Greenfield School Committee candidates share views in virtual forum

  • MARTINI

  • HOLLINS

  • JOHNSON-MUSSAD

  • DENEEVE

Staff Writer
Published: 10/22/2021 4:47:48 PM

GREENFIELD — In a 90-minute School Committee candidate forum held Thursday evening, the issues of transparency, equity and respect were at the forefront of candidates’ remarks.

The School Committee is among the only two contested races on the Nov. 2 ballot, with five candidates vying for three seats with four-year terms.

Those candidates include incumbents Glenn Johnson-Mussad and Susan Hollins, as well as newcomers Daryl Essensa, Kathryn Lynn Martini and Elizabeth Ann Deneeve. Committee member Katie Caron, after four years on the committee, is not running for re-election.

All but Essensa attended Thursday evening’s virtual forum, co-hosted by the League of Women Voters of Franklin County and Greenfield Community Television (GCTV).

Hollins, who served as superintendent from 2008 to 2014, said she hadn’t planned on running for another term, but changed her mind because she has been “so discouraged” by how things have gone the last year and a half, between the COVID-19 pandemic and the significant change in administrators.

“I think we need a solid core of effort to pull ourselves back together and put some systems back in place that have eroded,” she said.

In particular, Hollins feels the School Committee needs a “different tone,” including more teamwork and communication with schools. She reiterated her request for liaisons to schools.

Throughout the evening, Johnson-Mussad emphasized his focus on educational equity as his motivation for running for another term.

“I believe that every young person deserves to get what they need from the Greenfield public schools,” he said.

Johnson-Mussad said he believes School Committee members should advocate at the state and federal level for more funding for the “professional development, the excellent teachers and principals, the leadership development training and the culture work that needs to happen.”

Martini and Deneeve both spoke to their experience as parents in the district.

“For any parent, they fear what will happen to their child if they do not grow up to be a literate adult,” Martini said. “I would like to see Greenfield make a wholehearted investment in a comprehensive, long-term plan to improve our student outcomes in Greenfield in this particular area.”

Deneeve, whose student is new to the district, focused on the need for better transparency and communication between the schools and parents.

“I had to fight for every little scrap of information I could get from the schools,” she said. “This is not what I’m used to, and what I think anyone should expect.”

Moderator and League of Women Voters of Franklin County President Marie Gauthier asked candidates to outline what they see as the top three most important areas of concern in the Greenfield School Department.

Responding first, Martini said the School Committee must provide immediate support to teachers and students, particularly where social-emotional difficulties are concerned.

“I am glad the district is taking some steps toward providing additional behavioral health support and movement toward restorative justice, but I would like to see those actions taking place with the urgency they deserve,” she said.

Additionally, Martini, who is endorsed by the statewide advocacy group Decoding Dyslexia Massachusetts, wants to see a long-term investment in a literacy program.

Deneeve, meanwhile, said a greater emphasis must be placed on student retention.

“Lots of parents I’ve talked to have chosen to choice out,” she said. “They choose another district because they’re not getting the information or the help they need from GPS.”

She added that teachers need more support in the form of aids, in part to deal with behavioral issues at the middle and high school levels.

“I think we need to look at the budget and figure that out, pretty much immediately,” Deneeve said.

Hollins said she sees the main issues being communication and culture.

“People should welcome coming to school here, working here, and feel really good about that,” she said. “That would include understanding what people need to do their jobs well.”

She said the district needs multi-year planning in curriculum in a lot of areas, in particular literacy, so people know what the program is and that it’s well-rounded.

“The key to everything that everyone wants to do is knowing how to use money,” Hollins said, emphasizing her municipal budget experience. “That’s my particular strength.”

And finally, Johnson-Mussad — echoing Deneeve’s desire for better staffing — said adequate staffing is necessary to have all needs addressed.

“I would work on addressing some of the stresses and risks that these staff have been valiantly facing to try and do their jobs and to … be able to attract and retain more staff,” he said.

Johnson-Mussad, who works as a trainer and consultant focused on advancing racial justice for nonprofits, also spoke to equity issues in the district.

“We have elementary schools, which are determined by geography that kind of pools a lot of the highest needs students together,” he said. “Students are essentially segregated by class and then thrown together in the middle school where they have difficulty forming relationships with each other.”

In their closing statements, Johnson-Mussad, Martini and Deneeve told attendees that they plan to run as a cooperative campaign, or slate, citing their aligned values of transparency, equity and respect.

“It’s been a pleasure to work with them,” said Johnson-Mussad. “Their passion for education and their commitment both to their own children and all of Greenfield students has been remarkable.”

The slate of candidates was also recently endorsed by Franklin County Continuing the Political Revolution (FCCPR), in addition to an earlier endorsement by the Western Mass Area Labor Federation, according to a press release from the candidates.

Hollins, in her closing remarks, encouraged voters to not vote for a slate of candidates, but individual candidates instead. She said if re-elected, she would continue to fight for the things she believes are important.

“I’ve given my whole life to education,” she said. “If I’m re-elected, I will continue to do my best to fight for things I think are important, which certainly include literacy and equity.”

In the final minutes of the forum, Hollins also spoke on Essensa’s behalf.

“She has been on the School Committee before,” she said. “She’s extremely knowledgeable about how to make schools excellent as that’s her job in the department of education at (the University of Massachusetts Amherst).”

Reporter Mary Byrne can be reached at mbyrne@recorder.com or 413-930-4429. Twitter: @MaryEByrne


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