Six running for Board of Education in NashuaBy BARBARA TAORMINA
Union Leader Correspondent
November 01. 2013 10:52PM
Unlike recent elections where there were only enough candidates to fill the vacancies, this Tuesday four incumbents and two challengers are running for four open seats on the Board of Education.
All six candidates have served on the board and have skills and experience they believe will be assets in leading Nashua's school district.
Thomas Vaughan is running for a third term on the board with a new sense of optimism.
"We are going through big changes in the way we do instruction, and it has the potential to be very positive for students," he said.
Vaughan believes the Common Core Standards will raise the bar for students and make learning more challenging.
"I know it won't be easy, but I think we have the chance to really turn the corner," he said, adding there is a tendency to underestimate Nashua students.
The former philosophy major turned software engineer also appreciates how Common Core will provide data that allows teachers to target problems in curriculum.
Vaughan first ran for a seat on the board because he felt budget negotiations were too contentious, and funding for schools was inadequate.
Although he acknowledges that schools can always use more money and resources, he believes the BOE and the Aldermen have developed a stronger, more cooperative relationship when it comes to negotiating budgets.
As chairman of the BOE's Policy Committee, Vaughan has been focusing on strategies to strength early education.
"I have a passion for education," he said. "I hope voters support me so I can keep working at it."
David Murotake's motto as both a state rep and an incumbent seeking a second term on the board is "Education is the Foundation of Liberty."
He uses his own life as an example of how education opens doors.
"I was a poor kid in Leavenworth, Kan., and I won a scholarship to attend one of the five military academies, he said.
Murotake was able to use the scholarship to attend MIT were he racked up a string of degrees in engineering, computer science and managing technological innovation.
Murotake said his biggest accomplishment during his first term was convincing the school district to return to teaching and drilling basic math facts.
"Those are foundational skills that we need to teach kids in elementary school," he said, adding success in later years depends on those basic abilities.
He hopes his first big accomplishment in his second term will be convincing the board to approve his resolution to delay the Common Core assessment tests for two years.
He also has concerns about the data collection and curriculum development occurring with Common Core.
"The people responsible for education, the BOE and parents, need to be vigilant," he said.
George Farrington served on the board from 1990 to 1997, and watched a parade on educational reform movements come and go.
The Common Core Standards convinced him it was time to get involved again.
"I have concerns and questions," he said, adding that he wonders if the standards provide reasonable expectations for students.
And he is wary of what he describes as Common Core's "one-size-fits all" approach to education.
"My concern is that we don't go 10 years down the road and decide, like No Child Left Behind, that it doesn't work," he said.
If elected, Farrington said he hopes to help streamline the many goals and initiatives the board has generated over the past several years.
"I can't help but believe that impacts education," he said. "Teachers are taking time out of class to write curriculum."
He also believes teachers should have a broader role in setting goals.
"The tendency has been to use a top-down approach and I think you need more input from teachers," he added.
A retired airline pilot who also serves on the Board of Assessors, Farrington now has a grandchild in first grade and he wants to foster a school system that challenges all kids.
"One of the biggest things you can do is raise expectations," he said.
Dotty Oden has been pushing the board to tweak the morning bus schedule for Amherst Elementary School. Oden has repeatedly explained that kids arrive too late to have breakfast, and she's offered the board the information needed to fix the problem.
The former teacher who retired last June after 14 years at Amherst Elementary has been trying for months to make the simple change, and she said she'll keep at it until it's done.
Oden said she's "running for kids," and their needs and interests will be her priority rather than test scores and data.
"I want to be at the table to make sure the money is spent on them," she said. "This is not a stepping stone to any other office, it's about education."
Oden served on the board from 1992 to 1995, and has watched public education embrace different reforms and trends.
She has concerns about the Common Core Standards and she supports the proposal to delay the assessment tests for two years.
If elected, her first step will be a close review of the budget the distribution of resources.
"I am very concerned that our kids and classrooms are paying the price for procedure," she said.
During her first two terms on the board, Sandra Ziehm became known for speaking her mind on thorny issues such as salaries for school administrators, which she says are too high, and funding for special education, which she worries is unsustainable.
She is running for her third term with a call to refocus how schools are managed.
"I think you need to rule from the bottom up," she said, adding that the board and the administration need more input from teachers.
"I look at teachers as our soldiers," she said. "They have the hardest battle."
Ziehm believes classrooms are the cornerstone of education, and she supports adding more paraprofessionals and reading specialists and reducing class sizes.
"We have classrooms with 29 kids with diversity that would choke a horse," she said.
Ziehm owns Harmony Real Estate in Hudson, and is serving her second term as Hillsborough County Commissioner.
She believes schools need to better prepare Nashua kids for colleges and careers. But she opposes many of the changes schools will see with the Common Core Standards and feels the reforms will hurt kids who are struggling.
"From the day they start, they will be over their heads," she said.
Dennis Ryder ran for his first term on the board after the school budget came up $3 million short. He was also troubled by how far Americans have slipped in international student rankings.
"Americans used to be No. 1," he said. "Now, I think they are ranked 17th."
If elected to a second term, tighter budgets and higher test scores will still be his priorities.
Originally from London, England, Ryder is a retired engineer and CEO who has lived and worked all over the world. He feels he has the background to help strengthen the district's budgeting policies, and the perspective to push for higher academic standards that will help students compete in an international economy.
During his first term, he helped launch a policy that allows the BOE to review school purchases over $5,000. And he recently convinced the Construction Projects Committee to switch architects for the Broad Street School renovation, a move that saved the city more than $90,000 and introduced a new contractor to the Nashua.
He acknowledges there are problems with the Common Core Standards, but he supports moving ahead with the reforms.
"There are all sorts of reasons not to like Common Core," he said. "But the reasons to like it outweigh the disadvantages. It is the first real step to get some improvement."