WILMINGTON, MA – By a vote of 9-1-0, the Wilmington Board of Selectmen and Wilmington School Committee appointed Jo Newhouse to fill the School Committee seat recently vacated by longtime member Peggy Kane.
At a rare Selectmen-School Committee joint meeting on Monday night, Newhouse beat out Jesse Fennelly, the runner-up in April’s School Committee race, and Scott Trach, a resident who has worked in the field of education for the past 16 years.
The Candidates Speak
Prior to the vote, each candidate was given the opportunity to introduce themselves, discuss their backgrounds, and explain why they wished to serve on the School Committee.
“I ran for School Committee in April. That race really reaffirmed by commitment to our town and our schools,” said candidate Jesse Fenellly, who is the father of a kindergartener and 2ndgrader. “I will bring a due diligence, level-headed preparedness to the School Committee…. I’m very much invested in the success of our schools… I’m eager and hopeful to be able to work with all of you.”
“Running for School Committee has been in the back of mind for a few years now. I thought this was the opportunity time to take my commitment to and volunteerism in our school district to the next level,” said candidate Jo Newhouse.“I’m very active with the SEPAC in town… I’ve been actively involved with the schools at both the school level and the district level for the past six years.”
“I’ve done education all my life. My undergrad is in music education. I have a master’s degree in educational leadership,” said candidate Scott Trach.“I’ve served in many roles within a public school system, including classroom teacher, K-12 district administrator, and a building liaison to a large state program. I’ve transitioned into higher education as I now serve as an Associate Dean at Berklee College of Music… I hope to lend my past experiences in these different areas – citizen, parent, teacher, administration – to the board… and help develop a school system that meets the needs of all our students.”
No questions were asked of the candidates. Selectmen and School Committee members had previously received each candidate’s letter of interest, detailing their qualifications.
The Selectmen and School Committee members then took a roll call vote. The winning candidate needed at least six votes.
School Committee members Steve Bjork, Jennifer Bryson, MJ Byrnes, David Ragsdale, and Julie Broussard, along with Selectmen Greg Bendel, Jonathan Eaton, Ed Loud, and Kevin Caira, all voted for Jo Newhouse.
School Committee member Tom Talbot voted for Jesse Fennelly.
Selectman Mike McCoy was absent due to illness.
“I want to commend and thank all the candidates for coming forward to fill such an important role,” said School Committee member MJ Byrnes.“This has been a very difficult decision. All three hold so much knowledge and strong qualities. We’re very fortunate to have three solid candidates to choose from.”
“I want to commend all three for volunteering. We can’t go wrong here – whoever we end up with will be a great member of a well-rounded committee that I admire the work of,” said Selectman Greg Bendel.“And I wish Ms. Kane well and appreciate her many years of service to the community.”
“We have three qualified, talented individuals,” agreed Selectman Kevin Caira.“I hope the other two individuals will continue to volunteer their time to Wilmington and maybe even run in the future.”
“I know all three candidates. All would be terrific additions. I’d be very pleased to work with all of them,” said School Committee member David Ragsdale.
“I greatly respect all three candidates,” said School Committee member Steve Bjork, who chose Newhouse, in part, after watching her “commitment to the school system for years and years.”
“This was a difficult decision. All three candidates are very talented, dedicated individuals,”said Selectman Jonathan Eaton.“I encourage the other candidates to continue to stay involved.”
Jo Newhouse’s Track Record Of Involvement In The School System
Wilmington Apple previously spoke with Jo Newhouse about her candidacy.
“I have volunteered regularly at the Wildwood (2011-2015), Woburn Street (2013-2018), and North Intermediate (2016 to current) to assist wherever needed,” said Newhouse.“Whether it be in the library, in my children’s classes, in class lunches, at field days or on field trips.”
Newhouse served as Co-Chair of the Wildwood PAC for three years. She was also a member of the Wildwood/Boutwell School Advisory Council. She currently serves as the Enrichment Coordinator for the Northside PAC. She has organized and run the Book Fair at the North Intermediate for the past two years. She also organized the annual teacher luncheons at the Wildwood, Woburn Street, and North Intermediate. She currently serves as the parent representative on the Positive Behavioral Interventions & Support (PBIS) team at the North Intermediate.
Newhouse has also been very active at the district level as well, most notably as Co-Chair of the Special Education Parent Advisory Council (SEPAC) for the past three years.
“As a SEPAC board member, some of the things I have done include working closely with parents, staff and administration on a whole host of important issues; attending numerous school open houses; organizing and running many workshops; holding monthly business meetings addressing many topics that affect the district; participating in the District Coordinated Program Review this past Spring; participating in the district’s Behavior Health Fairs, and helping make monthly support group meetings available for guardians with special needs students,” said Newhouse.
In addition to her six years as a member of the SEPAC, Newhouse currently serves on the district’s Homework Policy Committee. She was previously a member of the district’s Bullying Committee and the District Advisory Committee. Newhouse has also served on multiple interview committees to evaluate and vet candidates for both teaching and administrative positions with the school system.
“Serving on the School Committee is something I’ve thought about for a while, but wanted to see through a few transitions on the SEPAC,” added Newhouse.“I’m now ready to take my involvement and volunteerism in the school system to the next level.
The Vote Almost Didn’t Happen
At the outset, Selectman Chair Kevin Caira asked the School Committee if they wanted to proceed despite Selectman Mike McCoy’s unexpected absence. Members felt it was important to have a School Committee member appointed as soon as possible.
“We’ve gone longer than a month without a full complement of our committee,” responded School Committee Chair Julie Broussard.“It would be helpful if our new member could join us for our workshop on Wednesday night. We’re eager to get going and move forward.”
Newhouse will visit Town Hall, possibly as early as tomorrow, to get sworn in at the Town Clerk’s Office.
Newhouse will serve in the seat for the remainder of Kane’s term, which expires this upcoming April 2019. The terms of Tom Talbot and Julie Broussard also expire at that time.
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