Op/Ed: Three facts about the Board of Ed
I recently polled a group of Darien moms on a private Facebook Group about their level of engagement in the Board of Education. Over 60 percent of the respondents indicated they have been engaged only recently and are “still trying to figure out how it all works” or find it “too overwhelming.”
That’s staggering. Nearly two-thirds of us don’t really know what is happening with the Darien Board of Education at such a critical time for our children and in an election year.
I have spent a lot of time in the past several months “trying to figure out how it all works,” and I think there are three important facts to highlight as many in our community are trying to do the same.
Fact one — The Board of Education is designed by law to be an independent body.
According to the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education’s Code of Ethics, the BoE “represents the entire school community” and its members “will refuse to surrender independent judgment to special interest or partisan political groups.”
In other words, keep politics out.
But in June, a few board members held a secret meeting along party lines to discuss the highly charged topic of budget cuts. They did not invite members who were not a part of their political party, nor did they share notes from their meeting. They later argued their meeting was permissible because it was a caucus, not a meeting.
There’s no reason to have a secret, partisan meeting to discuss matters of an independent board in the first place. I would argue these board members are surrendering their independent judgment and, in the process, losing sight of doing what’s best for our kids.
Fact two — The Board of Ed is responsible for hiring the superintendent of schools, and they’ve done so six times in the last 12 years.
In April 2019, the Board of Education unanimously approved a motion to hire Dr. Alan Addley as superintendent and later was “delighted” to issue an announcement in which it enumerated Dr. Addley’s many accomplishments, including the fact that he was the recipient of the 2019 CAPSS Connecticut Superintendent of the Year.
In an interview with The Darien Times, Dr. Addley was asked if he envisioned himself staying for the long-term, given a history of “upheaval” in this position. Dr. Addley replied that he spent 21 years in his previous district and that it is not his practice to move around. He said he accepted the position knowing Darien wants “sustained and consistent leadership.”
Excellent! We literally have the the Superintendent of the Year working for us and he has a proven track record for his loyalty and long-term commitment. Hooray for us!
Knowing that we cycle through superintendents an average of every two years, what is the Board of Ed doing to retain Dr. Addley, particularly during a pandemic when every single school system in the country has been upended?
I would expect board members to work cooperatively, as their mission statement promises. I would expect board members to respect Dr. Addley’s expertise, the same expertise they lauded in their announcement. I would NOT expect board members to prosecute him like a defendant in court during a public board meeting. I would not expect board members to question the legitimacy of the administrative decisions he’s made that are well within his purview to make. But that’s exactly what has happened in board meetings just this month.
It is upsetting to see and it is incredibly worrisome. In treating Dr. Addley this way, these board members risk pushing him out, thus jeopardizing our entire school system.
Fact three — For the first time since 2014, we have a choice in the upcoming Board of Education election.
This part is exciting! For the first time in six years, we have the opportunity to choose board members in a contested election. We have the opportunity to choose people with experience and expertise, to choose people who will make sure that kids come first, not politics.
On Nov. 3, I will choose Mike Burke and Sara Parent.
If they are elected, with their collective experience, their vested interest in Darien schools as parents, and their commitment that “Kids Come First,” I am hopeful that the Darien Board of Education will right its ship and do right by the kids, parents and administration alike.
Erin Noonan is a parent of children in the Darien schools.