Four newcomers vie for two School Committee seats

Four newcomers vie for two School Committee seats
Valerie Gunn, Robert Hover, Julie Kelbert and Justin Thomas are vying for the two seats available on the School Committee.

Valerie Gunn, Robert Hover, Julie Kelbert and Justin Thomas are vying for the two seats available on the School Committee.

YORK, Maine — Meredith Schmid and Brenda Alexander chose not to file for re-election to the School Committee this year. Now four candidates are vying to fill both three-year seats: Valerie Gunn, Robert Hover, Julie Kelbert and Justin Thomas.

Dr. Valerie Gunn

Age: Retired

Address: Cape Neddick, Maine

Occupation: Research and development medicinal scientist

Education: I am the beneficiary of a classical education including the sciences, advanced mathematics, Latin, German, history, civics, philosophy, and public health resulting ultimately in a Ph. D. in addition to several publications and patents. I have served as adjunct professor for several colleges and universities throughout my career as a corporate research and development scientist.

Public service: I have served on the boards of women’s healthcare organizations as well as on mission boards and library committees over the years.

Valerie Gunn

Valerie Gunn

1. Why do you want to be a member of the School Committee?

I think the single most important question is “why have I decided to run for the York School Committee?” When I first moved up to York 25 years ago, the choice was predicated in large part upon the excellent quality of education afforded by the York School District. At that time York Schools were ranked No. 1 in the state – an indication that York could turn out “future innovators” for Maine who could go on to higher education, creating businesses and job opportunities for well-educated Maine students entering into the workforce with strong local family ties. Unfortunately, the York School District (YSD) is currently ranked No. 15 in the state even as York property owners’ tax burden in support of the schools ($22,753/student) is 14% higher than the No. 2 ranked Kennebunk School District. In addition, the quality of education in YSD continues to plummet. All this to say we have real issues inherent in the York School District and throwing more money at them is obviously not providing any relief. To make matters worse, frustrated parents, who have sought answers to these issues in earnest, continue to pull their children out of York schools in a desperate attempt to secure a higher quality education and a more robust future for their children.

As a research scientist and educator (retired), I recognize this situation as untenable. I am therefore running for one of the open seats on the York School Committee to contribute my knowledge, skills, and abilities to open discussions with educators, parents and taxpayers to improve curricula and policies in order to better prepare our students for life after school as good Maine citizens whether in the workforce or on to higher education.

2. What do you see as the top three issues facing the school district and how do you plan to address them?

I have observed the following issues to be rife with deficiencies and should be of paramount importance to both the York School Committee and its superintendent of schools to address in the immediate future:

Parents’ voice in Pre-K-12 education.

Children’s right to a quality education in a safe environment.

Transparent and timely access to curricula and teaching materials.

My initial approach to addressing these issues would be to remind both the School Committee and the superintendent that they have a fiduciary duty to the parents and to the taxpayers and as a minimum should respectfully listen to their concerns and then address said concerns to the satisfaction of all parties.

3. As a School Committee member, from whom will you seek advice or input in weighing key decisions?

This is not a generic question. The type of key decision under review or consideration would dictate the type and source of research, advice, or input required. All relevant sources of information should be given appropriate thought inclusive of current and past policies, current and past committee members, experts in the field, and/or town committees who influence or are influenced by the York School Committee’s decisions. As a skilled researcher, I will definitely implement due diligence prior to weighing in on key decisions.

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Robert Hover

Age: 38

Address: York

Occupation: Patent attorney

Education: BS aeronautical engineering, Clarkson University, Potsdam, NY (2005); JD/LLM-IP, UNH Franklin Pierce School of Law, Concord, NH (2012) (formerly UNH School of Law, formerly Franklin Pierce Law Center)

Public service: York School Climate and Culture Committee member (2022-present); Law Firm Antiracism Alliance (LFAA), co-chair Environmental Justice Working Group, member projects committee (2020-present); Odyssey of the Mind, co-coach Coastal Ridge Elementary Problem 2 (2022).

Robert Hover

Robert Hover

1. Why do you want to be a member of the School Board?

I believe our town values schools that put students before politics. In today’s highly politicized environment, I’m running to be a voice of reason committed to students, teachers, and our community. I was brought up with a deep respect for the importance of education and educators. My mother taught high school math for 36 years, my great aunt taught junior high English for 39 years, starting at the Frisbee school in Kittery in 1943, and my great uncle was a principal. I would like to continue that legacy by helping to make our schools a better place for all students to learn and for teachers to teach.

2. What do you see as the top three issues facing the school district and how do you plan to address them?

In my view, the top three issues facing the York School District include: Protecting the rights of every student to explore their intellectual curiosities in a safe environment; supporting teachers in their mission to provide students a quality education; and continuously improving the quality of education delivered to our students.

Students are significantly less likely to perform well if their school does not support them and protect their educational rights. Students have the right to attend a school where every student feels safe, supported, valued, and respected. Students also have the right to learn in an environment that allows them to explore their intellectual curiosities without fear of shame, discrimination, or recrimination. To protect and support those rights, the School Committee must take community input seriously, including the results of the recent NEASC surveys, continue the important work of the School Climate and Culture Committee, and continuously communicate with administrators, students, and faculty. The School Committee must also consider that feedback to create policies and practices that reinforce these values.

As most parents recognize after our remote learning experience, teachers have an incredibly difficult job to do and sometimes limited resources with which to do it. That job is made more difficult by recent book banning campaigns and strident advocacy against basic health measures, against fact-based history curricula, fact-based biology curricula, and against showing institutional respect for all people, including diverse and marginalized students. In this environment, the School Committee and the administration must be willing to provide teachers with as much support as they require so that they can focus on providing students a complete education rooted in facts, reason, critical thinking, and respectful debate.

The high-quality education our students receive in York schools is something for the York community to be proud of. Nevertheless, we can always do better. Unfortunately, York schools have recently begun slipping slightly in the Maine state rankings. This community invests more financial resources per student than most schools in Maine and more than any of the schools ranked higher. The reasons and therefore the solutions are complex, but we can do better and I look forward to working with other members of the School Committee, administrators, teachers, and students to develop targeted plans for reversing this trend.

3. As a School Board member, from whom will you seek advice or input in weighing key decisions?

As an attorney, I understand that good policy can only be made after hearing and carefully considering the viewpoints of all interested parties in view of known facts and circumstances. In that spirit, I seek input and advice from all interested parties, including the community, administrators, teachers, students, and relevant experts to better serve our students and their schools.

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Julie Kelbert

Age: 41

Address: York Harbor, Maine

Occupation: Nurse anesthetist

Education: BSN University of Florida College of Nursing; MS, anesthesia, University of New England, Portland

Public Service: AANA past state president and government relations chair; Current member of NBCRNA subcommittee on continuing education and content development; mentor and preceptor for anesthesia students.

Julie Kelbert

Julie Kelbert

1. Why do you want to be a member of the School Committee?

Giving back to a community through service is an important way to show gratitude and connectedness, and I am certainly grateful to our town and schools. As a parent of two young children in the York school system, I have a personal connection to our schools. In my professional and personal life, I stay calm, curious, engaged, and committed to learning and problem-solving. The School Committee represents my values and my strengths: dedication to the mission of the school department, thoughtful, transparent decision making, ethical adherence to process, clear communication, and a genuine curiosity for learning. I believe these skills, coupled with my personal investment in our schools, are an ideal match for the mission and responsibility of the School Committee.

2. What do you see as the top three issues facing the school district and how do you plan to address them?

An excellent school system brings value to all of York: attracting young families, increasing property values, and instilling a deep sense of pride in our town. In the past few years, I’ve spent time talking with teachers, parents, community members, administrators and students about experiences and opinions of York schools. The feedback is largely positive – parents are engaged, administrators and teachers are dedicated and skilled, and students on the whole have a great experience. Two concerning issues however, seemingly intertwined, are the increasing school budget costs and a slipping statewide high school ranking. Despite outspending every Maine school ranked higher than YHS, our performance has slipped in the last 10 years to 15th in the state currently. The values of a school system reflect the values of a town, and York promises to educate, inspire, and challenge all learners to be ethical citizens who will make a difference in a changing and complex world. Year after year, York residents are largely willing to spend significant resources on educating our kids. The investment our residents make in our schools should reflect in educational excellence, high achieving schools and successful transitions for students from the school system to citizens of the world. As part of the team, I will work to develop strategic plans to improve our rankings with defined goals and metrics, and hold administrators accountable for meeting goals. I will do this with an eye to fiscal responsibility- ensuring teachers have resources and support, with cost containment on administrative and legal issues.

Another issue facing York is that of diversity, equity and inclusion. Recent and ongoing efforts by community members to limit access to library resources is just the beginning; these efforts will not stop at books. Students have protected rights to access library media, understand events with historical accuracy, and hear age and content appropriate information about biology. It’s the responsibility of the School Committee to approve and enforce policy that ensures the rights of students to learn in an environment where they are safe and affirmed however they show up. These policies must meet the Maine state standard and YSD goals to encourage thoughtful and effective cultural engagement through conversation and action; provide equal learning and preparation for all students regardless of differences in gender, age, religion, physical ability, socioeconomic status or sexual orientation; and prepare our students to enter the world understanding issues of race and inclusion. I look forward to reviewing the results of the recent surveys and hearing recommendations from the School Climate and Culture Committee to ensure these goals are met.

3. As a School Committee member, from whom will you seek advice or input in weighing key decisions?

Seeking the input and drawing on the experiences of parents, educators, administrators, experts and students with respect to the complex and changing issues facing our school system is key. I believe challenges can be best understood and solved when people feel safe enough to share their story. As a School Committee member, I promise to listen to the concerns, ideas, and stories of the community I serve. It is through listening, staying curious, validating and believing each other’s stories that we solve our challenges, big, small, unprecedented, or routine.

Justin Thomas

Age: 35

Address: 24 Deer Run

Occupation: Senior project manager – construction

Education: B.S in civil engineering, from Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Public service: N/A

Justin Thomas

Justin Thomas

1. Why do you want to be a member of the School Committee?

My desire to be a member of the School Committee stems from my children. They inspire me to get involved, and the importance of education. Today, there is too much partisan politics, and this is part of why I am running. I wish to provide a non-partisan input to the School Committee and to encourage all community members, especially parents/guardians, to become involved.

2. What do you see as the top three issues facing the school district and how do you plan to address them?

The three major issues that I see facing the school district are:

Transparency of curriculum and teaching materials – I believe that the School District and School Committee could be more open to the community regarding what is being taught in school at each level. If elected, I would do my best to publish all curriculum information for the community to review.

School budget – This should be reviewed at length. The current school budget continues to rise, while enrollments have declined. If elected, I plan on working with the other School Committee members to conduct a full audit of the budget.

Family/community involvement – The School Committee works for the community, and should do its part to promote family and community involvement with the schools. Part of my plan would be to increase the number or town halls, and open houses in the different schools, to receive greater feedback and input from families and the community.

3. As a School Committee member, from whom will you seek advice or input in weighing key decisions?

When it comes to advise and input, it would depend on the topic at hand. However, I plan on discussing key issues and decisions with community members. If elected, I work for the community, and would seek their input on key decisions. Discussions with the other members of the School Committee, as well as previous committee members would also be part of my decision-making process.

This article originally appeared on Portsmouth Herald: York ME election 2022: 4 newcomers vie for two School Committee seats