Accounting for about three quarters of the town's overall budget, the Board of Education plays a central role in town politics. The high-achieving nature of the school system ranks high on the list of what makes New Canaan a desirable place to live, and without a doubt, residents' children's education is a top priority for New Canaan families.
The questions included budget issues, teacher evaluations and the new Common Core State Standards, a national standard for curricula, which Connecticut will begin implementing next year.
The five candidates agreed that the budget was a top concern, especially given the past few years of modest increases the district has been awarded by the town. The district will need to find ways to save money without affecting programming, they all agreed. They also all agreed for the most part that there are deep flaws with a teacher evaluation method which uses students' standardized test scores as a metric.
It was the Common Core which got some members fired up.
"It is a lowering of standards," said Mary Anne Marcella, a New York City teacher for the last 10 years. "I hate to be bearer of bad news. The way you close achievement gap is by lowering standards for everyone, and I think a lot or people in New Canaan don't want to hear that."
Maria Naughton, a consultant who helps districts implement state standards was none too pleased with the Common Core either.
"It is a shift in education, it will change things. Besides the obvious point that this is a super federal intrusion of schools, this will impact our kids in a huge way. It will stress the process of learning, not necessarily the outcome," Naughton said, offering learning the Gettysburg Address as an example of something which students would not need to memorize, but rather use as a tool for reading comprehension.
But others disagreed, saying that the Common Core would not affect New Canaan too much.
"We've already met this criteria, it doesn't mean in any way our curriculum is going to be diluted," Jennifer Richardson, a co-chairman of the Saxe Middle School Parent-Teacher Association said, referencing a Board of Education meeting in which the curriculum director explained that New Canaan would not see huge changes this year. "We are not changing what we're doing here."
"It's important for us to have a society that has a general knowledge based. Common Core is more challenging than No Child Left Behind. Our standards at New Canaan are very vigorous. We've already met them (Common Core Standards) and won't be diluting them, but shifting some things to get in line," she explained.
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