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Senior School Board Member Won't Seek Re-election

NORWALK, Conn. — Whenever the Norwalk Board of Education has a question about policy or procedure, all heads turn to Jodi Bishop-Pullan. During her 12-year tenure on the board, she has become the board historian, Roberts’ Rules expert and repository of district policies, many of which she helped to create.

But Bishop-Pullan, a Democrat from Rowayton, has decided not to run for re-election this November. “It’s time for me to move on with my life,” said Bishop-Pullan, who will be focusing more on her career. She works for the Health Department in Stamford, coordinating oral health care services in that city's schools.

Over the years, Bishop-Pullan has worked with three superintendents — Victor Herbert, Salvatore Corda and Susan Marks — and two interim superintendents, Michael Nast and William Papallo. She says that overseeing the changing superintendents has been challenging. But the last three budget cycles, which required millions of dollars in cuts, have been the most difficult times for Bishop-Pullan. “Politics and the lack of support makes really it hard.”

Looking back, Bishop-Pullan, a former PTO Council president, says much has changed since she first ran for the school board in 2000. She says, for example, that there were no before- or after-school programs and few after-school activities at the middle schools. She also highlighted the major curriculum overhaul that Corda undertook in 2002. Major capital improvements were made to the buildings, and technology has become a focus in classrooms.

“The renovation of Brien McMahon was a highlight for me,” she says. The work took place from 2003 to 2006. Bishop-Pullan’s two sons are McMahon graduates.

Over the years, the focus has increased on student achievement and testing, she said, mainly because of the No Child Left Behind Act. She recognizes the debate over whether testing is the only way to assess student achievement. (Bishop-Pullan coordinates the middle school competition for Odyssey of the Mind, a creative problem-solving program.) Nevertheless, she says testing is an important tool in making sure students are learning. “I think we are moving in a positive direction,” she says of the district’s most recent test results.

During her tenure, Bishop-Pullan served on the school board’s negotiating committee, interacting with the district’s unions. “Negotiations are always very challenging,” she says, especially because of the economic climate. “Times are different now than they used to be and we are asking — 'Can we still do business this way?” she asks, referring to contract provisions such as automatic wage and step increases and layoffs based on seniority.

Bishop-Pullan says the school board’s dynamics have been more unpredictable in recent years. “In general, it’s nice to know what to expect when you come to a board meeting,” she says. “That hasn’t been the case with more recent boards.” She urges her fellow board member to “keep focused on student achievement” and “maintain respect even if you disagree.”

The board relationship with the superintendent is a balancing act, says Bishop-Pullan. “On the one hand, you don’t want to be considered a rubber stamp for the superintendent’s proposals, but you also don’t want to disagree all the time,” she says. “It’s hard to navigate.”

Looking ahead, Bishop-Pullan hopes that Marks and the school board will look for alternative funding sources from corporations and foundations and continue to work on consistency in the schools. She’d like to see a continued focus on the district’s middle schools and preparation for the state’s high school reform initiatives.

Democrat Mike Barbis and Republican Geoff Kieburtz, two Rowaytonites, are contesting for Bishop-Pullan's District E school board seat.

“l loved graduation and the awards ceremonies and band competitions,” Bishop-Pullan says about what she’ll miss. “I can’t walk through town without someone wanting to stop and talk to me about the schools.”

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