An Introduction to Your Board of Education Candidates

Oct 7, 2021 | Community, Education, Government, Politics | 0 comments

(Cartoon by Jarret Liotta)

WESTPORT — With four vacant seats upcoming, the four candidates running for the Board of Education — two Democrats and two Republicans — are all technically shoe-ins following last month’s withdrawal of incumbent Republican Karen Kleine from the running.

We asked each candidate — Kevin Christie (D), Robert Harrington (R), Dorie Hordon (R), and Christina Torres (D) to share a little about themselves and to provide an individual answer to the question: “Are there any problems facing the schools, school district or BOE in Westport that you feel need to be addressed?”

Here’s what they had to say …

Kevin Christie (D)

KEVIN CHRISTIE (Democrat): 15+ years of finance, investment banking, and strategy at IBM, Merrill Lynch, and The Madison Square Garden Company. MBA, Kellogg Northwestern. BS, Union College. Treasurer, Coleytown Elementary School PTA. Coach, Westport Soccer Association. Dad of 3rd grade twins. Husband to Gina.

Our schools are amazing. They are why so many of us moved here. Staples was recently ranked #1 in the state. At the same time, we have opportunities to make our schools even better to help fulfill the district’s mission.

Further enhancing the district’s focus on social emotional learning to address the short- and long-term effects of the pandemic will be critical if we are to live up to our mission. We must ensure tools are in place at all grade levels to support our students.

For our buildings, we must ensure proactive systems are in place to keep them open and safe. We must also modernize our facilities to support future educational needs, from Stepping Stones through Staples.

The equity study is vital to supporting our mission. This work will help to ensure every student feels a sense of belonging, and equitable preparation for and access to our stellar academic and extra-curricular offerings.

With our already strong foundation, addressing these issues in conjunction with the strategic plan will be critical as we strive to achieve our mission.

ROBERT HARRINGTON (Republican): Active community member & activist on multiple school issues — school budget, fully restoring CMS, advocating for COVID vaccinations for Westport’s teachers-20 year career in Finance focused on Strategic Planning; Work in diverse teams asking tough questions, making decisions — and owning them; Born in UK, proud to recently become a US Citizen. BA Honors, Oxford University; Married to Claire Harrington — a pre-school teacher, 15-year Westport resident. Four children including three daughters currently at Staples.

 The Board of Education has a huge in-tray to tackle including: managing the on-going COVID pandemic, developing a new Strategic Plan, assessing the findings of the Equity Study, the need for more transparency around our curriculum, growing/uneven class sizes, unequal distribution of students in our elementary schools, problems with busing schedules — and of course a major need to upgrade many school facilities. 

All these challenges (and more) can be turned into opportunities. We need to work together to make this happen. The Board runs the risk of getting drowned in the facilities work alone. 

Process process process. We need to think about the process for dealing with these — not just each underlying issue. The Board can’t do it all alone — and this is particularly true when it comes to our school facilities. 

I will help to tackle all the issues mentioned, but I’m truly passionate about fixing our school buildings. The current board has made some progress but not nearly enough. The situation at Long Longs alone is unacceptable. I strongly believe our district is moving too slow. We need a comprehensive long-term facilities plan. We need a clearer roadmap with a maintenance schedule for all buildings, regular testing & an accelerated capital plan to upgrade our facilities with an immediate focus on LLS, CES and KHS. We must partner with the town.

Robert Harrington (R)
Dorie Hordon (R)

DORIE HORDON (Republican): Dorie Hordon has served on the Westport PTA for many years and just completed her tenure as PTA Council Co-President. She was previously Co-President of the Bedford Middle School PTA and a member of the Executive Board at Greens Farms Elementary. She has a professional background as an educator, having taught at the Spence School in New York City.  She and her family have lived in Westport for 15 years, with three children enrolled in our schools. 

One thing we can all agree on is that Westport schools have seen their fair share of challenges in recent years.  Even before the pandemic, we had to contend with a range of student health issues, including the closure and rehabilitation of one of our middle schools.  We’ve had budget battles, turnover among key administrators, busing and scheduling debates, redistricting questions, worries over school safety, and curriculum discussions.  

There are more challenges, but also more opportunities, ahead of us.  COVID remains with us; we can speculate as to its long-term trajectory but nobody knows for sure.  Our students are currently going through an adjustment process after a lengthy period of remote/hybrid learning.  Our community is growing, with an influx of new families which our schools will need to accommodate.  Many of our facilities require significant attention, and we will need thoughtful approaches toward maintaining and improving the physical infrastructure.  Our Superintendent has recently introduced his timeline for the strategic plan, and the ongoing equity study has become a source of significant disagreement.

The Board of Ed will have a great deal on its plate, yet a majority of current board members, each of whom are long-standing and experienced, are not seeking re-election this year.  We are losing a lot of institutional knowledge.  Familiarity and experience with Westport schools and the Westport community matter now more than ever.  The Board of Ed represents an opportunity for me to continue to serve Westport families and guide us toward positive outcomes, no matter what comes our way!

CHRISTINA TORRES (Democrat): Christina is a NYC native who moved to Westport with her husband and two daughters in 2019, before the pandemic. Professionally, Christina has spent 18 years in education, teaching Special Education for 10 years before moving into Assistant Principal and Special Education Director roles. She presently serves as an Assistant Superintendent in Westchester and teaches graduate education at both Pace and Fordham University. She is a proud Staples Players mom and Kings Highway PTA member.

There are many important issues facing our district schools. These include facilities management, equity, special education, and social-emotional learning. First, to ensure the safety of our school buildings for all stakeholders, the district must prioritize any deferred maintenance of our facilities. Failure to do so would jeopardize the health of staff and students and the ability to continue educating without further disruption. Second, the equity study and subsequent decisions will send an important message of empathy and consideration to our students and the community. We have a wonderful opportunity to bolster our excellence in academics with equity, which always benefits all students, including those differently-abled. We need to look closely at our special education programs and processes to streamline identification, evaluation, and services, while concurrently strengthening our in-district programming to create more inclusive settings. Most recently, social-emotional learning has emerged as an increasingly important consideration as we connect academics to what it means to be fully human.   

Each issue requires in-depth analysis, so ultimately we can assess the results. The strategic planning process helps us embed solutions into the long-term plan for the district, ensuring our practice leads to higher achievement and success — broadly defined — for every student. This is a critical planning stage for the district requiring experienced, diligent, and flexible thinkers.

Christina Torres (D)

0 Comments

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *