Voters will choose two new members to serve on the seven-member Bangor School Committee on Nov. 2, with the election following committee decisions on COVID-19 protocols and the start of the first new school superintendent in more than a decade.
Voters will choose replacements for former member John Hiatt, who resigned in August following two arrests, and Warren Caruso, who said he decided not to seek reelection after serving for more than a decade.
The election will happen in what some refer to as an “off, off-year,” with no presidential, gubernatorial or congressional races on the ballot. Yet candidates said they had seen enthusiasm about school policy as they canvassed local homes and were ready to play a part in developing school department policy.
Voters can cast their ballots from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the Cross Insurance Center on Tuesday, Nov. 2. They can also request absentee ballots through the secretary of state’s website.
The candidates are presented in the order in which they’ll appear on the ballot.
Eric Crawley, 39, a sales representative to grocery stores for Pepsi, said he wanted to give parents of elementary school-aged children a voice. He has two elementary school-age children.
Crawley also coaches Bangor East Little League, a position that he said has allowed him to get to know many Bangor parents.
“I hear their concerns. I hear what they love about Bangor and what they think could be done better,” Crawley said.
Crawley is particularly bothered by the effects of social media and the pandemic on children’s mental health.
Crawley said there were many organizations the school could partner with to address mental health problems, including the National Association of School Psychologists and the Organization for Social Media Safety, which provides free classes to parents and teachers.
Partnering with such organizations could also help the school department as it addresses problems with racism, Crawley said, though he believes that Bangor has sometimes been “singled out” as it faces a racism that exists nationwide and worldwide.
Sara Luciano, 41, who lived in Pennsylvania before moving to Bangor, said her out-of-state experience helped distinguish her from other candidates.
“I feel like I might have a little more ability to look at things through a different vantage point,” Luciano said.
The use of data in crafting policies, especially in knowing what questions to ask, would be important to Luciano if elected, she said. She is a data team lead for a health care analytics company.
She decided to run after her son was placed on a 504 plan that helps students with learning disabilities. If elected, she hopes to guide other parents who have students facing similar learning difficulties.
“My son has been really fortunate that he’s had people advocating for him,” Luciano said. “I’d like to help do that for anybody else who needs it.”
Another significant platform item for Luciano is expanding internet access for students. She supports using COVID-19 relief funds to build a broadband hub that would connect families with internet access across Bangor. Similar programs have been undertaken in major metro areas like Chicago and Philadelphia.
Imke Schessler-Jandreau, 37, who grew up in Brewer, is an adjunct professor of communications at the University of Maine and a professional yoga instructor who owns and operates Flowing Meditations Yoga on State Street. She is also the chair of the Vine Street School Parent Teacher Organization.
While Bangor schools offer excellent academics, there is not enough community engagement within the school department, Schessler-Jandreau said. Such engagement can help increase transparency, she said, and prevent misunderstandings among parents.
“I’m a firm believer that the more the community is involved with schooling, the better the education,” she said.
If elected, she hopes to assist parents in volunteering and engaging with the school department, a goal she feels her public relations background can help her accomplish.
She praised the school’s COVID-19 policies under new Superintendent James Tager, saying they likely helped the city’s schools avoid the switches to remote learning seen elsewhere.
The well-being of staff who have been forced to deal with education along with a number of other challenges related to COVID-19 is a concern for Schessler-Jandreau.
“We all need to keep an eye out for everyone’s mental health and well-being and how we alleviate some of those stressors,” she said.
Carrie Smith, 46, a sales associate for W.S. Emerson in Brewer, said she was drawn to run by all the rapid changes in the school department due to COVID-19 and the transition to a new superintendent in July.
Smith unsuccessfully ran for school committee last year. She also served on the Bangor School Department’s planning committee for reopening in the 2020-21 school year and was an independent candidate for the Maine House in 2018.
An essential part of her run is restoring a sense of normalcy, both in the classroom and with extracurricular activities.
“At all costs, remote learning should be avoided,” Smith said, though she would support Bangor having remote days if the department sees numerous snow days.
Remote and hybrid learning present ample opportunity for Bangor students to fall behind, she said.
Smith, who has two children in the Bangor School Department as well as one who graduated from it, hopes to be a voice for parents, students and teachers who may feel they don’t have a seat at the table.
“Parents don’t seem to have a voice prior to decisions being made,” Smith said.
She also said that she’s willing to ask tough questions about department policies.
Smith believes the school department should have zero tolerance for racism, but she said she fears some changes the department has made to combat discrimination, including the new Speak Truth to Power pilot training program for staff, could be harmful by focusing on race over character.
“I think some of the ways we have handled our concerns with racism have actually separated us more,” Smith said.
Ben Sprague, 38, is the only candidate who has been elected to public office, having served nine years on the Bangor City Council until last year. He works as a lender at First National Bank.
Sprague said his positive experience in Bangor schools, from which he graduated in 2002 before attending Harvard University, motivated him to run. He returned to Bangor from the Boston area in part so his children could grow up attending Bangor schools, Sprague said.
If elected, he said he would try to continue Bangor’s academic success while ensuring students have needed support to stay mentally healthy during the pandemic.
The best outcomes wouldn’t come from micromanagement of faculty, Sprague said. He believes the school committee’s role is to set a vision, and he would support the decisions of the department’s many qualified teachers and principals.
“I think that we need to empower teachers and principals to really make decisions about academic life in each classroom,” Sprague said.
Strong academic outcomes are more important than ever, Sprague said, as Bangor has lost population and surrounding communities have grown.
“We have to make sure that we have a great school system because that’s one of the most important variables, especially on young parents and families when deciding where to live,” Sprague said.