The two candidates for the Westbrook School Committee in Ward 2 differ on one of the hot-button issues in education: proficiency-based learning.

Veronica Bates

Incumbent Veronica Bates supports the approach, which focuses on students showing that they mastered specific knowledge and skills to be able to move along in their education. Her challenger, Kristen Beahm, said the approach doesn’t put students in a good position for their future learning because few colleges and universities use the system.

All schools in Maine were at one point mandated to shift to profiency-based learning, but lawmakers have since given local officials the power to opt out of the approach.

Westbrook has adopted the educational method and this year’s high school seniors are the first in the city that will have to show that they have acquired the knowledge and skills to graduate.

Bates said she’s focused on making sure the approach works in Westbrook schools.

“We’re molding it and crafting it to fit Westbrook and we’ve made a lot of headway,” she said. “I don’t want to see it go backwards.”

Bates said the system provides a lot of ongoing feedback to children and parents about the progress being made in school.

Kristen Beahm

But Beahm, who is a top administrator at the University of Southern Maine, said she’d like to see Westbrook back away from the approach. Some students struggle with the new system, she said, and it also differs from traditional education enough that it may cause problems when students go on to college.

There, “they can’t keep redoing tests or rewriting papers until they pass,” she said, and may struggle to succeed.

Beyond the proficiency-based learning issue, Bates said she’d like to oversee the completion of renovations and expansions of the city’s middle school and one of its elementary schools. The elementary school project won’t be done until next year.

She also said the high school “needs a facelift” and wants to put her experience as co-chairwoman of the middle and elementary school projects to work if the committee decides to do some renovations at the high school. Bates also said she wants to continue to oversee food pantries the committee started in two schools to make sure students don’t go hungry.

Beahm said she will put an emphasis on school safety if she’s elected. She said the committee was right to put $130,000 into upgrading safety at the high school after this year’s shooting at a high school in Florida, but students walking to and from school and at bus stops aren’t safe. Beahm lives near the high school and said she often sees cars leaving the parking lot or pickup areas traveling too fast and too close to students walking home.

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