Candidate profiles: Naugatuck BOE Democrats

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N_BOEThe Citizen’s News asked candidates running for office four questions. The following are their responses.

Ethel S. Grant

Age: 67

Party: Democrat

Occupation: Retired educator

Past political posts:

Why are you running for Board of Education?

Ethel Grant
Ethel Grant

“As a former educator I monitored students’ attendance, behavior and ready to work progress. I worked with a committed team of educators and support services to turn negative behavior into positive for the educational and emotional success of the student.  I welcome this new opportunity to maybe share some of my experiences with this team of concerned and committed community members advocating for the best education for our children as they ready them for successful competition and contribution to the global world.”

What can be done to improve/increase student achievement in Naugatuck?

“The best prospect for improving and increasing student achievement in Naugatuck is for the board to support and work as a team, with the superintendent (who should be a recognized professional, knowledgeable in the most effective ways to insure that our children succeed). Our efforts should be collaboration — with our focus on the education of our children no matter his/her economic situation, ethnicity or academic level.”

How will you balance the needs of students with the needs of taxpayers come budget time?

“There is no easy way to achieve a budget that everyone will be happy with. However, taxpayers would be more accepting of a budget that they have a say in the process. I would be happy to hear from citizens with their concerns and suggestions regarding the budget. The public needs to have a clear understanding of the school board’s plans for reaching the achievement goals for students in our care. Each program, each department, each special initiative has a price tag, but the end product is a well educated child.”

What do you feel is the most important issue facing Naugatuck students today, and how will you address it?

“There a many issues facing our students today, but one of the most important issues is their feeling of not being valued or respected. When students experience these feelings and do not receive positive feedback or guidance or do not know where to seek help problems arise — apathy toward schoolwork, attendance drops, and emotional problems.  The extreme culmination of these problems could result in a small number of students becoming so disenchanted that they drop out of school and society. Naugatuck has seen a slight drop in graduation numbers and the board is looking into different factors effecting student success. I do not have ‘the answer,’ but the conversation has to include the child, parents, teachers, and support services — a team effort. Mr. Montini (assistant superintendent) is already taking steps to ‘identify’ and track all students — their academic progress, socio-economic grouping and minority status to insure we are servicing them in the best possible ways to help them reach their achievement goals. I support his efforts and encourage all student advocates to be vigilante of our students’ emotional well being and to support in their efforts to succeed.”

Eleanor "Ellie" Destefano-Ruggles
Eleanor “Ellie” Destefano-Ruggles

Eleanor “Ellie” Destefano-Ruggles

Age: 50

Party: Democrat 

Occupation: Food Service Worker

Past political posts: None

Why are you running for Board of Education?

“It is important for me to be involved with my children’s education. I want to be their voice since they are still young. Just recently I had taken parent leadership courses, which had piqued my interest in our educational system. I am not a politician, just a mom, and I realized that other parents could also benefit from my involvement and maybe get more involved themselves.”

What can be done to improve/increase student achievement in Naugatuck?

“I believe personal achievement starts in the home, encouragement and support begins with the family. When I had gone to my first parent meeting as a kindergarten mom, the educational administrator had said that parents are the child’s best support and for our children to be high achievers in school/life, all we needed to do were five simple things: Praise them for their effort; Make them go to school everyday; Make sure they do their homework (help them with it or check it); Read everyday with them; Talk up college. I thought it was great advice. I put it on my fridge so I don’t forget anything. It works for us, my children are doing well in school, we talk openly about things that happen at school and we talk about what they want to be when they grow up.”

How will you balance the needs of students with the needs of taxpayers come budget time? What do you feel is the most important issue facing Naugatuck students today, and how will you address it?

“Both of these questions I do not feel I can answer. I do not yet know how the budgeting aspect works, nor do I know what issues our children are faced with. You can ask me after I get on the board when I have had the chance to talk with other board members and the students of Naugatuck.”

James Jordan
James Jordan

James E. Jordan

Age: 45

Party:  Democrat

Occupation: Accounting Manager, Unger Enterprises Inc., Bridgeport CT

Past political posts: Board of Education, 2010-Present. Subcommittees: Finance (Chair 2011-present), Communications, Technology, Facilities, Transportation (Chair 2011-present); Planning Commission, 2001-2009 (Chairman 2002-2009); Democratic Town Committee 2003-present (Treasurer 2003-2012)

Why are you running for the Board of Education?

“I am running for the Board of Education because I believe that education is the single most important component necessary to our children’s development and future success. Having two young children in the Naugatuck school system, I hope to provide my voice and have a direct impact in the decision making process. We are frequently required to make hard choices regarding whether to approve vital educational programs that could provide enhanced educational benefits to our students or to oppose them due to their cost. Budgetary constraints will always be a major consideration when choosing the appropriate path, but we must be cautious not to disregard what educational impact those decisions will have on the quality, direction, and effectiveness of our education system. I believe I can provide a reasonable and responsible perspective to these discussions.  Being married to a teacher provides me with the benefit of getting a purely educational point of view on any issue while my background in the business/finance field provides me with the necessary assessment skills required when operating with limited financial resources. I believe I can help to provide responsible decision making to our education program and for the community.” 

What can be done to improve/increase student achievement in Naugatuck?

“Though student achievement has many contributing elements that work to promote positive results, I believe there is nothing more important than active parental involvement. My feeling is that our efforts should be centered on actively promoting the partnership between the student, the parents, and the school system. The school system needs to provide the environment, the tools, and some of the support mechanisms, but the students with the active and frequent support of their parents will have a far better chance of success than those without. Our school system can provide the opportunity, but only the student can make the conscious decision to realize and achieve their own success. Parent support and guidance are essential to these ends. We must actively dispute the perception that the school system has the sole responsibility for the educational success of our children. Though our state seems to legislate to that effect with its numerous unfunded requirements, the results of that direction have not proven favorable academically or financially to our district.”

How will you balance the needs of students with the needs of taxpayers come budget time?

“Balancing the resource needs of our students to taxpayer expectations is a difficult proposition at best. More often than not they are conflicting priorities. Currently, the annual budgetary process requires us to realize the full assortment of fixed costs that are not always controllable. Once that is achieved, we are usually left with a small portion of funds to allocate to the numerous program opportunities that have the best chances of enhancing our educational platform. Many times while we are in the initial assessment phase, even before discussing the enhancement programs, we find that additional funding is required just to preserve what we had put in place the prior year. At that point, we are required to decide whether or not recommending additional funding is warranted or whether to shelve programs that could potentially improve the student’s educational experience. This must be done on a case-by-case basis. As Board of Education members, we must put the needs and requirements of the students first, that is our charge and obligation, but we are also taxpayers and personally recognize the financial burdens that public education places on us. We try to be fair to both these seemingly conflicting duties.”

What do you feel is the most important issue facing Naugatuck students today, and how will you address it?      

“Most Board of Education members, though they are considered to be the top of the educational hierarchy, are not educational experts. I make my comments more from a parent’s perspective. I believe that today’s students have many more challenges and pressures than we did at their ages. Increased expectations, scrutiny, and overall obligations with much less focus, family support, and program resources provide a poor environment for achievement. The information age creates just as many issues as it does opportunities for our children. It is our responsibility as parents to take the lead in educating our children on how to focus and achieve with all this chaos and noise that our communities now encounter. It would be great if one board member or one board, for that matter, could solve these issues alone, but the truth is there are no silver bullet solutions.  These issues must be addressed in small steps with momentum building expectations.  We must not only communicate facts and issues from the school side, we must communicate student and parent expectations to support our educational initiatives. We must include parents more often in the decision making process and make participation the ‘norm’ not the exception. As a Board of Education member I will pursue this strategy. In my own family, the greatest asset my children possess is our full and frequent support in seeing them succeed in all that they do, whether they want it or not.”

James Scully
James Scully

James Scully

Age: 64

Party: Democrat

Occupation: Contractor

Past political posts: Charter Revision Committee; Democratic Town Committee; Board of Education

Why are you running for Board of Education?

“To try to make a difference in the lives of the children in the town of Naugatuck.”

What can be done to improve/increase student achievement in Naugatuck?

“To get the state and federal government to stop giving us mandates where we need to do things and not giving us the money to do them. We should be teaching the kids certain subjects without being mandated to do certain things.”

How will you balance the needs of students with the needs of taxpayers come budget time?

“That’s almost an impossibility because of the mandates.”

What do you feel is the most important issue facing Naugatuck students today, and how will you address it?

“The important issue is to make sure they get a diversified education instead of just a straight college education because everybody deserves to go to college but not everybody is qualified to go to college. There is still a need for contractors, electricians, machinists and plumbers. Most of the trades still need people in them. There should be more opportunities for the kids to do this.”