NORWALK, Conn. – Andres Roman, an adult probation officer, grew up in South Norwalk, one of five children raised by his mother after his father left the family. From his rocky start, Roman pulled his life together, earned a masters degree and became a community counselor. He also started a family and has two young sons.
Roman said he decided to run for the Board of Education alongside incumbent Steve Colarossi on the newly formed Community Values Party ticket because he felt the children were being lost in the politics of the board’s decisions.
NancyOnNorwalk sent a list of questions to each BOE candidate to help Norwalk’s voters get to know who is running. Here are Roman’s responses:
NoN: Why are you running for the Board of Ed? What are your qualifications?
AR: I have various reasons that I am running and qualified for the Board of Education. The main reason I am running is that I am an involved and concerned parent and have a vested interest in Norwalk. I have an understanding of the challenges children face and how vital the educators and mentors are to the lives of our youth. I want to ensure that the children of Norwalk have the same opportunities and advantages that were offered to me. I want to continue to make Norwalk a wonderful place to live for all citizens.
After following the Board of Education and the frustration it has given me this past year, I knew it was time to stand up and make a change. I felt that many members of the board have a disregard for the children and the people of Norwalk. Many of the members would not answer the various questions of the people and approved the 2012-2013 budget without any major discussion. The final insult was when the Board of Education could not vote on an Elementary Literacy Program. These practices must be changed and these are just a few reasons that I decided to run.
My qualifications begin with my life story. I was born and raised in South Norwalk. My father left my mother to fend for five children. I struggled in school and was headed down the wrong path. If not for the beacons of light in my life, such as my mother, coaches, and teachers, my life would be drastically different. The educators and mentors knew that it took a community to raise a child. I graduated from Brien McMahon Class of 1996 as a National Honor Society member, the commanding officer of the ROTC unit, and played various sports.
I had to work in order to assist and provide for my mother, youngest sister and me. College was not much of an option since there was no money. I once again turned to a source of light, a retired major and ROTC instructor at Brien McMahon. He guided me toward the military. I enlisted in the Army National Guard to cover my educational expenses at Southern Connecticut State University. I obtained a bachelor’s degree in social science with a certification and a master’s degree in counseling.
After graduation, I was fortunate to marry my sweetheart Shannon in 2004. I was blessed to become a father to my sons Jayden and Peyton. We chose the historically rich, vibrant and caring community of Norwalk to raise our family. We both love this city and what it has to offer our family. I believe in giving back to the community and that is the reason I became a coach for Cal Ripken Baseball, Norwalk Athletic Association Flag Football, a member of the Marvin PTO, and a member of the Norwalk Athletic Association committee.
NoN: What are your plans if you get elected? What do you think needs to be addressed? Priorities?
AR: If elected, my top three priorities would be implementing the Elementary Literacy Program that was the overwhelming recommendation of the professional review panel, improving the budget process, and assuring transparency in all Board of Education business. These are obtainable short-term goals that could begin to shape the future of Norwalk’s Public Education System.
If we would like to close the achievement gap (and it is a moral imperative that we do), there must be a reading program implemented that reaches all of our children. We cannot hold the children of Norwalk hostage because of political incongruity. I would request that my fellow elected members discuss and implement a language arts program based upon its ability to serve the needs of students from Kindergarten to Grade 5, and not based on political interests of adopting a Core Knowledge based program that was judged to only meet 42 percent of the educational criteria which was established. I will push to adopt the recommendation of the professionals and will work with Dr. Rivera to free the process from further political influence.
One of the struggles for years is the budget. The budget should be reviewed closely. I will question any irregularities or vague requests. A budget should not be a bargaining chip, should not be based upon any hidden agenda, or be voted on without discussion. Members of the board (with the lone dissenting vote of my running mate) voted for the 2012-2013 budget with minimal discussion and no meaningful debate, yet it was a budget that hurt our elementary school students and other at-risk populations in Norwalk. My running mate, Steve Colarossi, created a student-centered budget that was revenue neutral for the taxpayers. The plan would have saved vital professionals, which would have reduced the impact on our students’ learning.
The final priority is for the Board of Education to be transparent in all of its business. It will be my duty and responsibility to get information to the communit., I will respond to each e-mail and phone call, and answer any question. I will be transparent!
NoN: A lot of people think the professional staff salaries are too high. Do you concur? If so, what can be done about that?
AR: I understand the people and their concerns of professional staff salaries. I agree that there are certain positions that have extremely high salaries. The frustration of the people is valid, knowing that individuals have high salaries in struggling economic times. I believe that a way to prevent such high salaries is post the position without posting a range in pay. This could reduce the high salaries and allow for some negotiations with the candidate. We have to understand that Norwalk has to be competitive and be able to attract outstanding professionals to the district. The Board of Education needs to review the pay scale for similar positions in the area to ensure that we are competitive. You get what you paid for! If an experience worker leaves their company after 10 years due to a move; is it fair that the individual be paid at an entry level in a new business? I do not believe so and believe that professionals should be compensated for their experiences. If individuals will receive comparable salaries then there must be an evaluation process that would hold the administrators responsible. Dr. Rivera has made reference that he would work to improve this process and the Board of Education should ensure that this process is implemented and supported.
NoN: Jack Chiaramonte said recently that he would be in favor of armed guards in the schools. What is your opinion on this topic?
AR: In light of recent events and concerns that many parents have including me, I absolutely do not believe that armed guards are the answer. I understand the concerns of parents and educators and the call for increased safety. This is an area that needs to be reviewed closely. Our most valuable positions are our children and the people we love. The safety of each school needs to be reviewed individually and not as a whole. There should be a district-wide measure for outdoor activities and protocol for an emergency.
I believe that police response in Norwalk is rapid and I have faith in the first responders. I strongly believe that improvements in safety are needed in Norwalk and the $500,000 allocated is a wonderful start. The district has to create ways to slow any individual from entering the school so that there would be more time for first responders to respond to the situation.
The board should review its options. Instead of paying for an armed guard at the schools, a plan should be implemented and have a cost analysis to have cameras with a live feed installed. The individual monitoring the cameras will be able to view and cover a larger area of the school and increase the response of the first responders. Another option would be investing in stronger panel glass and remove all full-glassed exterior doors. These changes would slow the time for individuals attempt to gain access into a school. The main front doors could be reconfigured so that all individuals must walk through two sets of locked doors prior to gaining entrance to the office. I know that many parents may become frustrated, but the measures would be implemented for safety. These changes may not be cost efficient, but a plan could be created to review the cost of the projects and a budget would be created, so that one school could be completed a year.
NoN: Do you support the transition to Common Core State Standards?
AR: The state mandates that all districts adopt the Common Core State Standards. I support that we follow the law and make the changes that are necessary to ensure we are in compliance. The board cannot mandate that the schools and teachers follow this mandate without supporting our educators and providing them with the tools needed. This is the reason that the Elementary Language Arts Program is so vital at this time. I am in favor of providing the professional staff with the tools that they requested to complete this task – the Pearson’s Program, which was evaluated to target 98 percent of the learning criteria opposed to what some of the Board of Education members are lobbying for, Core Knowledge. We must make sure that our students have the best tools to afford them the opportunity for growth.
NoN: Are you in favor of education reform? What are your reasons for your opinion?
AR: I am in favor of reform if it is to improve the student’s education and future. Reform should not be a term or code name for political goals. Reform is something that is needed in the Board of Education this year and for the future. In order for reform to be successful it needs a team to support the changes. There is the potential for mistakes to be made. If there are mistakes, I will take full responsibility for my choices. A special teacher in high school told me once; “It is good to learn from your mistakes, but even better to learn from others’.” This is a quote that I have passed along to my sons and clients. We have to make sure that history or mistakes do not repeat. I will treat each decision as a Board of Education member with the same care and attention that I would expect of anyone making decisions that will have profound impacts on my sons. There must be a sense that every child deserves the best possible education and that every taxpayer deserves to know that the considerable money being paid to support the schools is being put to the best possible use.
NoN: Is anyone in your family a teacher? Work for the schools?
AR: Yes, my wonderful and devoted wife works for the Norwalk School System. She treats her students as if they were her own children. She works countless hours to ensure that she plans and is ready for any contingency. She motivates her students to learn and reach their potential. She effectively communicates with the parents. Her dedication to her students is a priority and she is adored by students, parents, fellow educators and administrators. This is evident from the overwhelming parent support, responsibility placed on her from administrators, and confidence from her peers. I am fortunate that she chose me as a long life partner and to become a nurturing mother to my sons. She is a wonderful educator and it is teachers like her that strength my confidence that the education in Norwalk has a bright future.