School Committee candidates Ashley Fogg and Susan Stephenson took center stage as two of the three candidates vying for two open three-year terms during the annual Meet the Candidates Night held Wednesday night at the HCAM studio.
The third candidate, Democrat Adam Munroe, was unable to attend due to a prior commitment for a national nursing education summit in Texas. In his stead, Select Board chair Amy Ritterbusch (who is seeking her second term) read an introductory statement about him.
The forum, sponsored by the Hopkinton Women’s Club, was the 35th hosted by the group, which formed in 1920 as women were gaining the right to vote in the United States. Kathie Hebden moderated the debate, which served as a primer for the town election on Monday, May 15.
While there were a number of candidates for other positions present, School Committee is the only contested race.
Differences in background
Stephenson and Fogg spent the better part of the nearly hourlong event fielding questions on their positions on topics of current interest, including their views on book banning, support for transgender students, and how best to serve the rising school population.
Fogg, who grew up in Hopkinton and who is not enrolled in a political party, said she returned to Hopkinton to raise her three children. She cited her legal education and background working as a paralegal in law firms in Boston and Woburn as what distinguishes her from her fellow candidates as well as current committee members.
“I’m very active in the schools and have relationships with many of the staff members, teachers and principals,” Fogg said. She noted that two of her children are in the public schools, and her third child will enter in the fall. Her firsthand knowledge of the schools includes being a room parent in one of her children’s classrooms and being involved in two PTOs and as a youth basketball coach.
“I hope to take this real-time experience and use it in making informed decisions as it affects the Hopkinton Public Schools and our children,” she said. “If I’m elected, I hope to engage as a thoughtful contributor and offer a balanced and discerning perspective to problem-solving and planning for our school district.”
Stephenson highlighted her insight as a veteran educator. A Pennsylvania native, she moved to Hopkinton nine months ago after having enjoyed visiting the town over the course of 27 years.
“I bring 36 years of educational expertise as a secondary [school] English teacher,” she said. “But I also bring an extensive background as a leader and negotiator for a 500-member education association.”
She compared her previous school district in Seneca Valley with Hopkinton, noting that both are held in high regard. Because of their excellence, they have experienced increases in the student population, including students who require special services. This prompted the need for more teachers and support staff as well as new school buildings.
Stressed Stephenson: “I tell you now, every single decision I make will always begin and end with what is best for the students.”
Ritterbusch noted that education had a profound impact on Monroe, as neither his parents nor his grandparents had attained a high school education. He has earned degrees in nursing and holds a master’s degree in nursing education while currently pursuing his doctorate.
“He possesses a deep-rooted understanding of the power of education,” Ritterbusch continued. “He also knows what it feels like to be the kid who needs extra help along the way.”
She added that he regularly has confronted challenging situations both in the medical field and as an advocate for his two children’s special education services.
The first topic Stephenson and Fogg confronted was whether book banning should be allowed. Stephenson adamantly opposed book banning as “the most outrageous thing that has ever come to this Earth.” She said her students benefited from reading classics such as “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.” She added that parents have the right to say that their children should not be exposed to particular titles and ask for a substitute book. Educators should take the age of their students into consideration when selecting reading materials.
Fogg agreed that book banning, in general, “probably should not happen.” But she added that her children were exposed to books in elementary school with subject matter that she hadn’t yet discussed with them. Parents should work with teachers and administrators to address situations like this as they arise, she said, stressing the need for communication.
Both candidates said they have good relationships with several School Committee members and have been attending School Committee meetings to prepare for their possible positions.
Nonbinary, transgender students
The issues facing nonbinary and transgender students were raised. Fogg noted that there are state regulations in place, and the School Committee is required to follow them. She stressed that nonbinary and transgender students should have opportunities to play sports.
Stephenson said there are legal precedents in place that she would follow and that these students have “the toughest road there is to hoe” and should be supported.
Both candidates said that a student’s gender identity or expression should be honored. Fogg added that “all students should have access to a first-rate education” and said that conversations should be held more intimately between students, parents and staff. Stephenson stressed that support services should be offered for these students.
School Committee chair Nancy Cavanaugh posed a question to both candidates, asking how they would approach a situation where a parent complains about an LGBTQ pride flag being displayed in a classroom.
Fogg said her first question would be if there were other flags in the classroom, saying they are more common now in society. She said a parent with a concern should first address it with the teacher or principal. The focus of schools should be on academics, she noted.
Stephenson complimented Fogg on her answer, but her “gut reaction” would be to question how the flag was negatively impacting the student or affecting their learning.
Critical race theory
When the topic of critical race theory was raised, Stephenson said, “If my reading is OK on it, CRT is basically a pile of rubbish. However … should we be teaching our kids about slavery? Absolutely.”
Added Stephenson: “You can’t teach a child history, which is the most important thing a kid can learn, if they don’t know what impacted it, what brought it.”
Said Fogg: “I think systemic racism is real. I think it penetrates every part of our country. I think the wounds created by systemic racism are huge, and we absolutely are still grappling with what happened in the past and what continues to happen.”
She stressed that children should learn from the past while focusing on the future. She would approach critical race theory education “with an open mind” and seek opinions from people on all sides of the issue before making an informed decision.
In her closing statement, Stephenson stressed that she is “a fairly liberal thinker” who addresses situations in ways “that do not require fireworks” because of her deep background as an educator.
Fogg stressed her role as a Hopkinton Public Schools parent and volunteer. She also said party politics should “ have no place in a school committee” and that “a political party in town does not run my campaign.”
Stephenson took exception to that remark.
Said Stephenson: “I’m disappointed that anyone would think that a party would push an agenda through a school board.”
While every current member is a Democrat [Editor’s note: except Amanda Fargiano, who is unenrolled], they all work hard and are not told how to vote by the party, Stephenson stressed.
Susan Stephenson doesn’t own a home in Hopkinton. She’s not a tax payer. She has been renting here less than a year. She has no children in the Hopkinton schools. The school district she came from has zero diversity. Sorry but she won’t have my vote.
Very uninclusive and pretentious to disregard decades of public education experience based on if someone rents vs own a home. Having no previous baggage or children in the school system can be an advantage and give someone a clean slate perspective without judgemental biases.
Susan, welcome to Hopkinton and thank you for raising your hand to bring your educational experience to the Hopkinton Public Schools.
I respectfully disagree with you. The school budget is the largest component of our tax bill. I’d like to see someone making decisions who has a vested interest in the outcome and who best represents parents and students. If you don’t pay taxes, you’ve got no skin in the game. The teachers have their own union and we’re not looking to hire a teacher. We need an independent voice on the school committee. I believe having no children in the schools is a big disadvantage. Susan is not knowledgeable about the issues facing our district and she most certainly has her own biases. She’s there to represent the Democratic Committee. They’ll be mass producing yard signs and feverishly writing letters to the editor any day now. It’s too bad School Committee can’t be non partisan. So while I’d welcome Susan to town, I will not welcome her to School Committee.
This is incredibly classist. Every single person in this town is impacted by our schools, and to exclude residents that do not own homes excludes a significant number of well qualified people. It is a viewpoint that is ignorant, short-sighted, and devalues essential perspectives. Home ownership does not make anyone superior, and is not a moral success, it is a combination of privilege, opportunity, and luck.
Diversity of perspective is incredibly valuable, and Susan has seen what works, what doesn’t, and the social impact of policy and curriculum over time. There has never been a candidate like her before.
And to characterize every candidate, elected board or committee member, and appointee from the HDTC as a conformist to the HDTC agenda demonstrates a complete lack of attention and understanding of what happens on our boards and committees. There have been a significant number of valuable discussions with good faith disagreements that have happened throughout the past year. To believe that because someone is running as an independent that they don’t hold biases, assumptions, or have their own agenda is fundamentally flawed at best.
Wow, fairly short sighted.
Anyone with 18+ yr old kids still living at in their parent’s homes better not vote then since they don’t own, pay taxes and don’t have kids of their own. Elderly that rent near the senior center who have no kids in the system, I guess shouldn’t have a voice either? The Hopkinton that Ashley grew up in was not diverse, it is the residential growth over the recent years (many of who, rent) that has broadened Hopkinton’s diverse demographics. I was undecided on the School Committee candidates, these comments reveal who not to vote for and it isn’t someone who rents their home. To folks who may be renting in our community please get out and vote, your voice matters and you do pay property taxes indirectly that are built into your rent.
If you feel this strongly why didn’t you use your name?
How very stuck up of you. Landlords add tax payments into rent. If you didn’t know that now you do. I honestly prefer someone who doesn’t have kids in the school system. At least one actually SHOULD be on the school board. Our town, up until a few years ago, had zero diversity.
Interesting that you posted this anonymously. I mean own the comment. What does renting as opposed to owning have anything to do with one’s ability to serve on school committee. Idc if she’s lived here for 5 min, her educational background and experience is more than enough to qualify her.
Looks like some people who are posting negative remarks are too cowardly to even publish their name. I’ll be proud to post mine. It doesn’t matter what party you belong to, the School Committee members are all about the children, not about who owns or rents a house. By the way, if you rent a house, a portion of your rent does go towards the landlord’s taxes. Bashing candidates during a campaign is absolutely horrible. There’s no reason for it.
I wholeheartedly agree with Ashley’s comment that party politics should have no place in the school committee.
Last year, I recall that one candidate could barely articulate why they were running for school committee. Surprise! They won! And I bet we can all guess why.
I was actually there that night and could very clearly understand what she had to say.
Apologies. You’re misunderstanding how I’m using the word articulate in a sentence; I have no idea who you think I’m talking about but please don’t make assumptions as I don’t think anything good ever comes of that.
Articulate, as in: to be able to express clearly. One candidate, when asked why they were running for school committee, could not express the reason, IMO.
Oh! Which candidate was that?
The master’s level social worker and dedicated public servant elected to her third term?
The doctor of education and curriculum and public school technology integration specialist elected to her second term?
Or the behavioral health doctoral fellow and former town social worker elected to her first term?
The closest race among these was won by 270 votes – none were close and all candidates won every district. This comment is embarrassing at best and ignorant at worst.
Ouch – embarrassing AND ignorant. Such a nice response! Appreciate the constructive dialogue.
May I suggest another HopKINDton bumper sticker for you?
I am fully in support of and impressed by Ashley Fogg’s commitment to education in our community. I appreciate her stepping up to fill this important role for the children of our community, and feel that not only her growing up in Hopkinton is important here, but also her legal background lends a helpful asset to the School Committee. I have no reservations as a 30 year resident, and 11 year Hopkinton schools educator myself.
We’ve got several large scale school building projects in the works (Elmwood replacement, Hopkins addition, etc) with serious and long term impacts for our community. Parents with children in the school system care very deeply about balancing both quality of education and cost. My personal belief is that school committee members should have children in the schools as these are the best people to properly represent students and families. I will be voting for Ashley and Adam as I believe they will make excellent decisions which will benefit everyone. It is most certainly a benefit to be from our wonderful town and to have lived through the evolution of it. I hope all of the community members get out there and vote!
In all due respect to Ms. Fogg & Ms. Wiggin who no longer lives in Hopkinton and heard moved out of Massachusetts is your support because of a shared church affiliation and past neighbor. Those loyalties matter, just to clarify since the commitment to education from Fogg’s candidate statement is as mom volunteering in her childrens’ classrooms. Does she have experience in DEI? Her stance on gifted children? Diverse growing population needs? Language immersion programs?
If you have no children in the school system and you have no ties to the community, why run? If you have lots of free time in retirement, perhaps make use of the pickle ball courts that we’re putting in. Call me classist/elitist/ignorant – whatever. The truth is if you don’t have any children in the schools and you’re renting, then you really aren’t going to be burdened by any decisions that you make. You don’t have to deal with consequences or listen to what parents have to say. You don’t need to care about solving our problems. You can just pick up and move whenever. As for the rest of us with deep roots, we care about the next several years in terms of what happens with our property values, the quality of education, and our tax bills. And quite frankly like most people in town I’m totally tired of party politics. Let’s elect the best candidates instead of the ones being pushed by a political agenda.
Exactly — the best candidate is the former teacher with years of experience in the education system.
Everyone seems to be focusing negatively on one candidate just because she rents a house instead of owning. How ridiculous is that! FYI, she is renting only because she is going to be buying a house here in Hopkinton until she finds the right one. So yes, she will be picking up and moving, but it’ll be right in this town. As for not having children, that’s another ridiculous comment. Having children or not doesn’t make you any more or less qualified. People just enjoy bashing other people for no reason. Also people, check out the facts first—fake news, the school committee is NOT made up of all Democrats. So for all you people who think that bashing is the right thing to do, you’re making yourselves and your candidate look pretty small. Where were you when it was time to pull papers for candidacy?
Beth Molloy Your comment about Ashley advocating for book banning is false and that rumor has already been debunked through a very respectful dialogue – also, it was about penguins 😉
I just learned this and apologized to Ashley. I’m asking it be removed.
Is that the dialogue that Ashley blocked the president of the Hopkinton Teacher’s Association comments? That isn’t a very respectful dialogue.
“Let’s elect the best candidate” — exactly! That’s the former teacher with years of experience in the education system and not the person who has only ever volunteered in her kid’s classrooms.
I disagree with your sentiment. There are quite a lot of women in this town who have chosen their family over a career and they absolutely have the experience, perspective, and skill set to serve on the school committee
I doubt that Ashley Fogg has the time to commit since she was late to the debate, ran out afterwards & resigned from Youth Commission after only a few months. School Committee is a serious time commitment, her actions speak loud and clear.
Mary Jones, Now we are really reaching and drawing cursory conclusions. Also, how timely were you to the debate? Is that what you consider on-time for yourself?
Kristin, I’m not the candidate. It is not drawing a cursory conclusion to mention that she only stayed on Youth Commission a few months. It is valid assessment of a candidate who doesn’t seem to have time, is overly emotional and doesn’t like penguins.
Mary Jo – you were late to the debate yourself so I have no idea how you know what time I arrived to the debate. I arrived with enough time to have conversations with both candidates, have conversations with the moderators, hear the rules, use the restroom and the time to sit and just wait. I was not late. I also did not run out afterwards, I hugged Susan, thanked both candidates and wished them luck, and shook both moderators hands and said thank you for their time and invitation. Your comment as a Selectboard member is false and unprofessional and deflamatory. Do better.
I’d also to like to point out that any comments to Susan and her campaign have not been at my direction or knowledge. As someone who has been under near constant attack I would not encourage anyone saying anything negative.
Excuse me? I am Mary Jones and not a Selectman. No clue what you are talking about, I watched on tv.
From HCAM not going live on time but see the shuffling about before, you seemed rushed, any of the courtesies you say you did were not visible on tv. What was visible was defensiveness and not in control of your emotions.
Why did you resign from Youth Commission?
Ok, trying to dig through all of the comments here. As an FYI, Mary Jones is not a select board member in Hopkinton. There may be an actual Mary Jones in town, but she doesn’t serve on any town board I can find on the town website. I think you might be confusing her with an actual select board member with the first name Mary Jo but different last name.
I watched both Meet the Candidates and the Debate. The last couple of election cycles sure have gotten ugly and concern me for the future of our town. While you have attacked the democrats in town as a large swath of people, you deny connection to the people who back you and put down another candidate for not owning a home. If you blame the opposition for all perceived attacks against you, how can you not own the ones against your opponent? Serious question.
The democrats I know in town are a diverse group of people with differing views. If you’re truly independent, why attack a group that comprises like half of the town? Why include so many of our neighbors in town in your attacks based on their political affiliation alone if you are truly non-partisan? I don’t know you, but it seems you did the same thing in the last election. If you’re an equal opportunity hater of political parties, why have you never criticized the Republicans for candidates they have brought to the ballot by way of caucus in past years? I think that might be part of why people associate you with the larger Republican agenda.
Love thy neighbor. That includes all.
Not just ones that own homes, have children & townies. All includes LGBTQ+, all colors, all genders, ages & shudder even new residents who rent, maybe retired and may not have children. All.
Ashley supporters seem to have prejudice issues, casting stones at a neighbor they don’t even know.
A candidate that blocks the president of the Hopkinton Teachers’ Association from her Facebook campaign page and deletes her previous comments, is not the right choice to support the children in our schools. That candidate is Ashley Fogg who will not be receiving mine and my partner’s votes.
I wonder what the President of the HTA did to get blocked? There seems to be a witch-hunt going on. Maybe it’s because Ashley publicly challenged her on the school budget. Hmmmmm. Or that Susan Stephenson also served as a teachers union leader and, if elected, could potentially help the HTA move their agendas FW. The HTA has a vested interest to discredit Ashley and also move Susan FW
No. She blocked her and others because they asked her to clarify her stance on books she was uncomfortable with. Ashley is blatantly avoiding answering questions asked of her. Candidates are supposed to be open with the people they represent, not block them.
I see now why I have not returned to Hopkinton.