The three candidates on the Nov. 8 ballot for two seats on the Gorham School Committee cite school overcrowding as a top issue.

Incumbent Stewart McCallister, 35, is seeking reelection while hoping to fend off challenges from political newcomer Andrew LaPlaca, 30, and former School Committee member Jennifer Whitehead, 46.

Both available seats on the seven-member committee carry three-year terms. The second seat is being vacated by Phil Gagnon, who opted to run for the Town Council.


LaPlaca said Gorham is growing at a pace that schools “simply cannot keep up with.”

“I will advocate for fiscally responsible capital improvements, including school expansion at all levels,” he said. “Gorham High School students have been sitting on the floor during lunch for far too long and modular classrooms are a short-term solution.”

School officials in recent years have sought to upgrade the high school, which opened in 1959. School Committee Chairperson Anne Schools told the Town Council last week that high school enrollment is at 810, down by 28 students from last year. The school was designed for 750 students. Middle school enrollment is up by 12 students to 642; Great Falls Elementary dropped by 24 this year to 485; Village Elementary increased by 18 to 433; and Narragansett Elementary held steady at 361.


A school department referendum on the Nov. 8 ballot seeks voter approval to borrow up to $10.5 million for school projects,  including $5.8 million for Phase 3 of modular units at Narragansett, $4.3 million for air conditioning and $423,000 for LED lighting at the high school.


Whitehead said the reputation of the Gorham school system continues to attract “wonderful families” to town.

“The issue is that we have limited space and resources and continued growth,” she said, singling out  overcrowding at the high school as the most “pressing issue.”

Whitehead said she would advocate for a state-funded renovation of the high school, which would be an extensive process.

“In the meantime, we need to provide additional space through modulars or use of other public and private spaces,” Whitehead said.

McCallister, a former committee chairperson, agrees that school crowding needs to be addressed, along with “introducing new curriculum like world language … and expanding access to pre-K and early childhood education.”


In a reference to the recent attempt to remove gender-term posters from a classroom and challenges to school library books, McCallister said preserving access to learning materials has become the main focus as the School Committee deals with repeated attempts to restrict the availability of some material to students.


“I believe that it is the school’s role to provide information to students in a controlled and safe environment,” McCallister said. “I would prefer they get their information from the professionals in our schools and not strangers on the internet. Our students should feel free to be themselves without having to hide who they are or have shame for the way they feel.”

McCallister said he respects and trusts Gorham educators to choose “curriculum and materials that are in line with our learning standards and guidance from the Department of Education.”

LaPlaca, who has been a critic of Superintendent Heather Perry’s  handling of the gender poster issue and who previously challenged a school library book, said there is heightened awareness from parents wanting to be partners in their children’s education.

In his book challenge, he said, he worked with school leadership to establish a policy and procedure to ensure curriculum is “age-appropriate.”

“School districts are needing to focus on improved transparency, communication and partnerships. I have already and will continue to facilitate improved transparency,” he said.


A safe and “welcoming environment” for every student is crucial for the success of the next generation, he said. “In order to accomplish this goal, I will work with the feedback from the community and Gorham schools educators,” LaPlaca said.

He also said every school should have a resource officer. The impact of the school resource officer at Village Elementary has been “outstanding for our children,” he said.

Whitehead said Gorham needs to focus on its youngest learners.

“Research of the cognitive and social-emotional benefits of preschool is well-documented,” Whitehead said. “Because we currently do not have the required space, I would support partnerships with local preschools that provide an excellent education to ensure that pre-K is an option for all Gorham families.”

McCallister, a U.S. postal employee, is married with two children. He has served six years on the School Committee and various subcommittees.

LaPlaca, a regional manager at Premier Technologies, is married with two children. His civic experience includes volunteer firefighter and wrestling coach.


Whitehead, a Realtor, is married with three children and served on the School Committee from 2017 to 2020.

None of the three chose to reveal a political party affiliation.

Polls will be open Nov. 8  from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Ward 1-1 votes at the middle school, 106 Weeks Road; Ward 1-2, Great Falls Elementary School, 73 Justice Way; and Ward 2, Shaw Gym, Gorham Municipal Center, 75 South St.


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