Four candidates, including three parents with students in the Keene School District and one former New Hampshire state representative, are vying for a single one-year seat on the Keene Board of Education in Tuesday’s election.
Heather Jones, Kyle Macie, William Pearson and Rebecca Presutti are seeking to fill the remainder of the term of former board member Julia Atkins, who resigned in November due to a move out of state. Two other candidates who originally filed for the seat, Lesley Healy and Brent Skinner, have since withdrawn from the race.
For each of the other five open seats on the nine-member school board, candidates are running unopposed. Here’s a look at the four candidates in the lone contested race:
Jones, 36, started working as an associate merchandising analyst at C&S Wholesale Grocers in Keene in January. Before that, she spent 21 years working in a variety of roles for Price Chopper/Market 32 locations in Keene, Brattleboro and Gardner, Mass., starting as a bagger at 15 and working her way up to management positions.
The Bradford, Pa., native moved to Brattleboro at age 5, and later to Hinsdale, eventually graduating from Hinsdale High School. She attended Greenfield Community College in Massachusetts.
Jones, who moved to Keene last February, said her two daughters — 3-year-old Audrey and 8-year-old Tenley, a 3rd-grader at Fuller Elementary School — are a big part of her decision to run for a seat on the school board.
“This is my first time owning a house and my first time having a job that I can have extracurricular activities, if you want to call it that,” she said. “And I just thought that would be a good way to be involved. It also lets me kind of have a hand in what my kids are growing up in and a little bit of the decision-making process.”
Jones said she previously served one year on the school board at West Bee Nursery School in Brattleboro, which her older daughter attended for two years. She also believes her background in grocery-store management would make her an effective board member in Keene.
“Personally, I’m a very organized person,” she said. “I grew up in a management atmosphere. I’m not necessarily the one to take charge, but I’m definitely one to be counted on. ... I have great people skills. I’ve worked customer service most of my life.”
She said she doesn’t have any immediate goals if she wins the seat on the board, but eventually would like to see Keene schools offer more outdoor winter activities, like skiing and ice skating, to supplement students’ education.
Macie, 37, is an Elm City native and alumnus of the city’s public schools who has worked as a Keene police officer for the past 13 years. He has a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Niagara University in western New York and after college worked in law enforcement for about two years in Montgomery County, Md.
Macie moved back to Keene in 2008 and has two children — 10-year-old daughter McKenna, a 4th grader at Fuller, and 7-year-old son Nolan, a 2nd grader at Fuller. He was the head coach of the Keene High School boys ice hockey team from 2008 to 2016. He said he’s running for the school board because he wants to take a more active role in the district.
“I want to be more involved. I’m not one who sits on the sidelines and complains,” he said. “So, for me, it’s important if I have a problem with it, I want to be part of the solution.”
Specifically, Macie said he would like to see Keene students back in school five days a week as soon as possible. The district, like most throughout the Monadnock Region, has been offering a mix of in-person and remote classes this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Macie added that he would also prioritize issues like school curriculum and athletics if he wins the seat on the board.
“So, really I’d like to have my hand in and dabble in a little bit of everything that goes on in educating our young kids in this community, because I was part of that young community when I lived here as a child, and now I have kids in that community,” he said.
Macie also said he thinks the skills he’s developed in his law enforcement career would help him as a school board member.
“I have the ability to deal with almost everybody, at any level, and find common ground and work towards the goal of dealing with whatever it is we’re trying to deal with, which is a skill that some people don’t have,” he said.
Pearson, 29, grew up in Bedford but has lived in Keene since 2010, when he entered Keene State College. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in political science in 2014, the same year he won his first term in the N.H. House of Representatives in Keene Ward 1. He served two more terms as a Democratic House member in one of Keene’s at-large seats before losing a re-election bid in November.
Pearson, who graduated from the University of New Hampshire Franklin Pierce School of Law in 2019, is currently unemployed but previously worked as an attorney for Associated Attorneys of New England in Manchester. He said he lost his job last June as the COVID-19 pandemic slowed legal proceedings throughout the state.
This professional and legislative experience would be an asset to the school board, Pearson said, and he would want to play an active role in staff contract negotiations and budget development.
“With my legal background, with my background in the public schools, my priorities are on quality of education and actually respecting our educators and the support staff,” he said. “Whatever I can do in the contracts and the warrant articles in Keene to reflect those values is what I’m going to try to do.”
Additionally, as a graduate of Bedford public schools, Pearson said his relatively recent experience with New Hampshire public schools would give him a different perspective than current board members.
“More than my background legally, I really do think that my experience in the public schools generally … would probably be the best reason to vote for me,” he said. “... I had a great experience with public schools. I learned a lot. I obviously see some avenues of improvement, most of them at the state level, but I definitely think that at the local level public schools are the bedrock of our society.”
Presutti, 37, is a registered nurse at Cheshire Medical Center, where she has worked for 11 years in the operating room and cardiology department. She grew up in Claremont and moved to Keene in 2002 to begin studying at Keene State College. She has a bachelor’s degree in developmental psychology and associate’s degree in chemical dependency from Keene State, as well as a bachelor’s degree in nursing from New England Institute of Technology in East Greenwich, R.I.
Presutti has three children in the Keene School District — 9-year-old son Logan, 11-year old daughter Alanna and 16-year-old daughter Camryn.
“I live here, my kids go to school here, and I just feel like it’s an obligation for me to be an advocate for the children and the families in our community,” she said of her decision to run for the school board seat.
Specifically, Presutti said the district’s top priority should be getting students back to in-person classes five days a week, which would help families like hers, in which kids have struggled with remote learning, and parents find it challenging to balance hybrid school schedules.
“I just feel an obligation to be a voice for families in the community that are like mine,” she said. “There are working parents that are struggling to get by and just not really feeling like we’re being heard in the current board.”
Using her medical background, Presutti said she would prioritize making COVID-19 decisions based on data and statistics. Looking beyond the pandemic, she also said the district needs to focus on the toll the public health crisis has taken on students’ social and emotional health.
“How are we as leaders in our community going to try and compensate for this loss?” she said.
Other school board races
Keene City Councilor Raleigh Ormerod and Rossana Rossoukh-Kordana are running unopposed for separate two-year terms. Both seats are open due to board member resignations within the past year.
Former board member Shaun M. Filiault resigned in May due to a potential conflict of interest with his employer, Bragdon, Baron & Kossayda P.C. in Keene, which the board had appointed as its legal representative. And Peter Starkey announced in November that he would resign effective at the time of the March election because he moved to Oregon, though he is maintaining a residence in Keene and has been participating in board meetings remotely since his move in December.
Additionally, two incumbents and one recently appointed interim member are seeking full three-year terms on the board. Board Chairman George Downing is running for a third term, and Scott Ansevin-Allen is seeking re-election to a second term. Ronald Wright, whom the board appointed in December to fill Julia Atkins’ seat until the election, also is running for a three-year term.
Polls will be open Tuesday from 7:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Keene Recreation Center at 312 Washington St. Residents will also be voting on this year’s school district warrant, which includes a $69.2 million budget proposal and a pair of staff contracts.