Calais’ municipal election is slated for Tuesday, November 7, 2023. Polls will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the Calais Recreation Center on Academy Street. Parking options include street parking directly in front of the center or using the parking lot off Lincoln Street. The polling booths will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., ensuring accessibility to voters throughout the day.
On the ballot will be four residents, each vying for one of two open seats on the Calais School Committee, each for a three-year term.
Those candidates running for seats currently held by Michael Chadwick and Celia Geel are newcomers Casey Carr and Madison McVicar, incumbent Michael Chadwick, and former board member Robert Greenlaw.
The current Calais School Committee is made up of Chadwick, Geel, Chris Niles, Tomi Ellsmore, and Nick Barnett.
What motivates you to want to become (or remain) a Calais School Board member?
Carr: I have two daughters that attend Calais Elementary School. I want to see them thrive in school. I believe that through a strong education program, enhanced by extracurricular activities, we can provide the type of school that all community members can be proud of.
Chadwick: I would like to continue as a member of the school board because I think we should all serve our communities to make them a better place to live for all of us and bring to the table those things that we have skills or services that we can offer. This is the one area that I think my professional experiences can benefit the schools and, I hope, the members of the community. I understand current standards and expectations in classrooms and schools, I will not struggle understanding the complexity of the state’s Handbook 2 budgeting procedures, and, as a recently-retired worker, will have the time to commit to the process.
Greenlaw: I am a three-term veteran of the Calais School Board. I enjoyed my time on the board and felt I helped the school very much. I miss it and would love to return.
McVicar: I’ve grown up in Calais for most of my life, and after being away for the last seven years, I decided to return home. This community and school system have supported me and shaped me into the successful young woman I am today, and I’m ready to give back. I have always been proud to be a Blue Devil alumni and want to be a part of ensuring our schools are able to provide students with the opportunities to succeed after high school, no matter the path they may choose.
School board members are elected to represent students, their families, and other community members. If you are elected (or reelected), how will you be an advocate for all, even if you disagree with their viewpoints?
Carr: I would follow the school’s mission statement, which is to provide a positive learning environment where a student develops the skills, knowledge, and attitudes necessary to become a responsible and productive citizen. By using this guidance, personal biases will not be an issue.
Chadwick: We cannot say we work and represent our community as board members and then not want to listen to them and their concerns, which is a necessary part of the process. It is not our job as board members to run around running the schools, but it is our job to make sure that citizens get the answers they need and to be heard. It is our responsibility to make sure they are listened to and can express their concerns in an appropriate and acceptable manner. We are a small community where everyone knows practically everyone else; this should be a strength of our school system.
Greenlaw: I will be an advocate for what I feel is the best for the school and its students.
McVicar: I understand that people will have differing viewpoints, and I also believe that there is value in every opinion/viewpoint. I recognize that my viewpoint may not always be the one accepted by others, but I am willing to listen and set aside my personal views if it is for the betterment of this community and our school systems. I truly believe that with every decision, the students, teachers, and success of our Calais School’s need to be the priority.
How can the board be more accessible to your community?
Carr: I think that the board does a good job helping to keep the public informed. The school board meetings are available by Zoom, and the meetings are advertised and always accessible to the public. My understanding is that the new superintendent is working on a computer program that will put all meeting minutes on their website, so if anyone misses a meeting, they can follow up with the minutes.
Chadwick: (refer to previous answer)
Greenlaw: All of the board members’ emails and phone numbers are on the school website or should be. I am very easy to find because of the fact I run a business here in Calais. I will always listen to anyone's concerns. You may not always like my answer, but I will listen to all.
McVicar: The board should continue to encourage participation at meetings among members of the community. It’s evident in our community that the most attended meetings are those revolving around athletics, and I’d like to see that change. I am very interested in athletics, and some may know that I had successes in athletics, but I have always had it instilled in me that academics were going to set the path for a successful future and that has always been the case. I’d like to find ways to increase participation in making academic-related decisions, budgetary decisions, and hear more input from the students who are impacted by our decisions.
How do you define success for our students?
Carr: If we can graduate students who become responsible and productive citizens as our mission statement speaks to, we can call that successful. College graduates, community college graduates, and trades such as pipe fitters, welders, and plumbers are all needed in every community. Success does not have to be defined by academia alone, and that is why our mission statement is so important to recognize and implement.
Chadwick: My definition of success for students would be no different as a board member than it was as an educator. We need to prepare our students to be successful beyond the walls of our schools and give them the foundation to do that while in our care. That may be as a university student, attending a community college, or entering the military or world of work. No matter what their goals are in life we need to develop those innate skills in each student to find success at the next level.
Greenlaw: I feel success is when we give our students the tools to become responsible and productive members of society.
McVicar: I would define success for our students as giving them the necessary opportunities, environment, and tools to allow them to determine a path they want for their future. For some, this may look like a four-year college or two-year trades school and for others it may be going directly into our workforce. Regardless of the choice, success to me would be the school system never being the limitation on what they want to do.
What is your vision for education within the Calais School Department?
Carr: Above all, I hope for a safe and nurturing learning environment where the children can thrive and grow and have the confidence and knowledge to be successful in any endeavor.
Chadwick: Small rural schools are being challenged more and more to provide for all students, but our economy of scale is shrinking, making this more difficult and requiring more creativity. I would like to see all the area schools work together closer to bring in those specialty areas that are so hard to fill to provide quality instruction, even if it meant sharing some employees on certain days. I would also like to see greater accountability on our end product in terms of student success, using that information in future planning within our schools and curricula.
Greenlaw: My vision is we should steer our students to what career path they want to go to when they get to high school. I feel that there is too much time wasted on subjects that you will never use in your chosen field.
McVicar: I just went through the school system myself a short seven years ago, so I understand the transition between our school and a four-year college. I would like to see the gap between those two specifically become more seamless for students. As I said previously, I value academics and believe students need the opportunities and environment to discover what their interests may be if we are to expect them to succeed and be a contributing part to our community, or other communities, after high school.
What are the current challenges facing the Calais School Department and its school board and how do you plan to address them?
Carr: Some of the current challenges I see as a parent and tax payer are with the legislative mandate to improve teacher salaries, the school budget may be strained, the expansion to the elementary school, and improving teacher and student morale. I plan to address any and all issues as a team. I believe that working together, doing my research, and listening to all ideas, will help to make the right decisions. It is the collective wisdom of the board, not one person standing alone.
Chadwick: I see two major issues facing our elected school board and the community. The most obvious is that 70 percent of our population is 55 years of age or above, and the impact that the schools have on their lives is minimal. Their kids are gone and we have an aging population being asked to pick up the financial burden of a service they no longer make use of for the most part. The ending of the COVID-era programs and what would appear to be a very large tax increase for the county this coming year will exacerbate this issue even more. Our student populations in town are decreasing, and more and more we are relying on outside students and communities to bear the cost burden of education through tuition. We need to find that balance where we are not increasing our school budgets on the backs of the elderly in our community, but also providing a quality program of instruction that will draw those outside communities to our schools and their programs.
A second issue that faces our school system is the decline in qualified applicants for teaching positions, especially in certain impacted areas. We need to make sure that our procedures, policies, and negotiated contracts do not restrict us in our ability to put the best teachers we can find in our classrooms; our students deserve no less than our best efforts in that process. We need to think out of the box and expand our procedures when we have instructional openings to help increase our applicant pools of qualified and certified instructors.
Greenlaw: The biggest challenge I feel at this time is recruiting and retaining teachers and administrators. It is no secret that you can make more money in the private sector than in education. This is a nationwide problem, and the government needs to give more funding to the states to be able to pay educators more.
McVicar: The school board is currently looking at the financial concerns of the city and schools with the goal of an addition to the elementary school in mind. I believe it is important we have the space and environment to provide our staff and students with an opportunity to learn and grow while keeping in mind the financial situation we are in.
The high school needs consistency and stability, which is beginning to improve this year, I believe. I would continue to support the superintendent and high school administration in their efforts to change the culture and climate to a more positive and supportive environment for the students and staff.
Looking into next year, it will be important to consider the financial situation going into upcoming contract negotiations of our staff as well as the expiration of Covid funds.