Candidates for seats on the Springville-Griffith Institute Board of Education voiced their views on topics such as testing, communication and vision for the district’s future during a candidates’ forum Thursday night.

Seven hopefuls for three board seats shared their thoughts in the high school’s library on issues that included helping students communicate better.

“We need to teach students how to engage,” said Michael Connors, a former board member with five children who graduated from the high school.

He blamed mobile phones for the decline in students’ communication ability, saying text messages have depleted adolescents’ conversational skills.

Another former board member noticed students’ lack of eye contact when talking with adults.

“We need more emphasis on social skills,” said Janine Caimano.

An incumbent seeking re-election, Joan Kelly, urged more communication from the district’s employees.

“We need more communication from the bottom up, not the top down,” said Kelly, the board’s vice president.

Calling communication “a challenge,” Delia Bonenberger, the board’s president, stressed she plans to listen to parents.

“We’re open to ideas from all groups and people,” she said.

Another candidate, Mel Williams, believes board members should speak with district residents outside of board meetings. He suggested a pair of board members could meet privately with residents.

A gathering of three or more members of the five-member board would require a public meeting.

The hopefuls, who are seeking a three-year term that will begin July 1, also gave their vision for the district’s future.

Connors hopes the district will become a “top 10” school district by 2025.

“We’ve been there before,” he said, referring to the district’s ranking 30 years ago.

Kelly voiced a desire to see a tolerance for dissent.

“I hope we can create an environment where we embrace our differences of thought,” she said.

Candidates also expressed views on state-required testing. Many parents have refused to let their children take the most recent standardized tests.

Jennifer Sullivan, who has four children in the district, shared a story about how her son felt “stupid” after a standardized test score caused him to be placed in a group that needed extra help.

His grades showed no indication that he required help, she added, but the state test result forced him into that group.

“The scores don’t really mean anything,” she said of the tests.

Caimano, however, stressed her belief that the tests prepare students for careers in which they will always be evaluated and compared with their peers.

“I think it’s important for students to prepare for a stressful situation,” she said.

When asked about extracurricular activities, every candidate voiced support for keeping as many of them as possible. Chris Cerrone, who teaches seventh-grade social studies at Hamburg Middle School, stressed the need to give students an extra incentive to do their homework. To participate in activities, students must maintain a satisfactory grade average.

“We need to make sure that we keep these programs going,” he said. “It keeps kids going to school.”

Residents may read more about each candidate on the district’s website at

Voters will decide the outcome in the School Board election from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. May 20 in the high school, Colden Elementary School and Collins Center Fire Hall.

In a separate matter, Superintendent Paul Connelly has written a letter to the state Department of Transportation requesting a traffic study at Genesee and Springville Boston roads in the town of Concord, where a school bus collided with a tractor-trailer April 30. The bus driver suffered no serious injuries and had no passengers.

Connelly also wrote a letter to emergency responders and officials in the state, Erie County, village of Springville and town of Concord governments asking for their assistance in urging the DOT to study the intersection.

Both letters can be found on the district’s website.