The Halifax Selectman and the Halifax School Committee held a joint meeting on Monday, November 16 to conduct interviews with several candidates for the open spot on the School Committee left by the resignation of Robert Johnson. Each candidate was allotted 10 minutes during which they were asked to provide some background on themselves and to field questions from members of both the Board of Selectmen and the School Committee. Candidate Karen Hart was scheduled for an interview but did not attend the meeting.
The first candidate to take the hot seat was Ashley DiSesa. DiSesa, a mother to a kindergartener and second grader, said she has been a resident of Halifax for the last seven years. She also said that she has attended most school committee meetings as well as some PTO and selectmen meetings. School Committee member Summer Schmaling asked DiSesa, as she would go on to ask all the candidates, if she considered herself fiscally conservative as well as what model (full remote, hybrid, full in-person) she believed should be the goal for this school year. DiSesa said she would consider herself fiscally conservative. Regarding the model of schooling, Disesa said, “That’s a tough one not knowing what’s going to happen; ideally I think all the kids should be back in school.” She went on to acknowledge the difficulties that a return to full in-person schooling would pose including busing and financial constraints. School Committee member Alison Vance asked DiSesa to speak to her favorite things about Halifax Elementary School. DiSesa, who called the Halifax teachers “amazing,” said that growing up in nearby Carver she always planned to move to Halifax and send her children through the Silver Lake district. Wearing two hats, Selectman and Chair of the School Committee Gordon Andrews asked all candidates if they were registered voters and if they had attended the last two town meetings. DiSesa said yes to both.
Marline Amedee described herself as a mother, social worker, community activist, and a small business owner. Amedee said she moved to Halifax a little over a year ago and said that while she has not had the opportunity to volunteer at Halifax Elementary School (HES), she was very involved in the schools in Brockton prior to her move. “For me serving children to young adults is not my passion, it is my life… I believe it is important to serve the community you live in,” Amedee told those assembled. In response to Schmaling’s question as to whether or not she considers herself fiscally conservative Amedee said that while she was very aware that the school budget is the taxpayers’ money, the budget still needs to serve the best interests of the students, staff, and the facility. In response to Andrews question, Amedee said that she was a registered voter and that she had attended one of the recent town meetings.
Michael Regnetta, who moved to Halifax a year ago and referred to himself as a small business owner, told the Selectmen and School Committee members that he has spent most of his adult life working with children, mainly as a coach. While his own children are grown, he said that he has young grandchildren who will eventually be attending HES. In response to the first part of Schmaling’s question he responded that he is “pretty conservative [fiscally] but more fiscally responsible.” Regarding an ideal model for school this year, Regnetta responded, “Obviously I would like to see all the kids in school full time… as normal as we can get it sooner rather than later.” While Regnetta said that he hadn’t yet attended a school committee meeting, he has attended town meeting and is a registered voter. Regnetta said that negotiating would be a strength of his that he could bring to the Committee.
Karyn Townsend, a mother of two HES students, brought to the table the most education related experience of all the candidates. A 20-year resident of Halifax and an educator for 23 years, Townsend was previously a teacher at Silver Lake Regional High School and is currently a science teacher in Pembroke. She also serves as the negotiations chair for the Pembroke Teacher’s Association where she has successfully negotiated 3 contracts with the school committee. While she said that the financial aspect of things would be a weakness of hers, she did intend to take the course offered by the Massachusetts Association of School Committees (MASC) on the topic. Townsend said that while she is a registered voter, she has not attended town meeting recently. Committee member Alison Vance told the other members that Townsend is one of the only members of the community to regularly attend their meetings.
Asked whether she has volunteered within the school, Townsend said despite it being difficult with her work schedule she has done guest lessons for teachers, attended some PTO meetings, and coached both soccer and baseball. In response to Schmaling’s question about fiscal conservativism, Townsend said that she believed it to be too subjective of a question to provide an accurate answer. She also said that she felt unequipped to answer the question about the best model of schooling for this year without having all of the information.
Lifelong resident of Halifax and former Halifax police officer James Keegan was the second to last interview of the evening. Keegan, who is currently a Plymouth police officer, is the father to two daughters aged 9 and 11. He cited school safety as a major interest of his and said that he is currently a school resource officer at one of the Plymouth middle schools. He is a member of the National Association of School Resource Officers (NASRO) and is Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate (ALICE) trained. Keegan said he is a registered voter though he did not participate in the most recent town meetings.
Asked if he considers himself fiscally conservative, Keegan said, “fiscal responsibility is something my wife and I are extremely passionate about.” Regarding whether students should return to full, in-person learning Keegan said, “my wife and I believe, whether it’s good or bad, that the children should be back in the school. I’m looking at science… we’re just two parents who believe that the children should be back in school with parameters.” He did go on to acknowledge that it wouldn’t be financially possible to do so in the very immediate future. Keegan ended his interview by saying that while he had always wanted to volunteer in town between his career, his wife’s career, and their family, he didn’t have the time until now.
The final interview of the night was with Kathleen DeBlois. DeBlois said she has lived in Halifax for the last 7 years after moving from the North Shore. DeBlois complimented the other candidates telling the Selectmen and School Committee that they had a multitude of good options. DeBlois, a mother to a third and fourth grader at HES, said she has a degree in public policy and previously worked in the office of the MA state senate president. She described herself as fiscally conservative but acknowledged that good schools result in good property values in town which is beneficial even to those who don’t have students in the school. Regarding her opinion on a model for the current school year, DeBlois said, “I would love to see… every kid back in school depending if it was done safely.”
A registered voter who has attended town meeting, DeBlois said she is heavily involved with HES, volunteering regularly in her children’s classes as well as at events such as book fairs and field trips. Asked if she has the time to dedicate to the Committee, DeBlois said that she has the fortunate ability to stay home with her children and that time constraints would not be an issue.
Discussion and Vote
Andrews addressed the candidates saying, “Thank you everyone for your commitment to our community.” He said that he was looking for someone who has the availability as well as has shown a commitment to the school and a knowledge of what the schools have gone through in the months since the pandemic began. Schmaling also thanked the candidates and said she was impressed to see so many people interested in the position. “Frankly, I think that all of these candidates bring something a little different to the table, it’s just up to us to decide what we’re looking for,” Schmaling said.
Before voting, Selectman Tom Millias asked each candidate if they would consider running for the same open position during the general election as the current position would only be an interim one until the next election. All candidates replied that they would.
The vote was based on the majority of all the Selectmen and School Committee members present. Andrews only had one vote despite being a member of both. The only candidates receiving nominations were Deblois, DiSesa, and Keegan. Deblois and Keegan received three votes a piece while DiSesa received four and was named as the newest member of the Halifax School Committee.