SPECIAL COVERAGE ON THE CORONAVIRUS
School Committee Race Part One: Candidates' Background and Inspiration
By Kristen Arute, Hingham Current Staff , Posted June 10, 2020
Candidates for School Committee: Michelle Ayer, Jen Benham and Stephanie Gertz [Courtesy of the candidates]
On Saturday, June 27th, Hingham residents will be voting for residents running local office. Even though there are eleven seats on the ballot, only two races are contested. Over the next three weeks, the Hingham Current will be publishing stories on the candidates for Board of Selectmen and School Committee.
This is the first in a three-part series on the candidates for School Committee. In an effort to report on the race fairly, we presented all three candidates with the same ten questions and will be providing their responses as thoroughly as possible. We will also be rotating the order in which they are featured in each of the three stories alphabetically based on the candidates' last names. For this article, we asked them to share information on their backgrounds and their inspiration for running for School Committee (questions 1-4). Their answers are presented in the following order: Michelle Ayer, Jen Benham and Stephanie Gertz.
Michelle, her husband Andy and their two sons have lived in Hingham for 17 years. She is the proud mom of Evan and Ethan, who graduated from the Hingham Public Schools in 2016 and 2018 respectively. People will occasionally ask why she is interested in serving on the School Committee if she no longer has children in the schools. “There are two reasons,” says Michelle. “First, the Hingham Public Schools provided a quality education to my children, and I want to ensure that same high-quality education is available to all Hingham students for decades to come. And second, I think it’s important for the Committee to have the perspective of community members who don’t have children in the schools.” From Kindergarten clean-up crew to Hingham Middle School PTO President to Hingham High School Class of 2016 and 2018 class parent, Michelle has spent 13 years volunteering in the school system. “While my sons were in school, I was an active a volunteer in the classroom and the PTO,” she said. “If there was a field trip, PTO event, or classroom activity, I raised my hand to help.” She has assisten in school buildings, classrooms and lunchrooms as well as on buses and school fields. “Engaging with students, teachers, and staff gave me a unique insight into our schools,” she said.
Michelle was elected to School Committee in 2017. She has served as Chair for the past two years and also chairs the Special Education Subcommittee, a committee that she immediately asked to be part of after her election. “I joined the committee so that I could advocate for and understand the needs of our special education students,” explained Michelle. She also served as METCO liaison – a position that she introduced in order to raise awareness of the METCO program, and she served on the Community Outreach Subcommittee, something that she said helps her “stay engaged with the community.” She is now running for reelection. “I am seeking a second term on the Hingham School Committee because we have a responsibility to ensure that the children of Hingham have access to high quality education, that our teachers and staff receive the tools and support they need to educate our children and that our leadership has a School Committee they can rely on to navigate through the challenging days ahead,” she said, before adding, “Democracy relies on access to free, public education for every child and this inspires me every day to work on behalf of our students.”
Jen and her family have lived in Hingham for 13 years. She currently has three children in the Hingham Public Schools – one at South Elementary, one at Hingham Middle and one at Hingham High. Jen received a degree from Boston University. After graduating, she became a special education teacher serving students with moderate to intensive special needs. From PTO President at South Elementary to elected member of School Council at Hingham Middle School and class parent at Hingham High School, she has volunteered in a variety of leadership roles at all levels in the Hingham Schools. “I served two terms as Treasurer for South School PTO and four years on the PTO Board of Directors,” said Jen. “During my tenure as Treasurer and President, I played a prominent role in fundraising upwards of $60,000 each year.” She has also served three years on All-Town PTO, a group that encourages collaboration among all six PTOs. Through it all, she has enjoyed working alongside a diverse group of volunteers, students, educators and community members.
“I’ve always been passionate about town government and education,” said Jen. “Given that my background is in education, I became very interested in my own town’s educational system." Two years ago, she started attending School Committee meetings as an active and interested member of the community and followed the superintendent search process. At the same time she was on All-Town PTO, and that group held two parent forums which focused on the security of the Hingham Public Schools. “It was these experiences that inspired me to run for a seat on the (School) Committee,” she explained. “I am passionate about our schools and believe I can always see multiple sides to an issue.”
Stephanie and her family moved to Hingham in 2019, but she has been a part of the community since 2006 when she married her husband who is the Cantor of the Temple in Hingham. She has two children at Plymouth River School, a son in 3rd grade and a daughter in 5th. Stephanie has a PhD in education. She was a finalist for Boston School Committee and served on the Hanover School Committee as both vice-chair and as a member of the Superintendent Search Committee. She currently works as a paraprofessional at Cohasset Middle High School coordinating a resource room for students who are transitioning back to school after extended absences. Stephanie was asked what inspired her to run for School Committee. “I care about the schools and the town,” said Stephanie. “My expertise is in education so this is how I can best serve our town.”