EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

November 1, 2013

Methuen School Committee candidates weigh in on having kids in city schools

By Douglas Moser
dmoser@eagletribune.com

---- — METHUEN — Few parents have run for school committee recently, and those who have emphasized their direct connection to the schools.

Other candidates without school-age children highlight the importance other views they bring to the table.

In 2011, one candidate for School Committee, Lynne Hajjar Kumm, had children enrolled in Methuen schools. The others either did not have children or had grown children. Kumm emphasized the importance of having a parent’s perspective on the committee during her campaign then and has this year as she runs for reelection.

“I think it’s an important piece and should be part of any school board,” Kumm said. “Being in the trenches with fellow parents and having first-hand experience in any challenges and struggles, seeing things where we could do better and change, that’s something that can only come from opening folders every night. I feel I’m a voice for parents. My social circle, what is it filled with? Parents. I can relate what they’re going through. I just think it’s an important perspective on a school board.”

This year Kumm, who is running for her second term, and Jana DiNatali, an assistant district attorney, are the only two of eight candidates with school-age children.

DiNatali said her kids mean she has a direct investment in the system. “I am involved with the PTO, in touch with the daily happenings at school and aware of the concerns of the other parents,” she said. “So while being a parent is just one factor, I do believe it is an important consideration.”

Five others — Richard Beshara, Tom Grondine, Mary Jean Fawcett, Bryan Sweet and Robert Vogler — have adult children who are finished with school. Dennis “D.J.” Deeb does not have children.

Kumm and others emphasized that being a parent is not the only qualification for a candidate, and not having school-aged children is not a disqualification.

“Being a parent of children in the district adds value, but people definitely bring their different values with them,” said Bryan Sweet, a parent of two Methuen graduates. Sweet is a challenger running for one of the six School Committee seats up for election.

Vogler said a it is a fine perspective to have on the committee, but many parents cannot run because they are too busy. And the key to being a successful member of the committee is to be involved with all the schools, whether with one’s own children or through the work of the committee.

“The key is how active you are,” he said. “You’re not representing your kids, you’re representing 7,000 kids. What’s best for all the kids is what you have to concern yourself with.”

Deeb, who teaches at Reading High School, Bunker Hill Community College and the University of Massachusetts Lowell, said professional experience brings an important perspective as well. “I’m a career educator, and it’s important to have that perspective as well,” he said. “It’s important to have the representation of the community paying the bills to make sure we’re providing the best opportunities to our children.”

Beshara emphasizes his experience as a former administrator, most recently as principal of Marsh Grammar School. Vogler was a teacher for years. Fawcett was a teacher and administrator in Methuen. Sweet points out that he manages a budget at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Last week, in response to an Eagle-Tribune story about the debate between School Committee members that reported little difference in their answers, Kumm tweeted: “Little difference between Methuen school comm. candidates? How many w/ kids in MPS right now? Parent’s perspective vital!”

Evan Chaisson, a young three-term member of the committee who does not have children, tweeted in reply: “Having kids in the district should not carry any weight in this election.”

“My philosophy always has been you don’t need to be a parent to understand the fundamentals of the School Committee and the School Department,” Chaisson said yesterday. “I don’t have any children yet. I plan on having children who go through Methuen schools. But I’m a product of Methuen schools. I knew what schools needed because I was a recent graduate. You’re an independent voice when you don’t have students immediately affected by the decision that you make.”

Chaisson cannot run for re-election due to term limits.

The election is Nov. 5.

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