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With new job, Amherst school board chairman Nakajima steps down

  • GAZETTE FILE PHOTO GAZETTE FILE PHOTO



Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 25, 2020

AMHERST — The Town Council moved quickly this week toward finding someone to replace Eric Nakajima on the Amherst-Pelham Regional School Committee after Nakajima, the chairman, submitted his resignation late last week.

In making his announcement, Nakajima said he was resigning because he had taken a job in Boston as the director of government relations for the Massachusetts Teachers Association, or MTA, the union that represents educators in the state. His resignation will take effect March 1, and the School Committee’s meeting Wednesday was his last.

“I would only be willing to leave the School Committee for something where I had a real opportunity to make the difference,” he said last Saturday. “I’m proud of the progress we’ve made over the last three-plus years, and I think the district is in good hands.”

Nakajima has served on the School Committee since being appointed in 2016. He was previously the director of the Massachusetts Broadband Institute, and worked as a consultant before accepting his position with the MTA. He grew up in Amherst and said he plans to keep his house there.

According to the town charter, the vacancy will be filled by a vote of the remaining members of the School Committee and the Town Council within 45 days of Nakajima’s resignation.

One of the main reasons Nakajima decided to resign, he said, was because his job with the teachers union might present the appearance of a conflict of interest, given that the School Committee bargains contracts with school employees.

“I think apart from the fact I’m going to be really busy, it just doesn’t make sense to be staying on,” he said.

At a Town Council meeting Monday, Council President Lynn Griesemer outlined a process that will give residents significant time to consider whether they want to serve on the committee. The notice of the vacancy will be published officially on March 2, and then letters will be accepted through the end of the month.

“They will not be considered candidates unless they file a statement of interest,” Griesemer said.

According to her memo, “letters of interest shall be no more than one-page (12-point font) and include the following: Name, address, and contact information; reasons the candidate wishes to serve on the [name of board], and the candidate’s qualifications and experience. Resumes may be included but are not expected nor required.”

Councilors, though, are unsure when interviews and a vote on Nakajima’s successor will take place. Griesemer said April 14 is the preferred date, but one School Committee member will be unable to be present that night. Having the meeting a week earlier could mean additional conflicts, while pushing it to April 21 would mean a meeting during school vacation week.

The candidate winning a majority of the votes from 13 councilors and four School Committee members will be the new member, serving until the November 2021 town election.

Nakajima said he is proud that during his tenure, the school district has again been accepted into the Massachusetts School Building Authority’s process to receive state funding for a new school building.

Other highlights of his time as a School Committee member are keeping stable leadership in the district and dealing with tight budgets in recent years, he said.

Moving on, Nakajima said, he’s glad to have found a job that allows him to draw on his passion for education.

“I love doing the work,” he said. “I love working with people to try to find solutions — both pushing for big change but also finding pragmatic ways to do it.”

Nakajima said he is thankful to the people of Amherst for electing him to the School Committee, and for putting their trust in him.

“I hope I can do them proud in Boston, too,” he said.

Scott Merzbach contributed to this report.