NORWICH — The three candidates running for this year's Norwich City School District (NCSD) Board of Education (BOE) election are currently accepting questions and comments from community members as election day draws near.
Voting will be held on Tuesday, May 17, from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the NCSD District Office, located at 89 Midland Drive in Norwich.
Traditionally, a Meet the Candidates event is held before election day, giving community members the opportunity to get to know the potential board members and ask any questions they may have.
However, due to scheduling conflicts this year's event was canceled, according to President of the Norwich Educator's Organization and Meet the Candidates organizer Eric Cunningham.
"We worked with all three of the candidates to try and come up with some dates that had worked. We looked at trying several different days prior to the event, but also understanding that it takes time to set up," said Cunningham. "Unfortunately one of the candidates had a death in the family, and as we were trying to plan things out one of the candidates ended up on quarantine, and then a second candidate ended up on quarantine. So we said with the timing of everything and having to change it multiple times, it just wasn’t going to work out for us."
He said the last opportunity to hold a Meet the Candidates event would have been Monday, May 16 in the Norwich High School auditorium. However, the National Honor Society induction ceremony was already scheduled at that time.
"Next Monday is also the National Honor Society induction, and we decided that we didn't want to try and have people have to pick between those two. We’d rather keep the focus on the positive for the academics," said Cunningham.
Although a formal event is not on the books, candidates are still finding ways to ensure voters have the opportunity to learn about them and their priorities.
"School safety, effective communication, and community connection are the three areas drawing my focus, and if elected, I will work to make things happen in these areas. In order to address these topics and other areas of interest, I will go live on Monday, May 16 starting at 5:30 p.m. on my Genuine Leadership Facebook page," said BOE candidate Jen Westervelt. "People can feel free to email me questions or message me on my page ahead of time, so I can address them."
Westervelt's campaign Facebook page, Jen Ewen Westervelt — Genuine Leadership, can be accessed at facebook.com/genuineleadership or questions can be sent via email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
She also voiced concerns about not holding a formal event. While organizers were trying to avoid making parents and community members choose between a meet and greet and induction ceremony, Westervelt felt the ability to make that choice shouldn't be taken away.
"I am concerned about us making the choice for voters instead of letting them choose for themselves. It was mentioned that we might have a low turnout due to short notice, but I hold to the position that even if a small number of voters attend, those voters matter. Those community members matter," she said. "I would have been willing to call people, organize a space, strategize to the end. We owe it to our community to do everything we can to have them be informed."
BOE candidate Deb Phelps also felt an in-person Meet the Candidates event is of great use to voters. To provide that opportunity, she will be hosting a Facebook live meet and greet on Monday, May 16 at 5:30 p.m. on her Facebook page, facebook.com/deb.phelps.129.
"I do think it's beneficial because I think it allows the community to meet the candidates in person, and have a live interaction," she said. "We went all over the place trying to figure out how to make this work, and then in the end it was decided that we would each kind of do our own thing."
Additionally, community members are welcome to send in questions through the Facebook page, or by email at email@example.com.
One of Phelps' goals as a potential member of the BOE is working to maintain better communication between the Board of Education and the schools within the district.
"I thought maybe I could be a team player and help with the communication and connections between the Norwich City School District and the Board of Education. So one of my goals as a team player is to help develop a strong connection between the staff and the Board of Education Committee," she said.
If elected, Phelps said she will also maintain personal communication with the community, as she feels they have a right to stay informed.
"I do feel that it’s very important to keep that line of communication open between the Board of Education and the community, to keep the community aware of decisions being made by the board in reference to what's best for students and our community as well," Phelps explained. "I feel that the community deserves the opportunity to know what is happening within the school system, especially as many of us are taxpayers."
NCSD Board of Education incumbent Kiernan Hamilton believes strong communication between the board and the community is valuable as well.
Hamilton said she will continue to maintain open communication with the public, and welcomes questions and comments by phone at 607-287-2846, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or via her Facebook page, Kiernan Hamilton for Norwich School Board, at facebook.com/KiernanHamiltonforBOE.
"I have been open and responsive to questions asked of me through my previous election, through my current term, and through this current election process," she said. "I am not holding anything formal, but am open to receiving questions at any time via my Facebook page, my cell phone, or my email."
Although Hamilton agrees with her fellow candidates that in-person meet and greets can be an important resource for voters, it's value can also depend on other factors such as the size of the community and individuals' ability to attend.
She also stressed that in-person and high-pressure events such as a Meet the Candidates event may not always be the best way for a candidate to showcase their abilities.
"It is important to recognize that sometimes people very qualified for the role they are running for may not have the social savvy that a meet and greet is designed to reflect," said Hamilton. "With increasing populations of neurodivergence, sometimes someone’s ability to answer questions in a high-pressure setting doesn’t necessarily measure their capability in decision making at the board level."
Should she be re-elected, Hamilton said communication between the schools and the community will be a top priority, and she is already taking the steps to begin improving that area.
"I have already put forth a request to the board president to put communication with the community as a discussion point on the agenda. As a therapist, I intimately understand why communication is integral to trust. I think we do need to do better regarding this, as well as improving the community/school relationship," she said. "There is a committee that has been established that we will utilize to formalize and execute a plan to improve communication once the budget process is complete. I would love the opportunity to continue this work."