Two incumbents joined by three newcomers on Amherst School Committee

The Progressive Coalition and its endorsed candidates gather at Ginger Garden on Tuesday in Amherst.

The Progressive Coalition and its endorsed candidates gather at Ginger Garden on Tuesday in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 11-08-2023 4:30 PM

AMHERST — Two incumbent School Committee members will be joined by three newcomers following Tuesday’s town election, according to unofficial results from the town clerk’s office.

Incumbent member Irv Rhodes earned the most votes at the election, 2,753, followed by newcomer Sarah Marshall, with 2,555 votes. Jennifer Shiao, who also ran for reelection, finished third with 2,392 votes. The fourth and fifth place finishers, who also will be seated on the committee, are newcomers Deborah Lee Leonard, with 2,121 votes, and Bridget Hynes, with 1,988 votes.

Rhodes returned to the School Committee in 2021 after previously serving on the panel from 2009 to 2012.

Shiao said she is grateful to voters for giving her a new term.

“One of my top priorities, now and in my second term, is implementing an open and transparent superintendent search process that results in recruiting and hiring a highly qualified person who is excited to come to here, and understand the unique needs of our districts,” Shiao said. “Another priority is continuing to push for transparency regarding the Title IX and other investigation reports that have been delivered this summer and fall.”

Marshall brings 10 years experience as a parent and volunteer and taught in classrooms for five years. She said her priorities include making sure all students can learn in safe, supportive schools, maintaining strong programs of education and support, even with challenging budgets and with community input, outlining the skills, goals and qualities needed in a new superintendent.

Leonard has said she would bring an analytical approach to the position, having previously served as assistant dean for academic support at Amherst College and, since her children entered the public schools in 2006, has increasingly focused her career and volunteer time in the Amherst public schools as a paid substitute teacher, lab paraprofessional and guidance and administrative assistant.

Hynes, a program director, consultant and coach who works to make higher education accessible for low income, first generation students, and students with disabilities, has said she wants to bring the community together for schools where all students are welcomed, belong and academically flourish.

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Marshall and Leonard, along with Rhodes, earned endorsements from Amherst Forward, and Hynes, like Shiao, was endorsed by the Progressive Coalition of Amherst and also ran as part of a slate of Candidates for Change.

Not elected were Martha del Carmen Toro and Laura Jane Hunter, who received 1,870 and 1,798 votes, respectively.

Interest was sparked in positions on the School Committee following the allegations of mistreatment of LGBTQ+ students by middle school counselors and a Title IX investigation, with some calling for an investigation into the leadership of then-Superintendent Michael Morris, who resigned, and the resignation of Assistant Superintendent Doreen Cunningham.

That was followed by the resignations of three incumbent School Committee members, who have since been replaced, on an interim basis, by residents jointly appointed by the Town Council and School Committee.

Hunter, who was a vocal critic of the school leaders and joined rallies, had called for openness, transparency and equity during the campaign.

Jones Library trustees

In other elections, all five of the incumbent trustees for the Jones Library who ran for reelection earned more than 2,000 votes and will serve for two more years. They are Austin Sarat, Robert Pam, Tamson Ely, Lee Edwards and Farah Ameen. Eugene Goffredo was the lone newcomer elected to the trustees, taking over for Alex Lefebvre, and easily surpassing the other challenger on the ballot, Edward McGlynn, 1,886 to 1,073. David W. Williams was reelected to a position on the Amherst Housing Authority.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.