, Salem, MA

October 29, 2013

Salem School Committee candidates have final face-off

By Bethany Bray

---- — SALEM — Close to 100 people opted to miss the first few innings of last night’s World Series game to hear insights and opinions from the city’s six School Committee candidates.

Last night was the second School Committee candidate forum organized this fall by the Salem Education Foundation.

Six names will be on the Nov. 5 ballot for three spots on Salem School Committee: incumbents Janet Crane, Lisa Lavoie, Brendan Walsh and challengers Patrick Schultz, Rachel Hunt and Richard Johnson.

Candidates fielded questions ranging from hiring principals to improving report cards from organizers and the audience for close to two hours. Salem News Editor David Olson served as moderator.

When asked about extending the school day or year — a much-discussed issue in Salem — all the candidates said they were in favor of it, in one form or another.

Incumbents Walsh and Crane said they would only be in favor of extended time “for those who need it,” not districtwide.

“It’s hard to answer in one minute what I could talk about all night,” Walsh said, referencing the forum’s time limits.

Schultz said expanded time is “worth considering,” but it must be spent usefully.

“It cannot be more of the same,” he said.

Candidates shot from the hip for the second half of the forum, when questions from the audience were pulled out of a bowl and they had little more than a minute to respond.

Crane was given a direct question from a Salem family with a 2-year-old child and means to move out of the city: Why should we stay?

“I don’t believe the schools are broken,” Crane answered.

Crane encouraged the family to visit Salem elementary schools, where she’s seen teachers doing a good job with “students enthusiastic and learning.”

Johnson, when asked to name the district’s strengths and weaknesses, answered readily. Salem Public Schools’ greatest strengths are its teachers and parents, and its weaknesses are lack of management controls and lack of oversight, he said.

Hunt, in her question, talked of noticing “a clear tension” between Mayor Kim Driscoll, who chairs the School Committee, and some members of the board. To address this, Hunt said the board needs a retreat, facilitated by a third party, to work on a vision and “commit to listening to each other.”

Two School Committee candidates, Katie Casiglia and Ken Sawicki, were eliminated in a Sept. 17 primary. Walsh received the most votes in the primary, followed by Schultz and Hunt.

Last night’s forum, held at Nathaniel Bowditch school, was taped by Salem’s local access cable television station and will be rebroadcast.

Bethany Bray can be reached at and on Twitter @SalemNewsBB.