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LUDLOW — School Committee is one of the town’s two contested races in the upcoming annual town election with incumbent Sarah Bowler, currently vice chair of the committee, facing a challenge from resident Isabel Soares.

Reminder Publishing reached out to the candidates vying for this position with an opportunity to answer questions related to their experience and platform. While Soares agreed to participate, Bowler did not respond to repeated inquiries as of press time.

Soares, a life-long resident of Ludlow for 42 years and daughter of Portuguese immigrants, is the mother of a 15-year-old daughter. After attending Ludlow schools and graduating from high school in 1999, she continued a successful soccer career at Holyoke Community College while earning an associate degree in early childhood education. Her teaching career began as a preschool teacher at Orchard Children’s Corner in Springfield in 2000. She earned her lead teaching certificate in 2002 and continued to teach until 2004. She is currently employed at a local company in West Springfield as a purchasing/warehouse manager for a janitorial and maintenance supply company.

Soares told Reminder Publishing she has actively attended School Committee meetings since 2020 and touted her involvement with a group of parents concerned with the appropriateness of materials in the school’s libraries. She indicated a belief that a portion of the community feels its concerns are not heard or adequately addressed and a culture of intolerance exists.

“My goal is to support parental rights and be a voice for all parents. Many parents do not speak out, fearful that their children will be retaliated against. The public is limited on how long they can speak and minimal, if any, answers are provided. I have had many encounters with parents who are frustrated with the way our School Committee meetings are being run,” she said.

Soares explained her primary interest in running is to ensure the wellbeing of students and parents’ right to information regarding their children’s education. Her comments indicated a belief that school officials and some members of the committee make efforts to keep the public in the dark.

“Parent after parent have voiced concerns about the mental and physical health of their children as well as their safety. Unfortunately, both school administrators and some on the School Committee have failed to adequately address these issues,” she said. “Parents have a right to know what is going on in the schools, including what is being taught. Some members of the committee have repeatedly voted down every policy brought forward concerning parental rights. They refused to even send it to the subcommittee and debate it.”

Soares did not specifically mention of any policies the School Committee declined to debate.

“I will work diligently to ensure that an open and comprehensive dialogue exists, at all times, between schools and parents with no secrets,” she added.

Soares also identified the budget as an ongoing concern for the committee and the School Department and suggested cuts to administration to help balance the scale without eliminating teaching positions.

“Schools have always struggled to do more with less. There is no easy solution, but without increasing taxes, cuts must be made,” she said. “Our teachers are the single greatest resource we have and cutting them will be the last resort. I believe we need to look at possible redundancies that exist in school administration.”

Soares also seeks to incorporate parents into school culture through volunteerism as well as joint education opportunities.

“I would also like to see parents being more involved in their children’s education by volunteering their time during school hours to monitor hallways and lunchrooms. This will help mitigate bullying and create a safer environment for all,” she said. “Another idea we have been thinking about is something called ‘Family Night School.’ It will be an opportunity for both parents and children to learn together. It can range from topics such as improving dialogue and communication, basic life skills, hobbies, social activities and the resources available in the communities. Most importantly it will be an opportunity to cover more sensitive issues like drug abuse, mental health, gender identity and sexual health. Parents and children will be learning together so the children can feel more comfortable, protected and at ease while parents will know exactly what is being taught.”

Bowler was elected to the School Committee in 2021, according to her biography on the School Committee’s website. A lifelong Ludlow resident, she graduated from Ludlow High School in 1993 and earned bachelor’s degrees in psychology and paralegal studies from Elms College in 1997. She completed her master’s degree in psychology with a concentration in guidance counseling at Westfield State University in 2005 and obtained a post-master’s certificate in trauma-informed practice with children and adolescents from the Springfield College School of Social Work.

She has worked at the Department of Children and Families since 1999, including approximately a decade as a supervisor.

Other positions

The election also features a contested race for Board of Selectmen. Incumbents James Gennette and Manuel Silva face challenges by Daniel Valadas, the town’s police chief, and Alex Montagna for two three-year positions.

All other townwide races are uncontested. Antonio Rosa, Kelly Lamas and Christopher Coelho are seeking reelection to the Board of Assessors, Board of Health and Planning Board, respectively. Ruth Saunders faces no opponent in her bid to become a trustee of Hubbard Memorial Library.

The ballot does not feature any candidates for openings on the Housing Authority or Recreation Commission

For representative Town Meeting members, Alan Gregoire, Eric Gregoire and Matthew Tibbetts are joined on the ballot by Michelle Annecchiarico, Elinor Kelliher and Michael Kelliher for five spots in Precinct 1. In Precinct 2, Jose Eugenio is the only candidate for one of the five three-year positions and Kathleen Nowak is the sole name on the ballot for a one-year term; both are incumbents. Stephen Fiedler, John Moll, Nicole Parker, Margaret Szlosek and Arthur Lourenco are the candidates for the five available three-year positions in Precinct 3, making them essentially uncontested, absent a write-in candidate.

Three incumbents — Mary Evangelista, Joseph Santos and Kathleen Shea — are the only candidates for five three-year terms in Precinct 4. Likewise, John Auclair, Kenneth Batista and Francis Krzanik — all incumbents — are the only candidates for five spots in Precinct 5. Joseph Drobot and Thomas Haluch are also seeking reelection uncontested for two-year and one-year terms, respectively. Christina Brown, Rosa Chelo, Lance Koske and Kevin Brown are the four candidates in Precinct 5, leaving one slot vacant. The precinct also has no candidate for a two-year term.

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