Five Cumberland residents are vying for three seats on the board of directors of School Administrative District 51, including two incumbent candidates.

Vickie Bell and Timothy Ferris are competing for a one-year term. Incumbents John Simpson and Peter Wilson face challenger Leo Paquin Jr. in a three-way race for two three-year terms.

The nine-member board includes residents of Cumberland and North Yarmouth and oversees Mabel Wilson School, North Yarmouth Memorial School, Greely Middle School and Greely High School.

Bell, 48, is a lawyer turned stay-at-home mom who formerly worked at Verrill Dana in Portland and at Hannaford Bros. The daughter of two educators, Bell said she believes strongly in the value of quality public schools for both children and communities.

“It’s in the fiber of my being,” Bell said. “It’s a part of me.”

Bell said she believes her professional experience with legal issues, communications and human resources would benefit the school district, which is a primary reason she and her husband moved to Cumberland. As a classroom volunteer, Bell has seen how administrative decisions can affect learning results, so she plans to be an advocate for both teachers and students and seek input on proposed policy changes.

“How’s that really going to work in the classroom?” Bell asked rhetorically.

She would strive to be fiscally responsible, she said, but keep an open mind to support creative ideas that would improve academics and possibly even save money.

“We have a duty to look at the big picture and to support the district’s core mission,” Bell said.

Ferris, 58, is a lawyer who specializes in international energy. He also comes from a family of educators and was encouraged to run after volunteering to serve on recent search committees for a new middle school principal, a new assistant principal at the high school and a new superintendent.

“It wet my interest to become more involved in the school system,” Ferris said.

SAD 51 is one of the best in Maine, he said, but it always should strive to be better.

“The importance of seeking and experiencing the best education possible is important to me,” Ferris said. “I believe it is the key to overall success in life and I want to make sure we provide that for our children.”

Ferris said he’s eager to help shepherd the district in adapting to the new Common Core educational standards and proficiency-based diplomas. At the same time, he said, the district must work to address the needs of all students, regardless of individual abilities. He also believes the board should act collectively and speak with “one voice” once decisions have been made.

Paquin, 56, is a stay-at-home dad who offers decades of experience as a former hospital and social services administrator, college educator, mediator and strategic planner. Paquin also has a doctorate in ministry from the Bangor Theological Seminary, where his studies focused on community structure and renewal.

Paquin said he was surprised to see that Greely High School wasn’t among the top 10 high schools in Maine when U.S. News & World Report released its annual rankings in April. Greely ranked No. 12, falling from No. 9 in 2013. Overall, Maine tied with California for having the highest proportion – both slightly above 22 percent – of top-ranked high schools.

“You always have to strive for the best,” Paquin said.

He said he’d like to help the district establish clear objectives that allow it to grow, change and improve.

“Once we have clear objectives, we can determine how we set goals and how we measure success,” Paquin said.

Both Simpson and Wilson have been on the board for about one year. The Town Council appointed them last July after two board members resigned.

Simpson, 53, is a lawyer for whom education has been the key to success and happiness. “I’d like as many kids to enjoy that as possible,” he said.

But Simpson is concerned about the high school, too, which he said “underperforms” compared with peer schools such as Falmouth, Yarmouth and Cape Elizabeth. They were ranked No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4, respectively, by U.S. News & World Report.

Simpson said 72 percent of Greely High students meet or exceed state academic proficiency standards – well below the aforementioned schools.

“Not that it’s so important to be No. 1, but the fact that they’re doing better shows that we can do better,” Simpson said. “I think we’re on the right track, but we need to push for higher achievement.”

Simpson also would like to address deferred maintenance and energy efficiency issues in the district’s aging school buildings.

Wilson, 67, is a retired tax expert who would like to address some of the budgeting, spending and policy concerns he has developed during the last year.

“There are things that I see that should be done differently and I don’t want to walk away,” Wilson said.

He said the budget should be presented to the board in a slightly different format to allow more in-depth analysis of spending trends. He’s also found a variety of policies and bylaws that contradict each other and should be clarified, he said.

Wilson also would like the district to better define the types of courses that a teacher must complete in order to get a salary increase based on professional development. He said the union contract should stipulate that the courses relate to the classes they teach.

And he believes the district should focus on providing the best education for Cumberland and North Yarmouth kids and not worry about measuring up to other districts.

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