Public Demands Diversity on EWSD Board
But Campaign Based on Leaked Info Fails

11/9/21 Essex Westford School District Board Meeting

by Irene Wrenner

November 22, 2021

The public outcry at the November 9th School Board Meeting indicates a leaked executive session decision. 

A subset of the Board met in executive session on November 1st to select a Board appointee from the final four applicants. Their recommendation — for the larger Board to appoint Robert Carpenter — was then conveyed in confidential communications to finalists and Board members. 

Before the Board could hear that recommendation in public, five meeting attendees spoke directly or indirectly against Carpenter’s appointment because of his gender and skin color. Several expressed frustration, disbelief, or horror that three female candidates, one of whom identifies as a person of color, had not been selected

In addition, a letter-writing campaign sought to overturn the Board’s intention before it was made public. A Retorter investigation uncovered emails sent to the Board from fourteen residents just before its November 9th meeting. A number of them pointed to the Equity Policy, expecting that its recent passage might guarantee more diversity on the School Board. Some writers complained about the Board's appointment of white male Jack Behlendorf a few months earlier. Still others promoted the promise and skill set of a passed over candidate.

“I don’t want to pay for a school system that is not actively trying to dismantle white supremacy,” wrote Deb McAdoo in her letter to the School Board and administrators. “We must have a school board that reflects all community members in order for all to feel adequately represented.”

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“[This pending appointment] makes me question everything you do going forward, as well as your past decisions,” wrote Resa Mehren. Both McAdoo and Mehren live in the Village. This vacancy was for a Town (outside-the-Village) representative.

Interviews for both the summer and fall vacancies were conducted in executive session. Therefore, only EWSD members understood the qualifications that each of the four finalists would bring to their table and the reasons for their choice.

After the Board, as a courtesy, relayed information to the female finalists about the pending selection of someone other than themselves, one or more applicants demonstrated an inability to maintain confidentiality, and, in turn, mobilized a campaign on their own behalf.

Instead of simply announcing the selection committee’s recommendation on November 9th, the School Board, including student members, deliberated in executive session for 82 minutes. They came back into regular session, recommended, and then appointed Robert Carpenter by a vote of 6.5 to 1.5.

Adding diversity to the School Board is an ongoing challenge. At a meeting of the Essex Democrats on November 17th, two white residents — a male from the Village and a female from outside-the-Village — announced their candidacy for EWSD Board seats in the April election.