Election Series: Board of Ed Candidates Share Their Views | Greenwich Moms

Election Day is around the corner, and moms in town are watching the Board of Election race closely. You’ll want to know about all the candidates, of course, but the Republican race will be the most crucial on Election Day, as only 2 out of 3 of the Republican choices will be elected (since two Democrats are on the ballet, both will go onto the board uncontested). Take a look at the interviews below, and consult the League of Women Voters website for more info on all of the Election Day races.

Republican: Michael-Joseph Mercanti-Anthony

Can you please share a bit about yourself, including the ages of your kids?
I am married to the amazing Dr. Catherine Berzolla, a Greenwich native and Ob-Gyn in town.  Together we live in Riverside with our two boys, Peter (7) and William (5).  We chose Eagle Hill for Peter out of concerns around the district’s special education programs.  William is in pre-k and we expect him to matriculate to the district.

I myself have 23 years in public education as a teacher and administrator.  I currently serve as a  Director of Continuous Improvement for the New York City Department of Education. I’ve been a Special Education Director, Assistant Principal, Supervisor, and Social Studies and English teacher.  I hold a doctorate in educational leadership (the same degree as the superintendent) from the University of Pennsylvania.

What do you think needs to be done in terms of our public schools to keep them competitive with others in Fairfield County?
There are a number of ways  GPS has not stayed abreast of advancements in the field.  Our teacher evaluation system embraces an antiquated approach where teachers are observed in their classrooms infrequently.  This limited feedback does not support growth.  Most districts actually moved away from this ten years ago.

Similarly, the recent special education audit pointed to a lack of academic and social-emotional interventions for all students.  Such a system – called Multi-Tiered Systems of Supports – is standard practice across the country.

Finally, cognitive science has greatly changed our understanding of how students learn.  Most current teachers are unfamiliar with a lot of these concepts because they are only now being included in pre-service teacher education courses.  We need to make sure our professional development programs attune themselves to this research so are students are taking full advantage of what we now know of the science of learning.

If you could accomplish 3 things this year what would they be, in terms of the BOE?
The first priority is making sure there’s a clear plan in place to address the learning gaps from the pandemic.  The student achievement data is concerning. We need to remember that this is not simply a matter of making up missed learning, but accelerating learning so our kids get back on track.

The second priority is establishing clear goals for the board that is rooted in student achievement.  We currently don’t set quantitative goals for ourselves.  We should.  For example, many districts around the country have set a goal of getting all 3rd graders to read on grade level.  That’s a critical year where kids move from learning to read to reading to learn.  Why wouldn’t’t want that here in Greenwich, where currently only ¾ of 3rd graders are testing proficient?

Finally, we need to make progress on modernizing our special education systems.  The audit pointed out clear places where these programs for our neediest learners need to improve.

How are you planning to work across party lines?
Before moving the Greenwich eleven years ago, I served on the Board of Education of my hometown.  I served as board vice-president while the president of the board was from the opposite party.  We worked collaboratively because we always put the needs of the kids first.  When we did disagree, we didn’t’t take it personally.  You have to keep a level head on the board and remember this is not about you, but our children.

Anything else you’d like to share?
We have the resources, talent, and community resolve to make GPS a national model.  It’s time we come together to fix our crumbling infrastructure and the achievement gap shrink the achievement gap between the Eastern and Western sides of town, and make sure all our students are being challenged at a high level.

 Where can people find more info on you as a candidate?
Everyone should feel free to visit my website, http://bit.ly/mjmaforboe , to learn more about where I stand on the important issues.  You can also follow me on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/MJMAatBOE!

 

 

Republican: Cody Kittle

Can you please share a bit about yourself, including the ages of your kids?
I have a two-year-old daughter named Annabelle. My wife, Alexandra, and I hope to have many more kids, and so we expect to be involved with the public schools here for decades to come.

We live in backcountry on Round Hill Road. I grew up in Greenwich. My dad is a photographer and my mom is the founder of a resort wear line, Walker & Wade (which has been featured on Greenwich Moms). My parents moved here because of the allure of the public schools.

After attending Parkway, GCDS and Greenwich High School, I went to Northwestern University where I graduated in three years with a math major. My career has since been in finance, moving from investment banking at J.P. Morgan, to private equity and now a hedge fund, Elliott Management. In my free time, I love swimming with my daughter, playing tennis, backgammon, reading non-fiction, and kiteboarding.

What do you think needs to be done in terms of our public schools to keep them competitive with others in Fairfield County?
Our schools are filled with great people, but I think the BOE has left room for improvement in terms of governance, oversight and accountability. I think this is largely a result of the dysfunction that has plagued the BOE for years – some of the members do not even speak to each other. This has come at the expense of our students. Our proficiency numbers are not where a community with Greenwich’s resources should be. 59% math proficiency in 5th grade this year. 67% verbal proficiency for 6th graders. When I have brought this up to current board members, I am told, “well remember the low income students in Greenwich hold it down.” No student should be left behind because of their socio-economic status. Furthermore, the proficiency for math 5th graders excluding low-income students is still only 69%! We have a real problem and it is not being addressed.

Parents recognize this. Did you know, despite the massive influx of families due to COVID, the number of students enrolled in our schools dropped by 182 this year? The last time it was this low was in 1996. This wasn’t forecasted in the Master Plan. It is parents recognizing that our schools are diminishing in academic quality. Nobody rises to low expectations, and I hope to be a force in setting new standards for our schools.

If you could accomplish 3 things this year what would they be, in terms of the BOE?
First is reprioritizing the capital plan. Did you know that Central Middle school is deemed structurally unsound from a report the BOE commissioned in 2017, and yet it is not scheduled to be fully dealt with until the end of the decade. We have multiple buildings that are not ADA compliant. This impacts students that are most deserving of our compassion, and yet they have been left behind. That is 31 years out of compliance. How is that possible in a town like this?

Second, fixing the accountability framework the board uses for its administrators. The reporting that the board receives from the schools is insufficient. Just this week, the achievement report being reviewed by the BOE, which shows the abysmal proficiency numbers cited above, does not include comparisons to other schools. This is basic. It should not be hard for parents, let alone BOE members, to get the facts, and it’s the BOEs job to ensure that they remain at everyone’s fingertips, smartly organized and honestly presented. Sunlight is the best disinfectant and it is also the best way to bring people together to a consensus.

Third, I would like to get the BOE to a place where our parents and residents trust the approach to curriculum. There are a wide range of concerns and I think there has been a diminishment of confidence about what is in the curriculum, how it is handled, how it is taught. That ultimately falls to the BOE to shore up. I think we can do that with transparency, accountability and empirical support for the choices that are made.

How are you planning to work across party lines?
This is a really important point. The Board of Education is not political unless you make it political. There are no corporate boards divided into groups of Republicans and Democrats. There is no reason for the BOE to be divided as such. I think we fail our students when we focus on party affiliations. I am a Republican whose intellectual worldview is inspired by Thomas Sowell, George Will and Milton Friedman. But so what? What does that have to do with how I evaluate whether a Superintendent is doing their job, whether a curriculum is impacting student achievement or how one should prioritize capital spending? Those are empirical questions that require rigorous analysis. That is what I am here to do; work hard, dig deep into the data, understand the differences, and persuade in a respectful manner.

I should mention that I have support of both Republicans and Democrats on the BOE. The fact that I have disagreements with some of them doesn’t’t impact my ability to be a friend and to work with them cordially. I think they respect my approach, and that is why they are supporting my candidacy. Ultimately, we are all working for the same cause, our students. I will listen to how they think about issues and respectfully engage them, just as they will do for me.

 Anything else you’d like to share?
I think that some of the social media I have seen regarding my opponents has been unfair in this race. They are both good caring people that believe in what they are doing. Both have relevant competencies and skills to work on behalf of students and teachers. I think we need to remember that anyone that is willing to put the time and effort into this job deserves a baseline of respect, and I wish we did a better job in our community not denigrating people we disagree with.

Where can people find more info on you as a candidate?
They should call me directly. My cell phone is 917-882-3491 and my email is [email protected] If I’m on the board, I will always be directly available for any constituent, that is part of the job and it will make me more effective at working on your behalf.

Republican: Megan Galletta

This candidate could not be reached by Greenwich Moms. For a recent interview with Megan Galletta, click here.

Democrat: Laura Kostin

Can you please share a bit about yourself, including the ages of your kids?
I’m a resident of Cos Cob, with four children in the Greenwich Public schools—Gabe (16), Evan (14), Farah (8) and Ben (4).

What do you think needs to be done in terms of our public schools to keep them competitive with others in Fairfield County?
We all want our schools to be the best they can be for our students. This has been a challenging time for our students and families. Greenwich Public Schools will be receiving significant COVID-relief funds, which will go a long way toward combatting learning loss and helping children who need academic support now more than ever. I believe the new math curriculum, Big Ideas, will be beneficial to all our learners. We should ensure that students have adequate access to enrichment opportunities… and those who need it should have adequate access to Reading and Math Interventionists.

Additionally, I think children learn best in school buildings that meet their needs. Central Middle School is structurally deficient. Julian Curtiss, Old Greenwich and Riverside are old, inaccessible and in need of HVAC and safety and security upgrades. Investing in all aspects of our schools should be a primary focus.

If you could accomplish 3 things this year what would they be, in terms of the BOE?

  1. Improving communication with parents so they are aware of what is occurring at the Board level and how it relates to the education of our children.
  2. Reforming Special Education so all children in our district can achieve academic success.
  3. Advocating for the advancement of the Facilities Master Plan.

 

How are you planning to work across party lines?
I think serving in Town government as a member of the RTM, our local legislative body, has been enormously helpful. It is made up of people across town with vastly different viewpoints but we work together to meet the needs of our residents.

The BOE is also made up of people with different experience and different viewpoints but we are there to be the best policy and governance Board we can be together as partners.  Through collaboration and constructive dialogue, we will meet the needs of our school community.

Anything else you’d like to share?
My professional background is in journalism. I have 20 years of experience in television news.

Where can people find more info on you as a candidate?
League of Women Voters Debate

League of Women Voters Election Voter’s Guide

Democrat: Kathleen Stowe

Can you please share a bit about yourself, including the ages of your kids?
I am the mother of 3 children. They are currently attending GHS,
Central Middle School and Parkway and have been in GPS since
kindergarten.  I am currently Vice Chair of the Board of Education,
Chair of the Budget Committee, member of the Policy Governance
Committee, former class parent (many times) and youth sports coach.
Professionally, I bring more than two decades of financial experience as
a former investment banker at Citi and a private equity executive.

What do you think needs to be done in terms of our public schools to
keep them competitive with others in Fairfield County?

I believe we need to focus on providing a best in class education system
to address the needs of all our students, as well as invest and maintain
our infrastructure to remain competitive with others in Fairfield
County.

If you could accomplish 3 things this year what would they be, in terms
of the BOE?

I am running for many of the same reasons I had in 2017.  I am so proud
of what we have accomplished in the past few years as we worked
tirelessly to return our students to in-person learning when others
could not.  I also led the search to hire our current superintendent and
I am proud that we have recently renewed her contract.  There are many
things I would like to accomplish in this term, including 1) continuing
to focus on achievement for all our students 2) driving investment in
many of our buildings and fields and 3) continuing to invest in our
curriculum with increased communication to parents.

How are you planning to work across party lines?
I have a long track record of working across the aisle.  I believe
collaboration was a big part of our success in returning students to
school during COVID.

Anything else you’d like to share?
I believe strong public schools are the foundation of a community.  I am
proud of what we have accomplished in the past four years, and I am very
excited for what we can do in the next four.

Where can people find more info on you as a candidate?

Kathleenstowe.com

 

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