The Halifax Board of Selectmen held a special meeting on Wednesday, March 3 to interview and select a candidate from the town to fill a vacancy on the Silver Lake Regional School Committee. The position would be a two-month position to fulfill a current term until the election in May. Selectmen Chair Tom Millias said he would encourage any candidates not awarded to the interim position to take papers out and run during the town election.
Representing the Silver Lake Regional School Committee was Chair Paula Hatch as well as Gordon Andrews who was acting in his role on the Regional School Committee rather than as a selectman. Millias and selectman Troy Garron were there to represent the Halifax Board of Selectmen.
The first candidate interviewed was Jessica DiBona, a teacher with over twenty years of experience. “I know that there is a lot of work that has to be undertaken by the School Committee in the coming months and I just want to give a hand helping out with that; I know many hands make light work of a big task so I just want to volunteer to help,” DiBona said. Garron asked DiBona if she felt that she would be biased as a teacher while negotiating contracts with other teachers. DiBona responded, “no, because I am a parent first.” Millias asked her how she felt about school returning full-time and DiBona replied, “It’s time to go back, I think there are proper safety precautions in place for the teachers and the staff.”
Hatch, who thanked all three candidates for expressing interest, asked DiBona about where her priorities would be when needing to reduce a budget during the drafting and reviewing process which is currently underway. “You have to try to make cuts that are going to affect the least amount of kids as possible… you need to find a way to work with the resources you have and maybe see how teachers can step up in other ways in more ways than one to maybe fulfill a need that two people were doing before,” DiBona said. DiBona also said she was on the School Council with Silver Lake Regional Middle School Principal Jim Dupille for two years during the budget process. “I saw the school view impact of how that plays out,” she explained, acknowledging how tough it can be when you may have to cut school personnel.
The next candidate interviewed was Summer Schmaling who has served for seven years on the Halifax School Committee; six of those as Chair. Schmaling said she has a daughter at the high school and a son who will soon be entering the Middle School. She told those assembled that she had already pulled papers and would be appearing for a position on the Silver Lake Regional School Committee during the election. Schamling alluded to the current budget crisis as well as the impending superintendent review and said she is on the Admin Review Committee as well as Union 31. “It’s kind of a tricky time of year for somebody to jump into and fill a vacancy on a board, so when I saw there was a vacancy and knew I was going to run for Silver Lake, I thought I would be a valuable asset to the Silver Lake Regional School Committee, bringing my expertise of dealing with the budget and the complexities of trying to return our children to school.”
Hatch asked Schmaling about balancing her responsibilities to both the Halifax Elementary School Committee and the Regional one should she be awarded the position. “It will be a very busy time as you know,” Hatch said. Schmaling, who said she is the kind of person who functions well under high stress, said, “I am aware of that and I am aware that I also serve on relatively busy subcommittees also, that’s part of the process. I feel that I have done a pretty good job over the years being a parent and being Chairman of the Halifax Elementary School Committee and working full-time and many other things I have done for myself and this community.” Schmaling also noted that she has been to every town meeting since moving into Halifax 11 years ago.
As he did with DiBona, Millias asked Schmaling what her thoughts were on the children returning to school full-time. “Oh I’ve been a very strong and vocal advocate of a full five day in-person return and in fact I made the motion on the floor for the elementary to return,” Schmaling said. Millias said, “You’ve volunteered for a lot of things for a lot of years and we’re grateful.”
The final candidate was Marline Amedee who said she is both a mother, a social worker, and a small business owner. Amedee said she has been interested in serving in some capacity since moving to Halifax noting that she had previously submitted applications including for the Halifax Elementary School Committee. Like Schmaling, Amedee noted that she intends to pull papers for the coming election. “I believe that the budget is an issue for all cities and towns in Massachusetts right now because we are having an unprecedented moment right now,” Amedee said. “I want to be part of that conversation to bring a fresh idea, a new opinion… and work with teachers and administrators to see how we can serve our community better,” she continued.
Amedee also spoke about challenges, including mental health struggles, facing students at home that may be affecting them at school as well. “We want to have people in school to help them, support them through those challenges especially during this unprecedented time.” Hatch asked Amedee to elaborate on what kind of social and emotional issues she has seen children facing during the pandemic in her job. She also asked how Amedee felt that these issues should best be dealt with given budgetary constraints. “One thing that we can do, if we cannot do anymore hiring, is that we can train teachers in mental health first-aid; train them and give them the support that they need so that they can support the kids in school,” Amedee said. She further acknowledged that there would be no one thing that would fix it all saying that it would be a “process.”
Andrews asked Amedee how quickly she felt she could get up to speed on the budget process given the short duration of the open position. Amedee said she was a “fast learner” and said she has the time to learn at a fast-pace. Millias asked Amedee the same question regarding a return to full, in-person learning that he asked the previous two candidates. “We must do everything possible to have our children back in the classroom full-time and also following up with the state guidelines and prioritizing the safety of everyone.”
Following the interviews, Millias opened the meeting to any motions including those to appoint someone to the Committee. Hatch began by saying that the Silver Lake Regional School Committee has lost three members in the last ten months noting how challenging that has been. Speaking about the superintendent review and the budget process, Hatch said, “Given those two things being really the crucial two things that the School Committee needs to tackle in the next two months, I’m going to make a motion… to appoint Summer. I do so because of Summer’s background and experience already with the budgets and the overall School Committee experience.” Andrews seconded the motion. A roll call vote of the four voting members of the Selectmen and School Committee was then taken. It was unanimous in favor of appointing Schmaling to the interim term.