South Portland councilors support House appointment to School Board

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SOUTH PORTLAND — As she summarized her desire to serve on the School Board, Mary House told city councilors Tuesday she was in a qualified group of applicants.

“Based on what I have heard, you really can’t make a bad choice,” she said about the three men and three women hoping to fill the seat left open by the September resignation of Jeffrey Selser.

Five councilors attending the workshop agreed, but found House the best choice of all to fill the remaining year on the term. House was the unanimous nominee for the seat; she is expected to face a council vote Monday, Nov. 19.

Councilors Rosemarie De Angelis and Tom Blake did not attend the workshop, but Mayor Patti Smith said they will review the video before Monday’s meeting.

House, 41, is a resident of Elberberry Drive in District Four, but will serve in at-large seat if elected. She is a project manager and chemist at Portland-based Woodard & Curran.

In offering the perspective of a parent with two children in city schools, a scientist interested in improving school curriculum in the field, and a manager with business and budgetary experience, House presented a combination of characteristics welcomed by councilors.

The other applicants, including former School Board member and Chairman Ralph Baxter Jr., brought a breadth of experience and abilities that impressed councilors, too.

“Any one of you could be representing the city on the School Board and doing a wonderful job,” said Councilor Al Livingston, who was a School Board member before being elected to the council in 2010.

Baxter, who lives on Simmons Road, said he had considered a run earlier this year after two years away from the board.

“I still have a passion for South Portland schools. It never ends, it is always something new and it is always a challenge,” he said.

Retired S.D. Warren research chemist Roger Allen, a Mitchell Road resident, vowed to make educating students his top priority while grounding them in knowledge of the real world.

“Give teachers a chance to teach and they can do a good job,” he said.

Sawyer Street resident Pam Koonz Canarie, a former teacher who is now a supply chain manager for Hannaford Bros. owner Delhaize America, agreed with House on the need to improve math and science learning.

“This community has amazing support for our music program,” Canarie said. “If we do that for our math and sciences, we will be golden.”

Morse Street resident Tiffanie L. Bentley, the director of student life at Southern Maine Community College, said she wanted to serve because she has two children in city schools and can bring the perspective of what is needed for students to succeed in secondary education.

“I bring an unusual skill set to the table,” Bentley said.

Jeffrey McDonald of Providence Avenue, a sales manager at Welch Signage in Scarborough, offered collaboration and and knowledge of purchasing.

“I work well in teams,” he said. “I’m not coming in here with an agenda.”

The applicants were asked six questions compiled and selected by City Manager Jim Gailey. Councilors were unaware of which questions would be asked until the workshop began.

Questions included asking what skills applicants would bring to the board, what relevant experiences they have had, what the relationship should be between the School Board and City Council, where services and operations might be consolidated, the biggest challenges facing public education and how they might improve the School Department.

Before the workshop, applicant resumes and other material was distributed to councilors.

“I was ready to time-share this and give everyone two months each,” Councilor Tom Coward joked near the end of the nearly two-hour workshop.

House said her written materials likely played a role in getting the nomination, and that the combination of advocacy for STEM programs (comprised of science, technology, engineering and math curriculum) and her ability to work with leaner budgets might have been what won over the councilors.

House also said she was worried “teaching to benchmarks,” or test results, could mean students might miss out on the fullest educational experience, and said she supports some group learning, instead of grade-based teaching environments.

Councilors Jerry Jalbert, Maxine Beecher and Smith implored the other five applicants to stay involved in local government.

“This is a prime example of people stepping forward and sticking their necks out,” Smith said.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

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Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.