Democrat Katie Stein, who's running for one of three open seats on the Board of Education, is a newcomer to the world of politics, so much so that she's never campaigned before.

"I don't consider myself a political person. I don't think the Board of Education is a political position," Stein said. "But this has a been a learning process unto itself, just running; whether I win or lose, I've learned something."

She has three kids in the Darien school district: Cece, a third-grader at Tokeneke; Matthew, a fourth-grader at Tokeneke; and Olivia, who just started at Middlesex Middle School.

She's been a PTO co-chairman at Tokeneke School for the past six years, one of the sixth-grade TOPS representatives, on the sixth-grade nominating committee and a sixth grade "grade rep." So, after much preparation, Stein said she feels confident in her abilities to add to the diverse background of the Board of Education.

She feels her past as a lawyer at Sanctuary for Families in New York City, where she worked with mothers whose children had been removed from them and fought in family court to get the kids returned, brings a lot to the table.

"I'm obviously a good negotiator," Stein said. "A lot is done outside the courtroom where you're negotiating with child services, legal aid and other state agencies to do whatever you can in your client's best interest."

Stein is running for Board of Education because she felt that she was at a crossroads, trying to figure out what she wants to do when her PTO term ends this year. She's found the work she's done as a PTO co-chairman has been rewarding and challenging.

"I was thinking about going back to work, and the kind of law I practiced is 24/7," Stein said. "It's in New York City and the clients need you all the time, and you're dealing with clients in really, really dire straits, and I can't do that right now with the kids and the age they are."

Stein said she was approached by Democratic Town Committee members, who asked her to run. She did a lot of thinking before deciding.

"I spoke to a lot of current board members and former board members because, personally, I wanted to make sure I had the right skill set that would complement the board," she said. "There's no point in me volunteering to do something that I'm not going to succeed at or make a contribution to."

Stein feels one of the biggest challenges facing the Darien school district is actually a positive.

"We live in a town where our schools are superior, and I think it's challenging to take a school district that's already really high-performing and keep excelling and pushing it forward," she said. "I think that's a really good challenge and an interesting challenge."

Stein believes that a learner-centered focus is a high aspiration, but a good one. "It's going to push people and teachers, parents, students, administration in the right direction," she said.

She said enrollment is another big issue. "This year, we had 75 elementary students come in that weren't accounted for. I think enrollment is something the district has to figure out. There has to be a lot of communication among the different town boards to try to get a handle on the enrollment issue."

The other issue with which she is concerned are unfunded mandates that come down from the state.

"That requires the board to make sure they're in touch with the state Legislature and make sure they know and the state reps understand the impacts of any of these mandates on our town and on the Board of Ed and our budget, specifically," Stein said.

Stein believes that being a newcomer to the race puts her at a slight disadvantage.

"As a new board member I think the learning curve is going to be really steep, and there's a lot I don't know," Stein said. "But I'm a quick learner, I enjoy learning, and I like being challenged."

She also feels like she has something to contribute to the board.

"I think what I can bring to the table is a fresh perspective," Stein said. " I think the other thing is having kids in the elementary schools is an important voice that needs to be represented, and having been a PTO co-chair. I have that connection with what is going on and really can represent that voice. To me a good board has diversity of perspective and background."; 203-972-4407;

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