The three people elected to the Bangor School Committee this fall will join the seven-member committee as Bangor schools look to hire a new leader and make changes to address racism.
There are four candidates vying for three seats: incumbents Tim Surrette and Susan Sorg, and would-be newcomers Clare Mundell and Carrie Smith.
Committee member Marlene Susi is not seeking re-election.
Bangor’s longtime superintendent, Betsy Webb, will step down after 12 years leading the city’s schools at the end of October. The school committee will be in charge of the search for her replacement.
The school committee also has recently been involved in a number of measures to address racial discrimination in the school department, including diversity training for students and teachers and the formation of an advisory committee on diversity, equity and inclusion.
All four candidates said they would work on promoting diversity in Bangor — they all said they would support hiring more people of color to leadership positions, for example — and making all students feel welcome in the school system.
The election takes place Nov. 3, but with absentee voting, many will cast their ballots beforehand.
Early in-person voting in Bangor will take place at the Cross Insurance Center from Oct. 13-30, Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. each day except Oct. 30, when voting will end at 5 p.m. Voters can ask for an absentee ballot to be mailed to them through the Secretary of State’s website.
Mundell, a clinical psychologist, decided to run for school committee after a year of advocating as a parent for better mental health and support resources for the city’s students.
She also wants to change how the committee communicates, especially at public meetings, she said. Currently, when people make public comments at those meetings, members often do not respond.
If she wins, one of the priorities Mundell, 57, will push is the formation of a suicide prevention task force that involves mental health experts. The other will be to push for student representatives on the advisory committee on diversity, equity and inclusion the school committee voted to form after Black Bangor High School students their shared experiences of racial discrimination with the BDN in June.
“I think we can do a lot more to create a kinder environment, a more compassionate environment, especially in the high school for kids who are really struggling and to provide more support for them,” she said.
The 45-year-old Bangor parent has two children who attend Bangor schools — Fourteenth Street School and James F. Doughty School — and a third who graduated. She said she wants to represent other parents on the school committee.
With all the changes brought on by the coronavirus pandemic and social issues Bangor schools have had to reckon with over the last six months, Smith said she thought it was a good time to get involved.
“I have a concern that the educational piece has been lost in the conversation,” she said. “It’s more about the social issues, which are absolutely important, but I feel like we’ve let the importance of education slip a little bit.”
Over the summer, Smith joined the school department’s COVID-19 planning committee made up of administrators, teachers and parents that worked on the school reopening plan that took effect this fall.
If she wins, Smith said she wants to advocate for more transparency on the school board.
Sorg, a retired school teacher, is running for a third term. The 72-year-old said she wants to return to the committee to continue giving back to the community.
“I’ve been involved in public education for over 30 years,” she said. “Being on the school committee I’ve learned the other side of what teaching is. I basically want to give back to the community using my knowledge and my skills.”
Sorg has a grandson who attends Bangor High School.
If she wins, she said, she wants to help find a superintendent who will uphold Bangor’s reputation as an academically outstanding school district.
“Racially it doesn’t matter to me, as long as they are qualified,” she said, asked about her support for hiring more leaders of color. “But they’re coming into Bangor and should respect our values. We are basically a good old Maine community.”
Surrette, the school committee’s vice chair, is an assistant professor of education at the University of Maine at Augusta.
The 40-year-old has two children who attend Abraham Lincoln School. He decided to run for a second term to further the anti-racism efforts the school committee has undertaken in the past few months, and to be a part of the committee that hires the next superintendent.
“I’m really looking for a superintendent that will be committed to transparency and have a really clear vision for leading a student-led, system-wide approach to anti-racism and inclusivity,” he said. “I think the superintendent has to work carefully and closely with the city on these initiatives.”
If he wins, Surrette said he looks forward to continuing his work on suicide prevention efforts, including the potential formation of a task force involving mental health experts.
“I really look forward to listening to, learning from and collaborating with experts in the mental health field to strengthen our approach to social-emotional wellness across the system,” he said.