Local Government and Politics, News

Priorities emphasized in school, ward races in Lynn

This article was published 1 year(s) and 7 month(s) ago.

LYNN ― The mental health of students in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as diversity among staff and faculty in the system, were paramount concerns in the limited time for questions and answers in a Zoom School Committee debate Monday.

At the same session, candidates for ward councilors got their chance to state their cases. Because of the time constraints, those with questions could not be accommodated.

The debates were sponsored by the Lynn Democratic City Committee. 

Dalene Basden, who works in the school system, asked the candidates for the committee how they would improve the programs to ensure that students adversely affected by the COVID shutdown over the last year had adequate mental health counseling.

Incumbent Lorraine Gately struck one theme. 

“I’m wondering if the Lynn Community Health Center could partner up with the therapists in the school system,” she said. “I’d have to look into it, but that would be my go-to position.”

Challenger Pastor PoSun Ung agreed.

“I would second Lorraine and the other candidates to work with the Lynn Community Health Center, and work with school administrations.”

Tiffany Magnolia, who has children in the system and is a professor at North Shore Community College and is also a challenger, said that people need to realize that this pandemic is far from over.

“There is no ‘no-risk’ situation,” she said. “Maybe ‘low risk.'” 

“You have to balance everything out,” she said. “The loss that the students are facing, and have faced, is profound. That’s the part of mental health we should be looking at. But we have to be OK with the idea that right now there is no one solution.”

Still another challenger, Daniel Richard, cautioned that the COVID numbers in the city are still “a little high.

“We have to get them under control,” he said. “Lynn Public Schools is a family. We should be able to seek out teachers, coaches. I spoke to coaches about a lot of different things. And maybe it wouldn’t hurt to maybe find a way to bring outside resources into the city to mitigate the risk of exposure.”

Longtime Lynn resident John C. “Coley” Walsh asked about how the city could better ensure diversity within faculty and staff. 

Lennin “Lenny” Pena was the first to answer this.

“I believe we are working toward that,” he said. “But I want to tell one story, of being in the sixth grade and having a teacher who looked like us, talked like us and used slang like us. That was Jeff Byrd. I know how important it is to have that type of representation.”

It was a statement echoed and expounded upon by incumbent Brian Castellanos. 

“Representation matters,” he said. “We’ve been looking to retain our diversity, and I think it’s really important that more students see leaders who look like them.”

Others brought up the fact that Lynn’s average teacher salary is less than it is in some other communities.

“Our salaries need to be a little more competitive,” said Eric Dugan. “In Salem, the average salary is $95,000. In Lynn, it’s $79,000. We also have to get children more involved in the field of education and make them realize you can make a career out of it.”

Challenger Sandra Lopez agreed. 

“A lot of qualified (teachers) go outside the city and look in places where there is more money,” she said. “All the teachers who have good backgrounds are looking for places that pay well. If we don’t offer that, then it’ll be hard to get that diversity.”

Incumbent Donna Coppola noted that the committee is already doing what she feels is a good job in the diversity department: 

“Our superintendent (Dr. Patrick Tutwiler) is an African-American man. Of our last five principals, four were African American and one is multilingual. Our special education director is African American. Fifty-three percent of our psychologists are minorities. But it’s not just hiring them. It’s retaining them. But we have 1,300 teachers so it’s not going to happen overnight.”

There will be at least three new School Committee members come the next year, as Michael Satterwhite and Jared NIcholson ― who both ran for mayor ― will be leaving, while John Ford is retiring. All the candidates had five minutes to speak on their own behalf, and the central theme emerging was the need for a new school building, especially Pickering Elementarty; and better ways to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Candidates for the council positions had their chances to speak about themselves. In Ward 2, Rick Starbard emphasizes his experiences in starting and running a business, and lamented the fact that not enough attention is paid to the mechanical side of education. His opponent, Elizabeth Figueroa, who was not feeling well, outlined her experience working with the underserved population of Lynn and other communities, and talked of her advocacy for youth and young adults as a case manager. 

“Social work has molded me and made me the person I am,” she said.

In Ward 3, Coco Alinsung spoke of his family’s generational commitment to public service while living in the Philippines, and said he is grateful for the city of Lynn for opening its doors to him. He also talked about his work in researching various vaccines, including those for COVID.

In Ward 4, Natasha Megie-Maddrey said she was running because in going around her ward, she found a lot of people who weren’t going to vote because they didn’t think it would make a difference, and that they didn’t even know who their councilor was. 

Megie-Maddrey said that was not acceptable, and that councilors should be visible enough so that people knew who they were, and that more than 10 percent of the population (the number that voted in the primary) should be voting.

Incumbent Richard Colucci took exception to that characterization.

“Every phone call I get I return,” he said. “And I’ve been out front on issues like affordable housing for more than 25 years, before other people were,” he said. “Just look at the infill housing on Union Street.”

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