Westford School Committee candidate Bill McDonald holds campaign signs outside of Westford Academy during the town election May 2, 2023. McDonald, a special education principal, faced Vice Chair Valery Young and three-time committee candidate Meghan O’Connell for two open seats. (Cameron Morsberger / Lowell Sun)
WESTFORD — Vice Chair Valery Young and Wakefield school principal Bill McDonald won two open seats on Westford’s School Committee in Tuesday’s town election.
Young, a one-term incumbent, received 1,485 votes, with McDonald clinching the top spot with 1,537 votes, according to unofficial results shared by Town Clerk Patty Dubey Tuesday night. This was candidate Meghan O’Connell’s third year running for the committee, but the parent of six children earned only 568 votes.
Just 11.7% of Westford’s 18,287 registered voters cast their ballot this year.
A shining achievement of Young’s first three years has been supporting funding for tuition-free, full-day kindergarten, she said, despite the challenges imposed by the pandemic.
With two kids in the district — a fourth-grader and first-grader — Young, who also chairs the board’s finance subcommittee, said “we definitely have our work cut out for us.” Young said she’ll be working on instituting policies from the new strategic district improvement plan, or SDIP, and evaluating an upcoming facility’s report on the condition and usage of the district’s 10 buildings for possible future maintenance.
“I hope that people see my tireless work and enthusiasm and my track record of my first term,” Young said, “and know that I’m all in this and happy to take on the challenge of another term.”
Standing outside Stony Brook Middle School, Young also held signs for McDonald, who she said shares much of her same values and brings an important background to the table, having worked in special education.
McDonald’s career in education began 15 years ago at the SEEM Collaborative, which offers programs for students with disabilities and where he worked as an aide, teacher and now principal. He moved to town about two years ago with his daughter, now in kindergarten at the Nabnasset School, and his preschool-aged son.
Because of that experience, McDonald said he knows “what’s at stake” in schools, especially when it comes to social-emotional health, staff needs and budgetary restrictions. In his first term on the committee, McDonald said he hopes to “be a sponge,” communicate with residents and learn as much as possible.
“If I don’t get a position on the School Committee today, I’m not going anywhere,” McDonald said while the polls were open. “I’m going to be volunteering, I’m going to be helping out. That’s been my life. It’s been a life of service to others. It’s why I got into education, and I’m just excited to be in Westford.”
Similarly, O’Connell’s loss doesn’t appear to have tempered her commitment to improving Westford.
Despite sudden, heavy bouts of rain, some residents rallied for support at both Westford Academy and Stony Brook Middle School, holding signs and greeting voters at the polls.
Westford resident Claire Redman helped McDonald with his campaign, distributing flyers and putting out signs ahead of the election. Though a newcomer to Westford, she said McDonald has worked to make connections and has been “enthusiastic and energetic” about earning a spot on the committee.
Redman also said she voted for Young in 2020 and is happily supporting her again. She called Young “a tremendous incumbent.”
“She’s super communicative. She does a lot on social media to make sure that residents are really informed about School Committee, our schools, and not only that, but also things that are happening in town,” Redman said. “So, she really is the social hub of the town. She’s invaluable in that way.”
Incumbent Michele Pitoniak-Crawford and Lowell Community Health Center nurse Maeghan Hughes took the Board of Health — the only other contested race — with 1,312 and 1,125 votes, respectively, besting high school physical education teacher Alesia Raczelowski, who earned 892 votes.
Raczelowski said she aimed to bring a young perspective to the board and for a town she’s lived in for 25 years. Her goal, she said, was to spread “community health and wellness here in Westford,” and she believes more townwide activities and “camaraderie” would go a long way in ensuring residents’ physical and emotional well-being.
“Win or lose,” Raczelowski said she appreciated the friends, family and community members who helped her along the campaign trail.
“This has been a great experience,” Raczelowski said, “so I’m very fortunate to have had that.”
Pitoniak-Crawford did not respond to multiple requests for comment. Hughes also did not respond to a request for comment.
Incumbents in both contested races — School Committee member Gloria Miller and Board of Health member Zac Cataldo — did not run for re-election. One-term Select Board member Anita Tonakarn-Nguyen, who started working as a district director in state Rep. Jim Arciero’s office last summer, also chose not to pull papers.
Select Board Vice Chair Tom Clay and newcomer Chris Barrett earned the two three-year positions on the board.
Voters approved one ballot question on a debt exclusion for Blanchard Middle School’s roof replacement but rejected such an exclusion for 51 Main St., the old fire station the town hopes to demolish and rebuild for town offices and a community meeting place. The $12.4 million proposal for 51 Main St. was also rejected at Town Meeting in March.
On a third ballot question, residents also narrowly voted for the Select Board to change Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day “to acknowledge the history of genocide and discrimination against Indigenous peoples” as well as the cultures and “continued resistance and resilience” of tribal nations.
Kathy Lynch, a Westford resident and Republican state committeewoman in the 1st Middlesex District, spoke out against that measure, defending Christopher Columbus’s “excellent exploration skills” and how he spread Christianity to America.
Efforts to “demonize him” are wrong, Lynch said, adding that the language change, in her eyes, is “not inclusive but divisive.”
“Why erase our history?” Lynch said. “No human being is perfect.”