HAVERHILL — Toni Donais has been an educator in the schools for 40 years, and now she is running for School Committee.
“I wanted to try the other side of things with policies,” Donais said. “After being in the trenches, hearing from parents, students and teachers I think I’ve heard it from all angles.”
Donais, who taught in grades one to eight for 32 years and has been an administrator for the last eight years, turned down a principal position at Walnut Square Elementary School on Monday.
Just entering the race, Donais has three major policy initiatives: smaller class sizes, more professional development for teachers, and maintaining infrastructure.
Her policies are informed by her own experiences working in the schools.
During Donais’ time teaching her largest class was 35 children in a middle school math class. It was hard balancing helping groups do activities and helping individual students, she recalled. She doesn’t want teachers being “stressed to the max” when handling larger classes, she said.
“It should be 18 to 20 in kindergarten, 20 to 22 in first and second grade, 22 to 24 in third through fifth grade, and max 25 students in any grades above that,” Donais said. “A small class size is vital.”
Donais made her decision to run just as her daughter Jennifer Donais returned from a professional development trip during which she went to space camp in Alabama to learn about teaching science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
Her daughter, Donais said, came back with a variety of new ideas to try in her Silver Hill math classroom and an enthusiasm that will help students come fall.
“When we get teachers excited about learning you will have students excited about learning,” Donais said.
She added that in her time as a teacher she was never given an opportunity for development. More recently as a principal she saw advertisements for development opportunities, but teachers were not taking them as often. She said that there needs to be more encouragement and possibly more funds for teachers to use for teacher development.
Donais said she was also running to ensure that the schools in the district were well taken care of, placing infrastructure as priority of her candidacy.
The School Committee comprises the mayor who serves as chairman of the committee with six other elected officials who hold four-year terms. Vice Chairman Sven Amirian and members Gail Sullivan and Scott Wood Jr. all have terms on the School Committee that are up for election this year. The filing deadline to run for Haverhill’s School Committee is July 23.
The superintendent’s office did not respond to request for comment on filling the principal position at Walnut Square.