SOUTH PORTLAND — Three candidates are running for two at-large School Board seats on Nov. 4.
Incumbents Mary House and Karen Callaghan are challenged by newcomer Christopher Hershey.
Hershey, a disabled veteran who now works for the U.S. State Department, wants voters to know he is “a parent, not a politician.”
Hershey, his three young children and his wife, Rebecca, recently moved to South Portland from Washington, D.C. Although Hershey hails from North Carolina, his wife lived in the area previously, and the pair decided they wanted to raise their children in Maine because it really is “the way life should be,” Hershey said.
“It’s a great community with great schools,” Hershey said. “We love it here.”
Hershey, who is completing a doctorate in education through St. Thomas University and has a degree in public service from North Carolina Central University, said that, for him, “volunteering is innate.”
“We’re a nonprofit family,” Hershey said. He has never worked for corporate America, and said he feels that community engagement is important.
Hershey said that, if elected, he’d like to focus on three areas of the city’s school system.
First, he’d like to get a dialogue going about bullying and micro-aggressions. Hershey recently published a book, “The Art of Peace,” which highlights peacemakers worldwide and also features a bullying component. Creating such a dialogue would allow students and educators to access the root causes of bullying issues, Hershey said.
Secondly, Hershey said that “what’s not being spoken about is food.” Hershey, who formerly served as the executive director for Meals on Wheels in Durham County, North Carolina, said that, as a society, we look at administrators and teachers for answers about student performance and test scores, but food also plays an important part.
“If you’re not eating right, there are certain things you cannot do,” Hershey said. “You can’t retain calculus on an empty stomach.”
Finally, Hershey said “traditional education is no longer a viable model” and that he’d like to push for more fostering of imagination and creativity in the classroom.
Explicit knowledge of content is not the only type of knowledge, Hershey said, and every child learns differently. Children should be able to learn in a flexible way that works for them, he said.
In allowing this, educators form “creative environments they (the students) can thrive in,” he said.
House, who has lived in the city since 1995, was appointed to the board in 2012 after a seat unexpectedly became available. Last year, she had to run for a one-year term to fulfill the original obligation of her predecessor. This year, however, she is allowed to run for a full, three-year term.
House said she has a “vested interest in making sure the children of South Portland have the best education possible.”
This interest stems mainly from the fact that she has two children who are currently in the school system. She and her husband, Jason, spend a lot of time participating in their children’s education and various extracurriculars, which House said means she is out in the community and regularly talking to and receiving input from parents.
According to House, one of the most important goals for the schools is to keep students engaged and to provide them with a variety of opportunities.
“The biggest thing is to keep students excited and challenged,” House said. “Anything that supports student engagement is essential.”
She added that she is really proud that she’s been able to contribute to a wide diversity of programs.
This diversity of programs should continue to include science, engineering and technology options, she said. This ties into her work as a project manager at Woodard and Curran, a firm that specializes in “integrated engineering, science and operations,” according to its website.
Through her work at the firm, House said, she has learned the value of fiscal responsibility, too. This means she “brings a strong understanding of how to budget” to the table, which she has used to contribute to the Board’s Finance Committee.
In addition, House said she is knowledgeable about safety and security management, since many of her clients at Woodard and Curran are colleges and universities.
Keeping students feeling safe is important in and of itself, but also allows students to perform their best, she said.
Callaghan, who is vice chairwoman of the board, is a part-time librarian at the Scarborough Public Library. Before that, she worked at the South Portland Public Library and in the banking industry.
Callaghan and her husband, Patrick, have lived in the city since 1983. Their children, both of whom are now grown, attended school in South Portland through high school, and Callaghan said she was always very involved. This, along with her work in the library, allowed her to meet and hear from other parents, she said.
School is the most important part of their lives, Callaghan said, since students spend three quarters of their days for 13 years in classrooms. The quality of that time and instruction, she said, is crucial.
“That’s the most important thing you can do for a child, is to give them an incredible education,” she said.
Callaghan said that she would like to continue her work on the board particularly because she assisted with the construction of the new high school and would like to see the project through.
The high school is big enough for the number of students it has to serve, but overcrowding in the elementary and middle schools is becoming an issue, Callaghan said, as are budget cuts. She said these are two things that the board needs to be aware of in the future.
Communication with parents is also one of Callghan’s primary goals.
“It doesn’t matter what you do; it’s hard to get out information,” she said. “It’s a big part of what we need to be doing.”
Through seeking re-election, Callaghan said she wishes to bring her interest in and passion for education to the table.
“I just try to do the best by the kids,” she said.