NORWALK, Conn. – Godfrey Azima says he’s learned that he’d rather be part of the solution than be one of the people pointing out problems. Alexandrea Kemeny says she’d love to spend her newfound time after retiring from 31 years as a Norwalk schoolteacher going into the schools and making herself available to parents who have problems.
Azima, a Democrat, and Kemeny, a Republican, are competing to represent District A on the Board of Education.
The pair expressed their views, as candidates, in front of an audience for the first time, at a SpEd Partners event last week. Questions were focused almost entirely on Special Education, with the one exception being the credentials for a new superintendent of schools. Both are educators; Azima is an on track coordinator for Westhill High School and Kemeny spent most of her career at Rowayton Elementary.
You can get a look at them below via video of their comments.
General qualifications and experience with SpEd
“I’ve consistently, intentionally been someone that’s been a force for youth and families, something that is close to my heart and actually truly love doing,” said Azima, who described himself as the father of four children and fortunate to be involved with Tracey Elementary School.
He’s lived in Norwalk for 12 years. Two of the three school-age children are identified as needing Special Education; he has felt like a partner/collaborator but also found things that concern him, he said.
Kemeny is a lifelong Norwalk resident, who attended Norwalk Public Schools. She considered becoming a Special Education teacher but “music was at my heart,” and, “I said, ‘Well, let me combine the two.’ And I had both worlds at Rowayton, because with the Special Ed and with my music, I could, you know, do what I really wanted to do.”
She runs Crystal Theater.
‘PPTS aren’t collaborative’
Federal law calls for team decision making in SpEd education, with parents part of the team, but an “increasing number” of team decisions do not involve parents, Moderator Margaret Kozlark said, asking, “Do you have any suggestions for parents on how to have their voices heard and counted in PPT (Planning and Placement Team) meetings?”
Azima echoed comments made by another candidate, suggesting that parents get as much information as they can before their PPT meeting.
“Also, I found that there’s tremendous benefits to having someone just check in with you after the meeting,” he said. “You know, a lot of big words typically said in meetings that if you’re unfamiliar with them, it will just fly right over your head.” Just being able to share that you don’t think you were heard is a “huge, tremendous step.”
Kemeny was surprised to learn that some Special Education parents don’t feel their voices aren’t being heard.
“My experience has been that the everyone listens and cares about what the parents, at least at our school, or my old school,” she said. “I always thought that they did and always took into account. And usually what … the parents wanted was done or compromise, if it was at all possible. So that’s the way it should be.”
Seeking a new superintendent
Kozlark asked what the top three things Norwalk should be looking for in a new superintendent.
The next NPS leader should demonstrate “a commitment to learning, really learning our community” and have “a proven history of being collaborative and inclusive Azima said, also mentioning a “commitment to transparency.”
“And, of course, lastly, competency, you know, looking at, to keep us moving forward,” he said. “Without a doubt, the need to have someone who’s demonstrated a different way to achieve outcomes with the new initiatives, outcome specific to our urban district like ours, are things are really are really, really critical.”
“I agree with everyone, of course, we want somebody who’s really committed to Norwalk, not just as a stepping stone, but we’d like to really hit the ground running, want to make changes and keep going in the direction that we’ve gone in our excellence,” Kemeny said. “We are obligated to the taxpayers, so would be great if we had a superintendent, who was open and creative to new ideas, creative solutions.”
“We need somebody who’s open to hear other people’s point of view. And not just, you know, say ‘No, this is the way it’s going to be,’” she said. “So, also maybe creative, as far as looking for grants, because money is always tight.”
Kozlark asked what policies could be put in place to protect all of the children from bullying, and “promote not just awareness, but more inclusion.”
“It’s really being able to take a holistic approach to educating students,” Azima said, mentioning an “intentional emphasis” on creating in youth “the ability to speak to, and identify feelings.”
“Almost every Elementary School in Norwalk, each has a program that, that discusses bullying and talking about how to be kind,” Kemeny said. But elementary school teachers’ time is “jam packed” and “there’s no time in the day” to have conversations like there were in the old days, “where they’d sit, you’d read a book, and then you discuss it, you’d have you’d have a discussion.” It’s also a problem at middle and high schools and, “There needs to be somewhere in in the day, or maybe every other day where the principals are told this needs to be in the curriculum, because it’s not.
Norwalk District A Board of Education candidates Godfrey Azima (D) and Alexandra Kemeny (R) in the video below answer this question: “The launch of the new SPEDPAC (Special Education Parent Advisory Council) is intended to bring about better collaboration and communication between the Board of Ed staff and administrators of normal public schools and families receiving specialized services. How would you like to see this collaboration involved? And why? What steps would you commit to personally to ensure a better cooperation with stakeholders?”
Alexandra Kemeny on identifying children with special needs:
And Godfrey Azima: