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New Fairfield Board of Education Candidates: Top Row: Kathy Baker (D), Doug Dorsey (R), Kimberly LaTourette (R), Samantha Mannion (D); Bottom Row: Rick Regan (D), Elizabeth H. Ricci (R), Ed Sbordone (D) (R), Stephanie Strazza (D)

In a busy election season, voters will head to polls on Tuesday, November 5, to vote on six seats for the  NF Board of Education. All six incumbents, Kathy Baker (D), Ed Sbordone (R) & (D), Kimberly LaTourette (R), Rick Regan (D), Samantha Mannion (D), and Stephanie Strazza (D) will be on the ballot as well as new candidates, Doug Dorsey (R) and Elizabeth H. Ricci (R).

Kathy Baker (D) A Design Leader for Duracell Global Brand, Kathy Baker has been on the NF BOE for nearly two years, having originally filled an uncontested vacancy after a board member resigned. A long-time active PTO parent, Baker has appreciated making a difference on the board and hopes to continue working closely with fellow board members and other town boards to set goals and develop long-term strategies. A proponent of transparency, Baker believes that the BOE needs to be able “to disagree with each other, but still be able to reach an aligned decision. It’s not about being right or wrong, it’s about doing the right thing for the kids and for the community.” She also believes that that it is critical “to have an open and transparent relationship with their superintendent. They need to be able to have hard conversations when needed, without judgment on either side and to set clear objectives.” Having just gone through the tumult of a close vote on the building projects, she see the board’s biggest challenge will be to help ensure “that the buildings are actually built to the education specs that have been outlined.”

Doug Dorsey (R) With a wealth of service to the town over more than two decades, Doug Dorsey hopes to bring a fresh perspective to the NF BOE.  A long leadership career in the corporate world, plus volunteer roles at St. Edwards, NF Jaycees, NF Lion’s Club, Boys Scouts of America, and the Library Board has more than prepared him for the responsibilities of a busy BOE. “I have lived here for 25 years and watched both of my children go through the schools and they both have done well for themselves,” Dorsey said. Involved with the town at so many levels, he said “I believe I bring a mix of being here a long time, have a pretty good feel for the community, and that my approach to management with common sense are a good combination.” He went on to say that, “An effective board, regardless of what organization it supports, needs a variety of skills to be effective….That’s not to say there is anything lacking with the current board, but if some voters are looking for a change, then this is what I bring to the table.” Dorsey described the recent referendum as a “tense time,” and believes that there are ways to advocate for a positive school and town climate, saying, “Now that the vote is done and we have a decision, it is the responsibility of everyone in town to do our best to make sure the next steps are carried out with the proper research and communication. You cannot change the past, but you can help mold the future. We need to understand that no matter how you felt about the referendum options, it is more important than ever that we do the best we can to help the children but also make sure that whatever money we end up spending on the schools is done with care and governance.”

Kimberly LaTourette (R) A two-year NF BOE member, and serving as its Secretary, Kimberly LaTourette brings educational insight to the board as a teacher in the Byram Hills School District in New York. Busy in town, she and her family attend the Congregational Church of New Fairfield, are very involved with the schools–especially MHHS, as that is the one her children attend–are active in Boy Scouts and in Parks and Rec activities and events. “Volunteering my time and giving back where I can to support my community is something that is important to me,” LaTourette said. Continuing the buildings initiatives is a priority for LaTourette, “While there may be challenges brought on by the building projects, it is my hopes that the opportunities that are to come hold greater weight. We need to work together to design and build schools that will meet our students needs now, as well as in the future…I am looking forward to working with everyone to provide a healthier, safer, and up to date learning environment for our students and staff.” A bright outlook for the future, LaTourette says, “Our Board tries very hard to work together as a team, always keeping in mind what is best for all of our students and the community. The more positive our relationships are, the more we connect with one another, the more morale, motivation, and confidence will increase, and we will be able to better support our students so that they are successful academically, emotionally, and socially.”

Samantha Mannion (D) A veteran on the NF BOE, Samantha Mannion is a criminal justice professor and an attorney. Her priorities on the board continue to be improving the physical schools, as well as academic growth. In addition, she plans to continue to advocate for high-quality special needs programming and opportunities, “I believe that we need to do significantly more to achieve educational parity for students with special needs. The achievement gap for special needs students continues to be wide in our district, and we need to focus our efforts on support and intervention techniques that will yield measurable improved outcomes.” For older special needs students, Mannion has been a proponent for a transition program, “for 18-21-year-old special needs students, which would enable them to receive job coaching and training right here in the community. Just recently, I requested that the goal of beginning to develop a transition program be added to the Superintendent’s goals and objectives for the year, and it has been.  I am truly hoping, that now that we have put this commitment in writing, that we can finally take the first steps toward making this program a reality in New Fairfield.” Mannion also pledges to continue to work for better safety and security at the schools. Regarding the new buildings project, she sees the opportunity “to build schools that are safer and more energy-efficient, with up-to-date technology to meet the needs of the twenty-first century learner,” while its biggest challenge lies in the “rift in this community that has been caused by this issue. Healing it is going to take an effort to bring all stakeholders to the table moving forward, and I think we have a responsibility to value all community input during this building process. These construction projects do not affect everyone in the community the same way, and I think we have to continue to be sensitive to that.

Rick Regan (D) Rick Regan has served on the NF BOE for two years, having won an open seat following a resignation. A scientist and software engineer, Regan has been attentive to the details and systems over the last two years, for example, in implementing a thorough superintendent evaluation system. Regan’s primary priorities are to remain open and responsive to the community and to continue to support more efficient, healthy, and safe schools. He also hopes to help bring STEM standards more fully into the district’s curriculum. A member of the Curriculum Subcommittee, Regan says, “We are trying to make sure that our curriculum implements the standards across all grades, which in turn should help our standardized test scores. I also follow curriculum changes at the state level, watching bills as they go through the legislature. For example, I followed a bill in the last session that became Public Act No. 19-128, which requires the teaching of computer science in public schools.” Reflecting on his time on the board, Regan says, “The board over the last few years has done many meaningful things, starting with the hiring of a new superintendent and the implementation of a new superintendent evaluation system. We’ve improved the safety and security of our students and staff. We’ve studied delaying the start time of our high school, making it a goal to do so when the new high school opens. We’ve been transparent and have built a good working relationship with other town boards, which has led to our major accomplishments.” He is very excited for the new buildings project, saying, “The success of the buildings project referendum of course turned out to be one of the most meaningful aspects of being on the board. It will improve the educational experience of thousands of children for decades to come.”

Elizabeth H. Ricci (R) With an extensive background in education in teaching elementary students, in special education classrooms, at the collegiate level, and more, Elizabeth Ricci hopes to bring new insight to the board. She was inspired to run for the BOE after “Watching the New Fairfield Board of Education (BOE) meetings on demand videos and observing the interaction between the Superintendent and the BOE members along with their interaction with the citizens of our community.” Having raised her children through New Fairfield’s schools from K-12, Ricci hopes to bring a comprehensive view of student achievement. She is also excited to bring her professional expertise to the board, “Analytical observation” in the various teaching positions she has held, has made her aware of just how important the “policies and procedures the Board of Education, including the Superintendent, adhere to in order to reach students achievement.” She feels that an ideal BOE will listen to community members and try to understand their concerns, to be courteous, and recognize the concerns of parents, as well as other populations in town, such as seniors. Ricci believes that it is important to recognize that taxpayers pay for, and understand the importance of, the school system. If concerns arise, she believes that mediation between all concerned parties is an important step toward reaching an agreement.

Ed Sbordone (D) (R) A current BOE member, as well as a long-standing member of several town boards, Ed Sbordone brings “extensive experience in municipality finance” to the board. Sbordone hopes to continue to contribute to the improvement of New Fairfield’s educational process, to continue supporting the school building projects, and to work cooperatively with the other town boards. “I see the main challenges currently facing the Board of Education and the school district as the proposed school building projects, test scores, the special needs program, and drugs and alcohol. These challenges will be main topics at future Board of Education meetings, and I feel that they need to be continually addressed with a sense of urgency.” He says that “As a reelected member of the BOE I will continue to concentrate my efforts on the financial aspects of the operating and capital budgets and ensure that the funds are appropriately utilized for the needs of all children.” With a heavy eye on the mounting finances, Sbordone says that “Given the future debt service increases that will result from the building projects, the near term operating and capital budgets of the BOE and Town will need to be conservatively developed so that the overall tax increases are approved by the taxpayers. Once the new schools are completed, there will be many opportunities to reduce costs. These opportunities will need to be thoroughly investigated and put into place as soon as possible.”

Stephanie Strazza (D) An NF BOE member for just over a year, Stephanie Strazza brings special education teaching experience to the board, as well as a familiarity with educational laws and procedures. A parent of young children in the elementary schools, Strazza hopes to continue to support the physical improvements to the schools, as well as ensure that the BOE and administrators continue to remain transparent and communicative with the community and other town boards. In addition, Strazza says that she is “committed to providing all of our learners with an education that meets 21st century standards. This includes improvements to our curriculum, facilities, technology, and safety. Progress in these areas will potentially contribute to improvements in overall student/district performance, and success after graduation.” Regarding the chaos in town over the recent referendum, Strazza stressed that, “In addition to being a member of the board, I am your neighbor and fellow community member first and foremost. As a volunteer elected official, it is my job to represent my community, and I am here to be responsive to your questions and concerns.” Now that the referendum has passed, Strazza says that though they hand the project over to the PBC, “the BOE will be vigilant in assuring that the education specifications are met.” In addition, “I will advocate for further discussions with community input” regarding the building projects. “Working with this particular board has been a very meaningful experience, being that every member truly has the best interest of our schools and students at heart,” Strazza said, “I feel that I have learned something from every board member, and I would be honored to have the opportunity to work with them in the upcoming years.”

Story by Sarah Opdahl