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Guía de Votantes

New Canaan Board of Education

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    Hugo Alves
    (Rep)

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    Dan Bennett
    (Rep)

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    Janet Leung Fonss
    (Dem)

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    Jenn Hladick
    (Dem)

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    Philip Hogan
    (Rep)

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    Fatou Niang
    (Dem)

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    Penny Rashin
    (Dem)

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    Erica Schwedel
    (Dem)

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    Julie Toal
    (Rep)

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    Karen Willett
    (Dem)

Please provide a biography highlighting your qualifications for the position as well as any personal beliefs, character traits, or other factors that influence how you decide issues if elected to the Board. (700 character limit)

What are your top three priorities for the BOE over the next 4 years? (400 character limit)

If elected, what steps would you take to achieve your BOE priorities? (700 character limit)

CT Dept of Education sets minimum curriculum requirements and individual districts then develop their own curriculum. What qualifications do you believe are necessary for members of New Canaan's Curriculum Committee? (400 character limit)

School start times remains a controversial issue. Balancing cost, educational, staff concerns, sports issues, etc. what outcome would you have recommended and why? (500 character limit)

Maria and I moved to New Canaan in 2010. We have three daughters, ages 2, 5 and 7 at Playland Nursery and West School. Born in Portugal, my family and I immigrated to the US for the opportunity of a better life. An active volunteer and leader in school and my community, I graduated from UConn in 2000 and have worked in finance since. Twelve years ago, I combined my financial acumen with my passion for helping people and built a personal financial planning practice. Hard work and entrepreneurship are in my DNA. I’ve been volunteering as an industry gov’t relations delegate for the past 7 years, regularly meeting with legislators. I serve on the Board of New Canaan Museum & Historical Society.
1. Develop a more robust engagement and communication system, ensuring all voices are heard and concerns addressed. 2. Increase transparency in curriculum development so our students’ education and personal growth reflect New Canaan values and expectations. Towns are unique and I stand firmly against regionalization. 3. Implement all district initiatives openly, smoothly and with fiscal prudence.
I want to better understand the current processes in place for communication to the community and determine how we can make it more efficient and effective. We can look to volunteers with experience in marketing and/or advertising, taking a more entrepreneurial approach to community outreach and engagement. I would want to create a committee to establish a more frequent and direct line of communication with our representatives in Hartford. With a fresh set of discerning eyes, my finance/budgeting expertise along with involvement from all corners of our community, I will ensure future investments yield measurable, positive outcomes for our children.
A diverse group of individuals composed of administrators, current and/or former educators, board members that are parents of kids of all ages and someone with experience navigating these issues at the state level. Parents deserve to have both knowledge AND input. This committee will be important as education continues to evolve and to ensure politics and social fads stay out of our schools.
Parents of younger kids felt they had been ignored. Others argued that these discussions went on for years and they simply didn’t pay attention until the end. While scientists (and parents) agree teens need more sleep, most towns didn’t sacrifice younger kids to implement these changes. Budget is always a priority but parents in our town seldom oppose spending to maintain top schools. Proactive engagement, communication and ultimately start times of 8:15-8:45 would have satisfied the majority.
I have lived in NC for 7+ yrs with my wife Julie and our three sons (8, 6 & 5, South School & Toddlertime). Education: BS Accounting, Villanova University; JD, Harvard Law School. Career: Sullivan & Cromwell, attorney 2002-04, Goldman Sachs, real estate finance 2004-14, LoanCore Capital, 2014-current. I hope my strong legal, finance and accounting background can help bring a diverse perspective and skill set to the BOE. Most importantly, I have the passion and energy as an engaged parent with young children in the school system to collaborate with other BOE members, the administration, teachers, the community and parents to continue to provide the best education for all New Canaan kids.
Work to improve transparency, communication and accountability of the BOE to best represent students, parents, taxpayers and the NC community. Establish a curriculum committee to allow the BOE to work more closely with our excellent administration and faculty as they develop system wide curricula. Develop, with the administration, a fiscally responsible budget which addresses educational needs.
Improve transparency and communication from the BOE by creating more forums for BOE members to engage with parents and the community in a real way. Have back and forth communication so the community is heard and listened to, concerns are substantively addressed and decisions of the BOE / administration are better understood and explained. A curriculum committee including BOE members will bring more transparency on curriculum to ensure that parents and the community have a voice in our kids education. Bring fiscal common sense to the budget process by working with the administration and town to develop shared services providing financial efficiencies without impacting the classroom.
Curriculum committee members should have a diverse set of backgrounds and skill sets, and include educational experts, teachers, administration staff and elected BOE members. BOE members should be informed about the community educational goals, be thoughtful, a good listener, collaborative and a critical thinker that can ask insightful questions to help the curriculum process.
The process and communication from the BOE and the administration could have been improved and would have hopefully lead to both a better outcome for all students and the parents feeling that their concerns were better addressed. Going forward, the BOE should be more actively involved with both parents and the administration to ensure that the implementation of any school start time changes is done in a way that deals with real and valid concerns that parents and students continue to raise.
A lifetime CT resident and 20+ year New Canaan resident, I attended Boston College and received a business management degree. I worked as a financial analyst at several banks, specializing in credit and counter-party risk, including as a VP at Deutsche Bank and Credit Suisse. Volunteerism and service are core to what makes our community thrive. My school volunteer experience includes: VP Programs and PTC President at West School, plus several committee positions at Saxe. I've also held board and committee positions at National Charity League, New Canaan Library, and New England Dance Theater. Critical analysis, collaboration, and listening are the key traits I would employ as a BOE member.
1/ Maintain high student achievement focused on next generation skill sets, including STEM, computer programming, and foreign language. 2/ Improve communication with parents and the community to create more opportunities for collaboration while still being able to conduct BOE meetings efficiently. 3/ Address student health, wellness, and supportive school climates.
The good news is the issues our BOE faces are all solvable if we work together thoughtfully. We should: -Use data to critically assess the continuation of student achievement and effectiveness of ongoing programs. -Continue strong partnerships with legislative representatives to ensure local control of our school curriculum. -Create opportunities for parent engagement and two way communication through town halls and active listening sessions. -Support NCPS’ social and emotional learning program and inclusion initiatives as ways for students to find a sense of purpose and well being. -Encourage continued cost savings through town partnerships and in-house services.
Our Curriculum Leadership Council’s track record is crafting innovative curricula while balancing community needs and parent concerns. The CLC should continue to be guided by field experts: experienced educators and curriculum writers. Members should have teacher certification, curriculum writing, and teacher development expertise plus knowledge of best practices and state education requirements.
Solving for student wellbeing is always my guiding factor in decision making. Studies prove later start times improve the health and educational outcomes for teens. Younger children generally do well with earlier starts. No student starts school before 8 am or waits for the bus in the dark under the current plan. I support the BOE’s decision to implement healthier start times, though communication was not ideal. The implementation committee must now focus on addressing all stakeholders’ needs.
New Canaan demands high achieving schools that meet the needs of all our students and prepare them to be successful adults in the world at large. If we focus on this common goal, we can ensure that our schools continue to thrive. My background in education, volunteer experience in the schools and the community, and my perspective as a parent give me the skills to be effective on the BOE. My husband and I moved to New Canaan in 2007 and our two sons attended East, Saxe, and now NCHS. I worked in the field of Social Services and Education until my oldest was born, and my focus changed. I have volunteered extensively for St. Mark’s Church, on NCPS PTC/PFA boards and in classrooms at all school levels, and at numerous community events. Currently I sit on the Health and Human Services Commission. I know how to listen to diverse opinions and find common ground and creative solutions, and I have a proven record of effective and positive leadership.
1) Adjust and improve communication between the BOE, parents, and other community members who bring concerns to the board 2) Implement new DEI curriculum to meet CT state guidelines and mandates, while ensuring that it meets the needs and high standards of our local community 3) Implement the approved new start times, but then actively assess and improve the schedule where needed
All three of the above priorities will require careful research, debate, discussion, and community input. I propose forming committees that look closely at each specific challenge and then recommend innovations, best practices, and adjustments for the board to consider that will ensure the continued excellence of our schools. I would start with how the board communicates with parents and other interested community members, because correcting the sense that the BOE is unresponsive and non-transparent will be key to the success of addressing any other priorities and goals, but especially DEI initiatives and the implementation of new start times. Every school year brings new challenges –some more than others- but when we come together in good faith we can absolutely find common ground and creative solutions that will work for all New Canaanites.
Members of the NCPS Curriculum Leadership Council have outstanding resumes and real experience in developing, writing, and improving upon curriculum and learning. The current CLC is extremely effective, as seen in student outcomes and our district’s rankings. We invested in top tier experts to work in our schools and we should let them do the jobs they are so good at. There is no need to insert elected officials into that process as curriculum content is presented publicly before implementation. Content is accessible to parents and other community members, and all stakeholders have the ability to express ideas and opinions. The BOE’s role is to follow the work of the CLC closely, exercise oversight, give voice to concerns as they arise, and ensure these concerns are considered by the administration. It is after this diligent process that the BOE approves the curriculum that best meets the interests of all students.
The BOE and the administration heard testimony and debated for years about adjusting school start times. They studied the scientific research and recommendations of the medical community. They surveyed the entire community, including but not limited to parents, educators, business owners, coaches, students, and teachers. They developed several options with various cost levels and surveyed the community again. I am confident the Board made their decision based on the above information and that I would have done the same. It is now time to implement the new start times as smoothly as possible and then continue to analyze and make improvements where necessary.
My professional background is in finance and startups, but what qualifies me most is that I've got four kids and I'm determined to see they get the best possible public school education. Since I moved to town nearly six years ago, my way of giving back has been to coach youth sports. The idea of helping New Canaan kids maximize their abilities in the classroom seems like a natural extension of that. Lastly, voters should know that I'm fiercely independent on a personal level and not a fan of groupthink. I firmly believe that boards of any kind should be dynamic and stocked with people who have no agenda and are willing to ask tough questions and debate issues in a thorough and civil way.
First is start time implementation. I think healing those wounds means making sure the people who felt silenced have a seat at the table. Second, I think the BOE should be more outward-facing, including having town halls with some back and forth. Lastly, activate the board's Communication Committee. Parents shouldn't have to jump through any hoops to stay on top of their child's education.
Well, individual board members can certainly have different views, but ultimately the board speaks as one voice, so I'd be searching for commonality and consensus at each and every opportunity. I don't think any board members want to get their way if it means other board members feel alienated and left out of the process. I'd constantly be looking for ways to get everyone to buy in. And needless to say that buy in needs to come from the administration as well. Dr. Luizzi and his team are our partners in this endeavor, and it's our job to work collaboratively with them to make sure that we've got the right processes in place that produce the best possible outcomes for New Canaan families.
As the liaison between parents and the schools, board members absolutely deserve a seat at that table. Parents are not experts when it comes to curriculum, but they are experts when it comes to their own children. Dr. Luizzi and his team of educators should do most of the heavy lifting, but BOE members should provide another set of eyes and ears to ensure that said curriculum fits this town.
I would have recommended more homogenized start times across the school system, as I think the potential benefits to parents and families outweigh both the increased costs and logistical headaches. However, start times are not controversial because of the outcome that was decided, but rather because the communication was poor and the debate never really happened. And that's why people are still upset, and will probably remain that way for the foreseeable future.
I believe in a nonpartisan BOE focused on what’s best for our students, teachers and staff. Our trust in this current administration has proven to be extremely successful with productive collaborative work. New Canaan is Home. 17 years ago, my husband Nabi and I moved to New Canaan, and raised our sons, Lucas and Ethan, in a community that embraced us right away. I have been very involved in my community from the get-go. From CERT, Red Cross, Newcomers’ Club, Young Women’s League, YMCA, the library, to STAR, a non-profit I founded whose goal is to provide tools to our community to navigate the issues of bias and racism. As a Realtor, I have achieved great success in my field, know what people look for in choosing a town to live in and have a great sense of how important property values are to and for our community. With two graduates, my experience of our school system gives me a clear understanding of the impact of BOE decisions on our student body.
1/ Improve BOE communication so all parents are assured that we are acting as advocate for all the families we serve 2/Achieve our DEI goals by fostering a safe school environment where all students are not only welcome but belong 3/Making sure that our students are well rounded. It is important to provide our schools with the resources needed for our students to thrive both academically and emotionally and ready to navigate and perform in a multi-cultural competitive environment
I will work with our administration to ensure that we remain at the cutting edge of education practices. I will make sure that students and teachers have the tools to understand and support each other in our strengths and challenges and that BOE members get the necessary training to handle the diversity conversation. And because in our district, we always look to hire the best in their field to teach our students, continued professional development for our teachers and staff and diversity hiring will further our academic excellence
We are best served when we allow trained educational professionals familiar with the needs of our students and our teachers to evaluate, write and fine tune our local curriculum. They have been dedicated to our kids' education for a very long time. Through the Curriculum Leadership Council, New Canaan already has in place a highly effective process, enabling our educators to provide a customized, achievement-oriented learning environment with a great understanding of the community in which they teach. They report to the BOE through numerous presentations and are held accountable to meeting the goals as set forth by the BOE each year. They have shown their expertise and continuous commitment to our kids. To me, these are the most important qualifications needed
The BOE already adopted a plan for start times to be implemented mid-year, covid-19 permitting. The administration based its decision on the science and carefully considered numerous factors in getting to this decision. I will be coming in with that decision already in place and have no doubt that this administration, as it has with so many other critical decisions, kept the best interests of students at the forefront. If the change does not produce the anticipated benefits, then it is the responsibility of the BOE and the administration to be flexible and adapt as appropriate.

In November, 5 new members will join the BOE. My knowledge as a 14-year incumbent on the BOE will be valuable. NCPS’s excellent results arise from the partnership, based on trust and experience, between the BOE, administration and teachers. I have helped build that trust and will ensure NCPS continues to innovate and succeed.

A graduate of Dartmouth College and UVA Law School, I practiced civil litigation for 17 years before staying home to raise my 2 sons, both NCPS grads. I chaired the $17 million Saxe Building project that renovated the auditorium and built the STEAM classroom addition and have served on the Resources, Re-Open Schools, Teacher Negotiations and other BOE Committees.

1st, safely provide in person, world class education K-12 during the pandemic while also incorporating recent and new technological innovations to advance student education.

2nd, implement the BOE's School Start Times initiative.

3rd improve NCPS’ diversity, equity and inclusion education so our students have the tools and knowledge needed to succeed in today's multi-cultural world.
Safety/Technology – I will be guided by science and advocate for effective mitigation strategies, including masks as needed, to keep students safe. To propel technology education forward and capture recent advances I support the new Innovation Center.

School Start Times – I support having a broad-based implementation committee that works with NCPS to ensure the needs of parents, children and the organizations who serve them are met when the new healthier school start times become effective.

DEI – I will work with the administration to implement the BOE’s recently adopted DEI goals, gather parent feedback and see that changes are well researched and supportive of all students.
NCPS’s Curriculum Leadership Council is a premier model for curriculum development. CLC includes senior curriculum coordinators, department chairs and top administrators. The BOE sets goals and then these educational experts research and craft a world class curriculum based on best practices, not politics. CLC also ensures students are taught and assessed well and continuous progress is made.
I favor the plan the BOE has adopted: elementary at 8 am with no bus pick up before 7:10 am, high school at 8:35 am, 7/8 at 8:40 am and 5/6 at 9:20 am. This solution, which was reached after years of study and community input, is based on the science of sleep, supports the best interests of New Canaan’s students and is fiscally prudent. NCPS will continue to have excellent sports teams, arts and extra-curriculars while enhancing student well-being through better aligned school start times.
I’m a dedicated, collaborative New Canaan volunteer with over 11 years of experience on the boards of 5 local community organizations. I recently completed a two-year term as president of the West School PTC during the pandemic, where I managed 100+ parent volunteers delivering programs and events to over 400 students. Prior to having children, I had several years’ experience working professionally in nonprofit public education in CT. I’m a graduate of Princeton University and a UPenn Wharton School MBA. I hope to represent the interests of younger families on the BOE as the parent of a 2nd and 4th grader at West School, and use data and science as a guide in my decision-making.
1- To keep New Canaan schools locally controlled and top performing academically, as evidenced by test scores and State rankings. 2- To improve communication with the community by implementing new, proactive communication methods so that all can easily follow the BOE’s work. 3- To continue the effective work of previous boards in reducing operational costs to maximize dollars in the classroom.
First and foremost, I would build relationships with all members of the BOE, to create a productive environment where all points of view are welcome and valued. I will offer my nonprofit education skills and my experience collaborating as a member of various community boards to further the board’s collective goals. I will actively solicit feedback and listen closely to parent, student and community constituencies so that my decisions are informed by the needs of all of New Canaan. Finally, I am eager to do the work of partnering with the district to continuously improve and meet the next set of challenges that will face New Canaan Public Schools.
I believe curriculum should be developed by professionals trained in subject areas, special education and administration. I want to see educators continue to share best practices to develop curriculum that is rigorous and tailored to the needs of NC students. I also encourage parent participation through elected board members, who review, question and approve curriculum in their meetings.
School start times has many complicated factors and deeply personal implications for families. I believe the benefits of a later start time for older students are clear, but the change is disruptive for some younger families, working parents and others. Given the complexities and challenges, I agree with the ultimate board decision. But I strongly believe that important work remains to listen closely to parents and continue improving the implementation so it’s most effective for ALL families.
I moved to New Canaan 5 years ago for the schools and the community. I have 2 children and 3 stepchildren, one of which has special needs. I personally understand the challenges families of a special needs child face. This is an important voice and perspective for the board. As President of Newcomers, with 500+ families, I was the primary liaison to new families as well as to the town and local businesses and collaborated with a 40+ member volunteer exec board. As a mom with a child in elementary school and a deep volunteer experience, I will support the district's focus on educating to the whole child and will ensure that tax dollars from the town for education are spent effectively.
1) Continue the board’s tradition of supporting excellence in education at NCPS including academics, well-being and critical thinking skills to foster life-long learners and global citizens. 2) Strengthen the communication bridge among our parents, students, community, faculty, staff and administration. 3) Remain fiscally conservative while funding continuous improvement initiatives.
New Canaan is blessed with having stellar faculty, staff and administrators who have made our district a leader among all others in the state. As a member of the BOE, I will work to create a variety of forums for all voices in our community so we can build greater consensus around new initiatives and goals of our district, which support our model of continuous improvement. I will also be a true advocate for every student. I believe we can only benefit by having a more diverse and inclusive curriculum process – students, parents, staff and talented New Canaanites of every demographic. We should continue to work with Town Hall and other constituencies to develop cost effective shared services.

New Canaan’s Public Schools have incredibly talented and highly qualified faculty, administrators and curriculum coordinators to develop and write NCPS curriculum. The excellence of our district speaks for itself. It is not the role of the board of education to write or control curriculum, but rather solely to provide oversight, which is mandated by the state.
We have families on all sides of this debate. Younger children are eventually going to grow up and face the same demands that our older kids face today. My greatest concern was building consensus and outreach to families with younger students and working families. I plan to do my best to listen to all suggestions and address the concerns that have been raised with implementation. It’s my goal to promote the best possible solution for everyone based on the resources our community can provide.
I have lived in New Canaan for 8 years and have been highly engaged in the schools. Through years of volunteering and attending BOE meetings, I gained an appreciation for the talent and work that goes into operating our excellent schools. Experience is important this year, when at least 5 of 9 BOE members will be new. I have closely observed a number of budget cycles and have the background knowledge to challenge budget items. I have specific ideas for how to improve BOE communications and responsiveness to parents. I will listen to all perspectives, from parents, other BOE members and the administration and my decisions will always be guided by what is best for students.
My priority is that our schools continue to be among the best in the country and are healthy environments where our children can thrive. During my term, I will focus on identifying and making progress toward key educational goals, such as building an Innovation Center and keeping our STEM program relevant. It is also a priority to carefully allocate the budget every year, to make data-driven decisions that ensure we are investing in the programs that make a difference.
I would propose forming two committees to work on pressing issues, to ensure the administration is able to focus on the big ideas and educational goals that will keep our district moving forward. A Communications Committee would seek parent input and create a plan to improve district and BOE communications. Another committee would plan and manage the healthy start times implementation. I would prioritize the creation of a district-wide Innovation Center and an associated curriculum. Each year, I would encourage the BOE and the administration to think big when setting goals for the year, to review data and seek input from multiple sources, to identify the innovative goals that will improve the education we provide to our children.
New Canaan's Curriculum Committee is made up of educators and the BOE reviews and approves their work. It would be a mistake to put our excellent curriculum at risk and disrupt this process that has been working for 20 years. However, I would work to ensure that parents can easily access their child's curriculum. For topics that parents are especially interested in, such as DEI, I would ask for frequent updates to the BOE, well before implementation.
I think the new schedule is optimized because: 3 tiers of bussing is a must to prevent gridlock at Farm Rd and it keeps costs relatively low. With elementary on the first tier, the earliest bus pickup time is 30 minutes later and the start times are better for learning at all ages. NCHS is at a healthy 8:30, but not too late for extracurriculars. The latest dismissal time has moved just 10 minutes, which is important to teachers. An implementation team should collaborate with the New Canaan community to build out the ecosystem needed to make the schedule work for all families.