School Committee Candidates Participate in RCTV Forum

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READING, MA — The three candidates for the two seats on the School Committee squared off at RCTV on Monday night, answering questions posed to them by Catherine Robertson of The Reading Post. The forum, which Alan Foulds moderated, featured incumbents Sarah McLaughlin, Shawn Brandt, and challenger Dana Guarino.

Brandt, who has been on the School Committee for four years, shared that he is proud of the work he has been involved in during that time, especially the process of hiring the superintendent, the progress that has been made toward full-day kindergarten, and the implementation of new reading and math curriculums.

Shawn Brandt, Candidate for Re-Election School Committee – Photo by Kenan Cooper

Brandt believes that a review of the current facilities naming policy is one needing review. He also believes that the creation of more time on learning should be a budget priority in the Fiscal Year 2026 budget. Brandt stated that Reading is a model for how to do negotiations with its unions and that this came about through financial transparency and working with the unions on a mix of financial and non-financial components.

Brandt would like to see a centralization of the RISE program in the new Killam Elementary School as well as a building that uses energy and space more efficiently. He highlighted the new school adjustment counselors and the school resource officers as means by which the district can combat substance abuse. Brandt also noted the invest-to-save strategies that have been used to help contain the costs of special education needs.

Brandt would like to continue the work that has begun to expand math pathways for students with more coaching and support and many entry points for higher levels of math. He concluded by stating that he has learned a lot in the last four years and is looking forward to having the chance to continue to apply that learning over the next three years. 

Guarino grew up in Reading, graduated from Reading Public Schools, and works professionally in orthopedics. He seeks to provide the students of Reading with opportunities for success and for failure. Guarino shared that, if elected, he will be an advocate for greater transparency and communication between the district and families.

Dana Guarino, Candidate for School Committee

Guarino would like to see a review of the district attendance policy for students who move mid-year. He believes the current policy, which only requires approval of the superintendent and the principal for a child to stay in their current school, can be devastating for kids, especially for those with special needs. He believes that budget priorities should include additional math pathways at the high school, enhanced programs for English as a second language learners, and earlier exposure to foreign language for elementary students.

Guarino would like the new Killam Elementary School to allow the RISE program to move out of the high school. He would like to use social media to celebrate the good things that are happening in the district as a means to advocate for the Reading Public Schools. Guarino would want to use early implementation of the substance education curriculum to aid in the fight against substance abuse. He believes that contract issues can be avoided through teachers feeling the support of the committee and the administration.

Guarino would advocate for early detection of learning challenges to help contain costs. He wants to work toward eliminating the achievement gap between the district’s two middle schools. In asking voters to cast their vote for him, he shared that they would “gain someone who does not know how to quit.

McLaughlin is a fifteen-year resident of Reading who, in the past, has chaired the Special Education Parents Advisory Committee and continues as a part of the Parents Supporting Student Theater. She has been on the School Committee for the past three years. As a part of the committee, she currently also serves on the Killam School Building Committee.

Sarah McLaughlin, Candidate for Re-Election School Committee Candidates

McLaughlin also would like to see a review of the facilities naming policy. She wants more innovation pathways at the high school, special education services, and high-quality professional development for teachers as budget priorities. She also would like to have the new Killam School create flexible, modern spaces that can evolve as teaching and learning evolves over time.

“Trust is imperative” for McLaughlin in contract negotiations with unions along with the development of a long-term fiscal plan that aligns with the district strategic plan. She believes high-quality early intervention brings cost savings over time and is the key to containing special education costs. She also feels that “a test in sixth grade should not impact the outcome of your future Ph.D. dissertation” as a reason for needing additional math pathways.

McLaughlin closed by stating that voters would continue to have a voice on the School Committee that makes independent, data-informed decisions if they were to vote for her.

The local election is on Tuesday, March 5, with polls opening at 7:00 am. Early voting is underway each day at Town Hall and will continue through March 1. The complete forum can be viewed on RCTV’s YouTube channel.

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