By Jennifer Page and Maria Kopicki
On Tuesday April 14, the vacancy on the Amherst School Committee (created when Eric Nakajima resigned in March), was filled by Heather Lord, MSW, a facilitator with Amherst Racial Equity and longtime ARPS substitute teacher. Lord received 10 of the 17 votes cast by Amherst Town Council and Amherst School Committee members. Katie Lazdowski, PhD, an education consultant and former educator who had run for this office in 2019, receiving almost 900 votes in a town-wide election, received six votes. Gaston de los Reyes, PhD, a faculty member at George Washington University School of Business, received one vote. Ryan Driscoll, a grants administrator at UMass Amherst, received none.
On March 24, Anastasia Ordonez, former Amherst School Committee chairperson and supporter and endorsee of Amherst Forward (Amherst’s only Political Action Committee), wrote to the Town Council and School Committee endorsing Lord, citing her “strong support of our superintendent” and his plan to replace the Fort River and Wildwood buildings with a single building.
A week and a half later, on April 3, the names of the four candidates were released to the public, along with the list of questions that each candidate would be asked to answer at the April 14 meeting. On April 11, Amherst Forward sent an email to their private distribution list, asking their followers to write to the Town Council and School Committee in support of Lord. Amherst Forward’s Facebook page and website revealed no mention of their endorsement of or advocacy for Lord prior to the April 14 meeting.
At the joint meeting (video available from Amherst Media), the four candidates gave opening statements, answered questions, then gave closing statements. After a break, Town Council President Lynn Griesemer invited discussion from the Town Council and School Committee members, but clearly stated that members were not to telegraph their preference or promote an individual candidate. First to be recognized was School Committee member Peter Demling who spent several minutes praising Lord. His speech was not interrupted, nor was he chastised afterwards by Griesemer for violating protocol. When Councilors Dorothy Pam and Sarah Swartz questioned and denounced this breach, Griesemer then acknowledged that her instructions had indeed been intended to prevent such advocacy.
In the roll call vote that followed, almost all of those Town Councilors and School Committee Members who were themselves endorsed by Amherst Forward voted for the Amherst Forward endorsee. The votes were recorded as follows:
*Hanneke de los Reyes
*Endorsed by Amherst Forward
** Herrington declined Amherst Forward’s endorsement, but they endorsed him anyway.
Lord will serve on the Amherst and Amherst Regional School Committees until November 2021 when all seats will be up for election.