After entering two kids into school and 11 years in Darien, Patty McCormick is ready to tackle district-wide issues and bring a new perspective to the education discussion.
McCormick believes that the board has the potential to build on the district’s strengths. Her two children, one at Ox Ridge and the other at Middlesex, were her inspiration to explore a passion for education. “I felt like I wanted a bigger role on how policy is adopted,” McCormick said. “I want to be a part of the process because I love education.”
The required learning for those outside of the board is natural to McCormick. She has always enjoyed exploring topics that she is unfamiliar with, she said.
“At my heart, I am an autodidact, an intense researcher,” she said, “and if I don’t know something, I exhaust every possible outlet that I can.”
McCormick spent time during her campaign to sit down and listen to parent concerns. Parents are the district’s greatest resource, she said, because of their time spent volunteering and advocating for their children. She believes that exploring ideas from every possible angle is the way to take on Darien schools’ problems.
McCormick has three propositions to alleviate the concern about enrollment capacity. The first is to redistrict students as was done in the past. The second would be to place a district-wide, fifth grade only building at the site of the current senior center at 30 Edgerton Street. This move would be natural because the building sits next to Middlesex Middle School and would be a transition period for fifth graders. She said it would also create more space in the elementary schools. She also sees potention in creating kindergarten through second grade elementary schools, her third proposition. Darien schools had this grade distribution in the past.
“We know research shows that in K-2, it’s critical to have small class sizes,” she said.
Darien’s schools are known to attract residents to the town. McCormick sees this as both a positive aspect and a challenge because it can strain resources. “We need to understand that we live in a very desirable community where families want to raise their children,” she said ”and people will continue to flock here.”
The schools budget, which is more than half of the town’s expenditures, is also something McCormick is ready for. She does not think that there is a specific area of the budget that should be cut but “it needs to be reviewed for efficiencies,” she said. “For instance, with the adoption of the common core state standards, it would not be prudent to invest in new consumables.”
The district should still be spending money on the infrastructure, something McCormick said is underfunded. The best way to explore the issue is by listening to the suggestions of Michael Lynch, facilities director. “At the end the day we need to make sure our children our safe in the building,” she said.
McCormick also suggested that part of the budget problem comes from the inability to determine how much reimbursement the schools will receive from the state for special education costs. Working with Dr. Deidre Osypuk, the current special education director, would be important to figure out how to deal with the program. “With having someone brand new in this position it’s a great opportunity…to streamline and find those efficiencies,” she said.
On outplacements, when a child is placed in a different school because Darien cannot fulfill their needs, McCormick believes it can sometimes be necessary. “However we must strive for a cohesive, integrated special education service that serves all of our students,” she said, “and no longer requires our students to go out of district.”
Experience in the community developed her connection to both older and younger kids, McCormick said. She learned about progressive education as the board president at the Community Cooperative Nursery School in Rowayton. Parents at the school were involved in every part of the program, she said. She has served on the Human Services Planning Council and on the Thriving Youth Commission.
McCormick was a former co-director for the YWCA Parent Awareness network. She was a room mother at Ox Ridge, led a fifth grade Girl Scout troop, served as the community relations chairman for the executive Parent Teacher Organization board, and as a Council of Darien School Parents budget representative. She has a degree in creative writing and theology from Loyola-Marymount University. McCormick also cites her residence in Palo Alto near the Silicon Valley as making her aware to the importance of technology and moving students forward.
To prepare students for the world, she believes the district should be more innovative with curriculum and resources. Though she sees Darien as a “beacon of education,” students are not adequately prepared. “We have an opportunity in this town, because of the great school system that we have, and because of all these great intelligent parents,” she said, “We could be education leaders.”
McCormick recognizes that you cannot jump into a new program until you have collaborated with all of the relevant people—administrators, experts, parents. But whether the board discusses new programs or existing ones, communication is key. McCormick is worried that new information is not adequately channeled to parents. Those who are not familiar with the educational vocabulary do not get the whole picture. Likewise, committee meetings are at an early and inconvenient time, she said. As a new member on the board, McCormick said she would be able to “revamp” communication.
Schools could offer more languages and teach students how to use social media responsibly, McCormick suggested. “I know how quickly the world is changing,” she said, “there’s only going to be more, and to hold our kids back is a disservice to them.” She is not an advocate of the current world language program because “the end goal…is not proficiency at this point.” There is room for growth in the language program and she hopes that the schools build on it, she said. Installing permanent field lights at Darien High School is something she would also explore. McCormick would “definitely” get behind the idea. “I believe a high school of our caliber, a state of the art facility without permanent stadium lights is unacceptable,” she said.
When voting this November, remember that “at the end of the day, we are all in it for our kids,” she said. McCormick is an independent running on the Democrat ticket with Katie Stein. Education shouldn’t be about party lines, she said. “It should be about what’s best for the town, what’s best for the kids.”
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