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Four Warren candidates hope for school committee seats

Two seats open as Bento, Saviano out of race

By Ted Hayes
Posted 7/1/20

The big race in Warren this election year will be for two open seats on the Bristol Warren Regional School Committee.

With two seats up for grabs following the decision of members John Saviano and …

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Four Warren candidates hope for school committee seats

Two seats open as Bento, Saviano out of race

Posted

The big race in Warren this election year will be for two open seats on the Bristol Warren Regional School Committee.

With two seats up for grabs following the decision of members John Saviano and John Bento not to run for re-election, four hopefuls have stepped into the fray. They include Tara Thibaudeau, who previously served on the committee from 1998 to 2002; Nicky Piper, who recently finished her term as chairperson of the Bristol Warren Education Foundation; Daryl Gould, a past candidate for the Rhode Island General Assembly; and political newcomer David Matheson, a software engineer who recently has run an after-school coding class at the Kickemuit Middle School.

Tara Thibaudeau

Ms. Thibaudeau, currently the Warren Recreation Director, said her years of experience volunteering for the town is needed, and she believes she offers a fresh perspective on how the regional school district should be governed.

“I think we need more questioning of decisions made by the district, more accountability,” and a greater emphasis on the trades, which she believes are under-valued by the administration. Not all kids are destined for college, she said, and the district’s approach of focusing on college for its graduating seniors undervalues the important role of vocational training in the district, she believes.

Costs are also an issue. With education costs growing every year, she believes money should be spent more wisely, and dispersed more equitably.

“My two oldest have purchased homes in these towns, they’re settling here and it’s very important that the town remains affordable,” she said. “I don’t think we necessarily think we need the most expensive education; I want the whole picture.”

When she was younger, she said, she was focused more on “pie in the sky” educational goals. But she said that as she’s seen her own children go through the system, she has become more pragmatic.

“The district has a lot to offer but I feel the school committee and administration can do a better job. I think I have shown I get things done. It’s a big job. But I have the time and I’m willing to try."

She said that though she is in a paid position with the town, she will recuse herself when matters that impact her job, such as improvements to local athletic fields, come into play.

Nicky Piper

For 10 years, Nicky Piper has worked for the National Academy for Advanced Teacher Education (NAATE). The organization works to close the achievement gap among top performing teachers, and she believes her perspective working with the nation’s best will pay dividends as the district looks to refine its teaching philosophy, attract the best and brightest, and spread that excellence throughout the teacher ranks. 

Working with NAATE “has given me a pretty unique insight into how school buildings work, and from teachers’ perspectives,” she said. “I felt like this was the perfect time to bring in a new voice and perspective.”

Apart from her professional life, Ms. Piper has overseen the Bristol Warren Education Foundation for the past four years, and her term recently came to an end. The non-profit, which she has worked with for 10 years total, has given out hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants to district schools. She said she is proud of her work and believes her experience helping with grants has given her a good look at what schools here excel at, what they need, and how to improve education.

Bristol Warren is unique, she said, in that each school’s needs are different. The challenge is coming up with a cohesive plan on how to best reach each student.

“I would imagine one of the biggest challenges is coming up with district-wide solutions,” she said. “Equity does not mean that every single kid has to get the same education. Really, every kid should have access to the best education available to them. What makes our community pretty unique and amazing is how different each kid, each family and each school is. We need to be agile enough to solve the problems that each school has; there can’t be a one size fits all solution.”

David Matheson

Mr. Matheson is a political newcomer. But with some school volunteering experience and two children in the district - one at Kickemuit Middle School, the other entering Mt. Hope High School in the fall - he thinks his background in software development and technology will be very helpful, especially as education continues to change and adapt in response to the Covid epidemic.

“I wanted the opportunity to give back,” said Mr. Matheson, who develops 401K optimization software for Fidelity Investments. With the Covid-19 crisis having a tremendous impact on how education looks and feels, he believes he is in a good place to contribute.

“The biggest issue right now is getting kids back to school safely,” he said.

“The number one priority is going to be figuring out how to give (students) the best education possible, with so much changing. My mindset is to get someone on the school committee who has a data-driven approach to this.”

Driven by numbers and professional insight into emerging technologies, “I want to bring my focus into helping our schools modernize, overseeing what kind of technology” will help, and improving efficiencies.

Even after Covid-19 crisis is over, whenever that is, he said that same approach will pay dividends as technology’s presence continues to increase and education continues to evolve.

“How do we improve what we use today in a cost-effective manner? How do we drive down costs so we can put those budget dollars where they really matter? I think I can offer insights and a fresh perspective.”

Daryl Gould

Mr. Gould, who owns and operates Air Sciences, an environmental remediation firm, is no political newcomer. A former candidate for House District 67, he said he decided to run for public office again as he feels the schools need balance and change. There are many issues, he said:

“We need some balance on our school committee,” he said. “If you look at a lot of the votes, they are 8-1 or 7-2. I think we need more balance.”

In addition, he believes that while the school committee is a non-partisan board, there is “a heavy progressive Democrat presence.”

“This is a non-partisan seat, so really politics should not come into play. It really should be children first, schools second and taxpayers third.”

Mr. Gould refers to himself as an “outspoken critic/advocate” of the district on Social Media, most notably Facebook. And while he acknowledges and understands that his style “may be off-putting to some people, if you look under the surface I walk the walk and stand behind what I say.”

“I know there are a lot of people who share my thoughts on the challenges the school department faces.”

Apart from bringing more critical and non-partisan leadership to the committee, he said, he believes more transparency is needed not just from the committee, but from the district’s administration. He thinks he can deliver:

“Certainly transparency” is a big issue, he said. “I think some of it is structural, the way the school committee meetings are run as well as the posturing from the administration. It doesn’t seem as open and conducive to getting the input from students and families” as it could, or should, be, he said.

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