School overcrowding at center of race for Gorham school committee

All three candidates in the Nov. 8 ballot for two seats on the Gorham school board cite school overcrowding as a major problem.

Incumbent Stewart McCallister, 35, is seeking re-election while hoping to fend off challenges from political newcomer Andrew LaPlaca, 30, and former school committee member Jennifer Whitehead, 46.

The two available seats on the seven-member committee serve three-year terms. The second seat is vacated by Phil Gagnon, who has elected to run for City Council.


LaPlaca said Gorham is growing at a rate schools “just can’t keep up with.”

“I will advocate for fiscally responsible capital improvements, including the expansion of schools at all levels,” he said. “Students at Gorham High School have been sitting on the floor during lunch for far too long, and modular classrooms are a short-term solution.”

In recent years, school officials have sought to modernize the lycee, which opened in 1959. School committee chairwoman Anne Schools told city council last week that enrollment at the lycee was 810 , down 28 students from last year. The school was designed for 750 students. College enrollment is up 12 students to 642; Great Falls Elementary dropped 24 this year to 485; Village Elementary increased from 18 to 433; and Narragansett Elementary remained stable at 361.

A school department referendum on the Nov. 8 ballot seeks voter approval to borrow up to $10.5 million for school projects, including $5.8 million for Phase 3 of modular units in Narragansett, $4.3 million for air conditioning and $423,000 for LED lighting at the high school.


Whitehead said the reputation of Gorham’s school system continues to attract “wonderful families” to the town.

“The problem is that we have limited space and resources and continuous growth,” she said, pointing to high school overcrowding as the “most pressing issue.”

Whitehead said she would advocate for a state-funded renovation of the high school, which would be a far-reaching process.

“In the meantime, we need to provide additional space through pods or the use of other public and private spaces,” Whitehead said.

McCallister, a former chairman of the committee, agrees that school overcrowding needs to be addressed, while “introducing a new curriculum as the language of the world…and expanding access to preschool and early childhood education.”

Referring to the recent attempt to remove gender-specific posters from a classroom and the challenges of books from the school library, McCallister said preserving access to learning materials has become the main focus as the school committee faces repeated attempts to restrict the availability of certain documents. to students.

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“I believe it is the role of the school to provide information to students in a controlled and safe environment,” McCallister said. “I would rather they get their information from the professionals in our schools and not from strangers on the internet. Our students should feel free to be themselves without having to hide who they are or be ashamed of what they are doing. they feel.

McCallister said he respects and trusts Gorham educators to choose “curriculum and materials that meet our learning standards and the guidance of the Department of Education.”

LaPlaca, who has criticized Superintendent Heather Perry’s handling of the gender poster issue and once challenged a school library book, said parents are increasingly aware of wanting to be partners in education. of their children.

In his book challenge, he said, he worked with the school administration to establish a policy and procedure to ensure the program is “age appropriate”.

“School districts need to focus on improving transparency, communication and partnerships. I have already and will continue to facilitate better transparency,” he said.

A safe and “welcoming” environment for every student is crucial for the success of the next generation, he said. “In order to achieve this goal, I will work with feedback from the community and educators at Gorham Schools,” LaPlaca said.

He also said that every school should have a resource officer. The impact of the school resource officer at Village Elementary has been “outstanding for our children,” he said.

Whitehead said Gorham needed to focus on his younger learners.

“Research on the cognitive and social-emotional benefits of early childhood education is well documented,” Whitehead said. “Because we currently don’t have the space required, I would support partnerships with local preschools that provide excellent education to ensure pre-kindergarten is an option for all families in Gorham.”

McCallister, a US Postal employee, is married with two children. He served for six years on the school committee and various sub-committees.

LaPlaca, regional manager at Premier Technologies, is married with two children. His civic background includes volunteer firefighter and wrestling coach.

Whitehead, a real estate agent, is married with three children and served on the school committee from 2017 to 2020.

None of the three chose to reveal any political party affiliation.

Polling stations will be open on November 8 from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Ward votes 1-1 at college, 106 Weeks Road; Ward 1-2, Great Falls Elementary School, 73 Justice Way; and Ward 2, Shaw Gym, Gorham Municipal Center, 75 South St.

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