STAMFORD — Overcrowding in schools, social media bullying, diversity, the district’s new mission statement and college readiness were some of the key issues Board of Education hopefuls discussed this week at a candidates forum.
Democratic incumbents Jackie Heftman, Betsy Allyn and Andy George, and Green Party candidate Jackie Pioli participated in the forum at the government center, while Republican Dan Mena and petitioning candidate Theresa Robbins did not attend.
Pioli, who has been a vocal special education advocate, took a strong stance about Stamford Public Schools not doing enough to embrace diversity. Heftman and Allyn were confident in the district’s efforts. While George noted that improvements can be made, including family outreach, Pioli was more assertive in her contention.
“We sell that we are a diverse city, but do we embrace it?” she asked.
Heftman, however, urged that diversity is paramount and is encouraged within Stamford schools.
“Our children go to school with children from all over the world,” she said. “We celebrate it.”
The candidates, however, found common ground on the district’s new mission statement. The Board of Education introduced this week a mission statement that would read: “The mission of the Stamford Public Schools is to provide an education that cultivates productive habits of mind, body and heart in every student.”
The school board will take a final vote on the statement at its next meeting.
“Not only should we be preparing every student for success in the 21st-century, we have to prepare them for their mind, body and heart because they are a whole person,” Allyn said. “It’s not just about educating them. They need all the support we can give them.”
“Sometimes as a nation, we focus on the scores and academics, and that’s important, but there’s a whole set of other skills out there — team building, leadership skills,” George said.
One of George’s long-term goals if elected is to focus on a facilities plan to address overcrowding.
“There’s going to be 600 to 800 more students within the system by 2026 than there are presently,” said George, who recently switched to the Democratic party from the GOP. “The problem is not just making sure there’s room in the high schools. It’s about making room that there is room for all grades…a Board of Education by itself can’t address that. It’s going to be a whole city problem to address. We have to work with the city to develop a cohesive facilities plan.”
Heftman said the issue will require funding. She said it’s already widely known another elementary school is needed. But she also addressed the infrastructure of the facilities, including some of the ages of the buildings and the portable classrooms that have been used for longer than their intention.
“We need people to go to Planning Board meetings and advocate for the capital dollars that the public school system needs, or we’re not only going to see the overcrowding become worse, but we’re not going to have the money to be able to do the work in the current schools that we have,” she said.
The final question of the night came from a Stamford High School student who asked the candidates what their top three priorities would be for the Board of Education if they were a student in one of the city’s public schools.
Pioli said she would want the board to focus on post-high school resources, a later start to the school day, and similar programs across all three high schools.
Allyn agreed that students would want the school day to start later and more resources to guide them beyond high school. Another frustration that she has heard is the lack of a consistent online platform for all classes.
George also recognized there is an issue with guidance in terms of career progression. George said he is also concerned about safety. He said he would also want the board to find ways to reduce some of the overwhelming aspects of high school and agreed with Pioli and Allyn about consistent resources.
Heftman viewed the question through the lens of a younger student. She would want to see a more diverse choice in programs, such as in the arts. She would also like to see more internship programs. Finally, she would like to see more modern, air-conditioned classrooms.