Windham voters will choose two of six candidates for school board next month at the polls.

Jennie Butler and Christina Small are up for reelection to the Regional School Unit 14 Board of Directors, which includes six members from Windham and three from Raymond. They’ll be joined in the race by Mike Pasquini, Jessica Bridges, Barbara Bagshaw and Carrie Grant.

Dominant themes in the candidates’ bids include stances on masking, communication and children’s emotional health.

Barbara Bagshaw

Bagshaw, a newcomer, said she joined the race because she’s lived in Windham for 25 years and has a background in education that includes teaching adult education in the district. If elected, her priorities would include reviewing and properly updating curriculum and supporting the superintendent. She said she would also focus on the budget.

In terms of COVID-19 safety in the schools, Bagshaw said she wasn’t sure “if health mitigation falls on the school board,” but she would support “looking at science and parental discretion.”

“If a parent wants their child to mask, a teacher could encourage them but ultimately the responsibility would fall on a parent,” Bagshaw posted on the Windham community board on Facebook.

To accommodate the districts growing student population, she said be “reviewing budgetary concerns and the needs of the students and staff.”

Jessica Bridges

Bridges, also a newcomer, would focus on “sticking to our mission statement,” which includes keeping school “as safe, supportive and inclusive as possible” for students and staff in the district. Communication is key and it’s important to listen to all stakeholders to make decisions that result in the best options for everyone, she said.

“I do think right now masking is really important,” Bridges said about her plan to help combat COVID-19. “The masking issue could be relooked at once kids can be vaccinated. The only thing that’s really saved us from putting the entire school into quarantine is masking.”

In addition to keeping students physically safe, Bridges said she would prioritize their mental health by making resources available if students need to speak with someone about the challenges of home life, for example. She would also support the same resources for teachers, she said.

In order to address a growing student body, Bridges said she would support more classes or classrooms so teachers don’t have to instruct large numbers of students and because “it’s hard to get kids to be able to focus in larger classrooms.”

Jennie Butler

Butler, an incumbenet, cited assessing the needs of all students and employees as a focus area.

“We have to balance out what we’re going to pay for by looking at everything everybody needs and not just high-in-the-sky for what they want,” Butler said. That includes prioritizing financial resources for teachers, as well as the social and emotional health of students and staff, including bus drivers, nutrition workers and educational technicians, she said.

In terms of COVID-19 safety, Butler said “a layered approach to prevention” is important, such as requiring masking so fewer students and staff need to quarantine and and encouraging vaccination for those of appropriate age.

To support a growing student population, Butler said she would support the district continuing to look at trends in order to accommodate all students. The new middle school project, which has been in the works for years, is a realization of this kind of work, she said.

Carrie Grant

Grant, another newcomer, said she would prioritize collaboration among board members and the superintendent.

“I feel this is vital when it comes to decision-making on topics that will affect our students and families,” she said.

Sharing information, including research and real-life experiences, is the best way to combat COVID-19 in the schools, Grant said. “Viruses have never been a political issue, but unfortunately what we are dealing with today has become just that.”

The district’s mask mandate now in place “does not give parents the option to make a choice for what’s best for their child.”

“I have always been a firm believer in trusting your gut,” Grant said. “We as parents must do what’s right for our children.”

Another priority for Grant would be assessing growth. “With our community growing as quick as it is, we need to pay close attention to the student population and how we are outgrowing the schools already.”

Grant said she would “carefully review the budget with the superintendent and other board members to ensure that we will have adequately sized school buildings without the use of modular (classrooms) and that we have enough teachers to minimize overcrowding in the classroom.”

Mike Pasquini

Pasquini’s focus if elected to a first term on the school board would be communication and collaboration to reach consensus with other board members.

“The challenge is having cooler heads prevail when decision-making is to be done,” he said. “People are really polarized in their thoughts. We need to work hard to find reason for everyone.”

Pasquini described himself as a “very critical thinker” who wants to be involved in decision-making.

“I like to educate myself on topics and issues before speaking out on them,” he said.

Pasquini doesn’t support the district’s mask mandate, but rather a compromise, such as children being required to mask in higher traffic areas and then allowed to unmask when seated at their desks.

“The guidelines are there to guide and districts have the opportunity to shape those guidelines,” he said.

Proper air filtration in the schools and a higher rate of vaccination among teachers will help combat COVID-19, he said.

Pasquini said the new middle school is “definitely a need.”

“It will help make room for students in the growing community we have,” he said.

Christina Small

Another term on the RSU 14 board for Small would mean implementing the district’s strategic plan, which includes focus areas of social and emotional learning and equity and inclusion.

Teaching conflict resolution and personal problem-solving – as well as both student and staff engagement – are components of the plan Small cited. Another part of her plan would focus on community engagement, so businesses and organizations are involved in the schools and kids have opportunities to practice skills transferable to the workforce. Small also wants students to have the opportunity to explore vocational careers.

In order to mitigate the pandemic, Small said she supports the district in its mission to “follow Maine and CDC guidelines to the greatest extent possible.”

Small is for mandatory masking which, she said, has avoided hundreds of quarantines in the district.

Small said she looks forward to expanding pre-K in the district once the student population is shifted around with the construction of the new middle school.

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