Incoming freshman runs for office in town

by Beacon Staff • February 20, 2008

Having already accomplished that, a future organizational and political communication major at Emerson is now campaigning for a seat on a town-wide committee.

James Warren, currently a senior at Ludlow High School in Ludlow, Mass.,Many 18-year-old students run for office in their high school's student government association.

Having already accomplished that, a future organizational and political communication major at Emerson is now campaigning for a seat on a town-wide committee.

James Warren, currently a senior at Ludlow High School in Ludlow, Mass., has launched a maverick campaign for one of two open seats on the town's school committee.

To win a slot, Warren would have to unseat one of the two incumbents, James "Chip" Harrington or Susan Gove, in the March 24 election.

Warren said he decided to toss his hat in the ring last December after sensing a feeling of hopelessness among his teachers, parents and fellow students about the direction of the town's schools.

He said he felt like the current board members, and the superintendent of schools in particular, had lost touch with the students and mismanaged the school's budget.

"I'm not willing to watch my school district crumble because there are five board members not doing anything," Warren said. "We need an advocate for the people in the schools. We've really had advocates for no one."

Specifically, Warren, who currently acts as the high school's student liaison to the committee, said he was opposed to internal assessments and a professional development program adopted by the committee as ways to improve the high school.

Warren said the professional development program in particular wasted money by pulling teachers out of the classroom, thus forcing the town to hire more substitutes.

Both programs were initiated after the Massachusetts Department of Education identified the school as needing to step up academic performance due to poor test scores among students in the special education programs.

The professional development program brings the school's teachers together outside the classroom to retool teaching methods and coordinate lesson plans to ensure no students get too behind in their classes.

Warren also said his status as a student at the high school would bring a fresh perspective to the committee.

"We already have a student voice on the board, but I don't think that's enough," Warren said. "It's time we had a student vote."

Warren said he chose to attend Emerson-and major in organizational and political communication in particular-after attending an open house last year.

He said he was enthused that the program at Emerson focused heavily on political action rather than political theory, a distinction Warren said he hopes his campaign encapsulates.

Harrington, who also serves as School Committee Chairman, had nothing but positive remarks for his young competition.

"I think he would bring a unique perspective to the board," Harrington said. "He would learn very quickly and I think he would do a good job."

Harrington also said he was not discounting Warren's candidacy because of his age. Harrington won a town-wide election at a young age himself, securing a seat on the Ludlow Recreation Commission at 22 years old.

"He certainly does have a shot," Harrington said. "I'm taking it very seriously. Just because of his age I'm not going to assume he's not a serious candidate."

After amassing the 50 signatures necessary to place his name on the ballot, Warren announced his candidacy during a rally on the town green.

Now, with a group of students and alumni volunteering and canvassing door to door on his behalf, Warren's campaign is in full swing.

Warren said he also hopes to purchase yard signs soon, and he plans to hold several rallies and fund raisers over the next few weeks to finance his campaign and spread his message.

Should he win a spot on the committee, Warren would add the committee to an already long list of extracurricular activities.

In addition to acting as the student liaison to the school committee, Warren is a student council member, editorial page editor of the high school's newspaper and founder and president of the Human and Animal Rights Coalition, a politically active group at the high school with connections to the ACLU and Amnesty International.

"I was never one of those kids to just join something because it would look good on a college resume," he said. "Everything I'm involved in is something that's really important to me."

The school committee meets bi-monthly and is comprised of five members, each elected to a three-year term.

If Warren were elected, he said he would be able to commute home from Emerson for the meetings.

Harrington said his only concern in the event of a Warren victory would be in Warren's ability to stay in touch with current issues in town.

He said most committee members spend three or four nights each week attending school related functions, such as PTA meetings. Warren said he too was aware that his time at Emerson may impede his abilities to serve on the board, though he remained optimistic.

"The lines of communication are still going to be open," Warren said. "I feel like even if I'm in Boston I'll be able to do a better job than the people currently on the board."

However, Warren also said that if he is elected to the committee but feels he can't sufficiently fulfill his duties once coming to college, he would step down.

Recent history may be on Warren's side heading into the election. In 2005, 18-year-old Michael Sessions was elected mayor of Hillsdale, Mich., and in 2002 two 18-year-olds waged successful mayoral campaigns in Pennsylvania.

While voters might at first be skeptical of Warren's campaign because of his age, especially in comparison to two seasoned incumbents, Warren said if people focus on his agenda, involvement and ambition, he could pull out a major upset on March 24.

"It's just a matter of getting my message out there," Warren said. "At the end of the day, I really think I have a shot at this."