The incoming members of Regional School Unit 22’s board of directors said they planned to continue addressing coronavirus safety protocols and encouraging community-wide participation in board meetings and decisions, following Tuesday night’s competitive election.
Four of the candidates elected to represent Hampden on the RSU 22 board said they planned on addressing issues like the district’s strategic plan, increasing community participation and improving students’ state test scores.
Newcomers Colleen Jolley and Jessica Barnes and incumbents Faye Anderson and Lester French won three-year terms, while Jillian Sarnacki-Wood won a two-year term in an uncontested race.
Supporters had urged voters to elect those five specific candidates following a contentious masking debate over the summer and an election season that saw many of the candidates fielding questions about national hot-button issues like critical race theory.
RSU 22 serves schools in Frankfort, Hampden, Newburgh and Winterport.
French, who won a second term with 1,102 votes, the fourth highest vote total, said he wanted to focus on improving student achievement and transitioning back to “regular” community relations.
French said he planned to invite parent-teacher organizations and other parent groups to meetings with the community relations committee, which he chairs.
“A lot of our focus on community relations in the last year has been, ‘Okay, when are we coming back to school full time, rather than two days a week? What are the policies going to be regarding masking, pooled testing, quarantines?’” French said. “A lot has been focused on basically, disaster preparedness and response.”
Going forward, he wants to focus on making the RSU 22 board’s work more transparent, such as explaining to community members how board policies are made, and on improving student test scores.
“Our test scores have not been where we want them to be as a district,” French said, which he attributed to changing tests at the state level. “While they’re not horrible, I do think we could be doing a better job.”
Barnes, who won 1,254 votes, the second highest total, said she wanted to continue supporting teachers in their efforts to provide a diverse and equitable environment for students.
RSU 22 recently conducted an equity audit with the aim of integrating more diverse cultural and ideological viewpoints into school curricula.
Jolley, who won 1,200 votes, the third highest vote total, said she planned to familiarize herself with RSU 22’s policies and procedures as her first course of action.
An RSU 22 parent, Jolley has attended meetings of the district’s equity and community relations committees and plans to help restructure them, she said.
She also plans to “get up to speed” on the district’s strategic plan, which will focus on increasing student engagement and achievement.
“There’s a lot to be done still,” Jolley said.
Sarnacki-Wood said she planned to help higher-risk students whose parents have kept them at home make the transition back to in-person learning. Sarnacki-Wood succeeded Kimberley Moran as a board member in August, and won 1,910 votes in Tuesday’s race.
She touted RSU 22’s success in keeping its schools open with mitigation measures like mandatory masking and the district’s pooled testing program.
“We’ve had zero closures due to COVID in RSU 22, which has been a fantastic success, in my opinion, especially as a mom with a child in school right now,” Sarnacki-Wood said.
The election concluded a competitive race in which eight candidates ran for four openings and Sarnacki-Wood ran for the abbreviated term. The campaign followed a turbulent start to the new school year.
RSU 22’s board had initially made masking optional, until changing course after a vote counting error forced a special emergency meeting at which dozens of parents advocated for and against mandatory masking.
“I was glad to see so many people putting their hat in the ring, even though some of the issues were contentious,” French said. “I thought all of the candidates ran a respectful campaign in the community.”
Jolley said she was proud that she ran a positive campaign.
“In the end, we’re still representing everybody’s children and everybody in the community,” she said.
Anderson did not return a request for comment Wednesday.