BRATTLEBORO—Several candidates have stepped up to run for seats on the Windham Southeast School District (WSESD) school board, including two local women of color.
Deborah Stanford is running for a three-year term as a Dummerston representative to the board, Lana Dever is running for a two-year term as a Brattleboro representative, and Peter “Fish” Case is also seeking the Brattleboro seat.
Neither incumbent in Brattleboro and Dummerston is seeking another term.
“The pandemic officially hit just three weeks after I was sworn in,” said Brattleboro incumbent Jaci Reynolds. “I am proud of myself for being able to participate on the board as much as I have, but I have not been able to give it as much attention as I would have liked to.”
“Between school closures, many appointments for my toddler, who has special needs, and starting my food truck last year, school board commitments have become just too heavy a lift for my family,” said Reynolds, who runs The Pit Mistress Barbecue and Catering.
“I hope to run again in the future when my little one is a bit older and hopefully when Covid reaches endemic status,” she said.
Incumbent Thomas Nolan of Dummerston is not seeking another three-year term.
“I hope someone steps in who helps clear up the lack of action on climate change and diversifying the workforce in the district,” says Nolan.
‘This has never happened before’
School Board Chair David Schoales is delighted that Dever and Stanford are candidates.
“This has never happened before, and it would be terrific for our community to be aware of this opportunity,” said Schoales. “It is clearly established that children of color need to see people who look like them in important positions.”
The prospect of having board members of color “will encourage parents of color to join our school Leadership Councils and expand the voices that influence policies and practices in our schools,” Schoales said.
“It will also encourage qualified people of color to apply for positions in our schools,” he added. “Education research has proven we are not meeting the needs of our students of color if we do not attract adults of color into teaching and leadership positions.”
“We have been working for several years on the Brattleboro [Town School] Board and now on the merged board to figure out how to do this,” he continued. “The emergence of Deborah and Lana as candidates for the school board reassures me that integration is a realistic goal. It is a big first step.”
Stanford has lived in Dummerston since August 2019 and says she has “learned that this community is distinctly different from its neighbors to the north and south, Putney and Brattleboro — perhaps as different from my former home on 87th Street and West End Avenue in Manhattan.”
“As a person of color, I appreciate the diversity of individuals and families, a community closely knit and always supportive of each other,” Stanford said. “As a former English teacher, I thoroughly enjoy the one-room library, clustered with multiple options. And for the past year I have been a committed member of the local Fiction Reading Group.”
“After nearly 35 years teaching in both a public school in the South Bronx and a private institution in a very different section of the Bronx, The Horace Mann School, I have experienced three years of retirement — only to realize that something vital has been missing in my life,” she continued. “Although I am no longer a classroom teacher, I have looked to fill that void by regularly attending WSESD Board meetings.”
Stanford says that as a young mother, she served on the board and volunteered at her son’s community-based nursery school on the Upper West Side.
“I loved watching nursery-aged children crafting games and navigating social groupings,” she said. “We have much to learn from each other, regardless of age difference. And I learn so much by observing and listening.”
Now with grandchildren ranging in age from 11 months to 5 years to 18 years who are all part of the WSESD school system, she said she remains “committed to the educational needs and goals of both my immediate family and my larger community.”
“As adults responsible for the welfare of all children, our shared goal is to help future generations respect and value each other while assuming responsibility for the natural environment that is our home,” she says. “These lessons begin at birth, in the home, in our educational institutions, and beyond. We all have much to learn in a rapidly changing world.”
As a trained facilitator of adult workshops, literature, critical writing skills, and grammar, as well as a teacher and advisor to students in grades 7-12, Stanford said she has “learned that active listening is key to communication.”
“Perhaps as early as this spring, when the current surge of COVID-19 subsides, I will be able to physically visit the Dummerston School to witness firsthand the engagement of teachers, students, staff, and parents,” she said. “I learn so much by listening to the ideas and opinions of others.”
“In the meanwhile, I will continue to represent the concerns of my neighbors as I observe the Board’s conscientious efforts to manage the consolidation of so many diverse schools,” she said. “I look forward to representing the needs and ideas of Dummerston, my home.”
Dever, a longtime Vermont resident, has lived in Brattleboro for 16 years and worked and volunteered in “nearly every sector of our community.”
“From The Book Cellar to Peter Havens restaurant to Dr. Suzanne West’s family dentistry practice, I have gotten to know the unique people who live and work in Brattleboro,” said Dever, the transitions and empowerment coordinator and youth-in-transition case manager for Youth Services.
“As a woman of color and mother to a brilliant 20-year-old stepdaughter and a precocious 10-year-old, I have a deep understanding of the difficulties we all face in our current environment, both politically and locally, while working to raise the voices of the most marginalized among us and fostering dialogue across communities,” she said.
She believes that Brattleboro is “a vibrant community with caring and motivated individuals seeking sustainable change with an eye towards justice.”
If elected, she promises to “listen and work across our community to address the fundamental issues that our students face, while assisting families and educators by giving them the resources and support that they need to move towards the future of a just and equitable Brattleboro.”
As for a field of candidates, “The more choices folks have, the better,” she said. “As far as I’m concerned, I’m not running against anyone, I’m running as myself for my community.”
If elected, Dever promises “to listen to all members of our combined communities and work towards mutual agreements that acknowledge our shared interests and unique circumstances.”
“The broader scope of the current board allows us to reach across town lines and become a stronger community,” she said. “I look forward to the opportunity to work towards compassionate and equitable solutions to the problems we currently face.”
Dever has volunteered in numerous ways, including delivering Meals on Wheels, serving on the board for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Vermont, and continuing to be a Big Sister. She has assisted volunteer dentistry both abroad and in the local walk-in clinic, served on the allocations committee for United Way of Windham County, and worked in multiple capacities with The Root Social Justice Center.
Most recently, Dever served on the town Community Safety Review Committee to “collaboratively work to find a safe and equitable solution to over-policing and harm reduction.”
“It’s such an amazing community and very different from other places I’ve lived,” said Dever, who was homeless as a child and is passionate about her work. “I truly believe it is possible to eradicate youth homelessness in Brattleboro.”
“My childhood was spent moving from town to town, often with no home and without support,” she said. “I learned how to form bonds and make friends quickly. Even as a child, I understood that community meant safety.”
“I survived my childhood because of the families, teachers, and people who took me in and loved me without question,” Dever said.
“I believe that there is no such thing as bootstraps — I did not pull myself out of my circumstances,” she continued. “Rather, I used the tools provided to me by both my ancestors and my adopted families. I am under no illusion that I alone saved myself.”
Dever said she not only believes in social action, but also lives it.
“As a woman of color and mother, I understand the difficulties our society currently faces,” she said. “I will work to raise the voices of the most marginalized among us while fostering dialogue across town lines.”
“Intellectually, I have always believed that a better future is possible; here I can see that it is achievable,” Dever said.
“This is a community that comes together when things are tough, whether for an individual or for an entire town. I have seen that, when called upon to help, Vermonters show up. The past few years have been difficult. Small towns like ours have had to grapple with difficult questions that will affect us for generations to come.”
She said she wants to help the school community “face the current challenges head-on with a strong board behind them,” describing those challenges as “communal issues” that need “communal solutions.”
“We need people who are willing to work together, and in order to do so, we need people who are willing to listen,” Dever said.
Case, who has lived in Brattleboro for 32 years, says he considered running for the open Senate Seat for Windham County but decided he “could likely do more good running for a local seat.”
“Because education is key,” he said of his choice to seek a seat on the board. “Without it, we’re sunk. Education increases innovation and productivity. It also fosters positive social change by encouraging things like community participation, equality, and environmental sustainability.”
“Education can transform a society by showing kids how to make better decisions, teaching them between right and wrong, helping them decipher between fact and fiction. If we put our best foot forward for our kids, they’re going to do the same for us. But it all starts with making sure administrators and teachers have the support and budget they need to do that.
Case, the general manager for Great Eastern Radio’s stations in the Brattleboro/Keene, N.H. area (WEEY, KOOL-FM, and The Peak) and owner of Fishhook Communications, currently serves on the panel to choose the next WSESD superintendent of schools.
He has served as vice president for the Boys and Girls Club, Groundworks Collaborative, and Black Mountain Assisted Family Living, as well as with the Drop-In Center, Girls on the Run, as American Cancer Society Relay for Life chair, and on numerous other committees.
‘It’s a big job, but I’m up for the task,” Case said. “It’s been a tough couple of years, things have been difficult, and maybe — just maybe — I can help navigate these waters.”