Pictured is Gargi Cooper, left, and Suzanne Wright.
By GAYLA CAWLEY
SWAMPSCOTT — Two incumbents vying to retain their seats on the School Committee are stressing the importance of continuity and consistency on the board. One challenger argues that there needs to be more transparency and communication from the committee.
Suzanne Wright and Gargi Cooper have each decided to run for a second, three-year term on the school committee. They face a challenge from Melissa Camire, who will also appear on the ballot for the April 25 local election.
Camire, who has lived in Swampscott for the past five years, said she would bring a unique perspective to the committee, because she has a six-year-old child in the school system and her partner teaches at Swampscott High School.
Camire wants to see more transparency among the committee. If elected, she said she would do more investigation into the budget and said there could have been more transparency and communication about why certain cuts were made.
Wright, in advocating for consistency, said there have been lots of leadership changes in recent years, both on the board and in the administration.
“For the first time in years, we have a school committee and a superintendent who are able to offer our students and the district staff a level of continuity and consistency of policy that has too often been lacking prior to this administration,” Wright said in a statement.
“Last year was the first time in nearly two decades that we saw a school committee that stayed intact for more than a single year. The constant turnover in the past created an inconsistency that presented a number of problems, not the least of which is having the same leadership from one teachers’ union contract to the following one,” Wright continued.
Cooper also cited the district leadership and school committee turnover prior to her time on the board.
“This lack of consistency has caused the district great difficulties in gaining traction on many important initiatives, including addressing mental health support and technology needs,” Cooper said in a statement. “I am proud to contribute to the district strategic plan that places the emotional and behavioral safety of our students at the forefront.
“I would like to see the mental health initiatives (SWIFT and Harbor programs) that were introduced into the high school this year expand to our middle school because they will provide our children with the support needed to address the needs of students reentering school after absences, due to serious mental health challenges or medical illness,” Cooper continued.
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Wright said she also wants to see them expand to the middle school. She said the need for both mental health initiatives is unquestionable and the difference they are making for students is undeniable. Wright also wants to continue work on a district-wide technology plan to benefit students.
Camire said she disagrees with the continuity argument. She said both candidates had a chance to effect change in their three years, and their plans should already be underway. She said the district should start looking into a panel of parents, students and educators to hire the next high school principal. She said the turnover in administration needs to stop and people need to be hired who “fit our vision for what we want the Swampscott school district to become.”
Camire said the schools are “crumbling around us” and some are not ADA compliant, and there seems to be no technology budget. She is for school consolidation for the lower grades, rather than smaller neighborhood schools, arguing that at just 13,000 residents, Swampscott is already a neighborhood.
“We need to start making that forward progress towards stronger schools for a stronger community,” Camire said.
Cooper cited her work as chairwoman of the Joint Facilities Task Force, saying that she led the school system to work with town administration to strengthen Swampscott’s infrastructure and improve efficiencies. She said hiring a joint facilities director, a shared position between town government and the school department, has made the district become proactive.
“Our current school board has been working collaboratively and has been able to drive our district forward,” Cooper said in a statement. “Continuity on the board is paramount to continuing our district’s positive momentum. With the knowledge and experience I have gained over these past three years, I am truly invested and committed to bring these and many other much-needed initiatives to completion.”
In addition to her role on the school committee, Cooper said she remains involved in the public schools as a parent and PTA volunteer. She works as a nurse practitioner and runs the medical outreach program out of the Lynn Community Health Center that provides medical care to the homeless in Lynn.
Wright said her four children have all been educated through Swampscott Public Schools.
“If we are going to have the kind of public schools that Swampscott residents expect and are paying for, we need to provide stable, even-handed vision that lasts beyond each year’s election,” Wright said in a statement.
“Right now, there is a healthy diversity of skills, personalities and opinions on the school committee,” Wright continued. “We work well together and respectfully challenge each other and the school administration to make sure we are doing the best we can for the students. We are committed to tackling issues large and small, including the tough financial issues we need to solve. We are seeing results.”
Gayla Cawley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @GaylaCawley.