PITTSFIELD -- With seven candidates seeking six elected Pittsfield School Committee seats and four incumbents leaving, a new look for the committee is guaranteed after the Nov. 5 election.
Chairman Alfred E. "Alf" Barbalunga and Terry Kinnas decided against re-election bids, and James Conant and Kathleen Amuso are leaving to seek at-large seats on the City Council.
In the race are incumbents Daniel Elias and Katherine Yon, and candidates Cynthia Taylor, Joshua Cutler, Anthony Riello, Pamela Farron and Brittany Douglas, who did not respond to requests for an interview for this article.
Josh Cutler, of Brookside Drive, is making his first attempt for office in Pittsfield. "I chose to run ... because I feel that this board plays a critical role in the future of continuing to develop the city of Pittsfield as a great place to live, work and raise a family."
Cutler, 25, a member of the Ward 4 Pittsfield Republican Committee, holds a bachelor's degree in political science from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. "It is imperative that we have a strong group of individuals who work collaboratively with the administration and educators, who act as a sounding board for parents, and who encourage our students to perform to their fullest potential."
Major issues, he said, include improving student academic performance to exceed the average in the state, and preparing graduates for college coursework. Cutler said he'd work at "establishing a greater sense of continuity in the school department, not just at the administrative levels, but among principals, educators, support staff ... to retain the experience necessary to formulate a plan so that each individual student can thrive."
He said he strongly supports "a fiscally responsible project" to replace or renovate Taconic High School that creates opportunities for vocational, fine and performing arts and Advanced Placement programs there and at Pittsfield High. Cutler also advocated building upgrades at Conte, Crosby and Morningside schools.
"I feel that I would be an asset to the .... committee because I am an energetic, talented young professional with a strong love for Pittsfield, the skill set and experience necessary to succeed in this position, and most importantly, a stake in the future of our education."
Daniel Elias, 42, is a Pittsfield native and lifelong resident. He has served seven terms on the School Committee.
The Mohegan Street resident has coached 110 athletic teams ranging from youth leagues through college and has had constant involvement in many capacities with our youth. "I have always had an investment in our city's youth," he said.
"I have enjoyed being a [committee] member for the past 16 years," Elias said. "I believe I am a vocal member and have been able to tame and shape things enough to do some good. I am very visible in all of our schools, as you cannot lead without seeing first-hand the who and the what you are advocating for. People of our city can expect more of the same."
Elias is a 1989 graduate of Pittsfield High School and a 2002 graduate of Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts. He works at Berkshire Families and Individuals.
Elias said his goals are "seeing through our high school construction projects" and "retaining our current teaching and administrative staff and raising morale throughout our system."
Pamela Farron, of Brighton Avenue, is coordinator of the Disability Resource Center at Berkshire Community College.
"I am new to the political scene," Farron said. "However, I have worked on local and statewide campaigns canvassing my neighborhoods, making literature drops, soliciting lawn sign locations, for both Tricia Farley-Bouvier and Elizabeth Warren."
Farron said she has more than 23 years in public higher education and has worked with students considered at-risk. "This has enabled me to work in partnership with various constituencies: parents, Berkshire County educators and staff, community and state agencies, advocacy groups, college faculty, staff and administration," she said.
She said she has been a strong advocate for students and striving for academic excellence, and has experience working within a limited budget.
"There is no doubt that as a member of a school committee, these skills are critical and it is why I am running for a seat on the committee: The time is right. I have the skills. And, I have the desire to serve my community," Farron said.
Pittsfield schools need to continue to build strong partnerships with early educators from pre-K to private day care providers so that every child entering kindergarten is ready to learn," she said.
Concerning the high school building project, Farron said it is imperative that the schools choose a designer who will make it a top priority to listen to faculty, students and community stakeholders to ensure that the building will be designed to meet their needs.
Farron, 50, serves on a number of committees at the local college, and on the Massachusetts Consortium of Disability Services Providers and the New England Association of Schools and Colleges Planning Committee at BCC.
Anthony Riello, 63, of Shore Drive, recently retired after five years as police chief in Falmouth, maintaining his Pittsfield house while working in the Cape Cod community.
Previously, he served as Pittsfield's chief for 11 years and was a member of the force here for nearly 30 years.
"I believe that public education is vital for all students and for the future of our community," Riello said. "I want to put my experience and skills as a leader to work for our children and the Pittsfield community by creating stronger ties between the School Committee and other stakeholders."
He added: "I believe I can effectively represent different groups in our community and ensure they have a voice in making educational and administrative decisions. As a committee member, I can and will be a conduit for the concerns and interests of the teachers, parents and the community."
Concerning key issues, Riello said, "To ensure that our schools are appropriately funded to provide quality education. Even in these challenging fiscal times I believe we can achieve this."
In addition, he said, "Leadership development at all levels is a critical issue." That will ensure, he said, "an empowered teaching staff, improvement of services, and will guarantee that our school district will rise to new heights."
Cynthia Taylor, of Wendell Avenue, is making her first bid for elective office. Taylor, 64, is a retired reading and social studies teacher from the Pittsfield Public Schools.
Her goals include: "Fast-tracking the state to accept our plan" and begin building Taconic High School; "supporting Pittsfield Promise -- a reading literacy program"; following through on the STEM (Science, Technology, English, and Math) grant at Taconic High School; "putting an A for arts in the word STEM so that the buzz word becomes STEAM;" supporting "pre-school for all."
Taylor said she has worked to prevent students from dropping out of school, developed programs matching mentors with students and secured grants for residencies for her school and students.
She was a founding board member of The Kids' Place, Berkshire County Children's Advocacy Center founder and president of Community Education Advocates. Under auspices of CEA she worked with the superintendent of schools, city council and mayor to reopen Stearns School as a model demonstration school.
Katherine Yon said she hopes to work with "a more stable administration under the leadership of [Superintendent] Jason McCandless to deal with the issues that face our district in a changing demographic and an uncertain economy."
She added, "I also look forward, if elected, to working on a school committee composed of people with new ideas and fresh perspectives."
She said major concerns include "dealing with the multiple issues surrounding the ever-increasing number of students who come from impoverished or unstable backgrounds so that they can make progress in closing the achievement gap."
Her goals, she said, include moving forward with the renovation or replacement of Taconic High School, strengthening vocational programming, minimizing the number of students who opt to go to other districts and hiring "excellent staff with an emphasis on reflecting our diverse student population."
Yon, 63, spent her teaching career in Pittsfield schools, retiring in 2009, and now works part time as a counselor/advocate for Project RECONNECT, which assists at-risk youth. She taught in middle school and at Pittsfield High.
A resident of Vista Street, Yon holds a bachelor's degree in English teaching and a master's degree in Educational Psychology.