Bullying and Racism Discussed at School Committee Forum
TAUNTON – A dozen school committee candidates presented their arguments to voters on Thursday in this year’s Taunton Community Access & Media / Taunton Daily Gazette forum.
Host and Moderator Bob Jacobs, Chairman of the TCAM Board of Directors, used a different format from previous election cycles. The candidates presented themselves in groups of four, chosen at random. Each candidate would be asked the same question, with 90 seconds to answer. After each of the four speeches, Jacobs opened the floor for a three-minute discussion between the candidates.
Voters will choose at least three new members of the school committee in the elections which end on November 2.
The nearly three-hour forum addressed many questions. Below are the answers to one question from each of the three groups. For other questions, voters can watch a replay (program at the bottom of this story) or broadcast the session, fast forward as you want.
Use of mobile phones by students
There was a particularly lively discussion on cell phone use by students, following the sexually explicit content which was shared via AirDrop in high school last week.
This discussion begins at 1 hour, 28 minutes and 55 seconds. This debate focused on whether the use of cell phones by students could be changed or even banned.
Critical breed theory
A college-level academic framework on systemic racism in America has been the subject of much discussion recently, especially in conservative media and forums. Jacobs asked the candidates if they would like to see this perspective taught at Taunton. Currently, this is not the case. The question begins here, at the 2 hour mark, 5 minutes.
Teacher diversity gap
A group of four responded to a question originally posed to an earlier forum By Condoleezza Dwuye, Student at Taunton High School: What would applicants do to make faculty demographics more closely match student body diversity?
Challenger Heather Baylies-Grigoreas, whose volunteer efforts include chairing the Taunton Special Education Parent Advisory Council and working with Girls Inc., agreed this was a problem.
“Students need to be in front of adults who look like them. They need to see the success of people who look like them in different ways,” Baylies-Grigoreas said. “Five percent of teachers versus 40 percent of students is sad.”
She said that while the district has made efforts to hire more diverse candidates, this innovative thinking on the issue is needed.
Candidate Maria Collins, a mother of eight and an American Sign Language interpreter, agreed with Baylies-Grigoreas.
“I think it’s a real challenge,” Collins said. “I think there is no easy answer to this.”
Challenger Derek George Sr., an African-American man who grew up in Taunton, said he didn’t have a black educator until he went to college. He said he felt the gulf between people telling him he could be anything, never seeing teachers who looked like him. George is an assistant principal at a college in Fall River, but first applied for a job in Taunton.
“I’ve heard we can’t find anyone, but I see him in other neighborhoods,” said George, whose ancestry also includes Portuguese and Albanians. “I’m in Fall River, where we see bilingual, multilingual people of color teaching. And it’s beautiful. So what are we doing or not doing that other places?”
Incumbent Greg DeMelo, whose day job is director of travel and special projects at Bridgewater State University, said the entire region is struggling to produce and hire a diverse teaching body.
“Unfortunately, people are not taking the path of education as a career choice,” DeMelo said, noting that Taunton’s demographics are changing as the city grows. “We are still not balanced, but we are working on it.”
DeMelo cited programs across the region that give local high school students a taste of higher education as a way to spark the interest of under-represented groups to become teachers.
Good marks for super, so far
Superintendent John Cabral got good marks on whether his contract should be renewed when it expires in 2024.
Challenger Allen “AJ” Windle said yes, based on what he saw, he would keep Cabral on the job.
Incumbent Nathan Pawlowski has also said he will vote for the renewal.
“In leading our school system through this pandemic, he has done a great job,” said Pawlowski.
Incumbent Christine Fagan, whose vote made the difference in hiring Cabral for the first time as superintendent, said she didn’t always agree with Cabral, but was still in able to have productive conversations with him.
One candidate, Gill Enos, declined to say how he would vote as he is not yet on the school committee and has not worked directly with Cabral. Enos said that, if elected, he would have two years to review Cabral’s performance.
“Considering what he had to face last year, it’s amazing that he’s still alive,” said Enos, who is the city’s budget manager.
Harassment and cyberbullying
Jacobs asked the candidates what can be done, what is not being done now, to stop the plague of students who bully other students.
Louie Loura, a former school committee member and former city councilor, said staff need to have the confidence to know when a child may be bullied and have the skills to engage with that student.
“It continues, it exists and it cannot be denied,” said Loura.
Ronald Bouchard, a businessman and parent of two children with special needs, said cell phones are a major avenue for bullying.
“Do I think we should ban all cell phones? I don’t know, but it’s a really interesting discussion to have,” Bouchard said.
Alison Rosa, a high school teacher and mother of three with a background in pediatrics, said a successful way to stop bullying is for teachers and administrators to understand the “whys” each child brings to the school. school. She advocated for a “trauma-informed” approach, which meets children where they are and guides them to different choices.
Longtime school committee member Jordan “Jody” Fiore said his take on bullying begins with personal experience.
“I am, and I was a child, a fat, simple dweeb. I was bullied,” said Fiore, who also served on city council.
Fiore said the first priority is to make sure bullying doesn’t escalate into violence.
Observe the candidates yourself
If you missed the forum during its broadcast and live stream on Thursday night, you can watch reruns at next hours on the Comcast Channel, Verizon Channel 22 or anytime via Diffusion, including at the top of this page:
- Saturday October 16 at 9 p.m.
- Monday October 18 at 1 p.m.
- Tuesday October 19 at 8 p.m.
- Sunday October 24 at 8:30 p.m.
- Wednesday October 27 at 1 p.m.
- Saturday October 30 at 9 p.m.
Four candidates from the school committee did not participate. Holders designated by an (i): George Moniz, Steven Vieira (i), Joe Martin (i) and Marc Dunderdale.
A Taunton City Council Forum using the same format will be broadcast live on Thursday, October 21 from 7 p.m.
Email your current advice to reporter Chris Helms at [email protected] Support local journalism by purchasing a digital or print subscription to The Taunton Daily Gazette.