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Thompson eager to face competition this time around

Date: 3/15/2011

March 14, 2011

By Chris Maza

Reminder Assistant Editor

Editor's note: This is the third installment in a series of four stories profiling the candidates for the East Longmeadow School Committee.

EAST LONGMEADOW — The first time Vice-Chair Gregory Thompson ran for School Committee, he was unopposed.

This time around, he's facing fellow board member Angela Thorpe, as well as challengers Richard Freccero and William Bednarzyk, in a four-way race for two positions and contrary to what people might think, he's looking forward to the challenge.

"Would it be easier if I ran unopposed again? Sure, but I think it's great because there's going to be the chance for discussion," Thompson said. "I've always said that we should have more discussion and this is an opportunity for me to talk to people in the town and hear what they have to say. One of the things I've really enjoyed about being on the School Committee is I've had a great opportunity to meet a lot of people and learn about what matters to them."

Thompson has been a member of the board for three years, citing his children and a sense of responsibility to the town as two big motivating factors.

"I'm the father of two young girls and I want what any parent wants, which is a good education for my children. That's part of my reasoning for being on the board," Thompson said. "In addition to that, I represent four generations of my family that lived in East Longmeadow. My family has been in town for a very long time. My father graduated from East Longmeadow High School and I did as well. In fact, I met my wife in high school.

"I want what's best for my kids, but I also recognize that I have a responsibility to all the people of East Longmeadow to spend their tax dollars wisely."

After they graduated, Thompson and his wife both went to college in Boston and after completing their studies, lived in the Eastern part of the state for a while but returned to East Longmeadow to start their family.

"It's a good place to live," Thompson said. "When we decided to have kids, we moved back here because we knew what a great place it was. I believe in East Longmeadow and I really like the direction this town is moving in."

In addition to being a father, Thompson is a former teacher, a profession he gave up to start his own business.

"I think that because of my experiences, I can see things from a few different perspectives — the parent, the teacher and the businessperson," Thompson said. "I think that helps in making sure we try to do what's best for our students while still taking into account the interests of the rest of the town."

Thompson said he has been very proud of the School Committee's ability to work within tight budget constraints to provide the means for quality education.

"Since I've been on the board, I've worked closely in developing the budget and we've been fortunate enough to maintain our staff levels," Thompson said. "Surrounding communities have been struggling financially. It's clear that because this town places such emphasis on education that we're able to provide for our students while recognizing the economic situation we're involved in"

"I've certainly built relationships with members of other boards and committees and it is important to collaborate with those other departments not only for getting the best for our students, but recognizing the whole picture and that we're all part of the same town," he added.

Among the accomplishments the School Committee has had in his time were the merging of the information technology (IT) departments of the schools and the town and the Department of Public Works taking responsibility for the maintenance of town buildings.

"We've merged our IT department with the town's IT department and in doing so have gotten better access to resources and save money in the same breath. It's worked out fantastic," Thompson said. "The Department of Public Works has taken over the maintenance of the buildings because they have the expertise. They are able to address our building issues and that helps us because now we're taking a pro-active route to building maintenance whereas before we were taking a reactive approach."

Thompson was also part of the search committee that tapped Gordon Smith as the district's new superintendent.

"Especially in the last year, I believe the schools have taken on a new direction, starting with our new superintendent. By bringing Gordon in, I believe we're moving into the next phase of education in East Longmeadow," Thompson said. "What he's developing is a model of education that is called differentiated instruction ... It uses the resources we have that are in the classroom and meets the needs of a greater number of students."

Under Smith, the district now has a can-do, team mentality that reflects the leadership Smith has been able to provide, according to Thompson

"They were able to move a school in a day, essentially," Thompson said in regards to the roof issues at Mapleshade Elementary School, which moved to Wilbraham's Memorial School. "The teachers were enthusiastic and focused on getting what needed to be done, done. That's just an illustration of the positive atmosphere that has made this such a good place for teachers to teach and for students to learn."

Thompson said that maintaining the budget remains the biggest challenge facing the School Committee in years to come, but that creating policy to adapt to new technology is another looming issue.

"We're on that cusp right now where we really have to take a direction so that we can not only get the best equipment for students, but also make sure students realize they can't rely on technology for everything that they do," Thompson said. "What people most often are most proud of is that short story they've written or scoring that goal in the game they played or learning that instrument they've played for many years. It's finding that median of acknowledging that there is a change, but also preparing our students to think for themselves."

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