Meet Elizabeth “Bess’’ Coughlin

Mar 19, 2023

The race is on for two open seats on the Dartmouth School Committee, and five local residents have declared their candidacy for the posts.

Among those running is Elizabeth “Bess” Coughlin, a 25-year Dartmouth resident and frequent volunteer at Helfand Community Garden, where she helps grow food for local food pantries. 

Though Coughlin has not worked in education and has never had kids go through Dartmouth Schools, she said she was inspired to run because of the importance of educating the next generation of citizens. 

“The children today will be our neighbors tomorrow,” she said. “I think it’s critical that they have critical thinking skills… We want their horizons to be as broad as possible, so we want their education to be the best it can be.”

Overall, Coughlin said she is happy with the state of Dartmouth Schools and would like to make sure that they are improved incrementally and deliberately. 

She said that her top priority, if elected, would be to improve the social-emotional well-being of Dartmouth students at a time when she said the lasting effects of the pandemic and the increasing pressures of cellphones and social media have caused an uptick in such issues. 

Specifically, Coughlin said that she would like to continue the district’s support of diversity, equity, and inclusion education, “so that all kids feel included.” She said such programs also benefit students’ critical thinking and empathy. 

Coughlin said that while she would like to keep things on the same track, she acknowledged that there will be tough times ahead financially as federal pandemic-relief funds begin to dry up and teachers seek higher wages amid high inflation. 

“We don’t want the students to suffer and we also don’t want the teachers to suffer for a lack of funds,” she said. “Because how we value our kids is reflected in where we put our money.”

On the controversial issue of banning certain books from school libraries, Coughlin said she trusts the current policies and the “professional teachers and librarians who understand what is age-appropriate and also understand that it’s important to have a diverse set of books for our diverse students so they can see themselves reflected there.”

Considering the challenges that lie ahead, Coughlin said that she is the best person for the job because, as someone without kids in the school system, she would look at policies broadly, and not in the context of just her own family.

“I’m not in it just for one or two kids — I’m in it for all of them,” she said.