Hopkinton voters got a chance to hear from the candidates running in the May 22 Town Election thanks to a virtual forum hosted by the Hopkinton Women’s Club on Wednesday night.
This is the 33rd time the organization held the Meet the Candidates Night and the first time it was done virtually, in response to COVID-19. Last year’s event was canceled.
Although it was originally scheduled for two hours, the forum only lasted for one, as no residents submitted questions to the candidates through the chat feature.
Moderator Kathleen Hebden of the Hopkinton Women’s Club read one previously emailed question that asked the Select Board and School Committee candidates about their past activities, what they meant to them, and how those experiences impacted the town.
The School Committee is the only contested race, with three candidates vying for two seats. Incumbents Amanda Fargiano and Margaret “Meg” Tyler are running for reelection against newcomer Jared Pray.
The Select Board has two candidates for two seats: incumbent Irfan Nasrullah and Planning Board member Muriel Kramer.
Tyler highlighted her experience on the Full-Time School Reopening Committee as it navigated how to safely return students to class.
“As you know, we are all kind of suffering from a collective trauma right now trying to contend with all of the losses and stresses of the pandemic,” she said. “I think what really heartened me in that experience was the depth of research that each participant engaged in, trying to come up with the right and scientifically based answers while also juggling the host of sentiments in the town.”
While parents expressed strong opinions on both sides of the issue, Tyler said she believed the committee “made the right decision.”
“We’ve got all the kids back in school, and from what I hear, it’s been a great success,” Tyler said, while acknowledging, “I know we didn’t please everyone, and that was really hard for us.”
Jared Pray reflected on his experiences coaching his daughter’s softball teams and learning from his daughter’s interactions with her peers.
“When they do something right and one of them gets it, they all kind of get it, and I really enjoy seeing that,” he said. “The flip side of that is that coaching that big group of girls, you really get an appreciation for the teachers, particularly at some of the younger ages.”
Fargiano said that while she has served on a number of committees, “nothing has been as impactful” as her service on the School Committee.
“The impact on the community — whether you have students or not — is huge,” she said, noting the schools’ success affects everything from property values to public policy.
One of the achievements she cited was passing a policy in support of LGBTQ students so they would feel safe in the restrooms.
The pandemic’s effect on the schools was another chief concern.
“The burden of the decisions about whether to open,” she explained, “listening to all of our community members and having to respond to the fear and the anxiety and the stresses on the homes.”
Nasrullah spoke about his year of service on the Planning Board as well as his Select Board tenure.
“It has really given me the insight into how our town operates and how engaged our citizenry really is,” he said. “It’s been a wonderful opportunity to see how people really care about one another, care about their town, and it gives me further inspiration as to how I want to help serve the town and meet those needs.”
He added that his Planning Board service gave him knowledge as to how projects become approved, something he has carried to his current role.
Kramer has served on several boards and committees over the past two decades (including Select Board), and she said one role stood out.
“I truly enjoyed the time on the Master Plan Update Committee because it directly involved stakeholder engagement with all of the boards and committees in town and the people who are volunteering and spending time benefiting the community,” she said. “It mandated interaction and stakeholder engagement with the voters and the folks living in town who aren’t necessarily on boards and committees.
“I really very much prize the opportunity to interact with residents and understand their priorities and try to honor those priorities and put them into action.”