Published in the April 5, 2018 edition


NORTH READING –  Dyana Boutwell may have entered the race for School Committee as a write-in candidate, but she is no less passionate about gaining the voters’ trust as those whose names will be officially on the ballot.

She immediately launched a Facebook page, attended her first School Committee meeting last week and a few lawn signs have already popped up around town.

A relative newcomer to town, she and her husband Jeff moved to North Reading in the fall of 2016 and they have two children enrolled at the Batchelder School.

She decided to throw her hat in the ring upon learning that only one candidate had submitted nomination papers by the March 20 deadline to run for two open seats on the School Committee in the upcoming May 8 Town Election. That candidate, Richard McGowan of Chestnut Street, was the first candidate in town to announce he was seeking election to the board and he is also a political newcomer. Both seats are for three-year terms.

Earlier this year, both School Committee incumbents, Jerry Venezia and Julie Koepke, whose terms will be up in May, announced they would not be seeking re-election.

Boutwell, of 13 Shasta Drive, found out about the lack of a second candidate for an open seat on the School Committee by reading a post on social media. Current School Committee Chairman Mel Webster, who has served on the board for 15 years and who is entering the last year of his final term before he steps downs, expressed his dismay for both voter apathy and the lack of candidates on the North Reading Community Connections page.

“I have lived in North Reading for nearly 35 years, my wife and I raised our two children here, and we have grown to really like this town. But today I am extremely disappointed. It is appalling that only ONE person filed papers to run for the TWO open seats on the School Committee,” Webster wrote. “It also is bothersome that only the two incumbents pulled papers to run for the two open seats on the Board of Selectmen. I am glad they are running, but it’s a shame that no one else stepped up to challenge them. Overall, there are NO competitive races on the May town ballot.”

Webster continued, “Approximately 16,000 people live in this town and the level of participation in town elections is embarrassing. Of course, with the usual turnout for local elections being 12 or 13 percent, why should anyone expect more candidates to throw their hat in the ring? We can’t even get people out to vote. In May I will begin my 15th and final year on the School Committee, and I am saddened at the ongoing apathy that exists in this town when it comes to running and voting for town positions. Thank you to those who stepped up to run. Your service and commitment is appreciated.”

In addition to the lack of a race for the school board, the Community Planning Commission (CPC) is also without a race. Incumbent CPC Chairman Bill Bellavance is seeking re-election to a second term. Neal E. Rooney III had intended to run for the board on which he had previously served for about 15 years, but was just shy of the 50 signatures required to get his name officially on the ballot.

“I was really disappointed to learn that there were more open vacancies in this coming election than there were candidates. I realized that from a social media posting and read through everyone’s comments and oddly was surprised by that because those that I know in this town are so passionate about our community and our schools. It really did surprise me,” Boutwell told the Transcript in a phone interview.

She added, “I was also disappointed to learn about the low voter turnout that is fairly common in North Reading.” Officially, there are no contested races in the 2018 election.

But she did not make her decision to run in haste. With a background in scientific research, she felt compelled to conduct her own research on exactly what is involved in serving on the School Committee.

“I needed to take time to understand that commitment and I took a bit of time researching. That definitely gave me the last push, knowing this was something I would love to do,” she said. “That was the reason I got in late in the game as a write-in candidate and was not be able to formally submit (nomination papers by the March 20 deadline).”

Boutwell works full time for United Health Group as a Senior Director, which she says is a very rewarding career. “I lead healthcare innovation programs and teams, and focus on programs that are optimizing care, outcomes and lowering costs for patients with chronic conditions,” she said.

“For the last 15 years I have been embedded in budgeting and finance,” she added. She believes this leadership experience will be helpful when reviewing school budgets and priorities.

She started her career as a “bench scientist” in research and said she will use those same skills when researching topics to be discussed by the School Committee to do her due diligence and add value to meetings and forums.

“I first learned to love teaching and education as an undergrad,” she recalled. A native of Woburn, she attended college in South Carolina and in her senior year she became a tutor and mentor to high school students in a very small town whose school did not have a chemistry or physics teacher.

“I would show up at this school in the evenings and so many students came because a lot of children wanted to go to college for sciences. Although I went to school to be a researcher they asked me if I would stay for the next calendar school year because they still hadn’t found anyone.” She decided to stay “because I felt so compelled to want to help them.” It was rewarding for her that so many of these students earned the opportunity to attend college.

Many years later, when their son Jackson reached school age, Boutwell explained “he’s a really unique kid and we struggled finding the right school for him.” She researched the best educational methodologies that would enable him to thrive. Among them were a Waldorf School, a STEM School and a gifted school. Currently he is enrolled in the third grade at the Batchelder School. “He has some support within the public school right now so I understand the nuances of special education,” she said. Their daughter, Taylor, attended a Montessori preschool before enrolling in kindergarten at the Batchelder School, she said.

Education is “something I’m passionate about. It’s very personal to me, but I also feel very strongly that I want to bring that (passion) to the table so I can do the best for my child but also for everyone else that has children in the community at the schools so that I am able to impact it for everyone,” she said.