Meet the 2023 Candidates for School Committee and Board of Selectman

Mike Squindo, Sherrill Caruana, and Christina Beckel

Lilli DiGrande, Co-Editor in Chief

Seniors and staff members at Chaug prepare to possibly vote this Saturday, May 20th, in the upcoming town election, and one important step to this process is getting to know the candidates, their priorities and their values. Board of Selectman candidate Mike Squindo, and School Committee candidates Sherril Caruana and Christina Beckel share some of their insight and hopes for their candidacy. 


Get To Know Them:

Mike Squindo has extensive experience in community and leadership development dating back to his school days. He has served on various public bodies, including the state of Vermont’s Board of Education Youth Advisory Committee. He has been a municipal employee for the past 10 years, with about 6 of those years as a Director of a Municipal Senior Center. 

Sherril Caruana has been on the School Committee for three terms so far, before which she was a principal at Stony Hill school until she got sick from pneumonia and no longer had the energy to hold that job. She was a part of the committee during the search for the new Superintendent, John Provost, and has pushed for the strategic plan and equity audit. 

Christina Beckel was part of the Steering committee last year, working with the five year plan for the district and she works as a substitute teacher throughout the district. Beckel is a mother and an active community member.


Their Priorities & Goals:

Squindo wants to make sure that the Board and its operations are representative of the people’s wishes and wants. He thinks that they should work towards some procedural changes so it is easier for people to gather the information and respond to it efficiently and in a timely manner, and he also wants to prioritize communication.

“One thing I would strongly encourage is for the Board to officially adopt the town website as the posting source for all public agenda so everyone will have access to that via their connection to the internet,” he says. 

Caruana wants to ensure that the strategic plan goes into effect and is rolled out in a positive way, and will prioritize equity in the curriculum and begin to look at policy making in terms of delivering education with the rise of AI. 

“I think that we have to be aware of things that students might use and have policies around that such as AI and ChatGPT,” she said. “I know that it can be a good tool for teachers to ask the AI component to give lesson plans, and then they can look at that versus what they are teaching in that curriculum. Not to copy that, but to help with delivering education.”

Beckel  wants to prioritize communication, especially between schools. She believes that there is a major lack of communication between the schools, which can cause the kids to have a difficult transition and impact their learning.  One example of this happened in the Spanish department when administration cut down the Spanish program for 7th grade from a full year to a half year. “I heard that there was limited or no communication between the head of language departments between the middle school and high school. They did not seem to have a common plan.”

Beckel also continually pushed for foreign language to be taught earlier than the 7th grade during her time on the Steering Committee and believes that this is a positive way to teach diversity. She believes that in order to help achieve things like this it is important to gain additional funding from the state for education. 

Additionally, Beckel learned that when the school was regionalized in 1993, the district was promised by the state that they would cover the expenses for transportation throughout the district. But the state never came through with their promise.

“I feel like Western Massachusetts is not taken care of when it comes to distributing money for education throughout the state,” she said. “I want to push for going to talk to the legislators and representatives for Western Mass and tell them they need to go and talk to the state government.”


Opinions on the Budget:

According to Squindo, the biggest role that the Board has in relation to the schools is the budget. With respect to that, he says that dialogue between all parties engaging in the process should be facilitated.

“So making sure that we are encouraging early and often conversations about what’s coming, what’s being asked, what are the needs,” Squindo says. “One of the things noticed this year is that a lot of the conversation appears to have happened at the very end of the process instead of in the beginning when they had the chance to talk about it, flush it out.” 

The School Committee has the main control over the budget, so Squindo wants to ensure that the relationship between the Financial and School Committee should be as strong as possible. He thinks this is possible for the Board of Selectmen (BOS) to oversee because they appoint the members of the Financial Committee (Fin Com).

“We then work with the schools and Fin Com,” Squindo says. “[We should] make sure that we are encouraging them to engage in an effective dialogue.”

Like Squindo, Beckel also believes that conversations regarding the budget for the School Committee should start to take place sooner in order to gain a better perspective of how much money they can deal with. 

“I don’t understand why we don’t start the process for figuring out the budget earlier on so we can try to reduce  possible expenses that are not directly related to education of our children  before bringing a budget proposal forward,” she said.

Caruana, who is currently on the school committee, explained that this year, we simply don’t have enough money in the budget. 

“We are at the point where we need what we need, but when facing a deficit you have to cut teachers and the programs they teach,” she said. “Next year, unfortunately there will be teachers cut, but there are always teachers being cut. Teachers are the type of people who just give it their all, and to be cut because of a budget crunch is hard.” 

Additionally, Proposition 2 ½ in Massachusetts drives the district’s budget. 2.5% of the taxes raised in the town go towards the schools. It was designed to help small districts afford the education that they offer, but 2.5% doesn’t buy today what it did a year ago. 

“So you only have one choice, which is to raise that percentage and no one wants to raise their taxes, especially not in a town like Wilbraham which has a lot of seniors, and at that position having a higher tax rate can be a hard thing to bear,” Caruana explained. “But unfortunately we don’t have a lot of other ways to get revenue.” 

There is an Excess and Deficiency fund that the committee can use for expenses such as pavement that can allow certain costs to come out of the E&D funds instead of the main budget. 

“It’s like a rainy day fund, and if you have the money in there you can pull it out for certain things,” she said. “None of us on the school committee want to hurt what we offer at Minnechaug or any of the other schools.” 


What is the Equity Audit?

The Equity Audit is something that has come up regularly in topics of discussion, but some people may not know exactly what it is or what it does. 

In short, the audit’s main goal in our district is to make sure that education is equitable for all students. Some hypothetical questions that have been issues addressed at other schools through audits could include things such as: Is each one being funded equitable or are some getting more funding than others? Are all special education students getting everything that they need? Are there policies that are discriminatory towards certain groups of students? 

There are so many more questions and situations that can be looked at by the district, and that’s what the equity audit does. Its goal is to allow a district to identify issues and see how they can improve them so that all students can be successful. 

Educators and communities can use equity audits to examine their schools culture, trends, practices and policies. Uncovering opportunity gaps is the first step in developing a plan to address them (IDRA)

It’s important to also understand the difference between equality and equity. This image provides a simplified example for all readers to better understand the difference. 


Opinions on the Equity Audit:

The BOS doesn’t have a large role when it comes to the audit, but they do support the school’s processes and work with them to address the legislatures at the state level. 

“The Board’s only other pivotal ability is to support the schools in going to state and saying ‘look you have to help us out, you gotta provide more money for the schools,’” Squindo said. 

Caruana supports the equity audit and believes that we need to encourage communication.

“We really need to dig deep into the equity audit and get communication going between families and the schools and to find out where the inequities are, where they are, how they affect the students,” she said. “I believe that there are a lot of inequalities, especially at the highschool.”

Caruana believes that currently there is a large division in terms of issues like the equity audit. 

“I think it’s the type of thing that students don’t want to talk about, they don’t want to say what’s going on. I think we can do a lot better, and I want to help,” she said. 

Beckel says that we should just treat everyone the same, without asking for religion, sexual orientation, etc. in order to achieve equality. She feels happy to see anyone in the school system regardless of race, which she says has never been an issue for her. 

“I am a triple minority, and I have talked to so many minorities in our town, and many of us do not like this diversity, equity and inclusion situation because it highlights our differences and makes us feel victimized and it divides us more than it brings us together,” Beckel said. 


Additional Information:

Squindo is happy to answer any questions that readers may have, and they can reach out to him on his website, or via email at [email protected].

“When you’re making a decision at the poles, the community isn’t built by one person,” he said. “So make sure that when you are making your choice, you’re making choices based on the people who will have the most ability to work on a team with the other folks who are representing you.”

Caruana is happy to continue to work in education after retiring from her principal position at Stony Hill, and enjoys working on the school committee. 

“Having been part of Provost’s search process and having him come on board this year, and having him reestablish the drive for the equity audit and the strategic plan, I want one more year to see the fruits of what we worked so hard for during COVID and beyond,” she said.

Lastly, Beckel hopes to bring representation of the students, parents and teachers to the school committee and to bring her experience from teaching throughout the district to the table. 

“I go through all of the schools, I teach the different grades, and I work with the teachers, for the teachers, so I see the gaps that are going from building to building, grade to grade, I feel like we could do a lot better for our children’s education than we are doing right now,” she said.