It has been an honor to serve on the Norwalk Board of Education and celebrate and support the success of our students and staff. Ensuring that Norwalk Public Schools have been appropriately resourced has been the work of a full decade of my life. My children first attended meetings to advocate for better ECS funding when they were 4 and 6!
When I ran for the Board of Education there were a few core areas I wanted to impact, and we have made significant progress in these areas. First, I wanted to be part of the solution to the ongoing special education issues that had been documented through the multiple CREC reports. While there is more work to do, Norwalk Public Schools has made important improvement in this area by increasing staffing to better support our students and meet our caseload, creating effective new in-district programs to alleviate expensive outplacement, and by ensuring better compliance and reduced legal costs. Second, I wanted to ensure our gifted program was preserved and supported. Through the Gifted redesign, we have ensured that access to the program is more equitable, that the work of the gifted teachers impacts the entire school through the Schoolwide Enrichment Model, and that students have access to multiple competitions and experiences that challenge them.
Another important area for me was wellness, and we have made substantial evolution in this area, especially in collaboration with Norwalk ACTS and its members. With trauma-informed care, social emotional learning, more recess and more movement allowed in the classroom, NPS has moved to help children be children. The district has moved to a model of renovating kitchens and cafeterias to provide “from scratch” cooking and introduced family style dining and moved away from lunch debt food shaming. The Counseling redesign has provided better oversight and resources to support the staff who are supporting our children, and provided full time staff in our college and career centers. NPS moved to healthier science-based start times to support adolescent success, and is now utilizing propane busses and solar panels, which are both better for the environment and more cost effective. Working as a member of the Pedestrian Committee of the Bike Walk Commission, we worked to make Norwalk a safer place for walkers and bikers.
Serving as Liaison to Norwalk ACTS has been an incredible opportunity to support all the myriad ways our community comes together to nurture our children. Serving on the Cooperative Education Services Representative Council was informative to understand regional education issues. When I first joined the PTO Council in 2011, it had been fractured and was in the process of regrouping. I am proud of the partnerships with Akisha Cassemere, Michael Byrne and Lisa Nuzzo to rebuild the council and ensure it has a good relationship with the NPS and City of Norwalk Administrations.
While there is still more to do in the area of improving our facilities, we have made important advancements. Ponus Ridge STEAM Academy was built, Jefferson School is beginning construction this month, and 80% funding has been secured from the state for a new Norwalk High School. NPS has made progress on repairs, but has more work to do to ensure equitable facilities in every neighborhood in Norwalk. However, there is an entire section of our city with only one public school to serve it. We must work as a community to right the historic wrong of closing almost every school in South Norwalk while building brand new schools in predominantly white neighborhoods. We must work together to ensure that the burden of bussing does not fall principally on minority children. Having a school in your neighborhood is not just about education, but is about building community.
Serving as an elected official is never easy, but the hardest part is the ambiguous role the Board of Education plays. The Board has very little control over the level of funding it receives, and must do the best it can with what it is given. Those funding decisions are made by the State, the Mayor, the Common Council and BET. I urge my neighbors to engage in the political process, stay informed about what is being planned, watch the meetings on YouTube, and speak or write to help improve outcomes. Please also remember that every politician is a neighbor who has a family and job and is doing their best to make our city a better place. Try to discuss the issues and actions without vilifying your neighbors.
The cost of service is high, with many evenings spent away from family. While I have been operating as if I have 11,683 children, I need to focus on the two that are mine for a bit. Though I am stepping away from service on the Norwalk Board of Education, I will continue to be a strong advocate for Norwalk Public Schools and the City of Norwalk. I wish my colleagues the very best, and will be cheering them on as they work to ensure an excellent education for the students of Norwalk Public Schools.