WHITMAN — Change came in twos during the Tuesday, July 6 Board of Selectmen’s meeting — new Fire Chief Timothy Clancy was sworn and former Whitman Middle School teacher and mmber of both the School Committee and Board Selectman, Beth Stafford, was chosen to fill a School Committee vacancy.
Clancy’s badge-pinning ceremony was held in the Town Hall auditorium before the Selectmen, in a joint meeting with Whitman School Committee members, interviewed six applicants interested in filling the vacancy left by Dan Cullity’s resignation last month.
Firefighters and their families filled the hall to watch the brief ceremony during which Town Clerk Dawn Varley administered the oath and Clancy’s wife Danielle and daughter Kiley pinned on his new badge.
“[I’m] very proud to be standing here with you, we’ve worked together for a long, long time,” Varley said before swearing in Chief Clancy.
He declined shouts requesting that he make a speech.
“We’re about to go into a number of years with another Tim,” said Selectmen Chairman Dr. Carl Kowalski after announcing that Clancy and the board had agreed to and signed a contract with Clancy during an executive session before the ceremony. “We have to find a fourth Tim at some point — that’ll be a job for the next number of years.”
Clancy follows Timothy Travers and Timothy Grenno as Whitman’s Fire Chief.
School Committee hopefuls were then interviewed in alphabetical order — Heather Clough, Shawn Kain, Sandra Masison, Beth Stafford, Ryna Tressel and Robert Trotta — before all six names were placed in nomination together and voted upon until one candidate received six of the 10 votes of the joint meeting. Stafford received that margin on the second ballot.
The complete interviews will be rebroadcast on W-H Community Access TV and posted on the WHCA YouTube channel.
Like Stafford, Trotta is a former educator and town official, having served 12 years on the School Committee. Kain is a teacher at an alternative high school who has been active in town financial discussions. Both Cough and Masaison — a businsessperson with two children, one of whom is special needs — are parents of children with special needs who attend W-H schools, and Clough ran on this year’s town ballot, coming within eight votes of winning a seat on the School Committee. Tressel works with the PCC program, a residential summer program for students in grades seven to 10 at Stonehill College and has worked at WHRHS in the past.
All but Trotta expressed a willingness to run for the seat at next year’s Town Election. His interest was in serving on a temporary basis until next year’s election.
Stafford said the number of applicants and the need for some of them to alter vacation plans to take part in the process speaks well for the town.
“I give great respect to everybody here,” she said after the vote, encouraging her competitors to “call me up and tell me what you need and I will do the best of my ability” to help with their concerns.
“I’ve always been interested in education,” Stafford said. “I feel I am the best candidate because of my past experience being on the School Committee [and having been] a Selectman. I have the fiscal side of me … working for the town for six years — a couple as chair — and being on the School Committee as vice chair.”
School Committee member Fred Small and Selectman Randy LaMattina focused on budget process in their questions to all candidates, which required Clough to be brought back for LaMattina’s question — when he had to draft a new one after Small covered his issue.
Stafford said keeping the community informed and balancing educational and town needs are among the key factors in the budget process.
“We need to be … more collaborative, right from the get-go, right from the start,” she said to LaMattina about how the town and schools can streamline the budget process.
School Committee member Dawn Byers asked about the candidates understanding and approach to the regional funding formula, and how corrections can be made while bringing perpetual investment in education back in line with the state average.
“I would be talking to the reps and state senators and try to see what’s going on, where are they and what can they do for us,” Stafford said. “We’re not getting the funding we need.”
School panel member Christopher Scriven asked each candidate what the high and low points of their committee work has been in the past. Member Steve Bois asked where they would improve themselves and David Forth asked what School Committee votes each candidate have and have not supported.
“I’ve been on both sides,” Stafford said in response to Scriven’s question. “I’ve been management — being Selectmen, being School Committee — but I’ve also been the employee.”
She told Forth that she was not happy with the cutting of full-day kindergarten from the budget, a position on which all six candidates agreed. She said the work done to help the district get through COVID was impressive.
“All of you on the School Committee have done a great job [in] a tough time,” she said. “A lot of difficult decisions have had to be made. … I thought the votes taken having to do with COVID were very well done.”
She said that despite occasional difficult issues that have cropped up in those roles, she enjoyed the work.
Selectman Dan Salvucci asked if they planned to run for re-election and why they were the best candidate, yielding a good-natured ribbing from Kowalski who cautioned each candidate that Salvucci would be repeating his question.
“I wanted to get back into education and working with the town again,” Stafford said. She also said she does see a need to abstain from negotiations votes on the committee because, as a retired teacher, she gets health benefits through the district.
Selectman Justin Evans asked for the applicants’ priorities among a list recently discussed by the School Committee as part of its summer strategy sessions. Like most applicants, Stafford pointed to early childhood education, as well as related arts and facility needs — pointing to her experience working in WMS, a school with repair needs.
Selectman Brian Bezanson asked their opinions on recent media debate over critical race theory.
Stafford, like Tressel in pointing out that concern about critical race theory is largely a product of misinformation, because it is not taught in K-12 schools. Other applicants pointed to a need for letting history teachers do the job of teaching an accurate portrayal of history.
“It’s taught in college, or if you are going to be a lawyer,” she said. “You really need to start with the basics of making everyone understand that teachers are not … teaching that. … If it comes, we have to so a lot of critical thinking of ourselves, and what we want. I have concerns about how it would be introduced at the different [grade] levels.
“It’s not blanking out history, it’s adding to history,” she said.