On the first of May, four candidates will race for two seats on the Danvers School Committee, a three-year position. The four candidates are: Manuel (Manny) Lopes, Connie Pawluk, David Thomson, and Alan Vervaeke.
Here's a closer look at each of the four candidates. For a complete look at the ballot, .
1) Biographical: Please tell our readers who you are. This can include anything you want such as family, occupation, experience, residence, education, age etc.
Manny Lopes: Danvers resident for 10 years, Three children attending Great
Oak Elementary (Bailey, 5th grade, Jeffrey, 4th grade, and Lauren, 2nd
grade) Wife, Kathy, is an elementary and special education teacher. Volunteer Coach & Board member for Danvers Youth Soccer. Former high school girls varsity soccer and girls varsity lacrosse coach (Ipswich High School) Holds Masters in Education; Certificate of Advanced Graduate Study (CAGS) in Educational Leadership. 9 years as high school mathematics teacher (Everett,
Peabody, & Chelsea) 2 years as Director of Technology for Wakefield Public Schools. 4 years as Assistant Middle & High School Principal (Chelsea and Manchester, New Hampshire)
Connie Pawluk: A resident of Danvers for 31 years, I am a retired teacher/principal with over 30 years in education. Currently I am finishing my second term on the School Committee.
David Thomson: I’m a lifelong Danvers resident and attended Danvers Public Schools. I have a bachelor’s degree in business management and a master’s degree in public relations. I run my own public relations agency and sit on the boards of the Danvers Y and Danvers Youth Soccer.
Alan Vervaeke: I am a married Navy veteran, with 7 children/step-children, and served on School Committee for 7 years in another district with a similar school population and budget. I have Chaired the Special Education PAC here for the past 2 years.
2) What motivates you to want to serve (or continue serving) on the Danvers School Committee?
Manny Lopes: My background both as school teacher and administrator in various urban communities has provided me with unique experiences that may prove valuable to the Town of Danvers. Having our children attending public school in Danvers but working on a daily basis in an urban district has provided me with the opportunity to reflect on what s working and what s not in both school systems. One thing that I do notice is that to be successful you have to be willing to be reflective as a teacher and administrator and be willing to say that you may not have all the answers. You may have to search elsewhere and be open to other ideas and opinions.
Connie Pawluk: I want to continue to push our system to meet the needs of all students and provide them with the opportunities to strive for and achieve their potential. Based on our present staff development, our research, data collection and focus on teachers working together to improve instruction, we will accomplish our goals which ultimately achieve excellence.
David Thomson: I have three children and in the fall they will be in three separate Danvers schools – high school, middle school, and elementary. This is the perfect time for me to become involved on a deeper level in the decisions that affect, not only my children, but for all children in the community.
Alan Vervaeke: I am motivated by multiple factors. One, to ensure the best public education achievable with the tax dollars we already have. I believe that there are savings to be had in the existing budget as well as opportunities for income producing programs not yet in place. That controls must be in place for current as well as future costs. I am a fierce advocate for taxpayers and parents, and in finding the balance between the two.
Two, there has been a steady and measurable degradation in test scores in some of Danvers elementary schools, and a stagnation in improvements at other levels. Accountability is something the School Committee must take responsibility for and it must set higher standards than what we are seeing at this time. This includes both regular ed and special ed.
Three, actions of the School Committee cannot be dictated simply because something did not work at some point in the past. I see a degree of apathy that does not serve the citizens of this Town well, and I believe that more outreach to the taxpayers – whether it is well responded to or not – is required to answer questions and be proactive concerning budgets. I would like to see more meetings per year (since they don’t cost much) to not only discuss the business of our schools, but to also discuss how they are working (or not) in a public venue.
Finally, I have served my communities – wherever I have lived – and strongly believe in service. I am not here to grind any axes and I am not angry about anything. But spending tax dollars on public education and the care of our elderly are the two most important things any town does, and I strongly believe in and advocate for public schools. I have the desire, the energy, and the experience to hit the ground running on Day One. I have prolonged experience with budgets, policy, major building projects, negotiations, reviews, and legal issues. I have literally seen it all, and am ready to do it again.
3) What local school issues do you consider to be most important today?
Manny Lopes: The Issues: Poor communication at school & district level, special education, equity amongst elementary schools, curriculum (Math/ELA vs.
Social Studies/Science), teacher contract (best use of our teaching resources), time on learning vs. professional development, school choice, better Parent/School relations.
Connie Pawluk: The completion of the HS project and the restoration of state accreditation are at the top of my list. The development of a new five year strategic plan (a road map) for the schools comes next. The renovation of Smith School would follow.
David Thomson: One of the big issues is the ever shrinking budget for teachers and the need to keep our schools competitive and effective in the fast moving society that our children are growing up in. Being able to keep up with technology while still maintaining fundamental learning standards presents a challenge for every school system. I will make it a priority to focus on both the current and future educational needs of Danvers children.
Alan Vervaeke: 1. Standardized test scores 2. Accountability 3. Budgets 4. Contracts 5. Communication
4) What is the one thing about Danvers Public Schools that you would change, if you could?
Manny Lopes: As an administrator I have a very student-centered approach to leadership. Additionally I believe in developing strong collaboration amongst administrators, teachers, and parents to better their child s educational opportunities. In my position on the School Committee I would hold a similar belief. I have no political aspirations, I am not looking to replace anyone or berate anyone. I am all about assuring that our kids are provided with the best possible education Danvers Public Schools can provide by making all of us, including the School Committee, accountable at all levels and stages of the process. Danvers is not like Chelsea however perceived success, no matter how mild, leads to complacency and I think our school district has become complacent. I will be the first to applaud the job most of our teachers are doing in the classroom but with the required tightening of the budget I am in the opinion that, like our children, teachers, building, and district administrators need to be held accountable for when our students and our schools are not s succeeding. When programs aren't working and when school and district administrators are not proactive in dealing and answering concerns from parents and the community they need to be held accountable.
Connie Pawluk: The budget and fiscal responsibilty continue to challenge the school committee. We struggle with unexpected costs and increases because of state mandates which are unfunded. I would support a change in the existing process.
David Thomson: I would like for teachers to be able to have more flexibility in the way they teach. I feel that much of the creativity and enthusiasm that teachers bring to the classroom is not always encouraged due to the focus on standardized testing. Children learn in a variety of ways and it is important that teachers find ways to connect to every child in their classroom while also serving the needs of the group as a whole. It is a difficult balancing act, but that is what makes great teachers.
Alan Vervaeke: I would change start times for the middle school and elementary schools to be later by approximately 30 minutes. It would reduce the number of required buses and save some dollars every year. A close second would be to rekindle some lessons in handwriting, letter writing, and civics. Technology is great, but our kids are no longer being raised to have a "personal touch". Our society is worse off for it.
5) What are your favorite aspects of the town of Danvers?
Connie Pawluk: There are many: our parks, the programs offered to residents of all ages, the efficient government and town offices, the fire and police departments and our outstanding library, to name a few. But my favorite aspects of the town are its life time residents who have been born, raised and educated in Danvers, many of whom work here and own businesses. There is an admirable sense of pride, commitment to the ideals of the community and the taking care of all residents. Those of us who have relocated here embrace those attributes.
Dan Thomson: Danvers has all of the benefits of a larger city while maintaining a community feel. Families in Danvers care about each other. Most people seem to be able to hold on to tradition while also being willing to embrace change and work to make it a safe, enjoyable place to live and raise a family. Walking or driving around town, I see families, business people working together, groups of children playing, and sports being played on every field. There is a general sense of respect for the town and the people who live here. And of course it doesn’t hurt – except in the case of my waistline - that Goodies is within walking distance!
Alan Vervaeke: I like being able to easily walk from my home to McKinnon’s, the Library, Walgreen's, the Mall or the downtown area. There are plenty of nice places to eat, and people to greet. There is a real sense of community here. You also have farming in close proximity to technology centers, state of the art medical facilities nearby to plenty of great entertainment options. And the Town truly embraces it’s champions – sporting and non-sporting.