Collins brings rare teaching experience to school board

Collins brings rare teaching experience to school board

CUMBERLAND – The newest member of the Cumberland School Committee has a rare combination in qualifying for the board: being both a teacher and a father of students in the district.

Denis Collins, 41, of 5 Wedgewood Drive, near St. John Vianney Catholic Church where he teaches CCD, told The Valley Breeze he was “all-in” on the position after learning from a friend that the school board would have a vacancy needing to be filled after the departure of Steve Hess for Florida. He had considered a run last fall before deciding to wait.

The Town Council appointed Collins to the newly vacant District 5 seat last Wednesday, Oct. 2, after he was the only one to submit his resume following a call for interested applicants. He was immediately sworn in to serve one year before having to defend his seat in the 2020 election.

He told the council he can provide valuable insight as a teacher, parent and taxpayer and will be a positive addition to the Cumberland school community.

Taking a break from grading essays for his job as a U.S. history teacher at Taunton High School, Collins said Monday evening that he’s loved teaching for the past 11 years. One of his challenges will be to sync up all of the schedules in his life, including his wife’s job and children’s school schedules, to make room for school board meetings.

One activity that will likely suffer is his golf game, he said. Other activities he enjoys include reading and staying in good physical shape.

He has been married to his wife, Sarah, for the past 13 years. They have two children, Nora, an 11-year-old 6th-grader at North Cumberland Middle School, and Annie, 10, a 5th-grader at Community School.

He and his wife, a nurse practitioner, decided to move from Boston to Rhode Island more than 10 years ago due to high taxes and underperforming schools that were “not an option” for their kids.

“Moving to Cumberland was a matter of love at first sight,” he said. “Sarah and I couldn’t be happier.” There is no other place they would rather raise their family, he said, adding that they love the local schools.

Collins said he was born and raised in a family that would be considered poor, with parents who pushed their six children to work hard in school, be self-driven and resourceful. All six went on to get college degrees, some going on for advanced degrees. He gained a bachelor of arts degree in history from Western New England University before earning a master of arts in history from Providence College.

Previous jobs include a stint as a behavioral specialist in a residential treatment center and program director for the Ambrose House in Boston, responsible for administrative oversight of a state-funded program, including contracts, finance, facility management, and policy/protocol.

Collins said he believes public education reflects the values of a society, with a significant portion of tax revenue going toward educating and informing prepared citizens.

Though Collins mentioned school buses arriving late to his own family’s bus stop during his presentation to the council, he told The Breeze he’s not running to fix any one issue.

“I didn’t decide to run to fix that,” he said.

The School Department is in good hands, he said. This is not about running on an issue out of anger, he said, but an opportunity to replace a well-liked committee member by helping to move the district forward.

He sees a number of challenges ahead. Unlimited money is not necessary, he said, but spending where needed and saving when possible are priorities.

As a teacher, he said, “I believe we exist for the students and their parents,” and he’s pledging to work hard every day to make sure the tax dollars residents put into the system are used in a smart way to educate young people and keep them safe. That involves being informed, gathering as much information as possible, being available to help, and always putting students and families first.

Councilor Bob Shaw thanked Collins for submitting his name for consideration, also acknowledging a couple of other people who considered submitting applications. He noted that there have been very few teachers on the school board, and based on his conversation with Collins, he’s confident the new member will help continue to keep the ball rolling to make Cumberland stronger.

Councilor Lisa Beaulieu asked Collins what type of activities he participates in after school in Taunton, Mass. He responded that his schedule doesn’t allow him to do a lot beyond the school day, but he does spend a lot of time helping students improve their grades after school. Allowing students to fail is not an option for him, he said.