Fresh faces fill school board race

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Come May, there will be a lot of new faces on the Naugatuck Board of Education.

Only three of the current board members are running for reelection, meaning there will be at least five new members after the election, plus the mayor.

“Unfortunately, there’s an awful lot of talent that’s going to be leaving the board,” said Rocky Vitale, a current board member who’s running for burgess this year.

The time commitment required for the job is one reason several members are stepping down.

“I think people find it hard to live their lives and at the same time do all this community service work as a Board of Ed member,” said David Heller, secretary of the board and one of the three incumbents running for reelection.

Between monthly meetings and committee meetings, it’s almost a full-time job, according to Heller.

With the budget debacle over the past year, it has been an especially difficult time to be a board member, according to Heller.
The board is still trying to provide the same quality of education with fewer resources and less funding, he said.

Michelle Kalorides, who said she will be leaving the board to help her daughter-in-law with her baby, said nobody expected that so many members would be leaving all at once.

“I needed to put my family first this year,” she said. “People don’t realize how much time it does take.”

Along with Vitale, board member Marya DiPerna is running for another position, the Planning Commission.

DiPerna said in spite of controversy surrounding the board, she affected positive change in students’ education. However, time commitments made it difficult for her family, so she decided to step down and run for the less-time intensive Planning Commission.

“I would be dealing with important issues such as development and conservation and I feel that I can better serve Naugatuck in that capacity right now,” wrote DiPerna in an e-mail.

Vitale, who has served on the Board of Education for almost 15 years, said it was time for a change.

“I think I still have a lot to give,” he said.

Even if he is elected as a burgess, Vitale said he still plans to attend school board meetings.

“I think it’s a shame you never see a burgess at a Board of Education meeting unless somebody’s mad about something,” Vitale said.
If reelected, Heller said he hopes to lend his six years of experience to guide and train the new board members.

Heller said he would hate to see an entirely new school board because there is some important historical basis for the decisions it makes.

“At the same time, new and fresh ideas are also important,” Heller said. “Between the old and the new, we’ll continue to do good things for Naugatuck.”

Although it will be tough for the new board, they will manage, Vitale said.

“No matter what, the teachers will still teach, the administrators will still administrate, and the school system will move on. No one is so valuable that it would devastate a system to lose them, and that’s the way it should be,” Vitale said.

The new board will have a lot on its slate, including dealing with the budget for new school year, building a bridge between the board and community, improving student achievement, and trying to employ the best teachers and administrators, according to Heller.

“I’m confident that between the administrators and the superintendent, the new people will get the guidance they need to be successful from day one,” Heller said.

Lenny Kane, Democratic Town Committee chair, felt the new board probably won’t bring that many changes.

“Different personalities have a different approach to arriving at the same end. People can agree on the same end result, but they take different vehicles to get there,” Kane said.

The end result will be a better education for Naugatuck’s children, he said. The school board, like most elected offices in Naugatuck, are not very politically motivated, he said.

“It can be a bi-partisan effort,” Kane said.

While serving on the board, Kalorides said she learned she couldn’t please everyone, and offered some advice to the potential new members.

“The critics are always going to be there. Just ignore what they say,” Kalorides advised new board members.

The past year has been difficult for the board, with picketers and news media showing up at the meetings.

“It wasn’t easy at times to show up at meetings knowing that you were going to get yelled at. … I made the best decisions in my heart that I felt was best for the students and the town,” Kalorides said.

Debby Brackett, who’s running for a seat on the board, said she understands why so many on the board are leaving.

“I think that the board took a lot of abuse last year with the budget issues. It’s a volunteer position. There’s really no reason for someone to deal with that stress when you don’t have to. You’re not paid for it,” she said.

But, she said she’s ready to take that abuse if she succeeds in her bid to become a member of the board.

“I’m running because I think Naugatuck can do a much better job running our school district and I’d like to be involved in those decisions,” Brackett said.

Board candidate Deanna Krzykowski also says she hopes to fix some issues she sees in the educational system if elected to the board. She’s been working with children in the therapy field for 10 years and felt her experience will help her make decisions.

“It’s good to get fresh eyes and fresh blood and get a different perspective on things,” she said.

Heller said he looks forward to working with the new board members.

“I’m thrilled to see all these new people who want to get involved and join the board,” Heller said.

Heller said he hopes the new board will work hard.

“We have big issues to deal with,” Heller said. “It’s not a relaxing, laid-back environment. … There’s a lot of work to do. … At the same time, I think it’s very rewarding and it’s a terrific way to give back to the community and do what’s best for our community and our kids,” he said.