Three candidates vying for two-year Rochester Memorial School Committee post
Three candidates are seeking a two-year term on the Rochester Memorial School Committee to fill out a vacancy.
Jason Chisholm, who was appointed to the seat, is seeking to fill out the term. James O’Brien, a former committee member, wants to bring his educational experience as former superintendent of Greater New Bedford Regional Vocational Technical High School. Gregory Hardy said he would add a new voice.
Meet the candidates:
Chisholm said he is running to “finish what I started” when he was appointed to the post.
“I feel it’s like a calling,” he said. A key aspect of the job, he said, is “supporting the children, the administration, the educators and the support staff.”
He said his work running the sales division of a consulting firm gives him experience in having “hard conversations,” which he said are sometimes needed in his position.
Schools have “limited resources” and must work within a “finite budget,” which he said can require difficult decisions. “It takes a collection of level-headed people” to sift through the information and make the best choices, he said.
He is also concerned about offering ample career development for teachers and administrative staff. “We’ve got a talent challenge” in an “extremely competitive” market, he said.
“It’s hard to find and retain diverse, capable candidates.” He said he will work to ensure that the staff has the “supports available” for ample career development.
His role as executive director of Tri-Town Against Racism has enabled him to interact with a range of community members, he noted, including businesspeople, law enforcement and town officials.
The goal, he said, is to have “a human conversation, not a race conversation” so that “all elements of a community feel comfortable showing up at their very best.”
O’Brien is no stranger to school systems.
He worked for 35 years in education, including serving as the top administrator at Greater New Bedford Regional Vocational Technical High School.
He has also served as chair of the Old Rochester Regional School System.
Throughout his years in education, he said he has been “all about the kids. I started out as a paraprofessional and I climbed the ladder.”
As superintendent, he worked closely with “budgets, mandates, special education, guidance and counseling.” The role allowed him to interact frequently with the school community and “listen to what their problems and concerns are” and to “align everything.”
In the era of Covid, he said he is especially concerned with issues “beyond math and science.”
When children returned to school when the buildings reopened after Covid, “they reminded me of kids who had been in the closet with no sunshine.”
Facing the challenges they faced as they physically reentered the school system, socially, emotionally and academically, is a priority, he said, and adequate staffing of guidance and adjustment counselors is critical.
School needs to be a “safe haven to assist families” and give students “the best possible chance” for success.
Hardy has two children at Rochester Memorial School, which he described as a “great school.”
But he had issues, he said, with how children “were treated during Covid and the policies put in place.”
Those concerns, he said, were a major reason he decided to run for school committee.
Hardy, who served four years in the Army National Guard and worked full time in construction, said he would bring a “fresh new voice to the committee.”
“I don’t think enough effort went into both sides of the mask debate or the social and emotional effects they caused,” he said. The children were forced to deal with “some harmful restrictions for far too long.”
He described the approach as “a one size fits all, unlike the optional mask policy in place now.”
He said he hopes to reflect the voices of “a large group of community members” who do not feel represented by “long term, experienced, committee members.”
He described himself as “a regular concerned parent” who seeks to be “a strong voice for medical freedom,” and a supporter of “curriculum transparency” who will ensure students have a “safe and secure school.”