On March 10, residents of Durham will cast their votes for the future of the Oyster River School District (ORCSD) while deciding for both the proposed new middle school and school district board members.
Denise Day and Michael Williams, both school board members, go up for reelection on March 10. Both Day and Williams are running unopposed and have similar visions for the schools district’s future including an expansion on the world language department, the proposed new middle school, and competency based education.
Both of the board members brought up three major points that the school board is currently focusing on: the new middle school, an expanded world language program, and competency based education within the schools. “We have some big projects that we’re working on, but we’re very excited about the possibilities that they offer,” said Day.
Since voters will also be voting on whether or not they are in favor of a new middle school, the results will heavily shape the board’s focus. Day called the middle school project “the biggest thing we’re dealing with,” and the members agreed that they deeply hope the bond passes. “Assuming [the bond] does pass, our next challenge will be, for the next couple years, financially dealing with the budget because that first couple years of the bond are actually the hardest. We’re currently paying the high school still, but in 2023, the high school bond will be paid off, so that is going to free up $750,000 which we will then apply to the payment on the new middle school. Between now and 2023, we’re just going to have to really pay close attention to the budget and do some real careful planning,” said Day.
The board’s next main focus on the future is competency based education. ORMS currently uses the competency based grading and teachers at ORHS use competency based standards, but Day made a point that the board is not expecting the competency based grading to go into the high school. She said that the board is, “continuing to see how that fits in with our district.”
Along with the two previous plans, Williams said, “I would also like to see us develop clear plans for expanding world language offering.” The ORCSD currently offers world language classes starting in sixth grade. The board plans on taking small steps in bringing the world language classes to earlier grades. They are hoping to bring it down to start in fifth grade in a couple of years eventually offering it in elementary and later preschool classes.
The members appreciate the district and respect their duties on the board. “The school district’s mission statement is, ‘working together to engage every learner.’ I know everybody hears and sees this statement a lot, but this is a pretty audacious goal when you really think about it. That said, I firmly believe in it, and I think we do a pretty good job of fostering opportunities in Oyster River. Fundamentally, my mission as a board member is to enable the students and staff of Oyster River, who do the real work, to make connections and accomplish as much as they can,” said Williams. This is why he wants to serve on the school board again.
Day has been on the board board for six years, serving two terms. When she first ran, she said, “I just knew some people in the community and they were encouraging me to run, so I did run and I won and I have enjoyed it ever since. I feel like we have such a great school district, wonderful administrators, awesome teachers, great students and families, and it’s just really a privilege to be able to serve the community.” She also had experience in schools before being on the school board.
Day had previously been a counselor at Barrington Middle School (BMS) for seven years. She noted that with her past experience at BMS and her two terms on the board and said that she “definitely has a good grasp on the issues that are facing the board.”
Day has her own goal for the next three years on the school board. She would like to continue ways to support social-emotional aspects of students. She said, “we know that there’s a lot of concern around anxiety and student stress. We’re trying to find ways to support students, not just academically, but socially-emotionally as well.”
Williams has served one term of three years on the board. Although Williams has not previously worked in a school, he feels that he brings a new approach to the board’s work that is more analytical and process-oriented and continued by saying that this helps when the members are analyzing data and making solutions. Williams is an engineer and has worked in medical technology his whole life. His main focus is on dialysis products for kidney failure patients. With that, he said, “I am not an educator by profession, so when it comes to topics specifically around curriculum or teaching methods, I respect the views of those with more expertise.”
Williams also has a personal goal for the district for his next term. He wants to improve the communication between the school district and community. He said, “this year there has been more school board information in principals’ newsletters, Durham’s Friday Updates, and the Lee e-Crier. I spearheaded this and wrote most of the summaries from school board meetings. The community needed more clear, straightforward information about what your school board is up to. We still need to do better, but this was a good first step.”
Along with Day and Williams, the ORCSD school board is shared with three town representatives: Brian Cisneros of Lee, Al Howland of Durham, and Daniel Klein of Madbury. There is also student representative Yasmeen Gunandar (‘20) who is on the board along with four at-large board members: Thomas Newkirk, who is Chair, Kenneth Rotner, Williams, and Day. These members can be from any of the three towns previously mentioned. Williams and Day are both at-large members, and they are the only two out of the four whose terms end this year.
As the school district grows and expands on student opportunities, the ORCSD school board will be working just as hard advocating for the schools’ next steps. The voting will take place at ORHS starting at 7am.