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Greenwich School Board Hopefuls Square Off

GREENWICH, Conn. – Republican and Democratic candidates for the Board of Education sounded off on school issues such as the ideal qualities for the next superintendent, measures of student success and facility priorities.

The debate, held Friday morning at Town Hall, included questions chosen by the event's sponsors, the League of Women Voters and the PTA Council. All four Republican candidates vying for two spots on the board — including incumbent Marianna Ponns-Cohen as well as Peter von Braun, Anna Povinelli and Barbara O’Neil — were in attendance. Democratic candidates Jennifer Dayton and Adriana Ospina were both there, too. They are running unopposed.

Candidates responded to two controversial issues – the relationship of board members to administrators and the search for the new superintendent to replace Sidney Freund, who resigned last spring citing disagreements with the board. The candidates overwhelmingly agreed it was necessary to find a superintendent who can commit to the job and who is not, as Povinelli put it, “in the swan years of their career.” Over the past five years, six superintendents have served in the district.

Von Braun emphasized his support for hiring a superintendent from inside Greenwich. “It demoralizes its own people. We’re demonstrating to them that there’s really no opportunity for them to advance,” he said. “We have to develop our own people.”

Other candidates agreed that goals and expectations should be set for the new superintendent, along with a plan to execute those goals. Ponns-Cohen, the only current board member, said, “You need someone who will honor the boundary lines between him or her and the elected board.” She also stressed the need for more openness in decisions made by the superintendent in relation to policy set out by the board.

All candidates support the Greenwich High School Music Instructional Space and Auditorium project, better known as MISA, and the cleanup of toxic chemicals found underground at the construction site. Povinelli and Dayton also advocated for instructional spending, including on wireless Internet, technology and equipment for science labs.

The league asked candidates how the board would define success for the district as balanced against state and federal mandates, a subject that divided the candidates. Povinelli suggested using surveys with graduates along with communication between students and parents. O’Neil said, “Our success should be determined by our goals of the whole child, not just their academic performance,” and suggested assessments should begin in kindergarten and continue until 12th grade to determine where resources should be allocated.

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