The incumbent in the Ward 5 race for Westbrook School Committee defends the board’s communication with parents and differs with her challenger’s assertion that it is important for a sitting member to have children in the school system.

Incumbent Elizabeth Schultz and challenger Brooke Reed are on the Nov. 2 ballot to represent the ward, which is bordered by Portland and Falmouth on the east and includes Pride’s Corner and the area up to Highland Lake in the north.

Schultz said the School Committee does its best to share complicated information as quickly as possible, but she does look forward to working with a new specialist the school department plans to hire to improve communications coming from the department and the committee.

Brooke Reed, a parent of three Westbrook students, also said she wants to see improvements in the way the school department gets information to families. She is running to bring a “new voice” to the committee, as are candidates Jessica Foley, Katy Rice and Tracey Sardella. While their platforms vary, Reed said, she, Foley, Rice and Sardella are alike in believing that as parents in the district their voices are important for the committee.

“I think we need a new voice right now. We all have kids in the schools. We all want to see the best for our children and are invested deeply,” Reed said.

Schultz believes the committee needs a variety of voices, including hers as someone with an extensive career in education. A strong committee has members with varying backgrounds, she said.

“I’m an educator, but I have also raised five children and have experience with grandchildren. I know how children learn and I know I can combine that with the reality of what a school system is really like and how the system needs to adjust to keep up,” Schultz said.

Reed said the school department didn’t give students’ parents enough notice that the high school, damaged in a July fire, wouldn’t be opening to students as scheduled in the fall. Two weeks notice was inadequate, she said. Frank discussions involving parents should have been held from the start about the extent of the damage to the school and the likelihood it wouldn’t be opening on time.

“The school doesn’t feel transparent, it feels vague in communication and very last-minute. I really want to see a more specific timely approach to that. Parents and children need to plan for things, and we need a more specific faster approach,” Reed said.

She also said parents received inadequate information during the pandemic.

Schultz said the committee does its best to share complete information as quickly as possible.

“We are trying to fly a plane while making repairs. We have to have time to take in and respond to all of the information, and we can’t always do it as fast as everyone would like,” she said. “I know how complex it is to move students around to create individual personalized schedules, to find spaces in the community, the bus transportation routes. It’s  much more complicated, and I hope parents understand why we can’t just open parts of the building, for instance.”

Reed hopes to learn more about the budgeting process, but believes conversations on the budget should be held year-round across the district and with the City Council.

It needs to be gone through with a fine-tooth comb and to be picked away at throughout the year, while letting people know the needs that are coming up,” Reed said.

Schultz said that in the upcoming come budget season, she hopes to focus on increasing staff support “to help teachers right in the classroom.”

“Teachers need the tools and resources, and part of that means the technology. We need to make sure we are educating students for the future, not how we got it,” she said. 

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