NEW FAIRFIELD – In an election year with remarkable turnover, there are six seats to fill for the Board of Education on Tuesday, November 7. Ms. Samantha Mannion and Mr. Ed Sbordone will be joined by the new or incumbent Board members. Current Board of Education members Mr. Kevin Hearty, Ms. Susan Starr, and Dr. Jay Voss will not be seeking re-election. It will be up to the new Board of Education to appoint a seventh member after the Chair Steve Burfeind resigns on Nov. 7.
Incumbents, Dr. Amy Tozzo, Mr. Douglas DeRito, and Mr. Dominic Cipollone will all be on the ballot, along with six other candidates, Ms. Peggy Katkocin, Ms. Kimberly LaTourette, Ms. Anita Brown, Mr. Gregory Flanagan, Mr. Rick Regan, and Mr. WIlliam Touri, Jr.
Amy Tozzo (D) – A national educational consultant, Dr. Amy Tozzo has served as a member of the Board of Education for four years, including two years as Vice-Chair. She says, “I want to continue supporting the children of our community by serving on the Board of Education in New Fairfield School District for a second term.” When asked how a BOE can best communicate effectively with each other, she responded with, “The ideal BOE communicates most effectively when members come to meetings prepared, meaning that they have read and researched the topics to be discussed on the agenda and have a prepared list of questions, each BOE member should feel comfortable asking any questions they may have and if opinions differ, that is acceptable and respected by all.” She went on to point out that, “The incoming BOE have the task of conducting a new superintendent search along with all their other duties such as learning BOE policies, beginning the budget season in January and the overall operation of the district. They will need to ‘dig in’ and get right to work after the election.” Dr. Tozzo added that, “The current BOE has developed a timeline and has already begun the new superintendent search, this timeline and the work already conducted will be passed along to the new BOE and hopefully I will be reelected so I may continue to help move this district forward.”
Douglas DeRito (R) – Mr. Douglas DeRito, a partner and executive vice president at the global tax services firm Ryan LLC, has been serving on the BOE for over a year. Among his personal goals as a Board member, Mr. DeRito identifies that the Board should keep “Students first–ensuring every child’s needs are met in an effective manner” and that the Board should “Be fiscally responsible with tax dollars and committed to providing proper resources.” Regarding transparency, he says, “I want to continue our efforts on being completely transparent on all matters before the Board of Education that is within the legal boundaries of our office. This includes ongoing improvements to financial accountability and transparency to the public, having all key topics of public interest discussed at full Board meetings versus sub-committee meetings; expand public input to allow comment prior to key votes or actions to be taken by the Board versus just at the front end of any meeting, and promote community dialogue and debate on matters of interest (e.g., actually respond to resident’s concerns expressed during public comments of our meeting agenda).” Of his corporate experience, Mr. DeRito says, “New Fairfield is no different than the corporate world. Our Board is managing a large budget that is provided by the taxpayers of our community (our investors in the future education of our kids). As a result over 30-year professional career as a tax accountant and partner with a major international tax consulting firm, I believe as a member of the Board of Education, I bring a valuable level of financial management experience that is critical to building an effective Board.”
Dominic Cipollone (R)- Mr. Dominic Cipollone, principal of STEAM Academy in the Bronx, has been serving on the BOE for 10 months. He says, “I think my work as a principal gives me added insight into what I believe our schools need in order to become a premier school district in CT. I see the board as a powerful mechanism that can effect meaningful change in a timely fashion. This is predicated on the board having a shared vision of what is possible.” He also said, “I think the board has an obligation to work towards listening more to the concerns of the community and taking action when appropriate. I hope the new board continues building on the momentum of pushing for change that will improve student outcomes. I believe the work of the school board can only be successful when the voices of parents, teachers, administrators, and students are heard. We need to improve communication and transparency in order to regain the trust of the community.”
Peggy Katkocin (D) – Former First Selectman and recent NFHS nurse, Ms. Peggy Katkocin is looking to bring a wealth of town board experience to the BOE, “Given my background, I understand that it is the responsibility of any town board member to follow the town’s ordinances and state statutes. That is what best serves the town. When I served on the Board of Ed before (1988-94), then chairman Ron Kern always reminded us to do what was best for the students, and if anyone serving had their own agenda, that was to be left at the door. The board reflects the community’s values, and is not a place for personal or political agendas.” As a recent staff member, she explained that, “Having worked beside teachers and administrators in the system, I know the challenges they face. In the past 20 years, we have seen an increase in school violence prompting additional security for all schools. There has been a significant increase in students attending school with more complex medical, social, and mental health issues, requiring accommodations on the part of staff and students to adapt to, and be more receptive to these changes. These factors impact delivery of basic academics. The changing demands of the work force will also have an impact on future curriculum development to prepare students to go on past the 4 years of high school.”
Kimberly LaTourette (R) – An educator in New York, Ms. Kimberly LaTourette, “began attending the BOE meetings a couple of years ago to stay informed about what is going on in each of the schools, to have knowledge about the progress we are making as well as any issues we may be facing. I have spoken several times at BOE meetings to advocate for our students, teachers, administrators, and community members. With so many open seats this coming election, I thought this would be a good time to be able to give back more to our schools and community and decided to run for a two-year term.” She went on to say, “It is crucial for parents and family members, administrators, and community members to work together to support our students. It really does take a village and when you have all of the stakeholders working together, our students will be able to achieve more.” She explained her belief that “We should all be able to say that we are proud of our students, teachers, administrators, community, and board. I would do my best to represent the board, school, and community just like I do the district that I teach in. When the students you teach or represent are your priority, and stakeholders trust and know that, it helps all of us make decisions and move forward.”
Anita Brown (D) – Ms. Anita Brown has worked as a middle school counselor for the past 20 years. Regarding Board communication, she says, “Given my background in counseling, a focus on listening and understanding the multiple perspectives shared by all stakeholders will be important. In addition, contributing to a culture of respect through written (email/letters) or spoken communication will hopefully continue to create the space for civil discourse.” She pledges to support the faculty and staff, “In the current climate of mandates, testing and data, our teachers can be left wondering where in the world the ‘art of teaching’ and ‘teacher-student’ relationship can be integrated into their classes. BOE decisions that thoughtfully protect the sacredness of relationship for student success will be of utmost consideration if the NF community grants an opportunity for me to serve.”
Gregory Flanagan (R) – Recruiting firm owner, Mr. Gregory Flanagan, notes that with five children in the district, “I have followed what has been going on for the past few years with the BOE and I feel too much of the discussion has gotten away from what is important-and that is simply ‘what is best for the children of our district.’” A very active coach for his children’s sports teams, Flanagan says, “I have coached all my children’s teams in soccer, basketball, and softball for the past 10 years. Not only has that been great to spend time with my children and their friends, it has allowed me to get to know many families in the community. I do think I have an understanding of what is important to many families. More importantly, I think me knowing so many families will help the community have their views and concerns addressed by the BOE when appropriate.” Furthermore, “I have been able to run my own recruiting firm for the past 14 years. I have had interactions with thousands of executives all over the country and the world. I think all my experience dealing with so many different types of personalities could be an asset on the BOE. My experience could also be of value in attracting and retaining top teacher/administration talent as well as transitioning new leadership teams.”
Rick Regan (D) – A computer scientist, Mr. Rick Regan explained that “Earlier this year I became more interested in how the town operates, and I started looking for a board or commission I could get involved with. Education was a natural fit. I started watching Board of Education meetings on video and eventually started attending them. The more I watched, the more I learned there were problems with the district–problems I was unaware of even though my children attended the schools and I was a school volunteer. I felt obligated to help, since I had ideas and experience, and could make the time to do so.” He went on to state that, “I have a Ph.D. in computer science and I was a software engineer. I’ve also done a lot of technical writing. These skills allow me to look at things thoroughly and objectively and to present my thoughts clearly. The board has to make many tough decisions, which will be more easily justified when backed by data and thorough research.” He’s looking forward to continue being “involved in addressing various issues, by speaking at public comment and attending regular and subcommittee meetings. I have advocated for the school budget, for implementing a thorough and transparent superintendent evaluation system, for improving SAT scores, for finalizing our district vision, and for starting the selection process for our new superintendent. These are all issues I would stay involved with on day one as a board member.”
William Touri, Jr. (R) – Mr. William Touri, Jr. hopes to bring the youth perspective to the Board of Education, as a 2012 graduate of NFHS. Mr. Touri’s guitar skills were showcased at a recent Republican fundraiser, held at Icon’s Bar & Grill. He was quoted in an August 12, Danbury News-Times article by Anna Quinn as saying that “Having a young person and being able to connect with students that are closer in age I think could be a good image for the Board of Education…It could put a different perspective amongst the groups and the people that are already board members.” Mr. Touri did not respond to requests for further comment.