Highlights From LWV School Committee Forum

All six candidates for Haverhill School Committee appeared at the League of Women Voters of Greater Haverhill Candidates Night.

Candidates for Haverhill School Committee emphasized experience and a passion to serve, among other characteristics, in their election bids for three open seats at a candidate forum Wednesday evening sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Greater Haverhill.

Incumbents Scott W. Wood Jr. and Shaun P. Toohey, along with challengers Pamela Conte, Gail Sullivan, Michael Shurman and Sven Amirian, spoke on issues ranging from controlling special education costs and teacher retention to educating students on drug abuse during the forum at Haverhill High School.

Sullivan cited improving academic achievement as a major challenge for the district. Wood and Toohey disputed her contention the high school has about a 14 percent dropout rate.

“The high that we’re in is a ‘level three’ high school, Tilton is ‘level three.’ Almost 45 percent of the students are not proficient in the area of reading. I think it’s really important to overcome that because reading is fundamental in everything that you do,” Sullivan said.

Meanwhile, Wood said he supports lifting a cap on enrollments at charter schools within the public school district, such as the district-owned Silver Hill Horace Mann Charter School.

“For a public charter school, I do agree with lifting the cap. I believe that parents should have a choice,” Wood said. “Having said that, it is much more difficult, as a school committee member, to balance the budget. It’s a significant expense that we have. The Montessori school is quite different than the Silver Hill public charter school that we have. So if we were doing it similar to the Silver Hill way I would support doing more of those in the district.”

Amirian favors lifting the state cap on new charter schools, pointing out all of his children attend Hill View Montessori Charter Public School

Asked whether civics classes should be a graduation requirement, Conte said all citizens should have a civic responsibility and teaching young adults that is “extremely important.”

“Whether we do it as a separate class or whether we can incorporate it into American History, I don’t know that you would have enough time to include it in American History and study American History as well. I was raised in a program where we did have separate civic classes and I think I benefited greatly,” Conte said.

Shurman said he would support an anti-bullying policy to include “safe houses” for victims, highlighting a system used in Brockton where he was a former school committee liaison.

“Yes, it happens in class. It happens on the computer. But what happens when two children are walking home or four children are walking home and they’re after that kid? In Brockton we used to have a system, we worked with the parent-teacher association and we put cardboard signs in the houses, in the shape of a woman. Those were ‘safe houses’ and if the kids had to run, they’d run to the ‘safe house’ and knew they were going to be okay, whether that teacher, or mother or father, or their own parents came and got them and brought them home,” Shurman said.

The three-hour forum, featuring city council and school committee candidates, will be rebroadcast several times by WHAV. Check WHAV.net for dates and times. High-quality audio within the school library and over WHAV would not have been possible without the assistance of students from the Haverhill High School AV Club.

The municipal election will be held Tuesday, Nov. 3.

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