NORWALK, Conn. – Lauren Rosato is running on the Republican ticket for a seat on the Norwalk Board of Education. The former president of the Norwalk Education Foundation is among 10 candidates running for four seats on the BOE. NancyOnNorwalk emailed a set of questions to all the candidates and will post the responses as they come in.
NoN: Why are you running for the Board of Ed? What are your qualifications?
LR: I am running for the Board of Education because I believe that the Norwalk school district is at a crucial turning point, and that the board of education, the school system staff, the city leadership, and the school unions must be aligned to turn it in the right direction.
The turning point I speak of is something I personally experienced when I was president of the Norwalk Education Foundation (NEF), the nonprofit of Norwalk Schools. In my six years at NEF, I experienced an unbelievable amount of school staff turnover: five superintendents in six years, administrative leadership turnover in key roles like finance, human resources, technology, special education, curriculum and instruction, and school building turnover, with many of these positions turning over more than once.
An organization the size of Norwalk Schools ($160M budget, 11,000 students, 1,100 employees) cannot continue to experience this type of unsteadiness and deliver a quality product: an excellent public education for all children so that they can compete for jobs in a global economy.
We have an excellent new superintendent with experience in both the private and public sector, who has a vision for the district, and who has already started to implement this vision. The qualifications I possess that will best support this superintendent and our school system to succeed are:
• Established relationships from my tenure as NEF president and PTOC secretary with school staff, parents, students, community organizations, private funders, current BOE members, union leadership, city leadership, and state leadership;
• Experience in budgeting and fiscal stewardship from running two nonprofits and running my own international company for 13 years;
• Experience in raising private funds from running two nonprofits, and in my current role as a nonprofit development consultant;
• Experience as a trained debate moderator and community conversation facilitator, most recently facilitating dialogue for Bridgeport Public School teachers. This skill is extremely valuable in getting people to work collaboratively while maintaining civility.
NoN: What are your plans if you get elected? What do you think needs to be addressed? Priorities?
LR: It I get elected I would like to see budget clarity and an improved budgeting process. I would like to see the budgeting process driven by a long-term funding focus on educational outcomes and goals, versus a yearly funding focus by school building. I would like the budgeting process to begin and end earlier, to include all stakeholder input, to take into consideration the financial stress placed on the Norwalk taxpayer, and to document the actual cost of academic classroom instruction versus all other costs, which is what I mean by budget clarity.
If elected I think literacy must be addressed if we are serious about closing the achievement gap, including targeted teacher professional development for improved reading outcomes at all grade levels, and especially in early grades.
I think safety and communication need to be addressed, and that they go hand in hand. With better communication systems and processes, we will improve the safety of our schools.
If elected, my three top priorities are:
• To support the new superintendent and district leadership to succeed in delivering an excellent public education system;
• To maintain fiscal stewardship in the budgeting process while balancing the financial needs of the Norwalk taxpayer with the educational needs of our children;
• To improve communication systems and processes
NoN: A lot of people think the professional staff salaries are too high. Do you concur? If so, what can be done about that?
LR: I believe that excellent teaching and leadership should be rewarded.
It’s easy to justify high salaries if the product is a stellar education system that makes Norwalk a very attractive place to live and do business, is producing the most college and career ready students in the state, has nearly closed the achievement gap, and your property values have increased so you’re worth more too. Unfortunately, salaries have never been tied to educational outcomes.
So the implementation of a statewide teacher and administrator evaluation system is needed. We also need to continue firm but fair negotiations that take into account the bottom line, but also allow for flexibility in resource alignment to fill gaps when necessary. The system is extremely inflexible, and this doesn’t bode well for the innovation that’s necessary to keep pace with an ever changing world.
When I ran NEF, I heard “Sorry, I can’t do it because it’s not in the contract.” We have to get away from this “No Can Do” culture and be a “Can Do” culture. When the school culture finally changes, when trust returns through a changing of the old guard, then we’ll see the educational outcomes really improve.
I believe that are we are well on our way with the appointment of Dr. Rivera, and by the change in the BOE over the past two election cycles. Previously, you had to beg people to run for the BOE, so you had people on the BOE for a decade or more, unchallenged. Now there are 10 of us running! This alone tells you how much the old guard has changed.
I bet my fellow Norwalkers would be more apt to pay high salaries if they saw a real value.
NoN: Jack Chiaramonte said recently that he would be in favor of armed guards in the schools. What is your opinion on this topic?
LR: We already have armed police officers in the high schools.
I am not in favor of education personnel carrying weapons in schools but prefer instead to have police officers in this role, if armed guards were in schools.
I would like to first concentrate efforts on improving safety and communication processes so that officers’ response time to an emergency were immediate, rather than armed guards in the schools. If guards were necessary, I would assign them to the high schools, then middle schools, then finally elementary schools because I feel the safety threat is greatest at the high school level.
NoN: Do you support the transition to Common Core State Standards?
LR: Absolutely. It’s a narrowing of our curriculum from a mile wide and an inch deep, to a mile deep and an inch wide, to raise our education rigor and make us more competitive with other countries’ education systems.
Common Core is also going to level the playing field across state lines. For example, if you currently live in Massachusetts, the highest performing public education system in the nation, the top performing high school student has mastered a year more than Connecticut’s top graduates. With Common Core, all students are learning the same content at each grade level. This is especially important for states that are two to three years behind Massachusetts.
NoN: Are you in favor of education reform? What are your reasons for your opinion?
LR: The word “reform” has been given a bad rap over the years. Many see it as unfunded mandates that don’t work, and use a strategy called “wait long enough and it will go away.”
But economics and technology have caused a major disruption in the United States’ ability to sustain jobs. I believe this disruption is directly related to the quality of public education because 90 percent of the nation’s children attend public schools. If public schools are not producing workers qualified to do these jobs (STEM: science, technology, engineering and math), then these jobs are outsourced or labor is imported, which is what’s happened.
So public education has to change. You can call it reform, or you can call it something else. But it can’t stay the same 150-year-old agrarian education model. I happen to call it education reform, and yes, I’m for it.
NoN: Is anyone in your family a teacher? Work for the schools?
LR: My mother and aunt are retired public school teachers but never worked for Norwalk schools. No one in my family works for Norwalk Schools.