LEWISTON, Maine — The worst part of serving on the School Committee is the disciplinary hearings, said outgoing member Sonia Taylor, who is not running for re-election to her inner-city seat.
Too many parents don’t hold their students accountable for their actions, she said. They blame the schools.
“The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,” Taylor said. When she has one of those meetings, “I pop the ibuprofen. By the end, you’re stressed.”
Under Superintendent Bill Webster, there have been more disciplinary hearings for middle school students, Taylor said. It used to be high school students. “That’s good,” she said. “We’re nipping it in the bud a little quicker.”
The best part of serving, she said, is knowing you’ve made a difference, you’ve contributed to your community.
And one joyous perk is awarding high school diplomas at graduations.
When her son graduated with the Class of 2012, she got to hand him his diploma and hug him. “It was exciting. I was beside myself,” she said, her face beaming. Now Japheth Taylor is serving with the Marines.
When Taylor, 42, decided to run four years ago, she didn’t plan on becoming a career politician. “I thought a couple of terms [four years], that’s good.”
Serving on the school board fit the mission of the The Jesus Party, the children’s ministry that she and her husband, the Rev. Douglas Taylor, run from their Bates Street home. They both have full-time jobs and pay for the ministry with help from supporters.
“We’re concerned about children,” she said. “We want to know what’s going on in their lives.” She wanted an inside look at their four children’s schools.
After countless night meetings and learning much about Lewiston schools, Taylor said she’s confident the quality of education provided to students is “A-plus,” she said. “There is ample opportunity for children to excel, especially at the high school and our Lewiston Regional Technical Center. It is second to none.”
After being sworn into office, she wasn’t sure what to expect. She quickly discovered change isn’t easy; there’s a process to everything.
“But we have a voice, which is very important,” Taylor said.
Her highlights of being a school board member include last winter’s decision to go against a recommendation from a redistricting committee and the superintendent to redistrict inner-city students to suburban schools. One goal was to give schools a better balance of immigrant students.
After months of heated meetings, with many parents opposed, the School Committee voted no. Taylor was one of the voices of opposition.
It’s important, Taylor said, for students to go to school where they live, even in poor neighborhoods.
“Even the Bible says there will always be the poor among us,” she said. “Students can rise up no matter where they go to school.”
Many poor families don’t have cars, so sending their children to schools across town would cut back on their involvement with the school, Taylor said.
Students from middle-class families should not have to change schools, she said. The parents “worked hard to get the homes they live in. I know an immigrant family in the Geiger School area.” Their child was a top student. The family was faced with their student being moved to Montello. Taylor didn’t think that was fair. “They purposely live in that neighborhood to go to Geiger,” she said.
Another highlight was working with a citywide committee to hire a new superintendent in 2010 when former Superintendent Leon Levesque retired. Taylor said she was pleased with the decision to hire Webster.
Taylor also noted the 2010 vote to accept a federal grant to improve Longley Elementary School, which serves children — including the Taylors’ children when they were younger — in a neighborhood that is among the poorest in the state. The school has long suffered low test scores.
Accepting the grant meant changing the principal and half of the teachers. When it was time to vote for the grant, “I took it as a privilege to defend the teachers who put their blood, sweat and tears into Longley,” Taylor said.
“Let’s call it what it is,” she said. “It’s the social economics of this downtown that has put Longley in the position that it is, not the inadequacy of the teachers.”
While ministering to inner-city children, Taylor has spoken out about the poor parenting she sees in her neighborhood. She questions whether expanding some programs enables parents on welfare to do less.
Feeding students breakfast along with lunch is a good thing for students, Taylor said. “But there are stay-at-home moms who get food stamps to feed their children, yet their children are fed two out of three meals a day at school.”
And Lewiston is pushing prekindergarten for 4-year-olds.
“Again, we’ve got stay-at-home parents who are off the hook on teaching their children their ABC’s, counting,” she said.
Taylor is looking forward to having more free time, but she values her experience on the board. She laughed about her style.
“I’m very simple,” she said. “I’m animated, that’s who I am. I gave it a shot. I enjoyed what I did.”
No ballot candidate for Ward 5
Because Sonia Taylor is not running for re-election to represent Ward 5 on the Lewiston School Committee, and because no one has taken out nomination papers to run, there will be no candidate on the ballot.
The deadline for filing for office was Sept. 6. The deadline for a write-in candidate is Oct. 7.