NORWALK, Conn. – This year’s Norwalk Board of Education candidates have expressed their views in front of an audience for the first time, at an event organized by SpEd Partners.
Questions were focused almost entirely on Special Education, with the one exception being the credentials for a new superintendent of schools. NancyOnNorwalk is presenting comments from all of the candidates; here’s the summary of the thoughts expressed by Republican District C candidate Jason Christopher and Democratic District C candidate Diana Carpio, along with some video so you can see them for yourself.
Diana Carpio, a Democrat, and Jason Christopher, a Republican, are vying for the District C seat being vacated by Mike Lyons.
Christopher told the SpEd parents that he is a lifelong Norwalk resident with two sons attending Marvin Elementary, and another child on the way. He also attended Norwalk Public Schools.
“I don’t have any educational experience. But I do work in a guidance company. Again, just trying to make a difference in the school system that I’ve loved for so long,” he said. “…I’m running is because I see more and more people leaving Norwalk because of the SpEd programs and because of the lack of resources. So I find that quite disheartening because I do so believe in the school system.”
Carpio described herself as a “mom, not a politician,” with a son at Norwalk High School.
She’s also a lifelong Norwalk resident, a “lover of immigrants” who speaks Spanish. “I do feel that a lot of the Latino community gets lost in all of their benefits and questions, and I hope to be able to open up that door.”
Her parents are immigrants who do not speak English and her brother is blind, so, “Going through the school system, I was the one asking the questions,” she said, further pitching her special education sensitivity by explaining she’s been a physical therapist for disabled children and knows “how hard it is to fight the insurance carriers … to get the benefits that these children need, and want.”
“I too, would like to fix the reputation of the Board of Education with families, teachers and children. Right now, there’s a lot of negativity,” she said. “I want to be able to have more conversation, listen to everybody, be more transparent.”
Both said they don’t have special education students, themselves.
Seeking a new superintendent
Moderator Margaret Kozlark asked what the top three things Norwalk should be looking for in a new superintendent.
“Number one will be a combination of experience, with strong grasp on the latest scientific research and data into educational improvement,” Christopher said. “Number two, somebody who’s fiscally and responsible, as well as somebody who holds themselves and their employees accountable for everything. And number three, they would be willing to make a strong and long-term commitment to Norwalk and its children.”
Longevity is key, a five years is needed to bring about major change, he said.
Carpio also cited accountability and “Making sure everybody’s following the rules and regulations.”
“There’s so much that’s going on behind the scenes sometimes that I – as a mom, I hear all the stories,” Carpio said. “And I always wonder why accountability is not a big issue.”
Secondly, with all the news of gun violence, she’d like to know “how he feels or she feels about fixing safety in schools … strengthening that.” Third, given Norwalk’s diversity, “I would want to know what they feel, and who would they look at, and, by experience in filling different positions at schools.”
Better collaboration and communication?
Kozlark said that the creation of a new Special Education Parent Advisory Council (SPEDPAC) pack is intended to bring about better collaboration and communication between the Board of Education, NPS staff and families receiving specialized services. She asked the candidates how they’d like to see the collaboration evolve and what steps they’d commit to personally to ensure a better cooperation with stakeholders.
“I’m going to dedicate my time for an open-door policy, people that want to speak to me ask me questions, and vice versa,” Carpio said. “…This is really new to me, however, I am willing to learn, I’m willing to ask, I’m willing to do things.”
“Right now, I feel that a lot of families say they cannot find help for their children,” she continued. “And these families either cannot find the information because they don’t speak English, or they have no idea where to go and ask these questions. So, I want to be able to be that person to say, I don’t have the answer to that, but I will find out for you.”
Christopher said he was going to “piggyback” on earlier comments, by advocating for making the Ad Hoc SpEd Committee into a permanent body, to liaise with SPEDPAC.
“I think also in terms of communication, we need more translators, or more foreign language advocates for students who do need that service as well,” he said. “…I’ve coached kids with special needs. And they just want to be like every other kid. So I think we really need to help these parents out. And I believe really keeping these lines of communication open will do that.”
‘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, 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?”
Christopher emphasized that he has no first-hand knowledge but does have HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) compliance certification because he works at a Medicare benefits company. Legalities are important and he doesn’t know about the privacy laws regarding PPTs, “but to communicate, I would definitely say have at least three different lines of communication open to parents that need it,” he said. “Translating services are important. I know that has been a complaint that I’ve heard throughout this journey.”
Carpio also said she doesn’t know about these issues from experience and emphasized communication. “I do hear a lot that progress reports aren’t ready in time for the PPT meetings. So I think from my end, I want to make sure that these reports meet deadlines, it’s very important for parents to be going to these meetings with all the information that they need.”
Moderator Margaret Kozlark pointed out that Special Education is expensive, referred to Norwalk’s track record of CREC (Capitol Region Education Council) criticisms, and “systemic complaints at the State Department of Education.” She asked how Norwalk Public Schools would meet its obligations efficiently and effectively; the below video features candidates’ answers.