Trio of Candidate Debates Lead off with Region 9 School Board

The Easton community gathered at Samuel Staples Elementary school on Oct. 17 to attend a debate by the Region 9 Board of Education candidates. You can watch the Facebook live recording of the debate here.  

This debate was the first of three official debates agreed upon by the Easton Democratic Town Committee and the Easton Republican Town Committee, in advance of the municipal elections on Tuesday, Nov. 2. You can find additional information about the two upcoming debates here.

The audience listens to the debate. — Kaitlin Katzenback Photo

There are currently four candidates seeking election for two open seats in the Region 9 Board of Education. They are incumbents Maureen Williams, a Democrat, and Todd Johnston, a Republican, and Democrat John Foley and Republican Kathy Thompson.  

Due to a previously scheduled family wedding, Thompson was unable to attend the debate. In lieu of her participation, debate moderator Scott Centrella read prepared remarks by Thompson to the audience.   

“I am disappointed to miss today’s debate… I am running for the Region 9 Board of Education because I believe in our schools and that our schools are the most important resource. I want to help ensure that our children continue to benefit from the best education possible… As a member of the Region 9 Board of Education, I will put our children, families, and educators first, ahead of personal or political agendas,” wrote Thompson. The full text of Thompson’s comments can be accessed beginning at 16:55 in the video of the debate.

With Election Day rapidly approaching, the debate gave candidates the opportunity to express their primary goals and convey their stances on several matters of importance.  The full list of debate questions follows below.

Centrella kicked off the debate by asking candidates to rank the three primary goals of the Region 9 Board of Education. These goals included ensuring a high quality education for the children, ensuring the school’s are well maintained, and controlling costs in order to hold the line on tax increases.  

Maureen Williams answers a question. — Kaitlin Katzenback Photo

The candidates unanimously agreed that the children always come first. Williams followed Johnston in answering the question. “I agree with Todd, it’s kids first. It’s always about ensuring a quality education… Part of this question was inherently contradictory to me because it asks me to rank these things in order, and they are fundamentally an order that I can give you but they are all interrelated… I hope that every member of the Region 9 board has all the goals simultaneously in mind, but with the children first and foremost,” said Williams.

Additionally, candidates were asked to respond to the following, “What do you believe to be the proper role of the public, and in particular, parents, in determining the academic curriculum for Joel Barlow students?” asked Centrella.  

Williams was clear in expressing that–while the board is always open to hearing the concerns of parents–that it is ultimately up to the teachers to create the curriculum. “The teachers themselves largely determine what is taught in any particular classroom. They are the educators, and they are the people that I trust. Does a parent’s voice have a role in that? Of course they do. But is that role determinate of the outcome? I’m not so sure that it is. We obviously want to raise children who are good, quality, effective thinkers. But in order to do that we need to allow the teachers to be educators, and to devise curriculum and instruction that suits that classroom that is in front of them,” she said.  

Furthermore, Easton has recently seen a drop in standardized test scores, making this a frequent topic of discussion throughout the debate. Johnston was adamant that while test scores are important, they are not the only measure of a student’s success. 

Todd Johnston answers a question. — Kaitlin Katzenback Photo

 “SAT scores and ACT scores are important, maybe not so much anymore because universities are moving away from those, but they’re still important for scholarships and getting into some universities. GPA is also important, and then all the other standardized tests that we do,” said Johnston. “All of those things are important, but I think it is important to make well rounded citizens as kids come out of school, and they can be successful in whatever they do… It’s how our kids do and it’s how they come out in the end,” he said.  

As the debate was nearing the end, the candidates were asked if diversity, equity and inclusion, also referred to as DEI, should have a place in Easton’s schools curriculum. Foley and Williams showed strong support for incorporating DEI into the Easton school’s curriculum.  

“Yes. It’s not just the curriculum, it’s part of life,” said Foley. “It certainly has a place… how it gets there we have to listen. I think it needs participation, it needs buy-in. How we implement that in the school, it needs to be in a way that students feel comfortable in an environment of being who they are and being able to say who they are,” he said.  

John Foley answers a question.— Kaitlin Katzenback Photo

Johnston, on the other hand, was less enthusiastic regarding DEI in schools, stating: “I think there are some things we can do better… We have things that you can fix… like the overall schedule of the classes, making sure those descriptions are accurate and the books in those are appropriate. But overall we are in the business of educating and the school board is all about educating these students and that’s where our focus should be,” he said.  

The candidates all shared in COVID-friendly elbow bumps to mark the end of the debate.  It will ultimately be up to the voters to decide which candidates will assume the open positions on the Region 9 Board of Education.  

The municipal election will take place Tuesday, Nov. 2 from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. at Samuel Staples Elementary School, 515 Morehouse Road, Easton. 

Full List of Debate Questions with Time Stamp 

The video recording of the entire debate can be accessed from the Easton Board of Selectmen Facebook page.

  1. “Accepting as a premise that three primary goals of the Region 9 Board of Education are, number one, ensuring a high quality education for our children, number two, ensuring the school’s physical plant and infrastructure are well maintained, and three, controlling costs in order to hold the line on tax increases. How would you personally rank these three goals, and why?” 21:30 
  1. “As school enrollment declines, do you perceive a need for “right sizing” the school? And if you do, how would you approach that issue?” 28:55 
  1. “As a member of the Region 9 Board of Education, who do you believe would be your primary constituency, as between students, taxpayers, parents, or the school administration and teachers? Please explain why” 33:32 
  1. “What do you believe to be the proper role of the public, and in particular parents, in determining the academic curriculum for Joel Barlow students?” 39:33  
  1. “What do you think are the most useful metrics for measuring how well Joel Barlow students are performing academically?” 45:35 
  1. “What are your thoughts on how best to evaluate teacher performance, and what role, if any, do you think the Region 9 Board of Education should play in that process?” 51:29 
  1. “What do you see as the most important qualities an individual should possess to be a member of the Region 9 Board of Education? Explain to what extent you believe you possess those qualities.” 54:48  
  1. “Explain how you see the respective roles of the Region 9 Board of Ed, the superintendent, and the school administration, in setting policy for the school.” 1:01:58  
  1. “What areas at Joe Barlow, if any, do you believe need improvement and what would you do to address that need?” 1:08:03  
  1. “What is your assessment of the current tri board structure and do you think anything about it needs to be altered in any way?” 1:13:15 
  1. “Do you view the recent decline in standardized test scores at Barlow to be of concern, and what do you think needs to be done to address the issue?” 1:18:44 
  1. “There is much talk these days about diversity, equity and inclusion, and DEI has become one of the most common places in well known acronyms. Do you believe DEI should have a place in the school curriculum, and if so what?” 1:26:28 
  1. “If you are a member of the Region 9 Board of Ed, and find that you have unspent money in a fairly substantial proportion by the end of the fiscal year, what would you do with that money?” 1:31:09