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Letter: Ponns Cohen Makes Case for Re-Election

GREENWICH, Conn. – Here is a letter to the editor by Greenwich Board of Education member and candidate for re-election Marianna Ponns Cohen:

I am running for re-election to the Greenwich Board of Education because I am passionate about excellence in education. My first job after college was as an AP high school teacher. I am equally passionate about having open government people can trust. Without that, the BOE will not achieve community consensus on critical decisions necessary to improve the town’s public schools.

This BOE election is a clear choice between Republican candidates who are supported by a long-standing education establishment intent on perpetuating the status quo, and candidates who seek long overdue significant change to improve the quality of education for all Greenwich Public Schools students.

Our schools were once considered among the top in the nation, let alone the state. We now are ranked No. 48 in Connecticut, and are spending considerably more money to get these unacceptable results. That should force us to re-examine what we are doing and change our course.

This unacceptable decline has happened on the watch of those in charge of the BOE now and for the past 12 years. They and the “one Board voice” candidates they support apparently don’t like anyone asking how and why we got here and where we are going.

We can and must do better. Greenwich deserves excellent public schools. We have an obligation to our children and all future generations to get it right.

I want to clarify some issues. For more information, see mariannaboe2011.com.

I believe BOE members have an obligation, on behalf of the public they are elected to serve, to obtain, review and publicly vet all relevant information before far-reaching decisions are made and new policies are implemented affecting the future of our schools.

For too long, the BOE has taken a laissez faire attitude towards asking necessary questions about superintendent initiatives. By doing so, the BOE allowed: the Advanced Learning Program to be weakened without parent input; the formation of the RISE committee that crowded out all other district initiatives to improve student achievement, and our middle schools and high school to be signed up to an overrated unproven program with far reaching implications - International Baccalaureate - without any prior public discussion.

The BOE majority was outraged that anyone questioned the appropriateness of IB for Greenwich, once it came to light. When I requested evidence of IB having improved student achievement in other districts that had adopted it, or importantly in Greenwich at Dundee, I was told that these requests for empirical data substantiating this initiative unduly “burdened” the superintendent. The BOE majority went ahead anyway and approved the expenditure of more than $120,000 (and untold staff time) on unnecessary IB training, only to have IB soundly rejected by GHS teachers.

It is unacceptable that the BOE was asked to adopt new major educational initiatives without sufficient information. It is certainly not what Greenwich residents expect of their elected school board members.

I believe that a BOE member’s first priority should be improving our schools.  No member should be bullied into “go along, get along” unanimous votes. Unanimous votes have the effect of lulling the public into a false sense that all is well.  So do repeated statements - and press releases - by BOE members that our schools are in “excellent” shape, when in fact test scores and academic achievement are undeniably declining.

I believe the BOE should allocate its resources equitably among ALL the district’s schools, as required by state law, so that ALL our students can develop to their fullest individual potential.

To that end, I have proposed a thorough re-evaluation of BOE resource allocation, which the BOE majority has consistently rejected. It is imperative that the BOE undertake an immediate review of all initiatives and separate the wheat from the chaff. Let’s fund the initiatives that work and are proven, and discontinue those that do not. During the past four years, layers of initiatives have only been added, confusing teachers and students alike and hindering academic improvement. I will continue to advocate for proven initiatives and accountability for student outcomes.

The BOE must also address the needs of the kids “in the middle” (most of our students) because they are insufficiently supported now, and the results demonstrate that.

Finally, I believe the BOE has an obligation to all residents and taxpayers. I have advocated for fiscal common sense, for example, by reducing the GPS’ demonstrably bloated administrative staff. Why not spend less on “administrating” and more on “teaching”?

I ask for your vote on Nov. 8.

Marianna Ponns Cohen

Member, Greenwich Board of Education

Candidate for re-election

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