Three races emerge for WSESD board

Half of the open seats are contested in this year’s election

Half of the open seats on the Windham Southeast School District (WSESD) School Board are being contested in the election on Tuesday, March 5.

Matt Schibley, who was appointed in October 2023, is being challenged for the remainder of a three-year term as Brattleboro representative by Lance Cutler.

• Two full three-year terms as Brattleboro representative are being sought by incumbent Tim Maciel, Colleen Savage, and Richard Leavy.

• In Guilford, current board Chair Kelly Young is being challenged for a three-year term as Guilford representative by Deborah McNeil and Brian Remer.

• In Vernon, a three-year seat is being sought by incumbent Cheryl Brown.

• Incumbent Anne Beekman is the sole candidate for re-election to a three-year term as Putney representative.

There are no open seats for a Dummerston representative. There is no candidate on the ballot for an open two-year term as Vernon representative.

Matt Schibley

Matt Schibley (Brattleboro, three-year term) was selected from a field of seven candidates for appointment to the seat left open when former board member Lana Dever resigned in June.

The executive director at The NEARI School in Easthampton, Massachusetts, Schibley started that position in August 2023. The NEARI School - officially, the New England Adolescent Research Institute - is a 12-month day school for learning-disabled, emotionally disturbed, neurologically challenged students ages 7-22.

Schibley holds a master's degree in counseling psychology from Antioch University. He is a licensed clinical mental health counselor in Vermont.

He previously served as director of residential life and interim dean of students at The Greenwood School in Putney. Most recently, for six years, he supervised an outpatient mental health clinic and school-based program with Health Care & Rehabilitation Services (HCRS) in southeastern Vermont. Schibley and his wife have two sons in school in the district.

"There is a tremendous amount of work that the board is currently engaged in and so much more work yet to do," Schibley said on Feb. 5. "We, as a school district, are at a crucial point where so much is at stake, not only for our students but I believe the larger community as well.

"If allowed to serve this community another year, my top priorities would be continuing developing the board's relationship with Superintendent Mark Speno; ensuring fiscal responsibility to mitigate impacts on taxpayers; and further addressing ongoing concerns regarding transparency, accountability, and the safety of our students.

"There is so much important work to be done, and I look forward to the opportunity to do it. I am proud of this district and the teachers in our schools. I believe we can continue to collaborate together to ensure a high quality education for our students, and I am grateful for the opportunity to be considered again."

Lance Cutler

Lance Cutler (Brattleboro, three-year term) is a lifelong resident whose family members attended schools here and worked here. He is program supervisor at Kindle Farm School, a special education school for boys from about 15 school districts in the tri-state area.

His daughter graduated from Brattleboro Union High School last year, and his son is currently a junior there.

Asked why he's running, Cutler said, "Part is not really understand what's going on - whether about the former principal [Steve Perrin, fired by the board in 2022 from his position at Brattleboro Union High School] or the facilities - there are a lot of factors I don't understand, and I want to know more about what's going on.

"And I feel I have a pretty good perspective, as someone who's worked in the schools for two decades. I'm from here and have kids in the district, and I just felt it was my turn to try," he says.

"I know there's a lot going on today and I wonder, given the problems that the town is facing, if there's more we can do. And I feel the school system is where I can have an opinion I can talk about, having had kids in the system."

Tim Maciel

Tim Maciel (Brattleboro, three-year term) is a higher education consultant for his company, Educational Solutions of New England, focusing on campuses that want to increase their international populations.

He served as associate provost for Excelsior College from 2007 to 2011 and as associate vice president of academic affairs at Post University from 2002 to 2006.

Maciel was dean of the Division of Language Teaching Education at World Learning's School for International Training Graduate Institute from 1999 to 2001 and as training director with the Peace Corps from 1991 to 2001.

He holds master's and doctoral degrees in education from Harvard Graduate School of Education.

"'How are our students doing emotionally, socially, and academically?' That is one of many questions that, if re-elected, I would continue to seek answers to," says Maciel. "School boards attract individuals from diverse backgrounds and with different areas of expertise; mine is education.

"I have been a teacher, teacher trainer, researcher, and educational administrator for my entire professional life, but perhaps the best training I have had for the seat has been my experience for the last four years serving multiple roles on the board."

Maciel currently serves on the Policy and Amendments Committee, the Social Justice Committee, and the Brattleboro Union High School Leadership Council. He is also advisor to the Student Advisory Committee and to one of the two student representatives on the board, "roles I enjoy immensely," he says.

"To do the job well takes an enormous time commitment, and so it does help that I am retired," Maciel says, adding any contribution he's made has been "in collaboration with others on the board and throughout the school community."

If re-elected, he says he will "continue to work with others to do all we can to attract, support, and retain quality teachers and administrators; practice fiscal responsibility; maintain safe and healthy school environments; and assess and promote student learning.

"I am committed to supporting innovative programs that allow our students to develop the skills, knowledge, attitudes, and self-confidence to achieve their highest aspirations."

Colleen Savage

Colleen Savage (Brattleboro, three-year term) holds a bachelor's degree in English from the University of South Florida and a master's in nonprofit leadership from La Salle University in Philadelphia.

Savage and her family moved to Brattleboro in 2020. She is a volunteer for Brattleboro Area Hospice, and she and her family foster dogs through Through the Love of Dog/Vermont.

"We are among those people who moved from the pandemic," she said. "It was a good move. We're very happy to be here."

Savage has a son at Green Street School, where she serves on the PTO.

She says she is running "mostly as a concerned parent and community member."

"I just feel I could contribute and would be happy to do so. I come from a long line of educators and education has always been super important to me and I'd like to be more involved with it," she says.

Savage is former marketing manager for a nonprofit in Philadelphia, Manayunk Development Corporation, where she organized a massive street fair and art festival.

"I really got to see what a great sense of community they had there," she says. "And I think being on a school board is more a community position. It's not just the board members, but the staff, and parents, and students, and I feel I'd benefit from that.

"And I've been on a lot of different boards - my food co-op in Philadelphia, my son's preschool - and with my experience and education, I'm well-versed on how boards work; how to work in the system; how to work collaboratively, putting your own agenda to the side. I've come to learn a lot of folks don't know how to do that."

Richard Leavy

Richard Leavy (Brattleboro, three-year term) studied at St. Lawrence University and holds degrees in philosophy and environmental studies.

Leavy is owner of Southern Vermont Home, LLC. In 2015, he moved to Vermont and shifted his career path to construction.

A commercial organic farmer in Connecticut for 15 years, he was also an organic farmer in California for a decade and in North Carolina, Hawaii, and in the Hudson Valley, in New York state.

Leavy has two children who attend Brattleboro Area Middle School and Academy School, respectively.

"I'm just interested in being involved on the school board with two kids enrolled in the district," Leavy says. "I think it is time well spent."

He also feels his expertise in the construction field will help with the district's various capital and infrastructure projects.

"There are a lot of capital improvements we're trying to do at all the individual schools, and I feel I can be an asset in that regard," he says, noting he's looked at the 2025 capital plan. "I can certainly help with that, as well as future years' intended projects. I really want to focus on the capital plan and those projects. I'm getting feedback from the schools directly that there's a need there."

Leavy is also keenly interested in drawing on his farming background to help improve the school lunch program.

"I've had a lifelong passion for healthy eating, and I know the board is going to reevaluate that program and find out what changes to make, so I think it's an appropriate time to throw my hat in the ring in that regard," he says.

Kelly Young

Current WSESD school board Chair Kelly Young (Guilford, three-year term) works as a judicial assistant for the state of Vermont in Windham Superior/Probate/Criminal/Family courts. She earned a paralegal certificate from Post University and a bachelor's degree in political science from Norwich University.

She grew up in the Brattleboro area, and she and her husband have lived in Guilford for more than 20 years, raising four children in the district, all BUHS graduates.

Young joined the Guilford School Board in 2018. As its clerk, she was a member of the transitional board. She says she was "encouraged" to run for the merged board and has been serving on the WSESD since.

She has chaired the board for two years.

"From an early age, I have seen the impact education can have on someone's life - how not having a good education can influence their life path in so many ways, even years out," says Young, noting that her mother was a math tutor at Adult Basic Education (now Vermont Adult Learning) for almost 35 years, starting when Young was in second grade.

From her mother's work, Young learned that some of her students were "young people whose needs were not able to be addressed by the school system and who were looking to get their GEDs. Others were adults in the community who had, years earlier, not been able to finish high school for one reason or another. Many of these individuals took the steps beyond getting their GED to earn their high school diploma.

"I observed how people's options for jobs and opportunities were influenced by the challenges they faced, both in school and in their lives," she says. "I witnessed the way seemingly minor progress could alter a person's self-confidence. Some of these people had such challenges that anyone believing in them and giving them a chance to shine was rare.

"I am my mother's daughter, and I know that. This is confirmed for me because of my commitment to ensuring that as many young people as possible receive a good education that prepares them for a meaningful life, one which is going to be different for each individual."

Deborah McNeil

Deborah McNeil (Guilford; three-year term) has retired from Health Care Rehabilitation Services, where she worked for 13 years. She has worked in a Montessori school and then at Putney Central School as a library assistant and as a substitute teacher's aide. She has worked with students who had emotional/behavioral issues.

Her grown children have children of their own, and she takes care of these grandchildren.

"My focus has always been for the kids, who, through no fault of their own, need support, and I've never been afraid of speaking up for those who can't," says McNeil, a self-proclaimed conservative. "That's really important."

She says that her grandchildren "are going through the school system, and I'm concerned about what's going on fiscally and emotionally, and what they're teaching. I don't think young children should be taught about 'what are your pronouns.'

"I think young children are being asked to carry too much. I think more people are nodding and saying, 'That's what I should say,' but I'm not that person. I don't think that should be forced onto children.

"I really care about children, and that's my primary reason [for running], and I really want them to go forward and have things simpler. My husband said, 'They're going to crucify you,' and I said, 'Well, if that's what they're going to do, then that's what they'll do.'

"We're all different, but I'm not afraid to say what I feel."

Brian Remer

An educator and facilitator, Brian Remer (Guilford, three-year term) works for the state of Vermont as training and engagement specialist at the Center for Achievement in Public Service.

He and his wife, Nanci Leitch, who is development and communications director for Youth Services, have a daughter who is a BUHS and University of Vermont graduate now doing post-graduate work at the University of California/Berkeley.

Remer is former creative learning director for The Firefly Group.

With a B.A. in psychology from Coe College in Iowa and an M.A. in intercultural management and administration from the School for International Training here, Remer has worked with businesses and organizations around the world and throughout the U.S. He is a regular presenter at national training conferences and has published widely.

A member of the International Society for Performance Improvement, Remer has served on the board of directors and as chair and president of the North American Simulation and Gaming Association as well as on the boards of the Center for Health and Learning and the Guilford Community Church.

"I'm really interested in learning, and learning from experience," Remer says, adding that he has taught elementary and middle school students and trained adults in nonprofits and businesses, and for the state. "I design and deliver interactive courses in leadership, supervision, ethics, sexual harassment, inclusion, and other topics. I'm really interested in how experience teaches us and how we turn our experiences into learning.

"I think that draws me to the school board because I'm interested in the way people learn and the opportunities we provide for our students. It's really important that students have learning opportunities that engage them. I know that, and I want to keep that trend going."

Remer says his work facilitating meetings and helping people "share ideas in ways so that everyone can listen and appreciate and learn from one another" is a "perspective and approach I hope to bring to the board itself and, by example, share with the administration and model how we remain productive in dialogue and conversation.

"It seems to be something we're not so good at or not paying attention to. Something - I'm not sure what."

Remer sees the board as an opportunity to gather "with deep concerns," wanting to "share them and be heard."

"My goal is to create an environment where people can do their best learning and share their best skills. I would like to bring that perspective to the students, faculty, and administrators in the schools of our four towns and to the WSESD school board meetings," says Remer, a "collaborator who believes everyone has something they can contribute to solve problems and improve our systems and community."

He also tries to "stay current on the challenges and struggles young people face."

"Well-educated young people energize our communities with passion, optimism, and creativity," he says. "It is extremely important that our schools balance the ability to generate a positive learning culture where all can thrive with the community's ability to provide the resources needed. Schools are where we teach children what a community is. And schools help children gain the knowledge and develop the skills so they can find their place within our community."

Cheryl Brown

Cheryl Brown (Vernon; three-year term) is owner/trainer/instructor at Cold Brook Stables. After graduating from Hinsdale High School in 1997, she attended the Thompson School for Applied Science at the University of New Hampshire in the equine studies program.

She worked as a wrangler in South Dakota before attending Laramie County Community College and graduating with an associate's degree in horse training and management with a minor in agricultural business in 2002.

She has competed on equestrian teams at the college level and lived and worked in Wyoming, Colorado, and New Hampshire.

She's taught riding to many local children who attend Vernon Elementary School and she's run both dairy and horse 4-H clubs for 20 years here.

She and her husband Peter have three children and have lived in Vernon since 2004. Two attend Pioneer Valley Regional School in Northfield, Massachusetts, where Brown is director of food services, and one who goes to Vernon Elementary.

Brown was appointed in January to complete an unfinished term and is seeking election to her first full term.

"From my work at Pioneer Valley, I've learned a lot, especially becoming administration, and having children in the schools where they are - two by school choice - and one at a local school, and having been involved in [individualized education programs], I have a kind of rounded look at things that I think would benefit the schools and the towns," Brown says.

In the past month she's served, she's been part of the budget process and "watching and listening because I'm so new, but I feel like I'm learning a lot."

Anne Beekman

Beekman (Putney; three-year term) was appointed to fill a vacancy on the Putney Town School Board in 2013 and then to fill a vacancy on the Brattleboro Union High School (BUHS) District #6 Board in 2016. At the same time, she was also appointed to the Windham Regional Career Center Regional Advisory Board (WRCC RAB) and represented the BUHS board on the Windham Southeast Supervisory Union (WSESU) board.

She continued to serve in all those positions until the districts were merged into the WSESD. She was elected to serve on the transitional board and has served as an elected representative from Putney on the merged board since its inception.

She currently chairs the WSESU board and serves on the finance and policy subcommittees, and chairs the personnel committee. She remains a member of the regional advisory board.

"I reached out to some of my colleagues to help me describe my role on the board," Beekman tells The Commons. "They said to say I bring experience, expertise, knowledge, and wise counsel. I think that sort of sums it up for me. I bring a steadying influence born of experience.

"I also have a passion for growth and improvement born of that same experience. I see how far we've come, and I see the enormous potential of our district. We have amazing folks doing amazing work in our schools. I want to continue to use my experience to support that work.

"I was recruited to the Putney Town School Board because there was work to do, and no one else was willing to do it. I was recruited to the BUHS District 6 Board for the same reason.

"I'm running again because there is still so much work to be done," Beckman says. "In the difficult world we have found ourselves in, the most important thing we can give our children is an education.

"Every child needs knowledge, critical thinking skills, and a safe place to begin to understand the world around them. I want to continue to work to make all of our wonderful schools a place where every child is prepared with a foundation to make their dreams come true. I want that for every child, no matter who they are or where they came from [...] or what their dreams may be."

This News item by Virginia Ray was written for The Commons.

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