Each year, the Milton Independent poses questions to candidates seeking elected office to better inform voters.

This year, six candidates are vying for four Milton School Board positions, two of which are contested. Incumbent and chairwoman Lori Donna is running for a three-year seat against newcomer Emily Hecker.

Meanwhile, Rick Dooley challenges trustee Greg Burbo, who was appointed to the board last summer. Mike Joseph, who was appointed soon after, faces no competition.

Jeremy Metcalf, who petitioned for the remaining two years on vice-chairwoman Cathy Vadnais’ three-year seat, is also running solo.

We asked the candidates four questions and requested they provide a short bio with their responses. They were each given 450 words to split between the four questions:

1. Why are you running for school board, and what qualifies you for this position?

2. How do you define transparency, and, if elected to the school board, how will you increase transparency and trust on the board when dealing with the public?

3. Last summer, allegations of racism were brought to the forefront of school board meeting discussions. In your opinion, has Milton made progress in addressing the issue? What role would you play in diversity and inclusion education in Milton?

4. The district is about to start a superintendent search. After former superintendent John Barone was hired, it was uncovered he received his degree from a diploma mill. Last year, it was uncovered that his replacement, Ann Bradshaw, was facing allegations in her former school district for mishandling a rape investigation at the time she was hired to lead Milton. What will your priorities be in the upcoming search? As Vermont education continues to see change, what qualities would you like the new superintendent to embody?

Lori Donna, Incumbent

Seeking 3-year term

Bio

Vermonter and Milton resident since 1991

Mother of three adult children

Currently chairwoman of school board and serve on negotiations, finance, facilities and joint study committees

Chairwoman of Milton Planning Commission

Accounts receivable manager and certified organic land planner at L.D. Oliver Seed Co.

1. I am running for re-election to give Milton voters the choice to continue the work I helped start three years ago to require accountability in all financial matters and address the lack of progress in academic achievement. Fiscal management is the primary, state mandated responsibility of all school boards: My ability to evaluate and direct the district’s finances has helped save the taxpayers of Milton from unnecessary taxation while maintaining and improving student educational services. If elected, Milton taxpayers can rest assured that I will continue to dig in and ask the difficult questions in budget development, negotiations, and district wide educational matters.

2. Transparency is best defined by accountability and the ability to communicate what you are accountable for to the public.

In addition to traditional means of communicating district business, the school board has formed a communication committee to work on ways to improve it.

Transparency does NOT mean disclosure of information mandated to be kept confidential, just because someone demands it.

3. & 4. Education is multi-faceted and must be deliberate. Cathy Vadnais and I met with Dr. Muhammad, a nationally respected education consultant, who has completed a culture audit of our schools. He stated that Milton must have a “systemic collaboration and synergy from common goals. If not, energy will be spent on drama from disorganization.” Leadership in our school district needs to be able to report and recommend to the board and parents a comprehensive process to move a student from pre-K through graduation.

To achieve this difficult transition I will be looking for a superintendent who is able to:

(a) Implement and oversee a comprehensive Pre-K-12 process and provide clear evaluations with a systemic focus.

(b) Build a successful framework for expectations and accountability among school leaders.

(c) Understand and properly manage school financials.

(d) Be data driven and outcome focused not process oriented.

(e) Provide a mechanism for communication of feedback from staff and parents.

(f) Have a “we” not “me” mentality.

(g) Provide a balanced approach to address equity.

(h) Provide leadership that does not allow any special interest or personal agenda to detract from the mission of the Milton Town School District.

Please call me to discuss any of these issues at 598-9190. Thank you!

Emily Hecker

Seeking 3-year term

Bio

Mom to three kids: a seventh-grader at MMS, a fourth-grader at MES and a 2-year-old who attends MFCC

Work as communications & marketing coordinator, Burlington Partnership for a Healthy Community

Originally from Oklahoma. Graduated with a B.A. in art & communications (2005) from Eugene Lang College in New York City. Lived and worked as a journalist and TV producer for a news channel in France for nearly 10 years. Resident of Vermont since 2016.

1. I am running for school board because I believe every child in Milton deserves an education that makes the whole town proud. Schools are places of hope and optimism. Public schools are where our future leaders, innovators, scientists, writers, artists and workforce are able to gain the necessary skills and tools they need ensure their own – and our society’s – success, and drive critical progress.

I’m qualified because I truly care, and I’m ready to listen to all stakeholders: community members, students, parents, teachers and administrators.

2. Transparency, in this context, is ensuring information and decision-making processes that impact the district to be fully available to anyone who wants to know. My professional background is in journalism, which necessitates clear, bias-free access to facts and information. As a communications professional for a non-profit organization I will bring the skills of my trade to the board to improve trust and public relations.

3. Since those disturbing allegations the Equity Coalition of Milton has formed, comprised of members from the Milton Inclusion and Diversity Initiative, Milton School Equity Committee and representatives from Milton Town Office, Community Library and Police Department as well as families and other community members. I am excited and proud to work with the coalition as it aims to increase diversity, inclusion and equity within the Milton community.

4. The next superintendent of MTSD must demonstrate their dedication to increasing diversity and achieving equity within the district. Milton’s superintendent must unequivocally stand up for the most vulnerable in our community, and be a leader in progressive, inclusive policies.

An inclusive curriculum is vital and should be a priority, throughout the year. Every student should be able to find information and role models in the curriculum that reflect their identity and their lives.

Teachers are often looked to for answers on topics like race, gender identity and economic status. They need appropriate tools and training to address such essential and often challenging topics.

I would like our future superintendent to champion an expanded pre-K program. There have been multiple studies that indicate benefits of a good pre-K program for all children. Some studies have even found returns as high as $10 to $1 on investment from sending 4-year-olds to school.

Robust after-school programming is something else our new superintendent needs to encourage. Studies show that adolescents are most likely to make poor choices during the unsupervised hours of 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. Keeping kids involved and motivated will help them make healthy decisions and increase academic and social success.

I am grateful for the opportunity to serve the school district and our community. For more information, or to connect, please check out my Facebook page: f /MadameHecker.

Michael Joseph, Incumbent

Seeking 2-year term

Bio

Milton resident since 1978

Married to Amy Joseph

Two children: Alison 23, Ryan 19

Work at Dealer.com, a Cox Automotive Company, as their senior director of implementations

Prior board experience on Town of Milton Planning Commission, Town of Milton Economic Development Commission, St Ann’s Parish Council, St Ann’s Religious Education Board

Hobbies: Running, golfing, hiking and home improvement projects

1. I have been a resident of Milton since 1978. My wife, children and I graduated from Milton High School. My 28 years of business experience at IDX Systems Corporation, GE Healthcare and Dealer.com, coupled with my Project Management Professional certification, have given me the ability to see many different organizational systems and how they should be designed to fulfill the goals and objective of the organization they are built to support. The best organizational systems have effective leadership that can uplift the rest of the leadership team to achieve greater results and better outcomes. These same principles can also be applied to education.

2. As a business leader I have always ascribed to being transparent. By being transparent you enable the organization and your stakeholders (voters) with the power to help support the changes that need to be made allowing improvement. When people are not transparent it is usually because they are afraid of how the truth will be received. This erodes the trust of the organization and the voters and is worse than a negative reaction to the truth.

3. I believe the school district has started to increase knowledge and awareness of the racial and diversity issues in our schools. We still have a long way to go. Changing people’s perspective on diversity and inclusion takes time. I am 50 years old, and I learn something new about diversity and inclusion every day. As a trustee I will continue to support the staff and students in making sure we provide a safe and unbiased learning environment that meets the needs of every student regardless of race, color, creed, gender, sexual orientation or religion.

4. The next superintendent should be a strong leader that can create a highly performant organization that is driven by data to improve outcomes. This leader should leverage the talented leadership team and staff to determine where improvements are needed and create a culture that has laser focus on creating action plans that drive the district towards those improvements. This leader will have to do this in a fiscally responsible manner and evaluate areas that are not creating educational value against those that should. The district can then reinvest in those areas to improve outcomes and raise the educational standards of the district.

Jeremy Metcalf

Seeking remainder of 2-year seat (unopposed)

Bio

Born and raised in northern Vermont. UVM graduate.

Lived in Milton since 1999

Wife, Sarah, is a staff member at Milton Elementary. Three children, all currently attending Milton Schools.

Work for Sodexo at St Michael’s College

Volunteer on the Governor’s Committee on the Employment of People with Disabilities

1. This will be an important year coming up, with the selection of a new superintendent. This is the time for us to take our school in the direction we want it to go. It was embarrassing to see our school in the news for the wrong reasons last year, and it overshadowed so many of the great things that are being done there every day. I also think the statewide funding system is broken and needs to be fixed. Frugal schools like Milton are punished year after year with rising taxes that have no correlation to our budget. 

2. Transparency is conducting the school’s business in an open, honest manner. The board should be approachable to parents, employees and administrators to listen to concerns and explain the decisions that are made. I think transparency is not something that can be increased or decreased, the board acts transparently or it does not, as the past year had demonstrated. Trust is something that is earned by one’s actions. I will have to earn trust by what I and the board accomplish in the coming year.

3. The board needs to increase the diversity of the teachers, staff, and administration. We need to make the school district a place that people want to work in and that all students feel safe in and are happy to learn in. We must continue to educate and train teachers and staff and empower them to confront issues as they happen.

4. A superintendent should function as the sole employee of the school board, and have a vision and goals for what the school will become and the leadership and management skills to make that vision reality. Some qualities I would like to see in no particular order are experience building a diverse and strong leadership team; a strong communicator who can also accept feedback from parents, school employees and the public; experience with growing school districts; successful history of growing diversity and inclusion; and experience with contract negotiations.

Greg Burbo

Seeking 1-year term

Bio

Moved to Milton 31 years ago with my wife, Kimberly, and son, Joshua.

Attended college in Virginia, Florida and Vermont. Graduated from UVM with a degree in nursing in 1995.

Served in the Army National Guard for 21 years as a medic. Served in Mountain Infantry, Artillery and Armor units

Served as an EMT on Milton Rescue for six years and a Milton firefighter for five years

Worked as a carpenter and painter for 15 years and 20 years as a registered nurse

1. I applied for appointment to the school board last summer because I was shocked by how the board was attacked over the issue of race. As a parent of a black man who had attended Milton High School, I hoped to give some insight into the issue of growing up black in Milton. 

I bring a unique perspective to the board. I have been to several colleges, failing at some. I left to school to become a carpenter and a part-time soldier for many years. I returned to college and became a nurse as an adult learner. I have also served the Milton community as an EMT and a firefighter. This history gives me a unique view of Milton. I give the board a more balanced perspective.

2. Transparency is a difficult issue for any board. To give the maximum possible information to the public is not possible in the most sought-after areas, legal issues, disciplinary issues and personnel issues. We simply cannot release this type of information because of privacy laws.

We have established a communications sub-committee, of which I am a member. This committee has members from the school staff and the public. We have used community forums, social media other methods to get the word out.

Most importantly, we need the public to attend meetings. Too often, we have no one not connected with the schools at our meetings. Everything public is discussed in the open meetings. Videos of all meeting are posted on the district website and video.

3. Racism is a problem in any school. It was a problem for my son and a problem last summer. The most important response comes from our teachers. First, they must show that every student is valuable. In history classes, black history is not a one month of the year event. We can’t leave the Tuskegee airmen out of WWII in history or social studies. We can’t leave George Washington Carver out of science class. Teachers and principals need to react to incidents so that students have real consequences and effective support. I am looking for better and more appropriate training for the teachers in the future.

4. Our procedure to find a new superintendent began with the hiring of a consultant. We have advertised on a variety of employment websites. The search will include community feedback, this will both be online and in community forums. A screening committee will be established, like the town manager and police chief committees. The board will select from candidates recommended by the board. A thorough background check will be done on the finalists. This process will allow Milton to choose a superintendent who meets the communities standards.

Rick Dooley

Seeking 1-year term

Bio

Moved to Milton when I was 5 years old, went to Milton Elementary and Junior High School, graduated from Milton High School

Undergrad at UVM, BS in biological science. Graduate school at Northeastern University, MHP (Master of Health Professions) as a physician assistant

Family practice PA at Thomas Chittenden Health Center for the past 19 years

Married to Jen Dooley (also on the ballot, but for library trustee!), and have three sons (22, 19 and almost 16 years old)

MTSD/youth experience: Classroom volunteer, math enrichment tutor, Odyssey of the Mind coach, fifth grade health and development (puberty!) class teacher, soccer coach for Milton Youth Soccer, on MYS Board for 10 years including chairperson for seven of them, co-chair for MHS Project Grad in 2014 and 2017.

1. With three boys going through the school system, I’ve had a front-row seat to some of the problems facing our district. I’ve seen school boards very successfully manage a crisis, and I’ve seen school boards seemingly create their own crises week after week. Watching the interactions between the current board and the community over the past several years has been incredibly frustrating. The communication between the board and the community appears to be almost nonexistent. Questions at board meetings go unanswered. School boards function best when there is good community engagement. I want to restore that trust, transparency and accountability to the board.

2. Transparency is simply the ability to demonstrate to the community what the rationale or process was to arrive at a decision. Not everyone will agree with every decision by every board member. However, community members should be able to question school board members about the data they used, the process should be clear and consistent, and everyone should be able to understand why the board made a decision, even if they don’t agree. If elected, the first step I would take to restoring trust and transparency is to start answering community questions at school board meetings again!

3. We have made some strides to starting the conversation about racism and cultural insensitivity in Milton, but we have a long way to go. The creation of the Milton Inclusion and Diversity Initiative (MIDI), and their partnering with Students 4 Social Justice on occasion, is a very positive step. However, we need comprehensive diversity and inclusion education across the district. Teachers, students, administrators and community members have asked for it. The school district should be partnering more closely with community organizations and resources to raise awareness and identify specific areas to improve. Our school mission statement says that we should provide a “safe and respectful learning environment for all”. Students should feel safe and supported at school, regardless of their race or the color of their skin, religion, socioeconomic status, gender identity or sexual orientation. Racism and bullying need to be called out and dealt with consistently and professionally, but also used as a teachable moment to educate others about the harmful impact words and actions can have.

4. The process for choosing a superintendent should be transparent, and involve multiple stakeholders (administration, faculty, staff, students, community members). Our new superintendent should be able to identify the strengths of administration and faculty and leverage those strengths to address areas of the district that need improvement. The superintendent should have a background in quality improvement, and a demonstrated ability to make positive change in a district. He or she should be an effective communicator with people in and outside the school district.

Thank you for your consideration.