School Committee, Select Board host joint interviews for open seat
Date: 12/14/2011Dec. 12, 2011
By Chris Maza
Reminder Assistant Editor
LONGMEADOW The School Committee and Select Board will decide on Dec. 12 which of two candidates will fill the seat on the School Committee vacated by Armand Wray last month.
Gerard Kiernan and Kathryn Girard both met with the School Committee and Select Board on Dec. 5 for interviews for the position, which they will hold until the town elections in June 2012 at which time a representative will be elected to a three-year term. The Select Board and School Committee will conduct votes in a roll call fashion at the joint meeting, which is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m.
Girard and Kiernan presented different sets of skills to the board and with those skills, different ideas on what should be focused on by the School Committee in the coming years.
Girard, a stay-at-home mother who taught fourth grade in the Somers, Conn., schools prior to moving to Longmeadow four years ago, focused on classroom-related matters in her pitch to the elected officials questioning her.
“I can bring a teacher’s perspective to a lot of issues that come up,” Girard said. “I think I can understand policies and the challenges that towns face with policy and funding.”
Girard also said she recognized that any decisions made about the Longmeadow Public Schools has a direct effect on the town’s welfare.
“I think the best interests of our children in town are the best interests of the town,” she said. “By making sure we’re educating children and creating productive members of society, really wonderful people [are] what we’re creating and these wonderful people return to Longmeadow to serve their community as adults.”
Girard cited technology as a major area in which the school district must continue to improve.
“Technology is on the forefront for education in all of our schools and we have to make sure our classrooms are up to date,” she said. “The question is about trying to fund these projects on a limited budget and how do you make sure that our children are getting not just any technology, but the technology that really matters for them?”
In addition to technology, Girard pointed to balancing students’ needs with standardized testing and making sure all students, from the gifted to those in need of special services, have their needs adequately met.
She also admitted her need to learn more about the budgeting process in order to effectively contribute to those conversations, but realized the problems the district faces in that regard.
“The challenge is there are large expectations for schools on a limited budget because of our lack of business revenue,” she said. “The majority of our revenue comes from homeowners’ taxes and that’s pretty small.”
Kiernan, who appeared before the board in similar interviews for the recent openings of School Committee seats of Gwendolyn Bruns and Thomas Brunette, said he could offer expertise in regards to the schools’ physical plant issues.
Kiernan pointed to physical issues with the town’s middle schools, and specifically, Glenbrook Middle School as something that should be a major point of emphasis for the School Committee moving forward, calling the building’s condition “deplorable.”
“Short of rebuilding them, Glenbrook especially needs extensive renovation, there’s no doubt about that,” he said.
While adding that the high school’s campus also needs work, Kiernan said the major focus for the new high school once it is completed is developing a plan to make sure it is properly maintained.
Building maintenance was one of the three major issues Kiernan identified as priorities for him ,should he be elected to the committee, in addition to managing class sizes and retaining qualified teachers.
“We have to make sure we maintain the buildings and make sure we have an adequate budget to do so,” he said. “Class size is very important, whether it means bringing more teachers on or whatever else we need to do to ensure class sizes don’t get to the size where students can’t be taught.
“All the teachers I have met have a tremendous commitment to the school system and it’s very important to keep that book of knowledge that they bring and the familiarity they have with the schools. We have to maintain the quality of excellence that we have in our teachers and retention is very important to do so,” he continued.