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Retiring principal makes bid for school board

Decision draws Internet ire from fellow candidate

GREENFIELD — With just a week to go before the town’s June 25 election, retiring Greenfield grade school principal Donna Gleason has launched a write-in campaign for School Committee.

She’ll challenge the two previously uncontested candidates on the ballot for two available three-year seats: teacher Margaret Betts and public relations writer Wesley Blixt.

Gleason, 65, of 31 Vernon St., will retire on June 30 as principal of the Discovery School at Four Corners. She has spent 34 years in the school system in a variety of teaching roles until 2008, when she moved up to the principal post.

Gleason said she wants to stay involved with the schools and had originally thought, until she checked the town rules last week, that there needed to be a longer window of time after her retirement before she could run for a school board position.

“I’ve got the time and energy. I just want to give back to Greenfield,” said Gleason, adding that she has no specific agenda, but would instead research and support any issue that strengthens Greenfield schools.

An alumna of Greenfield High School, she’s had ties to Greenfield for 61 years, leaving the town only for a five-year hiatus early in her career to teach in Italy. Three of her children went through the school system and she currently has two grandchildren in Greenfield schools with three more on the way.

Gleason said her husband, Ronald, is managing her campaign, spending days and nights talking to people around town. She is unable to campaign herself during school hours.

“It’s worth a shot. I have nothing to lose,” said Gleason. “I have everything to give to Greenfield and if Greenfield doesn’t elect me, there’s (always) the next time.”

Candidates respond

The principal’s last-minute campaign, including her “GleasonForGreenfield” Facebook page that describes a desire to continue the progress made by the school department in the last five years, irked at least one of the two candidates.

Blixt, under the name “Wesley Arnold,” posted the following comment Sunday night on the Facebook page:

“I don’t get it. Why are you running, just a week before the election? Your only message seems to be that you want to ‘move forward’ without change. What? You offer your unquestioning allegiance to the current superintendent, who clearly loves such toadies.

“Yup, I’m running for the seat you (now?) seem to want, and I’m running to end the nonsense that you represent. Your candidacy is a divisive and silly embarrassment. It doesn’t change much, but it is kind of a pain in the butt. If you want to retire, retire. And leave it at that.”

Gleason has called the comment “disrespectful and arrogant,” adding that although she’s worked closely with Superintendent Susan Hollins, she believes she is capable of making her own opinions about the school system.

“Do I like Dr. Hollins? Yes,” said Gleason. “Do I think she’s right 100 percent of the time? No.”

When reached by phone, Blixt said he hadn’t intended to mask his identity. He said he was angry Gleason was entering the race in the final week, viewing it as a “divisive” move that would not change the status quo or move the school system forward.

He said Tuesday that he regrets questioning Gleason’s competence and motivation. While he said he meant her no disrepect as a person or educator, he firmly believes her campaign is a “disservice to our schools.”

Blixt said he hopes his words “demonstrate that I am passionate about this race and for the future of our schools and our children.”

“I am upset about the direction of the current administration,” he said. “Our schools are crying out for change and accountability.”

And Betts, when asked Monday to comment on Gleason’s write-in campaign, said that she’s excited to be a candidate and believes both she and Blixt “are completely committed to moving the school system in a positive and purposeful direction.”

“I am a teacher and a citizen of Greenfield who has new and positive ideas for the school. I look forward to serving the town in this way,” said Betts.

Two candidates on the ballot

Until this week, it had appeared that Betts and Blixt — who have been attending School Committee meetings as public observers since April — would run uncontested to replace outgoing members Marcia Day and Doris Doyle.

Betts, 35, has taught first grade at Maple Elementary School in Easthampton for the past six years.

She runs Roundabout Books, an independent discount bookstore at 26 Kenwood St. in Greenfield, with her husband Raymond Neal. She has lived in Greenfield for six years and has a 3-year-old son, Thomas Neal.

Betts has a legal background. She earned a law degree from Yale Law School in June 2003, was licensed by the Maryland State Bar that December and then worked as an assistant public defender for two years.

Blixt, 61, spent a decade-and-a-half as a journalist before transitioning into teaching and public relations. He has worked in the University of Massachusetts communication offices since 1999, and as associate news editor for internal communications for the past three years.

He has lived in town for eight years with his wife, Sarah Hawrylak. His 26-year-old son, Nicholas Blixt, attended Deerfield elementary and middle schools and graduated from Deerfield Academy.

He has taught writing and journalism for the university, both on campus and in the state prison system, and has taught classes at Deerfield Academy and Bard College.

Correction: Blixt’s son, Nicholas, attended Deerfield elementary and middle schools.

You can reach Chris Shores at:
cshores@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 264

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