Audience members take their seats and wait for an RSU 22 board of directors meeting to begin inside the Hampden Academy library, Nov. 17, 2021. Credit: Sawyer Loftus / BDN

Three incumbents on the Regional School Unit 22 board of directors are facing a competitive election on June 14, when Newburgh and Winterport voters go to the ballot box to elect their representatives on the Hampden-area school board.

RSU 22 serves Hampden, Newburgh, Winterport and Frankfort, but Newburgh and Winterport are the only towns electing school board representatives this month.

John Holmes and Kenyon Humphrey, who represent Winterport, are running for reelection to their seats for a three-year term and a two-year term, respectively. Heath Miller, the current school board chair, is seeking another three-year term to represent Newburgh.  

Leah Kresge and Brooke Miller are running for the seat Humphrey holds, while Katherine Collins is challenging Holmes. Jonathan Purdy and Heather Frye are running against Miller.

A number of candidates said they were eager to move on from controversial debates over COVID-19 protocols that dominated school board business last year. Others listed more transparency, financial concerns, equity among different district schools and special-education students’ needs as priorities. Two said students were learning about inappropriate topics, such as sexual intercourse and LGBTQ identity.

Winterport candidates are listed below in alphabetical order. Newburgh candidates are listed in the order that they’ll appear on the ballot.

Clockwise from left: Katherine Collins, John Holmes, Kenyon Murphy, Leah Kresge and Brooke Miller. Credit: Courtesy of the candidates.

Katherine Collins, Winterport

Katherine Collins, a business owner, running coach and parent of six with two children who currently attend RSU 22 schools, said that if elected, she’d address the “hypersexualization of children” in the district.

She said that her kids had been shown books that discussed sexual intercourse and other topics that she thought were inappropriate for their age, and that she had successfully argued for one such book to be removed from the Reeds Brook Middle School library.

Collins said that RSU 22’s use of COVID funds to add a third floor to Hampden Academy was inappropriate, and that the money would be better spent on hiring more counselors to address students’ mental health needs and improving standardized test scores.

“I think that there needs to be accountability about the money. There needs to be accountability about what these kids are learning, and I don’t see it happening right now,” she said.

John Holmes, Winterport

John Holmes, who works for the Eastern Area Agency on Aging, touted the board’s support of outgoing Superintendent Regan Nickels as RSU 22’s third superintendent in 50 years and the district’s COVID response as milestone successes during his six years on the school board.

He said that he wanted to focus on making the board more transparent, and said the board would hold a community forum later this month to be accessible to parents and community members.

Holmes said he also wanted to focus on helping students who fell behind during remote learning catch up, and reaffirm educational issues as a priority going into a new school year now that the pandemic has receded.

“I’m just hoping now we can focus on our strategic plan, and just get education more at the forefront and help these kids that really fell behind,” he said.

Kenyon Humphrey, Winterport

Kenyon Humphrey, a Spectrum employee who joined the board last June, said his main concern if reelected was ensuring that RSU 22’s budget didn’t increase so that residents didn’t see a corresponding tax increase.

“That’s important to a lot of people right now, with the price of everything else going up,” he said.

He also said he would advocate for lacrosse to become a varsity sport by next spring, something he’s pushed for as a member of the athletic committee.

Humphrey said he hoped that social issues like mask mandate debates didn’t dominate the next school year. His daughter struggled with remote learning during the pandemic and fared much better when she was allowed to return to in-person classes with universal masking.

“Last year, the mask mandate was such a big thing. I felt it was more important to have kids in school than it was to have parent choice or student choice on masks, and then have to go to remote learning because we [had] massive outbreaks of COVID,” he said.

Leah Kresge, Winterport

Leah Kresge, who works at a synagogue and has two children who attend RSU 22 schools, said that she wanted to ensure equity among schools.

She pointed out as an example that Reeds Brook Middle School students were allowed to attend accelerated classes at Hampden Academy, while students at Samuel Wagner Middle School in Winterport weren’t, and said she would push the board to address inequities that RSU 22 found in an equity audit last year.

“I’m a big believer that all kids deserve equal access to education,” Kresge said. She said that she also wanted to lead the board in supporting RSU 22’s teachers and administrators.

“Our kids are listening at board meetings and they need to know there are adults who will stand up for them, and stand up and support staff and administrators,” Kresge said.

Brooke Miller, Winterport

Brooke Miller, an airline pilot who recently decided to homeschool her two children, said that she wanted to promote fiscal responsibility and repair community-school relations if elected.

Miller said heated debates over masking policies, which she wanted to leave to parents’ discretion, had divided parents, teachers and administrators, leading her to push for RSU 22 to hold a public forum later this month to allow participants to speak outside of a school board meeting setting, which limits public comment and how administrators can respond.  

She also said that she was concerned that RSU 22 spent its American Rescue Plan Act money on expanding Hampden Academy, rather than hiring more teachers and aides, or counselors to address students’ mental health needs.

“The problem is every time you go to the state and the federal government with a handout, there’s strings attached,” Miller said.

Heather Faye, Heath Miller and Jonathan Purdy. Credit: Courtesy of the candidates.

Heather Frye, Newburgh

Heather Frye, a former RSU 22 kitchen manager whose five children attended district schools, said she would advocate for students with special needs, whom she felt had “fallen between the cracks” during remote learning.

“Some students aren’t computer-based students. Some students are very, very hands on. They need that instruction,” she said. “I have seen a few students that struggled with trying to do all the schoolwork that was given to them during COVID and it wasn’t divvied up into how they should have been for the [individualized educational plan] that they had.”

Frye also said she would push for schools to “return to the basics” of reading, writing, math and science, and deemphasize teaching about LGBTQ identity.

“Let the parents take care of that. Teachers need to teach and that’s not something that needs to be taught,” she said. “It needs to stay at home, and let parents take care of what they need to take care of, if it’s something they agree with.”

Heath Miller, Newburgh

Heath Miller, a dairy farmer who has been on the board for nine years and served as chair since 2019, said that ensuring continuity of leadership would be important as RSU 22 welcomed Nicholas Raymond as the new superintendent in July.

“I think it’s important that we have that transition period with a chair that’s been there a while, with a brand new superintendent,” he said.

He also said that he would strive to make the board as transparent as possible, especially when it came to how district financial decisions were made.

“We have to go above and beyond,” Miller said, “and put ourselves in the shoes of that parent that may not be following everything the board’s doing, in every board meeting, in every community meeting, and try to do our best to get that to the public.”  

Jonathan Purdy, Newburgh

Jonathan Purdy, a private chef, said his family moved to Newburgh from Arizona in 2015 for a slower pace of life and specifically so his three children could attend RSU 22 schools.

He said the district’s rankings had “slipped” in recent years, citing declining standardized test scores, and wanted to bring the “focus back to education” and make sure that students had the best educational foundation possible to succeed after high school, whether they went into the military, started a business or attended college.

The most recent standardized test data, from the 2018-19 school year, showed that RSU 22 students outperformed their statewide peers when it came to English language arts, math and science.

Purdy said that he also wanted to make sure that the district was prepared for a larger enrollment in the future, as towns around Bangor have grown in the last decade. His twin children were part of RSU 22’s largest kindergarten class.

“Most of these kids are still in the district, so when they get to high school, we’re just not going to have enough space for them,” he said.

The district needs to “really budget things wisely and plan accordingly,” Purdy said.

 

Lia Russell

Lia Russell is a reporter on the city desk for the Bangor Daily News. Send tips to LRussell@bangordailynews.com.