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L to R: Thomas Miscio, Melissa Simpson and Kelly Termath

The three candidates for the two open seats on the Sanford School Committee took part in the Candidates Night event on October 12, 2022, and answered questions from moderators Shawn Sullivan and Tammy Wells.

Each candidate gave a brief introductory statement.

Thomas Miscio previously served on the School Committee for four years, then took a four year break. He has also contributed to the community by coaching basketball, soccer and baseball.

Melissa Simpson is a native of Presque Isle who has lived in Sanford most of her adult life. She has been very involved in the PTA at Margaret Chase Smith School and has recently served as its President.

Kelly Termath is a lifelong Sanford resident and 1997 graduate of Sanford High School. She has also been a soccer coach, and worked as a special education ed tech for the district.

Question 1: What limits, if any, do you personally feel should be placed on which books are allowed in our school libraries?

All three candidates stressed the importance of age appropriateness with regard to books in school libraries. Ms. Simpson said it is very important that we are not rushing children into things they are not prepared for. Ms. Termath responded that some books should not be allowed in elementary school, and she would be looking into what books are offered for each grade level. Mr. Miscio said if a parent feels a book is inappropriate, it is important to open a dialog with teachers and school librarians as well as the School Committee.

Question 2: Is there any topic currently being taught in Sanford schools that you feel should not be taught? Please explain your answer.

Ms. Termath said since no curriculum is sent home to parents, she couldn’t comment. Mr. Miscio agreed that more information was needed before he could give a specific answer, but that he wanted parents to be able to express their concerns. Ms. Simpson said to address parental concerns about sensitive topics, parents should sign off on those classes, and alternative locations for those children whose parents don’t approve should be provided.

Question 3: Is there any topic that Sanford Schools is not currently teaching students that you feel should be taught? Please explain your answer.

Mr. Miscio replied that two topics that should be emphasized more in school are civic education and history, including how local and state governments work. “Understanding our nation’s history and how our government is put together is an important part of being an active member of society and appreciating the freedoms we have,” he said.

Ms. Simpson said she would like to see more life lessons including financial education in school.

Ms. Termath said she remembered woodworking and home economics being offered when she was in junior high school, and would like to see those subjects available to 7th and 8th graders once more. This would give them a better idea of vocational options when they get to the high school, she said.

Question 4: Do you favor eliminating the Budget Committee as proposed in the Charter amendments on the November 8 ballot? Please explain your answer?

All three candidates supported retaining the Budget Committee. Ms. Simpson said the analysis of the budget is extremely important. Ms. Termath said full transparency should be out there for every citizen to understand more about the budget. Mr. Miscio agreed and said the process should be less contentious than it has been in the past.

Question 5: If the need for budget cuts arises this winter, what would you cut and why? You may be tempted to say you do not know and would need to assess the situation if it arises. We’d like you to instead use this question as an opportunity to show us what your priorities would be if faced with challenging times.

All three candidates responded that they would need to see the budget before making any firm decisions. Ms. Termath said she feels we have more counselors than we need for things like substance abuse counseling, so that might be one option she would consider if cuts needed to be made. Mr. Miscio pointed out that the majority of the budget is salaries and health care costs, and cutting the budget means cutting people. He would base any decisions on input from the Superintendent of Schools. Ms. Simpson said she would take into consideration which classrooms may be able to increase the student to teacher ratio, but would base any decision on research.

Question 6: What in the Sanford School System needs to change, and if elected, how will you work to bring about that change?

Mr. Miscio reiterated that he would like to see a greater emphasis on history and civics in schools, particularly at the high school level, and see the graduation requirements increased in those areas. He also favored increasing graduation requirements for life skills such as financial literacy.

Ms. Simpson said, in addition to more life skills education, she would support a greater emphasis on after-school activities like STEM programs.

Ms. Termath agreed with the other candidates that civics and financial literacy is important, as well as an introduction to vocational education for 7th and 8th graders. She suggested a program for 8th graders to shadow older students at SRTC.

Question 7: What is your assessment on the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on local education? What, if any, are some things you feel still need to be done to get our students’ education fully back on track?

Ms. Simpson said the biggest impact to the school system and children has been in their mental health. Although some programs have been implemented to help, a larger outreach program may be warranted, which could offer alternatives such as Sanford Community Adult Education for kids who have stepped away from school. “Some kids that derailed are still derailed,” she said.

Ms. Termath spoke about her son’s difficulty with remote education and how he particularly struggled with not being able to see his teacher’s face during the time masks were mandated. She said more direct interaction between teachers and students is needed “and not push them off to the side and say, this is our lesson for today, get on your computer and do it.”

Mr. Miscio said although the schools did a great job during a difficult time, now we need to focus on specific intervention programs. Teachers should identify specific areas where students need to get up to speed or recover lost skills, and have those students go to interventions to address those. He also mentioned the social impact of the pandemic, and said opportunities for kids to develop those lost social skills are also important.

Each candidate was given two minutes to make a closing statement, what Mr. Sullivan called “an elevator pitch to voters.”

Ms. Termath said if elected, she plans to be the voice of the parents in our community who feel like they do not have one. “I will make sure every parent knows what is being taught in our classrooms,” she said. She also vowed to make elementary classrooms more engaging and to look at ways to help make the budget more economical for taxpayers.

Mr. Miscio said there is “a steep learning curve” to being a School Committee member and with his previous experience “it would be an opportunity to hit the ground running” and address issues on substance, without first having to learn a lot about the process of budgeting, state funding, special education, how curriculum is developed, and the disciplinary process.

Ms. Simpson said she recognizes the great amount of work that it takes to be part of the school leadership team, and “would be honored to be a helpful part of that work.” She hopes to be a positive influence in the collaboration between the community, parents, students and teachers. She is confident in her ability to remain open-minded, listen to other’s perspectives, provide feedback, ask questions and remain knowledge-based.

Election Day is November 8. In-person absentee voting is going on now at City Hall. More information is available here: https://www.sanfordmaine.org/departments/election___voter_information/index.php. You can also call the City Clerk’s office at 207-324-9107 to request a ballot or ask questions.

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