Lewiston School Committee: Mendros challenges Mohamud for city-wide seat

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Fourth of five stories about the Lewiston School Committee races in the Nov. 5 election. Next: Four incumbents are unopposed: Jim Handy, Linda Scott, Tom Shannon and Trinh Burpee.

LEWISTON — Voters across Lewiston will decide which candidate should represent them for the at-large School Committee seat, incumbent ZamZam Mohamud, who was appointed to the seat earlier this year by Mayor Bob Macdonald, or challenger Cynthia Mendros. Mohamud cited a need for more parental involvement as a problem. Mendros said teachers need less red tape and more freedom to teach.

Q: Why are you running?

A: Mohamud: “My two kids who went through the Lewiston schools had great success, which prepared them for college. My son is in the pre-law program at Husson University, my daughter is attending Rochester Institute of Technology studying biomedical engineering. I was appointed to the Lewiston School Committee after the passing of Robert Connors. Since then I have learned about budgeting in a constantly changing financial environment, the impact that actions by the state have on public schools and the needs in our educational system. Quality education is the route to success in Lewiston. I am excited at the opportunity to give back to my community.”

A: Mendros: “Growing up in Durham and going to Brunswick High School, I was blessed with one particular teacher, Mr. Audette. I had him for five years, from pre-algebra to pre-calculus. I wrote his successful nomination letter and he was recognized for a national teaching award. … I am running because I believe in teachers, the people on the front line who shape our children’s minds. Teachers are professionals who inspire our children to learn more. Lewiston teachers can inspire our children the way Mr. Audette inspired me. …  Teachers should be given the resources, time and freedom to help every child grow to their own unique maximum potential.”

2.  What’s a big problem in Lewiston schools, and if elected, what would you do about it?

A: Mohamud: “There is not enough parental participation. Research shows that the most significant factor for academic success is the involvement of parents in their child’s education. Parents are a child’s first teacher and that needs to continue while in the education system. If parents do not stress academic success by being a role model and being an active participant, it makes it all the more difficult for the child to achieve. We need to continue to emphasize and encourage the parental responsibility; teachers can’t do it alone.”

A: Mendros: “We need to give more autonomy to our frontline teachers and ed techs. They are the professionals with the experience and creativity to reach our children. Teachers should be allowed to use their skills and talent to work with children as individuals instead of being forced to use cookie-cutter approaches forced upon them like Goals 2000, No Child Left Behind and Common Core. Children are individuals, not statistics.”
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3. What’s going right that you would support?

A: Mohamud: “The School Committee has made a commitment to the equalization of resources throughout all of our schools. Although we have made great strides in this area, this will take time and resources. We also have outstanding educational leaders, staff and teachers.”

A: Mendros: “Commitment to technology. I have been in the computer and information technology field for over a decade. I understand hardware, software and applications, and want to bring that unique knowledge to help Lewiston students prepare for the technology that will meet them. … Thirteen years ago laptops were all the rage; now they have been replaced by tablets. iPads in kindergarten, like in Auburn, are not a good idea, because in 13 years they will have been replaced with future technology. We need to get our kids where the technology will be when they graduate, not where it is now.”

4. Lewiston’s population is growing, early elementary classes are getting crowded. What solution would you look for? Since the Lewiston School Committee rejected redistricting, are you satisfied with how and where students attend schools?

A: Mohamud: “We are fortunate to have School Committee members who view our schools as an investment we must take care of. We have renovated many of our schools — most recently the middle school and McMahon Elementary — with safety improvements and additional classroom space. We will need still more space and the School Committee will be looking at several options. We do have some large class sizes, mostly in the early grades. This is something we need to address as soon as we can.”

A: Mendros: “I do not support a plan that redistributed children around the city. Children should have safe neighborhood schools near where they live where they can go and play and feel safe. They should be making friends who live near them. The parents have spoken in opposition to redistricting and their voices should be respected.”

5. On Lewiston’s efforts to boost student learning and graduation rates, what do you approve or disapprove of what’s being done?

A: Mohamud: “Moving toward individualized learning and new technologies hold great promise for our students. This is important for all children whether they see college or work in their future. This will allow students to access additional ways of learning.”

A: Mendros: “This is a great opportunity to use technology to engage children to enjoy school. We also need to give more support and freedom to our professionals on the front line, our teachers, to use their skill and knowledge to engage children. Of course, a better understand of the basics, like math, reading and writing are essential to understanding any technology.”

6. This year voters approved a $58.4 million budget, an increase of 7.2 percent. What kind of budget would you support next year?

A: Mohamud: “No one likes to see taxes go up. But if there is a good reason, it would be education. Education is an essential service. Taxpayers can be assured that our budget is a conservative one. We have to carefully build a budget that is not only responsive to our educational needs but balance that with our local resources. The governor made a number of proposals during the last Legislature that took millions of dollars away from Lewiston. At the same time, the state requires a certain amount of local funding in order to draw down state funds.”

A: Mendros: “We need to look at spending carefully. Everyone is struggling and the state and federal government keep cutting support for the programs they force us to have. Republicans blame Obama, and Democrats blame LePage. It’s time we stop blaming others and roll up our sleeves and work with what we have toward responsible solutions that educate our children without further burdening our elderly on fixed incomes.”

Election coverage:

Office sought: Lewiston School Committee, at-large.

Age: 34.

Address: 135 Hogan Road.

Family: Married; two children

Occupation: Mother of two, full-time student.

Education: Brunswick High School, associate degrees in computer technology and business administration, bachelor’s degree in information technology.

Office sought: Lewiston School Committee, at-large.

Age: 38.

Address: 66 Tall Pines Drive.

Occupation: Certified nurse assistant, Central Maine Medical Center.

Family: Single, two college-going children.

Education: Graduate of School of Nursing, Central Maine Medical Center.

Political experience: Lewiston School Committee, Lewiston Public Library Board of Trustees, member of Mayor’s Downtown Neighborhood Task Force.

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