions between children and teachers/adults, and maybe I can offer a new perspective on how to put an end to this,” she said. "I've worked with children and families for over 40 years. I'm fair, I'm calm, and I care deeply about the well-being of children and families.”

Lydia Larrea, 30, a mother and homemaker who moonlights as a garden designer, is a part-time assistant in the New London Registrar of Voters office and a seasonal worker at her family’s farm store.

Home-schooled, Larrea credits her parents with her success at college and said “while I’m not cut out to be a home-school mom myself, I would relish the opportunity to be involved in my children’s education and the decisions made on that front.”

She said she is running to have a voice in the decision-making process, thinks the school board could benefit from a fresh perspective and thinks the school district should revisit its stance on mandatory masking for students.

“My fear is that prolonging a return to true normalcy will have far-reaching detrimental effects on kids’ social, emotional and intellectual development,” she said.

Democratic candidates

Nathan Caron, 38, is a former teacher at Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School and former New London city clerk who now works in the Human Resources Department in the town of Groton. He has a master’s degree in education, is certified in secondary English arts and said it is his passion for education that has him seeking a spot on the school board.

Caron said he’d like to be involved in the development of the magnet pathways and thinks student wellness and emotional well-being need to be addressed. “I think we’re going to have to be really cognizant of learning loss due to COVID and put together a plan to address that,” he said.

Caron said he served in an apolitical capacity as city clerk and would bring that same philosophy to the school board and “work for everybody.”

Elaine Maynard Adams, 62, a vice president of finance at Jaypro Sports, is seeking a second term on the board. She formerly served on the city’s Charter Review Committee and Housing Authority Board of Commissioners and Board of Education between 1991 and 1999 and 2007 and 2009.

Maynard Adams said she would like to continue her work on the board especially now, when the district faces so many challenges. “We are seeing students and staff exhibiting problems exacerbated by the pandemic,” she said. “Children have been isolated for over a year from their peers and classroom teachers. There is just so much work to be done.”

She said she is proud of her role in school board accomplishments that have included establishment of the Birth to Age 8 Early Childhood Resource Center, which has expanded the district’s preschool offerings calling it a “gamechanger for our children.”

Danni Cruz, 18, a 2021 graduate of New London High School who earlier this year was chosen to fill a vacancy on the school board after the departure of member Queenie Diaz. Cruz previously served as student liaison to the board’s Curriculum Committee and High School Principal Search Committee.

Cruz, who is studying special education at the University of Connecticut campus at Avery Point in Groton, said it is important to have a youth voice and young people of color on the board.

“I really want to focus on improving communication between families and the school,” Cruz said. “It’s also important that we talk about mental health, not only with students, but with staff as well.”

Frank Silva, 35, is a native of Puerto Rico who has lived in New London for more than 20 years. He works as a director of community care and administration at Alliance for Living and is a domestic violence councilor for Family Reentry, a New Haven group that counsels domestic violence offenders.

“I’ve been a community advocate for the city of New London for over 20 years now,” he said. “I think this is an opportunity for me to be able to serve. Being a citizen and being a resident and seeing the issues we’re confronting. ... I think I can be a voice of unity.”

Bianca Alexis, 27, is married and helping to raise her two nephews, and she is a Haitian-American in her first run at an elected position. She has lived in the city for 23 years.

Alexis is mental health therapist who runs a private practice specializing in adults and adolescents and addressing such areas as risk prevention and trauma. She has degrees in psychology and mental health counseling and is working toward a doctorate in clinical psychology and higher education leadership.

She previously worked at the Root Center for Advanced Recovery and is the former assistant to the director of the arts magnet pathway in New London Public Schools.

Asked why she is running for office, Alexis said, “why not now is the real question.”

“I have the time and the drive to do so now more than ever," she said. "I have a lot to offer. Education is important to me. I’ve seen there is a need for somebody advocating for mental health.”

Jefferey Hart, 39, a parent of three children, the youngest in prekindergarten, is a construction estimator at Jaypro. He currently serves as the vice president of the school board and is seeking his third term on the board.

Among other initiatives, Hart said he is looking forward to setting up a fund that provides for incentives to hire and retain former students as staff in the school district to help support diversity in staffing. “If you’re hiring from among your students, your faculty starts to look like your students.”

Of his decision to seek reelection, Hart said, “I’ve thrown down my roots here. I have no choice but to make the public school system the best it can be.”

Bryan Doughty, 47, a father of three and music publisher, is seeking his second term on the school board. He is the president of the Kiwanis Club of New London, a volunteer with Whalers Helping Whalers and involved in several committees that include the Community Center Task Force.

He originally ran for a spot on the school board because he became frustrated by the lack of answers to questions about development of the arts magnet pathway. He said he is proud of his work on the School Maintenance and Building Committee, which is overseeing two major construction projects at the middle and high school.

Doughty said if reelected, some of his focus would be to help the district reconnect with families impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. “I want to focus on more community involvement, find new and better ways to communicate with our community,” he said.

Green Party

Keith Kimball, 51, is a semi-retired accountant who comes from a family of educators and has a daughter in the school district. "I want to combine my love of education ... with my professional experience as somebody that is very good at analyzing finances,” he said.

“I want to expand funding for our schools so they’re more equitable," he added. "I’m going to have to push the city, push the state to level the playing field.”

Kimball advocates for use of federal funding to pay for on-site COVID-19 testing for city employees and on school campuses. “We shouldn’t be asking parents to take a day off from work to get a test so their kid can go back to school when a nurse can do rapid response test.”

g.smith@theday.com

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