We asked Southington Board of Education candidates the following questions:
1) What was the most important challenge or issue faced by the Board of Education over the last term? How did you handle it or how would you have handled it?
2) What is the most important issue ahead of us, and how will you handle it if elected?
Here are their answers:
Robert S. Brown
1) The biggest recent issue in public education is how to best educate our students.
What does that mean, and how do we evaluate it? How do we best prepare every student for the changing and challenging world they face?
Students come with a wide variety of abilities and needs. Do we let the answer be dictated by standardized tests, which limit the scope and depth of what students are taught and learn? (I would not get rid of useful standardized tests. We need to evaluate students and teachers using a wide range of assessments. Our goal should always be to have the most effective teachers teaching students. We need to educate the whole child, and how do we better measure both student success and teacher effectiveness?
What would I have done? I would involve as wide a cross-section of our community as possible in the answer. Realize the answers to “what we want students to learn” and “how do we best measure teacher and school effectiveness” are complex.
My 41 years teaching in Southington and my connections with state education leaders will help me craft answers. My willingness to listen is crucial. My desire to always have the most effective teachers teaching is significant. How do we attract and retain them?
I would also work very hard with state politicians to limit unfunded mandates and to be sure all mandates have better educating students as their goal.
2) The same issue. I will expand conversations with all stakeholders about what we want all students to learn and how we measure both the students’ and the schools’ progress.
What are the needs for students entering a rapidly changing world? How can we help them become better citizens and productive contributors to our community and country? How can we do this as efficiently as possible, given the public funding we receive? Are there ways we can save money?
I believe these are the questions educators must always address, but being a democracy and given the public’s trust to educate everyone, we must involve the public in our answers. That includes parents, citizens, employers, and educators. We need to examine changes brought by “reformers” and politicians and evaluate them for their effectiveness.
I believe my experience as an educator, parent, and longtime advocate for students, public schools, and educators will make me a very positive, effective, and impactful Board of Education member.
1) We had many administrative positions to fill last year due to retirements. We worked together to hire the highest qualified candidates that we felt were able to continue to bring quality assets to our system.
We also had to implement many unfunded mandates. This required developing professional development for our staff to assist them in preparing instruction and curriculum for Common Core and Smarter Balance testing.
Student safety procedures continued to be a priority. We are committed to providing a safe secure environment for our students.
We also monitor and implement programs that assure we provide consistency in instruction throughout our schools
2) I am never in favor of cuts to the educational services we now deliver. For the past eight years, I have advocated for smaller class size, support of new courses, and technology updates. Obviously I would want to continue to maintain our present level of funding. However, I must be aware of the economic climate.
This may be a challenge. The Board of Education will work with the other boards to try to reduce or lower our town debt in an effort to absorb any deficit in federal and state funding that would have an impact on the education budget.
There is no question that this will be an arduous task, balancing the needs of our schools with the concerns of our citizens. I will continue to examine ways to put forth a budget that is reflective of saving money when possible without diminishing the quality of education we offer.
1) During the previous term—as a resident, not an incumbent—the biggest issue I observed was change.
Over the past few years there were numerous personnel changes in our administration. Among personnel changes and other changes, perhaps not so evident to all Southington residents, were changes in curriculum, technology, testing, etc.
In the midst of all the change was the renovation of our two middle schools. Kennedy and DePaolo are beautiful schools that will serve our students for many years to come. Throughout all of this, responsible management of the budget was critical. This board has done an excellent job of keeping their focus on the students while successfully navigating through the issues.
2) Change will continue to be something that will need to be managed and anticipated whenever possible.
Responsible budgets and managing and monitoring all of our resources to ensure that we can continue to maintain and enhance each student’s experience will be the key.
Additionally, it’s important that we continue to maintain a focus on student safety and achievement.
Collaborative efforts amongst the Board of Education and across our town government to maximize resources has been, and will continue to be, a key component to effectively and efficiently handling change.
Colleen W. Clark
1) The biggest challenge we faced during this past term, in my opinion, was the change of staff in our district. Due to many retirements and job changes, we faced hiring new senior staff and administrators, as well as principals for the high school, a middle school, and three elementary schools.
Starting with the hiring of a new superintendent, we were all very aware of the impact the new staff would have on the district as a whole, and we were extremely respectful of the input from each of the schools or departments involved.
We strove to hire staff that would carry out our vision of making the Southington schools the absolute best example of teaching and learning in the 21st century.
2) The biggest challenge facing us this year will be the upcoming budget.
Starting with the potential for cuts in state funding due to the deficit and then adding in unfunded mandates, we are continually challenged to find the funds to support the schools.
Couple the state funding problems with the reality of the Connecticut economy, and we will again have to carefully balance the needs of our students while being respectful of the taxpayers’ dollars.
I feel we have done this balancing well in the past, and if re-elected, I will do so again in the future for the betterment of all residents of Southington.
Joseph A. DelDebbio
1) Unnecessary testing. A successful school district must curtail limited state involvement in terms of mandatory testing and curriculum. The school district should be able to determine and meet the needs of the students and teachers with very little interference from the state.
The teachers, and principals, to an extent, are the experts in what works and what does not work for that particular school with that particular student demographic. Additionally, the needs, strengths, and weakness of schools vary from school to school, town to town, and district to district.
What applies to students in Southington, Canton, or Fairfield may not apply to the students in Hartford, Bridgeport, or New Haven. Therefore it is absurd and obtuse for the Connecticut State Department of Education to create a “one size fits all” curriculum and standardized testing system. Principals and teachers should be the determining authority when it comes to the success of the school and the students.
The effect of “over testing” is having a trickle-down effect, putting a burden on our students with constant mandatory state and district testing requirements. More testing doesn’t necessarily mean more learning. Teachers need to be less burdened with the multitude of state/local testing requirements and initiatives. Instead, teachers should return to “teaching” not teaching to the test.
2) Maintaining, monitoring, and updating curricular needs.
Curriculum should be differentiated to meet the learning needs of all students and never be “dumbed down.” All children are created equal and should be exposed to what teachers and principals deem appropriate regarding objectives and content areas to be taught.
If we didn’t have a guaranteed and viable curriculum that was ethical and equal, we would be impeding on the educational rights of the students who will be helping to manage our country in the near future.
One of the basic underlying misconceptions of education is that there is a “one size fits all” approach to educating children. Differing student personalities, classroom dynamics, and learning styles must all be taken into account when teachers prepare lessons.
While there are certain underlying factors that contribute to “good teaching”—i.e., a strong professional culture, a guaranteed and viable curriculum, assessment and accountability, strong organizational skills, etc.—a truly effective school district will allow its teachers to deviate from a lesson or alter their teaching style to some degree in order to meet the needs of their students.
The same holds true for the members of a Board of Education. Rather than adhering to one set style of management at all times, the ability to alter leadership styles dependent upon the situation at hand seems to be a desirable one.
David J. Derynoski
1) Balancing the budget. Over the last two years, the Board of Education has had to deal with the constant influx of unfunded mandates from the state and federal governments. State education cost sharing (ECS) funding has not kept up with the rising cost of transportation, insurance, or contracted special education services.
We were forced to reduce programming throughout the district, and in some instances we had to allow for larger class sizes in the elementary and middle school levels in order to achieve a balanced budget.
2) Unfunded mandates. In light of the fiscal problems that the state is facing, our legislature must be made aware of the burden that it is placing on school districts throughout the state with its unfunded mandates.
There should be legislation passed that mandates that a funding stream be in place for all mandates that are passed by the legislature. Our tax payers, and especially our students, deserve the best education possible without adding to the already over-taxed Connecticut residents.
1) Change. That was the biggest challenge faced during the last term by the Southington Board of Education (BOE).
Over the past two years, the BOE hired a new superintendent, a new assistant superintendent, and several other key administrators in our central office and many other administrators throughout our schools. Along with these changes, we were required to improve curriculum, adapt to a new testing method for students, and create an evaluation system for teachers.
All of these changes were compounded by mandates placed upon us through legislation, which came to us with little or no increase of financial support from the state or federal level.
The success of our school system occurred because of the commitment of the members of the BOE to work as a team in collaboration with our staff to serve students.
The key to success in any organization is trust and relationships. The board has established a level of trust with our staff, the other elected boards. and most importantly, with the community, to support our schools. The result of this relationship is that, despite the increasing changes in education, Southington students maintained steady improvement with their academic performance and the Class of 2015 achieved a graduation rate of 100 percent.
2) The most important issue ahead of us is to maintain our dedication to responsible budgets that remain focused on student safety and a commitment to improving student achievement.
This can only happen if the BOE continues to communicate in an open, honest, and respectful way with all sectors of our community to support our work.
During my 12 years serving on the BOE, including the past eight years as Chairman, communication has been a big focus. I promise to continue that practice.
The nine members of the BOE and the staff of the Southington schools cannot face the changes to education alone. I intend to continue to involve the other elected boards and our community in all aspects of our schools.
Only with a total partnership can our schools continue to improve.
I am proud of the dedication of the staff of the Southington Public Schools and to have served with my colleagues on the BOE. I am confident that if the voters of Southington allow us to return, our schools will continue to be the pride of our community.
Patricia P. Johnson
1) Change. During my 20 years as a member of the Board of Education, I have dealt with many issues and challenges: building new schools, instituting new curriculums, negotiating union settlements, and more. Never, in all of that time, have I ever had to face the challenge of hiring, in a two-year period, a completely new administration to guide our school system. In choosing these new leaders, I had to be mindful of our town’s past, present, and future needs.
Southington has been, and I believe, continues to be a community that wants a strong educational system for its children. We want to prepare them for the future in a world that is constantly changing. We want the school system to be visionary and achieve it by using creative means. These are some of the principles that have guided me in helping to choose our new leaders.
I approached the selection of the new leaders with the knowledge that the future of Southington students would be greatly influenced by them. It was important, I believe, that the administrators had knowledge of best practices, a vision for the future, and an understanding of creative ways to accomplish the needs of the school system, its staff and students.
Also, the new leaders must be able to work with their teams, and be able to communicate well with staff and students. It was also necessary for the new administrative team to be able to communicate the accomplishments and the needs, of the schools with the community. It was absolutely essential for the community to understand and to become aware of the workings of the educational system that it supports.
2) The most important issue ahead of us is educating students to succeed in a world that is constantly changing.
So the challenge is how to prepare our students to become creative thinkers who will be able to approach new tasks with confidence and ability. Students must be grounded in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) disciplines as part of their core education. Advanced math skills enable students to investigate problems in creative ways.
Language arts, reading and writing, will, I believe, always be an integral part of a student’s education. I have supported specialized training for Southington teachers to help our students become better readers and writers. The prestigious Columbia Readers and Writers Workshops have given our teachers advanced techniques which allow children to attain greater skills in reading and writing.
It is becoming increasingly important for students to have good communication skills. They must be able to write their thoughts clearly and concisely in order to convey their ideas to others. They must be able to discuss their ideas and work in a team environment on successful projects. They must have good time-management skills, and be able to complete a project in a timely manner. These are all skills that I have observed being taught in classrooms in Southington schools, and that, I believe, will continue to be important.
1) No answer.
2) Expulsion, salaries, security, budget, student enrichment.
Expulsion: Unless the child is a danger or threat to other students, I believe that expelling a child does not do a bit of good. We want our children to be learning and going to school. By letting them stay home, it does not accomplish anything. A student should be disciplined either by detention or by having to do community service.
Salaries: A teacher should be paid a fair, competitive salary for the Hartford County area. A performance review/evaluation should be given in order to be given a pay increase. If a teacher continues to advance their education, they should also be compensated. Teachers must be held accountable, so the students get the best education possible.
Security: School must be secure to keep our students free from a dangerous situation. No one should be allowed to enter a school without proper identification. If a school needs extra security, I do not see a problem with having security guards, etc. to keep our children safe.
Budget: A tight budget must be in place every year, just like we do with our own household budgets. We have to give the best education possible, but in doing this we also have to be frugal and get the best pricing and best quality for the purchases that we make.
Student enrichment: Our students deserve to get the most out of their education. We should always be looking for different programs and opportunities to enrich their education.
Terry G. Lombardi
1) During the 2014-2015 school year there were challenges that required significant focus, work, time and teamwork.
These included implementing transformational federal and state mandates while rebuilding our leadership structure at all levels.
The pace and volume of educational reform changes required by our federal and state education departments have required us to design, develop, implement and evaluate simultaneously. These include Common Core standards, a complex teacher and administrator evaluation system, and a new testing system called Smarter Balanced. All of these are unfunded requirements.
The organizational changes in personnel were felt by many in the district over the past two years. As a current BOE member, it meant placing a high priority on revising job descriptions, reviewing applications and interviewing the highly qualified candidates. Equally important was ensuring our students and staff continued on the path to excellent learning outcomes within a safe and stable school environment.
As any high performance team, the BOE and the administration prioritized, communicated and involved our existing staff in the challenge. In most cases, committees of administrators, teachers and parents participated in some aspect of the candidate search and/or interviewing process. I attribute our success to the adaptability, strength and resiliency of our staff during this major change.
The commitment and decision of the current board to implement a monthly half day of professional development was critical to train on new mandates and technology and develop new and experienced staff.
2) Developing a fiscally responsible Board of Education (BOE) operating budget. Balancing student learning, small class sizes, growing unfunded mandates, bargaining contract terms and rising benefit costs with the affordability of our tax payers is the most important issue.
We need to continue to pursue shared services with our town departments, alternative funding resources (grants), and prioritizing between needs and wants.
I will continue to question increases in non-fixed budget lines and work with my BOE colleagues to look at the whole picture and make data-driven decisions for the well being of all students. Technology advancement, as noted in our Vision 2020, continues to be one of my objectives.
The well being of our students is my top priority. You can count on me to ask questions, think independently, work collaboratively, and make informed decisions to achieve what is best for the students in our Southington Public Schools.
Zaya G. Oshana Jr.
1) Budget. Our focus must be on the improvement of our educational system. We live in an ever-changing world with an unsure future. Therefore, we must be ready to adapt to change to provide our students with the skills and abilities to compete now and into the future.
We must prudently utilize the funds allocated to the board. As a member of the Finance Committee, I am responsible for reviewing funding requests and allocations to make sure they are in line with the goals and objectives of the district.
As a board member, I am responsible for reviewing the budget, line item by line item. New in the education world is not always better. It is critical that we teach our students the basics so they can build up their critical thinking and learning skills to compete in the 21st century. Before we spend any money on new programs or costly educational curricula, the board and a panel of administrators and teachers must first investigate and pilot it.
There are other areas in our budget to investigate to save money for our taxpayers. Working together with the town, creating a shared services organization which serves both the town and the Board of Education (BOE) with such items as purchasing, information technology, and human resources, will allow the town to retain the best services while saving the taxpayer money.
Taxpayers cannot continue to be asked to carry the load by themselves. By building a strong education system, we build a strong town. Property values continue to go up and we can attract and retain new businesses. Working collaboratively with the town and the other boards and commissions in town, we can continue to grow our industrial tax base helping to ease the tax burden on our residents.
2) Lost time by teachers. We must allow our teachers to teach and to be in their classrooms with their students. A study shows that over a period of two weeks, students lost 37,060 minutes of their teacher’s instruction time. The reasons for this time out of the classroom were for school business or meetings.
There may be times when this is necessary; however, this has become far too frequent. The BOE is responsible for providing our students with an outstanding education. It takes the teacher, students, parents, and administrators to make this happen. When you take the teacher out of the classroom, the students lose.
How can you provide an outstanding education when the teacher is not teaching the students?
Even more of an issue is when classes are sent to the cafeteria because a teacher is pulled from the class and a substitute is not available to “fill in.” I have asked for a comprehensive study to identify all of the reasons why teachers are being taken out of their classrooms. Once this updated study is completed, the BOE must research and implement a solution.
1) Change. Over the last few years, the Board of Education was required to implement an extraordinary amount of change.
At the broadest level, society is changing at an exponential rate. From the state came major changes in the form of Common Core, new teacher and administrator evaluation plans, and a new, computerized, standardized test. Locally, the board faced unprecedented changes in administrative staff.
I strongly supported initiatives to meet these challenges and maintain the standard of excellence in Southington schools. Our technology plan has upgraded infrastructure, equipment, and software. We have adopted new curriculum written by teachers to reflect new standards. We approved the recommendations of a joint administrator/ teacher committee around the evaluation plan to create a positive work environment despite an increase in expectations. We allocated time and resources for professional development, so teachers can grow their capacity to utilize technology, analyze data to drive instruction, and collaborate with fellow professionals on best practice in the classroom.
The strength of our school system attracted a highly talented pool of candidates from which the board selected new administrative staff. I believe we chose leaders who make children the priority, who support teachers and who have a vision for the future.
2) Given almost certain budget constraints, the most important issue ahead will be to not only maintain what we have in place but to drive and support innovative practices that will continue to define the makeup of a 21st century education.
We must teach our students the skills they need to teach themselves new things because they will need to be adaptable to a future world whose challenges and potential jobs we cannot even imagine today.
Reading, writing, arithmetic, science—including engineering—and social studies are the core subjects, but that just scratches the surface. Skills include critical thinking, problem solving, technology literacy, data analysis, creativity, inquiry-based research, communication, collaboration and tolerance for diversity.
While these are not new concepts, the extent to which students need to master these concepts has increased. To ensure mastery, I believe we need a more flexible approach to time. For those who need less time to learn, we need to value their time and provide them the opportunity to learn more. For those who need more time, we need to give it to them, so when students graduate, they are truly prepared for college or employment in the 21st century.