Alison Hawkes, a Harpswell representative to the Maine School Administrative District 75 Board of Directors since 2016, resigned on Jan. 19. In remarks to the board on Thursday, Jan. 27, Hawkes said that she will move to Florida so her children can attend school without “ridiculous” COVID-19 restrictions. She called the board “toxic,” accused the district of allowing students to “be mentally abused and oppressed over fear,” and said the teachers union should be dissolved.
“My resignation is so I can ensure my kids’ education doesn’t fall further behind. Can you imagine that I would have to look to another state to educate my kids freely and for growth?” Hawkes said. “These ridiculous rules have robbed them of a free and appropriate education.”
Hawkes said by phone that she has been homeschooling two children, a junior and a third grader.
She told the board that her third grader misses school. “He’s excited at the mere thought of relocation to Florida to go to school maskless, where activities aren’t restricted and new programs are being introduced continuously,” she said.
“I don’t want to be a part of a team that will sit aside and watch kids be mentally abused and oppressed over fear,” she added.
In her call to “ditch” the union, Hawkes said that she feels “dirty and heartbroken after negotiations.” She referred to the process as “warfare” and “disgusting.”
Mixed in with her criticism of the board, district and union, Hawkes offered encouragement to parents, students and teachers.
“To the teachers, thank you for all that you do, usually without the proper equipment, funding or time in a day,” she said. “You are our kids’ daily cheerleaders, confidants and often what keeps kids from falling astray.”
She later added that “teachers are not the enemy — bad teachers are.”
Speaking by phone after the meeting, Merrymeeting Teachers Association President Nicole Karod thanked Hawkes for her service and wished her well. But Karod, a teacher at Mt. Ararat Middle School, said it is disappointing to have the union and its members painted as villains.
Karod said that the board and the teachers who make up the union share a goal to provide the best possible education to students. “We’re all fighting for what’s best for our kiddos,” she said.
The contract between the district and the union runs out in August, and the sides are negotiating a new deal.
Before Hawkes’ comments, board Chair Holly J.P. Kopp and Orr’s Island resident Tyler Washburn, a former chair and current candidate for a seat on the board, thanked Hawkes for her service.
“Serving with Alison as I did, I saw firsthand her commitment to our students, our schools and our community,” Washburn said. “She was always passionate in her beliefs — I think we can all agree about that — and she was willing to ask tough questions.”
After the meeting, Kopp declined comment on Hawkes’ criticism of the board. She said in an email that board policy only allows her to comment about matters on which the board has reached consensus. Interim Superintendent Bob Lucy did not respond to an email.
Like many school boards across the country, the MSAD 75 board has debated COVID-19 protocols and heard from parents and students on the subject in long, sometimes acrimonious meetings.
In October, the board voted 10-3 to require masks in all schools until the district’s superintendent deems it safe to lift the mandate. Hawkes did not attend the meeting. At a subsequent meeting, she said that she missed the vote because she had COVID-19.
The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends universal indoor masking in K-12 schools.
Hawkes was a member of the Harpswell Board of Selectmen for one term, from 2011-2014. She operates three businesses in Cundy’s Harbor: Hawkes’ Lobster, Holbrook’s General Store and Holbrook’s Lobster Grille.
The select board appointed Hawkes to the school board in 2016, filling a vacancy left by the resignation of Sara Clemens. Hawkes went on to win three-year terms in 2017 and 2020.
Now, the select board will choose a candidate to fill the seat through June 2023. Three candidates have expressed interest: Washburn, Margaret “Greta” Warren and Gregory Greenleaf.
Hawkes’ resignation coincides with a two-way race for another seat on the board, which voters will decide on March 12. Washburn and Ryan Larsen, of Harpswell Neck, are running for a three-year term. Incumbent Linda Hall, of South Harpswell, is not running for reelection after 12 years on the board.
On Jan. 20, Washburn encouraged the select board to fill Hawkes’ seat as soon as possible and suggested both himself and Larsen as candidates.
Washburn has experience on the board, including a stint as chair. He was a Bowdoin representative from 2018-2021, resigning because he moved to Orr’s Island. He was also a student representative to the board while in high school. He works in the Topsham town office.
Larsen, a father of three daughters in the MSAD 75 schools, works in merchandising and product development for L.L. Bean.
Washburn told the select board that the school board has crucial work underway, including a superintendent search and the development of the 2022-23 budget.
“I think it’s very important that Harpswell has all four seats at the table, if possible,” Washburn said. The board consists of six Topsham representatives, four Harpswell representatives, and two each from Bowdoin and Bowdoinham.
Washburn said that the school board is losing experience with the departures of Hawkes and Hall, and encouraged the selectmen to appoint someone with experience. “Shamelessly, I know that I have a lot of experience,” he said.
Washburn said he would give up a chance at a three-year term to accept the appointment. He suggested that the selectmen could also appoint Larsen. “I haven’t had a chance to meet him. I think he’s a great guy,” Washburn said.
Washburn said that he would have “absolutely no agenda getting on that board, other than making sure that we can provide the best education to our kids.”
Larsen, in an email, said that he would continue to focus on the March election. He thanked Hawkes for her service. “While I often disagreed with her positions, I appreciate the fact she made the commitment that she did and I wish her well,” he said.
Of the vacancy, he said it would be important for the select board to vet Hawkes’ replacement, “as the Harpswell seats on the board have experienced a lot of turnover these past few years.”
“I hope they are going to look for someone that is collaborative, open-minded, understanding of current challenges experienced by children and their families, and will be a bridge builder — specifically to the teachers, administrators and staff of the district,” Larsen said. “The board has undertaken efforts to work more effectively together, and I am hoping that a fresh new face will fill that seat and continue those efforts.”
The select board heard from Warren on Jan. 27. Warren had announced her candidacy for the three-year term in December, but later withdrew and said that she would support Larsen.
Warren lives off Mountain Road and has two children who will soon start school. She works as operations director for the Maine Conservation Alliance and Maine Conservation Voters.
“I care deeply about the kids and the families and the staff within our school district and I want to do my part to serve our community as well,” Warren said.
Warren said that she has experience with complex budgets and project management. “I pride myself on being personable and pragmatic,” she added.
Gregory Greenleaf, of Cundy’s Harbor, also plans to apply for the position.
Greenleaf chairs the Harpswell Democratic Committee, but said he would step down from the role until the select board makes its decision. If the select board appoints him to the school board, he will resign from the committee permanently.
Greenleaf, a father of two children in the MSAD 75 schools, is a former chair of the Harpswell Community School Parent-Teacher Organization. He teaches English at Greely High School in Cumberland, which tops U.S. News & World Report’s list of Maine’s best high schools.
“My approach to leadership is one of servanthood. By that, I mean I want to be a good role model, to always be humble, curious, respectful, and to build up people instead of tear them down,” Greenleaf said. “And the decisions I make will be informed, rational and in the best interest of all stakeholders, especially the children of MSAD 75.”
(Editor’s note: Gregory Greenleaf writes a humor column for the Harpswell Anchor.)
On Feb. 3, the select board agreed to follow a three-step process to fill the vacancy. Candidates can apply at the town office or online until 4:30 p.m. on Feb. 25. The select board will interview applicants by March 11, then make its selection on March 17.
A grant from the Maine Humanities Council supports the Harpswell Anchor’s reporting on town government.