SMITHFIELD – Five Republican candidates in the Sept. 13 primary are running for a chance at three seats in Smithfield.
The five-member School Committee has four-year staggered terms, with two members not up for election again until 2024. Members Anthony Torregrossa and Benjamin Caisse, both Democrats, are not up for election.
Chairperson Virginia Harnois, a Democrat, is not seeking re-election this year after 40 years on the School Committee, and School Committee Secretary Rose Marie Cipriano, a Republican, is also not seeking re-election after eight years serving the district.
The three top vote-earners from the Republican primary will face off against three endorsed Democrat candidates in the Nov. 8 election. Democrats include Aaron Bishop, Elizabeth Worthley and Kristina Fox. An independent, Edward Quattrini, is also running for School Committee.
Three of the five Republicans running for School Committee are endorsed, including incumbent Richard Iannitelli, Amanda Fafard and Jessica Sala. Unendorsed candidates are John Fabiano and Gary Alix.
Alix did not respond to calls for an interview.
Iannitelli, 65, previously served on the School Committee from 1994 to 2014, and returned to serve on the committee in 2018 wanting to contribute to the elementary school renovation project. He said he feels he still has something to contribute to the district, and hopes to serve another term.
With the bond project completed on time and within budget, Iannitelli said he is proud of the new learning capabilities at the fingertips of teachers and students.
“50, 60 years takes a toll on structures. We cleaned up a lot of stuff while looking to the future,” he said. “There’s better lighting, better technology, new libraries, maker spaces and other rooms where teachers can bring kids to try out ideas.”
“All while in a pandemic,” he added.
Iannitelli highlighted updated art rooms at the middle and high school, and said work will continue in those buildings, including the high school auditorium, with the same results.
“It is another area where my experience will come in handy,” he said.
Iannitelli said the elementary project beat back all the problems of a labor shortage and supply chain issues with very few snags. He said he does not anticipate many difficulties with the Boyle Athletic Complex project.
On education, Iannitelli said he wants to get back to the basics. He said he is concerned about “COVID loss,” after students have lost time in school over the past three years.
“That has me concerned. We’ve taken steps over the summer to make sure we continue to get kids back up to where they should be,” he said.
He said education gaps are seen in all fields of study, though compared to the state, Smithfield is doing well on test scores. He said he wants to ensure no student is left behind, particularly those who are continually missing the mark.
“I want to keep pressing on and moving forward for all the kids,” he said.
Iannitelli, who is the president of Iannitelli Insurance Agency, said he brings experience and a reputation for listening to people no matter who they are or their position. He said he would like to restore the relationship and trust between the district and parents after a few difficult years.
“Now is a really important time to set things straight again after a few crazy years. A lot of parents feel they have not been listened to, and a lot of parents are upset with the state of education,” he said.
Iannitelli said he brings institutional knowledge to the school board after two incumbents retired . He said he knows how to run meetings, how the rules work, and has shared his knowledge with committee members and the public many times over the years.
“When you know the ropes, you can get better at it,” he said.
Fafard, 35, is a lifelong Smithfield resident and 2005 SHS graduate. She has three children who attend three schools in the district, including LaPerche and Pleasant View Elementary Schools and Gallagher Middle School. She is the co-chairperson of Smithfield’s Special Education Advisory Committee, Pleasant View PTO president, and also coached Smithfield girls basketball and softball.
“I’ve been around the town for a while. I take pride in saying I’m from Smithfield,” Fafard said.
She said as a School Committee member, she would like to improve relationships between faculty, staff and teachers while trying to give families back a voice. She said she would advocate for every child and parent and help to boost morale in town.
“Parents feel they go to the School Committee and they’re not being heard,” she said.
Fafard said she has a passion for special education, and in 2020, she gave up her career to go back to school to pursue a degree in special education to help implement programs and support services in Smithfield. She said it is important to work with children who have a range of learning abilities, much like her children, knowing that not every child fits into a square box.
“It’s important that, as a district, we expand that box,” she said.
After working with administrators in the district, Fafard said Smithfield’s “phenomenal” teachers have not always felt their worth.
“It’s time to get our scores up, get children and staff mental health up, and improve buildings and programs,” she said.
While the elementary schools look incredible, Fafard noted, she would also like to see the secondary education buildings in the district improved. She said the middle and high school remain “pretty much the same’’ since her father graduated from high school, and are outdated.
“It’s time to bring the other schools up to match,” she said.
Updating schools will keep students and faculty in the district, she added. For those who do not have children in the schools and feel that investing in the school does not apply to them, she said a good district keeps house values high.
“Everyone in town benefits from it,” she said.
Sala, 41, has lived in Smithfield for 35 years and works at Fidelity Investments. Her three sons all attend Smithfield schools, and she said she became interested in serving on the school board after attending meetings the last couple of years.
She said there is room for improvement, and she would continue to bring transparency, and oversight to the curriculum, and get parents more involved than in the past.
Sala said she is excited for upcoming projects, such as the Boyle Athletic Complex, to be completed. She said the district did great work on the elementary schools, but the high and middle schools are also in need of repair. After graduating from Smithfield High School in 1998, she said much looks the same in the high school.
“A big amount of money comes from the town budget and taxpayer dollars to our schools. I want to ensure the best use for our taxpayers,” Sala said.
Sala said she wants to ensure the district focuses on the fundamentals of education, and does not remove any critical programming. She also wants Smithfield schools to focus on career opportunities in addition to college planning.
“I want to put confidence in kids that there is nothing wrong in taking that path after high school. We need a focused effort in career planning as well. It is equally needed and valued as when you graduate to go off into a trade,” she said.
Sala said she loves Smithfield, and has a vested interest in seeing the schools do well.
“I think people really value and have pride in the town. I think that’s really important,” she said.
Fabiano, 39, is a recent graduate of the Police Academy, working at the Warren Police Department. A lifelong Smithfield resident and SHS graduate, he said he and his wife want to see the education in Smithfield improve.
Over the past few years, he said, the district has stumbled on education, and needs to get back to the basics. All three of his children are in the Smithfield school system.
“It’s best to stick to reading, writing and arithmetic,” Fabiano said.
He said he’s looking for students to have more freedom in school, and said students are getting pushed toward an agenda that the country was not founded on.
“I think we should be a free society, and special interest groups are getting ahold of things and pushing their agenda, forcing their role on things and I don’t think that is right,” he said.
Fabiano said parents are not happy with the state of education, and said he is disappointed in how the $45 million elementary school project was done. Particularly, he said, he wanted to see air conditioning added in schools.
Supt. Dawn Bartz said each elementary school has air conditioning in the libraries, maker spaces, learning labs and main offices, while some classrooms, like rooms without windows, have units. She said central air throughout the buildings is not part of the project.