Public learns about School Committee candidates

Mar 17, 2023

MIDDLEBORO — Candidates for School Committee educated the public about their viewpoints Thursday during the Candidates Night held at the Middleboro Senior Center.

Voters will choose candidates in two School Committee races. 

Jessica Chartoff, Allin Frawley and Eric Machado are vying for two seats for a three-year term. Christopher Benson and Nicholas O’Roak are seeking to fill the unexpired term left vacant when Richard Oakley stepped down.

The hopefuls answered questions posed by the audience and by staff members at Nemasket Week, which co-sponsored the event with the Middleboro Rotary Club. 

On the role parents play in their children’s education, Chartoff said that “the more parents get involved, the more of a say they have.’’ Parents have a right to bring concerns to the School Committee and the administration, she said.

Frawley said parents are the bedrock of a student’s education. “I don’t expect the school system’’ to teach them everything they know. “That’s my job,’’ he said. “That’s my wife’s job.’’

O’Roak said that parental involvement in education “starts at home.’’ By spending time with your children, he said, “you teach them.’’

Benson noted that the curriculum is established within state frameworks. “But I do think if parents have a concern, they have a right to speak to the School Committee and the school administration.’’

Parents should have “a paramount voice,’’ Machado said. Concerns can lead to “a constructive debate.’’

Candidates were also asked their opinions on the most recent superintendent search, which took place in 2022, following the retirement of Brian Lynch. School committee members voted to limit the search to one internal candidate. They selected Carolyn Lyons, who had been the director of Pupil Personnel Service prior to her appointment as superintendent. 

Chartoff said she had concerns about limiting the search, but “when I heard [Lyons] speak’’ her “questions were answered.’’

O’Roak said that if a qualified internal candidate is overlooked, morale can be affected and a business can “drive people away.’’

Machado saw it differently. “One candidate is not a choice at all, so why call it a choice?’’

Benson expressed a similar sentiment. “Casting a wide net is the only way to be sure you get the best candidate.’’

Frawley had a simple, three-word answer about the search. “Open it up.’’

Candidates were also asked to name what the schools do well and what they could improve on.

The Memorial Early Childhood Center, often referred to as MEC, provides “a really good community,’’ Benson said. But special education services should be improved because the need is so great,  he said. “These kids saw the greatest deficit from the shutdown.’’ He advocates for “making sure they get services.’’

In contrast, Frawley said his son didn’t have the best experience at MEC. “Every child in that school deserves a good’’ experience. “That’s our job to make sure’’ they do.

For positives, he said that teachers can impact a student’s life, citing his fourth grade teacher who helped significantly improve his reading skills. “Those are the experiences that I want to foster and nurture,’’ he said. 

Chartoff said the schools do well for students who are able to connect with academics, make a sports team or perform in plays. But schools shouldn’t overlook the “students who sit and observe and don’t know how to advocate for themselves and kind of just get lost in the shuffle a little bit.’’

O’Roak said students who are “advanced beyond what the classroom has given them’’ could use extra attention. 

As a father of a son with special needs, Machado said the special needs program is a “great program and I’ve had nothing but great experiences.’’ But that same area is also the one that needs improvement because of “a growing increase in children that have special needs.’’ Budget constraints may make it challenging to meet all their needs but “we have to be creative’’ to make it work.

On a more light note, an audience member asked why Prince, a therapy dog, only is available to interact with students at the Burkland School and not at the other elementary school, Goode School. 

 Chartoff replied that Prince belongs to and underwent specialized training through a staff member at Burkland and so stays within those boundaries. She said can only “hope that somebody that is employed by [the Goode School]  is willing to bring in a service dog to support those students’’ since Prince is restricted to the building “where he is employed.’’

The candidate’s night can be viewed via the MCCAM Facebook page and on the MCCAM website _ _ under Public Access on Demand. The event will also air on Comcast Channel 95 and Verizon channel 35 on the following times and dates: Thursday, March 23, 3 a.m., 6 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. and Friday, March 24, 3 p.m. and 8 p.m.