From Sentinel & Enterprise
By Mina Corpuz
LEOMINSTER -- Look ahead five years and picture how the city's public schools are doing, school officials asked Saturday.
Teachers, students, parents, administrators, and city and state officials gathered at a community session at Leominster High School to brainstorm how to get there. The session was the first of three to generate ideas for a strategic plan for 2023.
"Many times strategic plans get written and they got put on a shelf," said Superintendent Paula Deacon. "I'm looking for a meaningful plan for Leominster Public Schools. ... If we do our work correctly, we can move the needle for students."
About 30 attendees worked in groups to consider the district's present strengths and challenges and what steps would need to be taken to achieve the vision for the district in 2023.
One group pictured a district that focuses more on the trades and invests in technology like 3D printers. Another envisioned adequate staffing and smaller class sizes.
To get there, people should be willing to accept change, one group wrote.
Rep. Natalie Higgins, a Leominster Democrat, was part of a group with two Leominster High students and a parent. She served as scribe for the group, which said a step to get from 2019 to 2023 would be "moving Leominster forward regardless of where we rank. Never give up."
Once the groups finished brainstorming, they were asked to pick their top goal for the district and what needed to be done to get there.
In 2023, the district would have engaged learning and a connection to the community, a group said.
That starts with talking more about social, emotional learning in 2019 and being proactive about what children need. To get there, the district would improve its outreach in the community."We're going to reach out to the community. ... We're not waiting for them to come to us," said Brian Prehna, assistant principal of Northwest Elementary School.
Another group said in five years the district would have an early childhood center, which would help solve problems by starting at the beginning.
"If we don't have solid foundation, we can't expect anything better at the top," said Jennifer Bassett, a Leominster High English teacher who presented her group's goal and plans.
At the end of the planning session, chart papers where the groups wrote their ideas were on display.
Groups reviewed the other groups' work and noted whether they shared ideas with them or found parts of their vision for Leominster Public Schools notable. Blue and yellow stickers that dotted the chart paper showed overlap and supported ideas.
From Leominster Champion
By David Dore
With last week’s opening of the 2019 municipal election season in Leominster, two School Committee members announced that they would not be seeking re-election — opening the field, in one case, for a first-time candidate.
At-large member Wendy H. Anderson made her decision known on her School Committee Facebook page early last week. Ward 4 member Nona L. Ojala informed the city clerk’s office last week that she would not run again. Neither gave a reason for their decisions.
Anderson threw her support behind Brandon L. Robbins, who just missed out on joining the City Council in 2017.
“As a 2014 graduate of the Leominster Public School system, I truly believe that is incredibly important for students in the system to have young representatives to advocate on their behalf,” Robbins wrote on his campaign Facebook page. “As a member of the Leominster School Committee it will be my mission to ensure that every student receives the education that will prepare them for a successful future.”
Taking out nomination forms to run for the now-available Ward 4 seat is Peter Haigis Jr. Although this is his first run for public office, since moving to Leominster four years ago he has worked for state and municipal candidates — including his fiancée, state Rep. Natalie Higgins.
“With the announced departure of Nona Ojala, who currently serves as the Ward 4 School Committee Member, I saw an opportunity to further serve the community that I now call home, and to further improve the school district for my future children and all of the current and future students of Leominster Public Schools,” Haigis wrote on his Facebook page.
Haigis cited his work for political campaigns, as well as his experience as a software developer for educational game and engineering companies, in his announcement.
“I’ve already been working on some of the issues our schools face from behind the scenes,” he added. “Through my understanding of technology, knowledge of the issues, and the relationships that I’ve developed, I will continue to serve Ward 4 effectively and with dignity, as Nona Ojala has done. Together we can position our schools and community for a bright future.”
On the City Council and mayoral side of the ballot, Mayor Dean J. Mazzarella has taken out nomination forms to run for an unprecedented 14th term. He also looks to continue his run as the longest serving mayor in Massachusetts, a mark he reached after winning his 13th term in 2017.
Ward 2 could have a contest, with both incumbent Pauline M. Cormier and Divine A. Blackman taking out papers. Cormier posted on her campaign Facebook page last week a photograph of her candidate statement announcing she would seek re-election, adding, “It has been a pleasure representing Ward 2. Hope to do it again.”
Two of the four current at-large city councilors have taken out nomination forms to run for re-election: Claire M. Freda (Leominster’s longest serving elected official, starting in 1987) and Susan Chalifoux Zephir. Fellow councilors John Dombrowski and Thomas Frank Ardinger had not taken out papers as of Monday morning.
Also looking to run for an at-large councilor seat is Daniel D. Dubrule, a Leominster native who ran against former state Sen. Stephen M. Brewer in 2010 (when Dubrule lived in Ashburnham).
“I’ve always said this level of governance was the most noblest and important because it’s the closest to the public so the stakes are high but full of hope while working together without the partisan politics to get in the way of progress of long term goals while still honoring our past obligations,” Dubrule wrote on his Facebook page. “My main duty is to serve the needs of my constituents but I bring a great deal of passion for our vulnerable populations and Leominster’s endangered public resources with public safety being my foundation.”
Taking out nomination forms last week, and so far without competition, were:
• School Committee: Ronald J. Houle (Ward 2), Isabelle C. Alera (Ward 3).
• City Council: Gail P. Feckley (Ward 1), David R. Cormier (Ward 3), Mark C. Bodanza (Ward 4) and Richard Marchand (Ward 5).
Four School Committee members — Ward 1′s Michael J. Stassen, Ward 5′s Eileen Griffin, and at-large members Suzanne O. Koehler and Cody D. Caisse — had not made their re-election intentions known to the city clerk’s office as of Monday morning.
Nomination forms need to be signed by at least 300 registered voters for mayoral candidates (with no more than 100 signatures from a single ward), at least 200 registered voters for at-large City Council and School Committee seats (with no more than 75 signatures from a single ward), or at least 50 registered voters for ward City Council and School Committee seats.
On February 6th, I pulled papers to run for the Ward 4 School Committee seat in Leominster.
I may have only lived in Leominster for four years, but this is certainly where I will spend my foreseeable future. As some of you may know, I have been involved with the local politics of the area almost immediately after moving here, and have increasingly become an active member of the community. With the announced departure of Nona Ojala, who currently serves as the Ward 4 School Committee Member, I saw an opportunity to further serve the community that I now call home, and to further improve the school district for my future children and all of the current and future students of Leominster Public Schools.
My work experience, education, and skills make me uniquely qualified to serve as the Ward 4 School Committee Member. I have an Associate's Degree in Business Administration, a Bachelor's Degree in Game Development (Software), and a Master's Degree in Game Design and Project Management. In the past I have worked as a Producer and Lead Developer at an educational game company, and as a Software Developer at a company that created 3D configurators for construction, manufacturing, and engineering companies. Recently, I have been working as a Campaign Manager and Campaign Consultant for state and municipal political candidates within our community. I've already been working on some of the issues our schools face from behind the scenes. Through my understanding of technology, knowledge of the issues, and the relationships that I've developed, I will continue to serve Ward 4 effectively and with dignity, as Nona Ojala has done. Together we can position our schools and community for a bright future.
I look forward to speaking with the residents of Ward 4 as the campaign progresses, and would invite any Leominster resident to reach out to me. Despite being elected by and primarily serving the residents of Ward 4, I firmly believe that the School Committee plays a vital role in our community that affects everyone, regardless of if you have a child currently enrolled or not.