By Cassandra Hemenway
Three people are vying for two seats on the Montpelier Roxbury Public School Board: William Alexander and Seiji E. Ohashi and incumbent Emma Bay-Hansen are all vying for two seats. Voters will make a decision on March 1, 2022, Vermont’s Town Meeting Day.
William Alexander, an award-winning children’s book author, serves on the faculty of the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA program in writing for children and young adults. He writes fantasy, science fiction, and “other unrealisms” for young readers.
Seiji Ohashi served on the Interim Principal Selection Committee for Union Elementary School. He has two young children, one in first grade, and one not yet in school. He works for the Vermont Agency of Digital Services, focusing on the Department of Public Safety.
Emma Bay-Hansen attended all three Montpelier schools and has two children attending district schools now. She has served on the Montpelier Roxbury School Board for the past two years. With a master’s degree in education, and as a former high-school social studies teacher, Bay-Hanson currently works as the finance director for the nonprofit Vermont Higher Education Collaborative.
The Bridge reached out to interview all three candidates, asking the same questions of each. Here are their answers:
Why are you running for School Board?
WA: As a parent in the district and an author of books for kids, I care a great deal about the wellbeing of our schools. I also served on the Safety and Police Relations Committee for the School Board in 2020 and 2021, so I know first-hand how important this kind of work and engagement can be.
SO: After being involved in the Principal Search for UES, I wanted to get more involved with the district. I find working with the district rewarding and think the school board would be a good opportunity to be more involved with the community. I also want to ensure that the school board remains apolitical and focuses on supporting the students, staff, and administration.
EBH: I have really enjoyed serving my community in this capacity for the past two years. I think my background as a teacher, parent, Montpelier native, and MHS alumna has been beneficial to my work on the board. I am poised to be a very productive member of the board for these next few years. I look forward to making a lot of progress in the work we have started on policy, communications, and visioning.
What is your number one priority issue that you believe you can address in the role of school board member for MRPS?
WA: I want to ensure that school libraries and librarians have what they need to combat censorship and provide the kinds of sanctuary and horizon-expanding possibilities that libraries have always offered.
I was a judge for the National Book Award in Young People’s Literature in 2016, along with Katherine Paterson, and we chose “MARCH” by John Lewis as the winner. It was the first comic to ever win that award. In his acceptance speech, Congressman Lewis talked about how much he loved libraries and how he was denied a library card as a kid. He’s in every library now — or at least he should be.
SO: It’s really difficult to say that there is one priority issue, as we are living in unprecedented times with multiple urgent issues. Having said that, burnout is one priority issue that I feel is especially important. This is readily apparent to see via job openings, but it is a problem for the students and administration as well.
EBH: My personal priority issue is accessibility of our board. It is important that our work is reflective of our community’s values and makes space to amplify voices that are not typically heard. I have been engaged in improving the board’s outreach efforts, which has increased participation of underrepresented groups in our community. We also just started a visioning process that will thoroughly collect stakeholder feedback to help define a cohesive vision for our district.
What is the school board’s role in supporting students, staff, and administration through the ongoing COVID pandemic?
WA: The safety of students, teachers, and school staff is everyone’s first priority. We need to limit ongoing disruptions while simultaneously exploring new possibilities and resources brought about by those same disruptions. We can foster better systems than those we inherited.
SO: Listen to students, staff, administration, and parents. Pejorative-free acknowledgement of their concerns. Respond with pragmatic solutions that are data driven and appropriate for our community.
EBH: Traditional “roles” have been tossed aside these past two years. Our superintendent mows lawns, our business manager serves lunches, our teachers work overtime with lunch and recess duty, and our curriculum director serves as interim principal. My colleagues on the board have spent nights cleaning classrooms. I spend every Monday helping our nurses conduct district-wide COVID testing. Our role is to listen — and be ready to respond and adapt quickly when needs arise.
How will you responsibly contain the budget while addressing MRPS needs?
WA: I have a great deal of experience with administrative decisions that weigh ideal goals against practical constraints. At Vermont College I spent three years as the faculty chair of the Writing for Children and Young Adults program and four years on the college-wide Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee. I have also worked with We Need Diverse Books in their mentorship program, and have taught creative writing workshops for students of all ages. I can help ensure that students, teachers, and staff have access to the support they need.
SO: Any budget is a balancing act of providing the most value while triaging the requests. As a member of the board, I will advocate for a budget that results in the best educational environment for the students and be as transparent to the taxpayers as possible.
EBH: We have an incredible team who have developed a very well organized and thoughtful budget process. There are many voices included in deciding the budget. By the time our talented business manager presents a rough draft of the budget to the board, it only needs very minor tweaking. I think we have a responsible process that provides opportunity for everyone to have a voice in how to ensure our children have great schools.