A More In-Depth Look At Tewksbury School Committee Candidates

Elections for school committee will be held on April 10th. All Tewksbury residents are encouraged to go vote.

A More In-Depth Look At Tewksbury School Committee Candidates

Elizabeth Miller

On April 10, Tewksbury will be hosting local elections. There are four candidates for School Committee this year, with two seats in the running. Incumbent James Cutelis is up for re-election, and Mr. Scott Wilson is not seeking another term. There will be a forum for the candidates on Thursday, March 18. The last day to register to vote for the town elections is Friday, March 19, at the Town Clerk’s Office. Tewksbury residents who are or will be 18 on April 10 are eligible to register to vote in the town elections. The town clerk’s office is open from 7:30 to 4:30 Monday through Friday, and will be open until 8 p.m. on the 19th for voter registration. Some answers have been shortened, or excerpted due to the volume of responses. 

Meet the Candidates

James Cutelis has been an attorney for 35 years, and is a Northeastern Law School graduate. He has served on the School Committee for the past nine years, and been involved in trying to improve Tewksbury Public Schools the last 25 years. He served on the Ryan School Building Committee, chaired both the Wynn School and High School Building Committees, and is Vice-Chair of the New Elementary School Building Committee. He has served on the Town Finance Committee, formed community group U25 to fight for “fair funding of schools, reduce class sizes, and increase course offerings,” all of which were implemented. Additionally, he coached youth sports at many levels as a community member. Mr. Cutelis cites his greatest achievement on the school committee:

 “Best things we did I think were insuring [sic] fair and fully funded budget, reducing class sizes to under 25 across the board, implementing full-day free kindergarten, adding courses at every level at the High School, adopting the Common Core curriculum, [and] engaging an independent group to evaluate special ed department and recommend improvements. Also we raised the pay for all Delta T and cafeteria workers to $15.00 per hour when many were stuck at $11.00.”

Bridget Garabedian is a Trauma/Emergency RN with a Bachelors of Science in Nursing. 

“I have had the opportunity to give back to our community in many ways over the years. My husband and I are both active with our three girls in community programs and events in town. I am most proud of the work I have done in our schools.”

She is currently a parent member on the District Re-entry Task force and the vice chair of the Tewksbury North St. and Trahan Reuse Committee. She has served in PAC leadership for the past eight years at four of our schools. She’s participated in hiring and search committees for general and special education educators as well as for a building principal. She participated in the district’s first STEAM lab and coordinated family-focused and districtwide STEAM nights, as well as being active on the Friends of the New School Building Committee. Additionally, as a member-at-large of the Friends of the Tewksbury Public Library, she is “actively fundraising to support programming offered by our town library.”

Nicholas Parsons is a High School Chemistry teacher, with a Masters degree in Education. In response to the question, “How have you contributed to Tewksbury’s community? What groups have you been involved with, volunteer experience, and other ways you’ve directly contributed to the Tewksbury community?”, Mr. Parsons said:

I am a 2011 graduate of Tewksbury Memorial High School. I did plenty of volunteer work in Tewksbury while I was going through school. In college and after, I was a volunteer coach for the boys and girls track teams. Currently, I am the head coach of the boys indoor and outdoor track team. It’s incredible to be in the community and working with the young adults in it.”

Deborah Wall is a Human Resources professional and holds numerous certifications, including career and life coaching certifications, as well as a bachelor’s degree in Education. She has been active in the Tewksbury community as a member of the Tewksbury Youth Lacrosse League Board. In the past she was a Board member of the Woburn Council for Social Concern, and at one time working with Nortre Dame Cristo Rey and their work study program. Through her work there she mentored young students and taught classes on “what to expect and who to conduct yourself in the workplace.” Currently, she is in a group for Human Resources professionals. Herself and her family support the Tewksbury Food Pantry and the Lowell wish Foundation with donations. In the past she’s volunteered for the school libraries and was on the School Council while her son attended the Dewing School. 

“I have never held an elected seat before. I am just a Mom who thinks that the status quo is no longer acceptable. When we know better, we do better, and I want to do better.”


Question 1: Why are you running for School Committee (SC)? What unique perspective can you bring to the board?

Cutelis: [I] have served on SC for [the] past nine years, [and] been involved [in] trying to improve Tewksbury Public Schools last 25 years. …  [I] want to continue to do the best I can to make our schools the best they can be for our town.

Garabedian:  I am running so that I can contribute and participate in a more impactful way in my community. I’m invested in our schools, having served in many leadership volunteer roles and on various school-related boards and committees. I have the experience to be an effective and collaborative member of the Tewksbury School Committee. As a volunteer, I have proven my dedication to improving the school experience for all. In return, I have gained insight into and understanding of the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and challenges facing our school community. I believe I bring a balanced outlook and have earned the trust of many parents in the district. Professionally, my 20-plus years of experience as an ER nurse have trained me to listen, weigh options, and examine issues from all points of view before making decisions. 

Parsons: I’m running for School Committee mainly because I want Tewksbury Public Schools to be the school system that families choose for their children’s education. That seems like a weird thing to say, considering if you live in town you are likely to go through the Tewksbury School System. However, if you look at U.S Census and In-District Enrollment data, you will find that there are more school aged people in town over the past decade, yet far less that are enrolled in our schools. In 2010, the population of Tewkbury residents aged 5-19 was 5,100. By 2019, this population grew to 5,610. During that same span, the number of students enrolled in-district decreased from 4,217 to 3,402. There are a lot of ways to measure the quality of a school, but I think the most important indicator is if the people living in town attend it… There is so much potential in our public schools, and I want to do my best in making suring we reach it. 

Wall: I am running for School Committee for the most important reason I could think of, our children.  This past year has brought us many challenges, but it has also given us a glimpse into the inner workings of our educational system.  That glimpse was concerning.  We no longer were a community that was putting our students first.  The idea of collaboration became “us vs. them” and as a parent that became unacceptable.  I could easily sit back and type out my thoughts on social media and let them float away or I could stand up and put myself on the line for the betterment of all of our stakeholders. It is my hope that my unique perspective would afford me the opportunity to create meaningful dialogues with all stakeholders and action items that provide value going forward… I am uniquely qualified to look at our organization as a whole and see both sides of every issue.  


Question 2: What are issues you see within our schools’ community and how do you propose solving them?

Cutelis: Pandemic; need to get the kids in school safely, we can do that now with masks, sanitation, ventilation, distancing and pool testing. We are doing that now. Pandemic has caused reduction in local and state revenues, we need to ensure that [the] school dept. budget is fully funded over the next few years and we are not faced with any staff layoffs. We need to open the new elementary school on time and on budget. We need to continue to develop a robust and rigorous curriculum and continue to add AP Honors and other course offerings at the high school.

Garabedian: Social and Emotional Wellness: The disruption in educational routine may have long-term effects on our students, families and staff. Having appropriate support in our schools will be essential as our students move to more in-person learning. I will advocate for more formalized programming in our schools to support this transition and beyond. Communication: I will advocate for the district to continue with student, family and staff satisfaction surveys. Transparency is important, so I will encourage full disclosure of survey results. It’s also important to act on what we hear, so I will engage the community to evaluate results and implement process improvements where possible. Student achievement: I will promote a proactive and collaborative approach to assessing and implementing policies to improve outcomes for all students. This is especially important as we transition to more and all in-person learning. 

Parsons: I think students of all academic proficiencies can be held to higher standards. For example, let’s consider at the high school level. Students who are stronger academically should have access to AP courses starting in their freshman year. Students who are mid-tier academically should have increased access to dual-enrollment classes. Both of these options would allow students to earn college credits, experience rigorous classes, and ultimately be able to play less for college. If students are struggling academically, we need more support that is proven to be helpful while also minimizing the stigma around having academic struggles. I’d love for Tewksbury Public Schools to be able to offer credit-recovery and enrichment classes during the summer. That way, students who may not have done stellar academically, and for very likely legitimate reasons, can get back on track and then push ahead. Our school district needs to begin looking at the resources and human capital we have within it and stop looking outward for guidance and support from consultants or unnecessary, unproven educational supports. This is costly. I know there is a committed and talented group of educators in Tewksbury – their expertise and guidance should be relied on to improve the quality of instruction delivered to our students. I’m a firm believer that Tewksbury teachers are the experts in educating Tewksbury students, and they need to be trusted and supported. 

While Tewksbury Public Schools don’t currently have a credit-recovery program, it does have summer school, which is a similar process. Students can also take enrichment with an outside program, but would not receive credit for those classes. 

Wall: First, I would like to say that there are some amazing things happening in our district… However, as in any organization there are areas for improvement. We are going to face some fiscal challenges after COVID… We need to address the divide between teachers and administration. We need to actively work on transparency and communication. Too many parents are talking about a lack of transparency and a lack of consistent, truthful and timely communication. There appears to be a lack of strategic thinking occurring in our district. As a parent, I do not see our district utilizing “Best Practices” when conducting business. Accountability is lacking.  


Question 3: What actions would you take to improve diversity and discrimination within our schools?

Cutelis: No one in our school community, students, teachers, staff, parents, etc., should ever be discriminated against for any reason, race, sex, sexual orientation, ethnicity, and including gender and gender identification. I think we are welcoming to all students and everyone at every level makes an effort not to discriminate. Our curriculum is well developed and diverse and our administration is well aware of the issues around equity, diversity and inclusion and our developing plans to address those concerns.

Mr. Cutelis’s answer focuses on curriculum, rather than instances of discrimination within schools between students and/or faculty. 

Garabedian: In the role of school committee member I will personally model the use of inclusive language while encouraging our committee to adopt more inclusive language as we develop policy and review curriculum. I will support professional development diversity and inclusion opportunities for our teachers and administrators. 

Parsons: I think there is good work happening to improve diversity and discrimination within our schools already, but we can always do more. An important issue that needs to be confronted is the Redmen Mascot. I have my own opinions of the mascot, which is to rename it, but as an elected official it would be my duty to create the space for our community to discuss why and whether it should be changed… It is important that as a town we name our values and be transparent about what we stand for. I think public opinion around the mascot has changed immensely in the past decade, and we are becoming a more progresssive, open-minded, supportive, and tolerant town. We just need an outlet to express that. 

In 2016, the School Committee held a forum for citizens to state their opinions and evidence both in support of the removal and the continuation of the mascot. The school committee at the time, including the incumbent Mr. Cutelis, voted 4-1 to keep the mascot, with Current Selectwoman Jayne Wellman being the only vote for removal. This past summer, alumni Grace Morris started a petition to remove the mascot after she did a research project for one of her classes. The petition amassed over 13,600 signatures. 

Wall: If we want to improve diversity we need to see diversity at all levels. We need diversity to be valued from the top down. How diverse is our administrative staff?  What plan does the administration have to improve diversity at their level? Then move to teachers and support staff. It is hard to believe that diversity is a priority if you are not actively seeing that happen within the organization. After you are actively demonstrating diversity you can move on to education regarding diversity and the objective of the diversity agenda becomes much easier to promote because people see that you are truly committed to it. One more aspect of diversity that must be addressed is that we must be inclusive of all peoples. We need an environment where all perspectives are valued and considered and that we engage in constructive conversations at all levels. As a parent and a School Committee candidate I am concerned that all perspectives are not valued and considered. 

  1. Reducing and eliminating discrimination in our schools is another very important mission of the District.  To eliminate and reduce discrimination you need the following things:
    1. Clear school policies and reinforcable [sic] goals
    2. An action plan that maximizes existing strengths, identifies areas of weakness and a roadmap to improve those areas
    3. Teach civics
    4. Foster student and community participation
    5. Be public and vocal about your commitment to reduce and end discrimination
    6. Actively be practicing the things that you preach

Some of these things may be happening and we need to continue that work, but if any of these things are not happening we need to address them swiftly.


Question 4: With your largest constituency being unable to vote, how do you plan on advocating for students? 

Cutelis: Advocating for students and student achievement is the number one thing we do each and every day.  In fact it is the only thing we do, that is our job, to make sure the school system is the best it can possible for all our students and their families.

Garabedian: As a member of the district reopening task force I have had the opportunity to advocate for all students with regard to safety during the pandemic. I am most proud of our district for distributing surveys to our high-school students. Moving forward, it would be a great benefit to our district to continue the practice. Hearing from students directly is a great opportunity to gather information that can be used to encourage policies that will have a positive impact on all learners. 

Parsons: While students can not vote, their opinions matter. Students now, more than ever, advocate for what they believe in. It’s great, and I think elected officials need to open their ears to what students are advocating for. The best I can do is listen to students, and make myself available to hear them out. As a teacher, if how I’m teaching isn’t working for students, it isn’t working for me. As a school committee member, if decisions are being made that don’t work for students, they don’t work for our district.

Wall: I cannot advocate what I don’t know, so my goal is to create a platform where students are provided the opportunity to communicate with me on a regular basis. I am running for the students. Each and every decision we make affects you – you need to have direct input on those outcomes. I welcome communication from all stakeholders at any time. Again, this ties back to all stakeholders being heard and valued. My goal is to make sure you are heard and valued. We may not always agree, but I will learn from your input and I will grow from your participation.


Question 5: Considering that the state issues licenses to teenagers to operate motor vehicles, and considering that the state sends recruiters to high schools asking them to fight for their country, would you be in support of lowering the voting age in local elections to 17?

Cutelis: I understand the desire for many young people to be involved, they are passionate, concerned and caring about many current issues of the day, and are way ahead of their parents and older members of the community on many issues.  The Florida kids [referring to survivors of the Parkland shooting vocal about gun control], David Hogg, on gun violence, and Greta Thornburg [sic] in Sweden on climate change immediately come to mind, but I’m not sure. I need to study and think about that issue a lot more.  I do think we have a lot of work to do getting the people over 18 to vote given turnout is so low in so many elections.

Garabedian: I think this is an interesting conversation for our state level representatives. I do believe that many of our upperclass students are well informed and engaged. Unfortunately, it is not something that as a school committee member I will have the opportunity to influence. 

Parsons: I would definitely support it, but only if there was more of an emphasis on politics in the high school curriculum. I would want everyone to be able to make informed decisions on the issues they truly care about and then be able to vote. So long as 17 year olds are equipped to make informed decisions, and are supported by the adults in school that educate them, they should be able to go vote.

Wall: This is an issue that falls outside of the School Committee window. As such, I do not feel it is appropriate to answer this question.

This question was intended to gauge candidates’ views on student engagement, input, responsibility, and their role in who governs their schooling, rather than the actual passage of the measure. If 17 year olds could vote in local elections, they would be able to contribute to who sits on the School Committee, allowing students to advocate for themselves, and choose who would advocate for them. 


Question 6: What are some ideas you have to combat inequities between sports and other activities within the COVID-19 crisis?

Cutelis: There shouldn’t be inequities in extra-curricular activities, if you can play football you can engage in robotics or dance or music or theatre. There is no reason for it to be otherwise and I will bring it up with administration.

Garabedian: The superintendent oversees extracurricular activities, with guidance by the DESE (Department of Elementary and Secondary Education) and MIAA (MA Interscholastic Athletic Association). As a member of the school committee I would strongly encourage the administration to come up with creative ways for activities and clubs to resume safely, with as much normalcy as possible. Communicating with students and families, being transparent throughout the process, and seeking input will always be a priority for me. 

Parsons: I think students should have access to all extracurriculars. Those are some of the most important areas to grow as a person, socialize, and generally be well… Inequities between access to sports and extracurriculars right now I think is largely due to advocacy for sports from the MIAA and that there is a hired administrator who advocates for creating access to them. Other activities, like drama or school newspaper, don’t have as many larger stakeholder groups rallying for them. If elected, I would step up to the plate and do my best to address this inequity.

Wall: I have been doing some research on this topic. I recently learned that sports are governed by MIAA, but that other school activities are governed by a different governing Board… These two Boards have completely different sets of rules, regulations and consulting bodies and do not seem to communicate with each other. I think it is important that we assess what we have learned from COVID and use that information to do better in the future. I will be honest in saying that I do not believe that we can combat the current inequities, but going forward School Committees across the Commonwealth need to push back on these organizations to recognize the inequities that currently exist and make adjustments going forward to provide more parity.


Question 7: Since it is Women’s History month, and since I am a part of our school’s chapter of She’s the First, a club that raises awareness about women’s issues, celebrates their accomplishments, and raises money for girls’ education, who is a woman that inspires you and why?

Cutelis: Well I’ll tell you what, I am influenced on a daily basis by many strong and accomplished women including my good friends Assist. Sup., Brenda Regan, Selectwoman Ann Marie Stronach, [Selectwoman Jayne Wellman], my wife Maria, stronger and as smart as anyone. And at the highest level, Elizabeth Warren. I was a strong supporter of hers, she has the best ideas to move our country forward… 

Garabedian: I was not aware that there was a chapter of She’s the First at TMHS, I would love to hear more about this interesting club. Personally, I am inspired by my nurse director of 20 years, Maryfran Hughes. Maryfran is all the things and all the qualities that matter. She is ethical, honest, transparent with her communication, and she leads with integrity. I am professionally inspired by Sister Callista Roy, a nurse theorist who has guided my practice since I was introduced to her theory in college. I am professionally and personally guided by her model as it defines people with biological, psychological, and social needs.

Parsons: Not to sound cliche or disingenuous, but I have an admiration for any successful women. Given that, historically, women have had to start behind the starting line while men can start on it, I can’t help but respect any woman who accomplishes something noteworthy. I’m glad that as I’m getting older, this narrative is steadily changing. If I had to pick a specific woman, I’d have to go with Rosalind Franklin. She is the x-ray crystallographer who worked with Watson and Crick on DNA. Basically, her data provided the hard evidence that confirmed the double helix shape of DNA. What isn’t mentioned is that after her work on DNA, she began determining the chemical structure of viruses. She died at the age of 37 from ovarian cancer, and her work was not appreciated by the scientific community while she was alive. This is tragic, and wrong. She did recieve rewards and prizes posthumously, but I get a horrible, sinking feeling thinking that her hard work was never properly recognized. That’s wrong.

Wall: Obviously my Mom is a woman who is inspirational to me, but I am also fascinated by Margaret Hamilton.  She is credited for coining the term “Software Engineer”. Hamilton was one of NASA’s first software engineers. She would hand write her code and was used by NASA to double check what the earliest computers were programmed to do. She was instrumental in developing the technology for the “Go/No Go” instrumentation. She is often quoted as saying she had no choice but to be a pioneer. Hamilton is inspirational to me because her life’s work was devoted to errors. She saw every error as an opportunity. Every time she failed she reassessed the situation and looked for what worked and ways to improve what did not work. Imagine if we saw every error as an opportunity to improve. How different would our world be?   


Incumbent Question: Give us your thinking from when you voted on the hybrid model? How did student feedback play a role in your decision?

Cutelis:  I made the motion to implement the hybrid model in August 2020 and I think it was the best we could do at the time. We have since added in person time and are working to expand it. I think the students want to be in class and need to be in class and we worked to achieve that.


Voting Record Question: Yesterday I pulled the voting records of the School Committee and Selectman candidates. I noticed that aside from the last two presidential elections, and the state elections in 2018, you only attended one Local Town Meeting and haven’t voted in any other local elections. I was wondering if you could explain your recent interest in running for town office is, given your past participation in local elections. 

Parsons: I haven’t participated in local elections because I wasn’t sure where I was going to end up settling down. I’m 27, and I just recently (2 years ago), moved in with my fiance (also my high school sweetheart!) in our house in Tewksbury. This was in 2019. I didn’t commit to Tewksbury being my “home” until then. Now that I am truly settled here, I’m much, much more interested in local politics. I want to know who is making decisions in town, what issues decisions are being made on, and how my tax-payer dollars are spent. Now, regarding my interest in school committee… I’ll admit that I didn’t pay much attention to the school committee until the COVID-19 pandemic. I didn’t have much involvement in Tewksbury Public Schools over the past couple years. I teach in Cambridge and I stopped coaching in Tewksbury in 2017 – my commitments were elsewhere. Once the pandemic hit, as an educator, I became invested in learning more about the Cambridge School Committee and started watching their meetings. Then, I started becoming interested in what was happening in Tewksbury, and I started going down the rabbit hole. Schools are my passion, and I have a love for this town. The people on school committee are important, and their actions are more important than ever. I know I can contribute and make positive change in one of the school committee seats, and I plan to. This election means a lot to me, and I rejoice in the possibility of doing good work for this town, its students, and their families. 

Mr. Parsons was recently appointed as Track and Field Coach for the boys’ program at Tewksbury Memorial High School. 


Question 8: Do you have a campaign website where one can find more information about your campaign and stances on issues?

Cutelis: It is under construction now, but will have one. Jamey Cutelis for School Committee. – I think. 

As of publishing, Mr. Cutelis’ website is not public. 

Garabedian: I welcome you to my Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/groups/bridgetgarabedian4tewksbury  

I also hope students will submit questions for and watch the upcoming Town Crier Candidates’ Forum on March 18. They can hear directly from all candidates in contested races. 

Parsons: Yes. But the website is not finished yet, it will be very soon though.  https://parsonsforschools.nationbuilder.com/

Wall: I do not have a campaign website but I do have a Facebook page.  It can be found at:  https://www.facebook.com/groups/2853794241555832