SOUTH PORTLAND — Two teachers, an internal auditor and a lawyer are all vying for two at-large seats on the South Portland school board in the Nov. 3 election.

The candidates are Claire Holman, a French teacher at the University of Southern Maine; Jake Kulaw, a health and physical education teacher at Deering High School in Portland; Jennifer Ryan, a senior internal auditor at Unum; and attorney Jeffrey Selser.

Incumbent at-large board members Mary House and Heather Johnson are not seeking re-election.

All four candidates had different priorities for handling ongoing issues related to the coronavirus pandemic.

Holman suggested surveying parents again, as the district has done in the past, to gauge their thoughts on what the district should do going forward.

“Surveys were used to help the South Portland School Department make decisions on what kind of system to create for this fall,” she said. “Continuing to check in about how the current arrangements are working can provide useful data, as challenging decision-making continues this school year.”


Kulaw approached the subject from his perspective as a high school teacher and stressed the need to continue to offer training to local teachers in distance-learning practices.

“From my own teaching experience, I know there’s a learning curve to overcome when a teacher translates classroom skills to distance educating,” he said. “As a school board member, I also will support investment in research-based, specialized distance-learning programs that are designed to help students progress and meet the same skills and targets they would otherwise be learning in an in-person classroom.”

Ryan noted the need to make decisions based on facts and science, not fear, and to use facts to assuage parental and community concerns.

“I believe in order for our communities to remain safe throughout these unique circumstances we need to support one another and be honest about our fears and concerns so that together we can give students, teachers and parents what they need to feel confident and safe,” she said.

Selser said the board should be “laser-focused” on providing resources to students who are learning remotely, including access to services such as mental health support, nutrition programs and extracurricular programming.

“We need to be extremely flexible and nimble in providing these services and we cannot let rigid adherence to pre-existing policies stand in the way of common sense and safety,” he said.


Holman also expressed concern about funding for South Portland schools in the months to come.

“Although state revenue losses have not been as severe as feared, lost tax revenue from decreased tourism and the like may well lead to challenges to school budgets,” she said. “I am ready to put in the time and energy to find creative and realistic ways to make sure our schools continue to serve all students well.”

Kulaw said he believed the pandemic helped expose what he called “different kinds of equity issues” throughout the district and pledged to work to combat racism in particular, praising the district for conducting an audit last year that questioned students, faculty and staff about racial equity.

“Nearly 30 percent of our school district’s population are students of color and we can use the audit to produce recommendations for anti-racist practices, including hiring racially diverse teachers and administrators,” Kulaw said.

Ryan said she wants to be a part of ongoing discussions regarding potential new school projects, such as middle school consolidation, and she wants to work to ensure teachers have the tools they need to teach effectively.

“I want to be sure that we have systems in place that recognize what’s working and what’s not,” she said.

Selser stressed the need for the district to engage and communicate more with the public at large and not just people who have children in the district’s schools.

“The flow of information from the school district to the public needs to improve, as does the district’s receptiveness to input, so that all stakeholders are involved in a more meaningful way,” he said.

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