Neighbor for neighbor, Democratic candidates share their thoughts
"I'm adamant about being partners with parents and administration," Silsby said.
Sullivan, who started her public service career in 1990 when she was elected to the Representative Town Meeting and then to the Board of Selectmen, where she served until 2011, feels that now is the time to join the Board of Education.
"I've actually had a child who just graduated from the high school, so I've seen it from kindergarten all the way through," the mother of three said. "I think that's really valuable because our high school is No. 1 in the state. We need to know what we're doing right -- and keep going -- but also know what we're doing wrong."
Silsby is the opposite. After living in town for 10 years and being involved in myriad volunteer positions, she has not held an elected position.
"I'd be a newbie to this elected world after spending many years on the other side through our Democratic Town Committee," Silsby, a mother of four, said. "We say our schools are our backbone? Our volunteers are our backbone, too, to strengthen the great things in this community."
Silsby and Sullivan are vying for the two of the three available seats on the Board of Education. There are currently four candidates campaigning for three two-year terms.
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Silsby and Sullivan say it is challenging to pinpoint inefficiencies within the Board of Education without actually serving on it.
"It's hard to know until you're on the board," Sullivan said. "Every board has its own flavor." She added that she enjoys knowing that the Board of Education is nonpartisan.
To Silsby and Sullivan, the most obvious inefficiency of the Board of Education is the level of communication between the parents and the board.
"It seems that there is a lack of consistency and clarity," Sullivan said.
"It's what are we doing, how are we doing it and being able to project out where are we going and come along with us instead of reacting to situations that arise," Silsby said. "So having a more proactive -- not that they're not clear -- but having a more proactive approach will up the clarity quotient, especially in this day of web. Use the tools we use to live our lives to really communicate."
In order to improve communication, Silsby and Sullivan strongly support adding a public comment agenda item to board meetings. However, they say that supporting the idea and making it a reality are different.
"It's one thing to walk the walk, it's another to talk the talk," Sullivan said.
Tackling the education budget, which increased 4.05 percent from the 2011-12 budget, is a focus for Silsby and Sullivan.
"My big concern is the increased silos that we find the town in," Sullivan said. "Even within the Board of Ed, there's general ed and then there's special ed. I don't like that. It doesn't work for people. It doesn't work for a town and it's inefficient."
She suggested that the town administration and Board of Education find a way to share services, such as grounds maintenance, which are now housed in the same building at the Department of Public Works. "I really think we need to look at ways that other towns are maximizing their dollars and keeping it in the classroom."
For Silsby, it's approaching the budget with a new set of eyes.
"We're good," Silsby said. "How can we be great? What can we do differently in our budget to better our education that can change the way we invest our money? So there's the nitty gritty; got to make sure you know what's behind every line and how things are working but then there's the bigger picture of, where do we want to be in a year? Five years? Ten years? What do we want to change? Where are we willing to take some risks and innovate somewhere that can pay off? So, I think you need to bring both sets of eyes to the budgeting process."
While a majority of the pressing decisions in the aftermath of the special education complaint, which revealed numerous systematic and legal violations within the district, Sullivan thinks the board has made unprecedented actions, especially in the hiring of independent investigator Susan Gamm.
"I think looking outside our normal people we work with and the people who have a vested interest (in the district) was a very open and honest way to proceed, so I'm glad that we've done that," Sullivan said. "Prior to that, we were just slow off the dime."
Silsby believes the complaint, while revealing that the district had broken special education law, can provide positivity.
"The special ed situation to me, while sad that it exists, is a huge opportunity for this town and for the children and parents in this town and for the district to strengthen itself," Silsby said. "If we are that good and we have this happening, imagine how healthful we could be. I don't think this just happen to just one population of children. This affected every child in Darien because children learn from each other not just the person sitting in front of the room. So if one child didn't reach their full potential, every child didn't reach their full potential. This is a town issue, despite the fact that it impacted the instruction of the special education students."
Silsby is serves as the co-chairman of the Royle Elementary School PTO, executive board member of Middlesex Middle School parent's association, the Council of Darien School Parent, board president and treasurer of the Community Cooperative Nursery School and is a board member of the Darien YWCA. She is also a volunteer for the Darien Soccer Association and member, Eucharist minister and catechist of St. Thomas More Church. She is a senior brand manager for Sun Products Corporation, where she has worked since 2008. She graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1993 and received her Master of Business Administration from the University of Rochester in 1998.
Sullivan is a member of the Darien Democratic Town Committee and is an advisory board member for the Domestic Violence Crisis Center. She serves as the Tokeneke School PTO budget representative and was a host family for A Better Chance of Darien. A member of the Chamber of Commerce, she has served as the president of Westwood Press, an international education publishing company her family owns, for 17 years. She graduated with a bachelor's degree in English and art from Williams College in 1984.
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