All five of the candidates for the Board of Education are running for the first time and all of them have children in Canton schools.
The terms for the Board of Education are staggered and four expire this year. The seats up for grabs are those held by Susan Saidel, Gretchen Amrein Sonju, Susan Crowe and Jonathan Webb. Of those, Sonju, who was appointed to fill a vacancy, is now the only one seeking election. Saidel, a long-time board member, was nominated by the Democratic Town Committee in July to run for re-election, but withdrew her bid because of family commitments. (See related story.)
The chairmen of both the Republican and Democratic town committees expressed enthusiasm for the candidates vying for the four open seats, each of which is a four-year term beginning Nov. 20. Voters are permitted to vote for 3 candidates.
“I like that we have a new crop of candidates,” says Brian First, Republican Town Committee chairman. “I like that people came off the sidelines.” The three Republican candidates have been involved with the schools or youth sports as volunteers, he says.
The Democratic Town Committee is running two strong candidates and is hoping to nominate a third candidate at another Democratic Town Committee meeting Sept. 12, says Mary Tomolonius, Democratic Town Committee chairwoman.
Sonju, a Democratic incumbent, was appointed in 2009 to fill a vacancy, but this fall’s election is her first. Sonju, who teaches social studies at Avon High School, has two young children. Before moving back to town after growing up in Canton, she taught in the New York City schools and was a Director of Community Service at her former school.
The other candidates running for the first time are Republicans David Briggs, Laurie McKenna and Helen Treacy, and Democrat Peg Berry.
Briggs, a father of three, works as a pre-press manager for a printer. He has coached softball, baseball, soccer and basketball and is still coaching his twin daughters’ basketball team through the Canton Youth Basketball program.
McKenna, who was active with the PTO and ran a student garden club at Canton Intermediate school, is the mother of three school-age boys. A former tutor at CIS and former small-business owner, she is now Director of Finance for Strategic Employee Benefits Services of Connecticut, an insurance brokerage firm.
Treacy, a mother of four, is a former elementary school teacher who has been a stay-at-home mom since her children were born. She has volunteered with the PTOs and is the Canton High School volleyball coach. She is working on her master’s degree in educational leadership at Central Connecticut State University.
Berry, owner of Berry Creative, a marketing and public relations firm, co-founded the Cherry Brook Primary School/Canton Intermediate School Winter Festival and Silent Auction and served as co-chair for five years. Berry, who served as a room mother for nine years, is a Canton Youth Soccer Association coach, a volunteer official with the Farmington Valley YMCA and the mother of two school-age children. She is a co-founder of Canton Parents for Education, a school advocacy group.
School board Chairwoman Beth Kandrysawtz says partisan politics are rarely an issue with the school board and that, given the heavy time commitment involved in volunteering for the board, she’s happy with the pool of candidates from both parties.
Tomolonius agrees, saying, “Regardless of party, they do all work together.”
Kandrysawtz says existing members worked hard to encourage good candidates to run, adding, “We care about getting good people on the board, people who want to do the work.”