Candidate forum focuses on special ed, Falcone's exit
One by one, the four candidates vying for the three open seats on the Board of Education answered questions and expressed their opinions at the Darien Library on Wednesday, Oct. 30, in an effort to tell residents why they should be elected on Nov. 5.
The candidates' forum, hosted by the League of Women Voters, allowed community members to pose questions to the candidates -- Republicans Christa Sheehan McNamara and David Martens and Democrats Shannon Silsby and Callie Sullivan.
"I know this community in and out, I know the schools in and out and I know business in and out," Silsby, a mother of four, said in her opening statement.
The candidates were first asked what their vision for education is.
"I want to focus on curriculum and see that it's maximized and all students graduate with feeling of high self-worth," Sullivan said.
Martens said the board must return to the community's good graces.
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"I think for the next year, it's about restoring trust and making sure people know what's going on," he said.
This year has been tumultuous for the Board of Education which has been taking steps to remediate the special education department after a March complaint signed by more than 20 parents -- one of whom was Silsby -- lead the way to a state investigation that confirmed allegations that laws were broken.
As a result, Sullivan, when asked how the Board of Education could measure its success, said that a town-wide survey should be administered to truly understand what the community thinks of its education board. McNamara echoed Sullivan stating the board must receive community feedback and that she strongly supports the addition of a public comment agenda item for BOE meetings.
In light of former Superintendent Stephen Falcone resigning on Oct. 22, candidates were asked what qualities they wanted to see in the new superintendent.
"We need to see someone with a lot of positive energy," McNamara said. "Someone who will keep their eye on the ball." She added that the new superintendent needed to be communicative and collaborative.
Sullivan said that she feels the new superintendent must be "an educator and a manager" in order to manage the large number of staff members within the district. Additionally, they need someone whose "go-to answer is `yes' not `no.'"
McNamara disagreed and stated that the superintendent must be able to say no and that the primary question is "why?"
The Darien school district curriculum has seen changes since the announcement that the Common Core State Standards -- which shifts the classroom from teacher-centered to learner-centered and introduces new test -- had been adopted in Connecticut. By 2015, the state will be fully implemented into the Common Core curriculums.
But is Darien ready for the Common Core?
Martens said he does not like the Common Core State Standards, but knows that the district will be engaged in it regardless. His hope is that the district can modify the Common Core State Standards to "work for Darien."
The final question posed to the candidates was what they believed to be the heart of the special education "problem."
All of the candidates agreed that communication was a key issue.
"The problem that one person could derail everything we have in place is worrisome," Sullivan said.
For Silsby, the problem lies with the money surrounding special education.
"Every (student) should be valued," said Silsby, who has two children who receive special education. "Special education spending was vilified, potentially by the Board of Finance."
She added that the special education spending should not have been under a microscope.
McNamara, who also is a parent of a special education child, said that the spending should be placed under a microscope, but that the Board of Education is taking the steps to "right this ship."