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Norwalk GOP School Board Candidates Gear Up

NORWALK, Conn. — A three-part platform that focuses on better financial management of the school system, a strengthened core curriculum and creation of School Councils at each school to improve student achievement, has been released by the Republican candidates for the Board of Education.

The four candidates — Matthew Surapine in District A, Mike Lyons in District C, Jack Chiaramonte in District D and Geoff Kieburtz in District E — call their platform: “Engage, Empower, Educate.”

“We have chosen the theme 'Engage, Empower, Educate' because our platform will give our community’s parents the opportunity to become active participants in the advancement of their children’s schools, engaged in their children’s education and empowered, with our teachers, to make every child’s education first class,” they wrote in a statement. "And it will better educate our students, by providing them with a rigorous core curriculum and reformed local schools that will fully prepare them for college and good careers."

The candidates called the platform “a common-sense approach to making our schools uncommonly successful.”

Lyons spearheaded the creation of the statement with his fellow Republican candidates. “The platform gives us a cohesive campaign and provides us an agenda once we get elected,” he said in an interview. “It reflects concepts that we all agreed on.”

Although the platform is new, Republicans have held a majority on the Board of Education for the past two years. Chiaramonte is currently the chairman.

Republicans say they want to develop “strong, modern managerial and financial system for our schools.”

Lyons, who has been a member of the Norwalk Board of Estimation & Taxation for the past six years and worked with the Board of Education on its budget, calls the school system’s financial systems “disorganized and remarkably ineffective.”

“They literally still do many things manually. There are no systems of measurement, no metrics.  They don’t know what they are spending,” said Lyons, who calls for both computer systems and staff training. “It takes days to get answers to questions that should take minutes. We need to bring the system into the 21st century.”

The Republicans also want to revisit a managerial audit of the schools performed in 2002 by PricewaterhouseCoopers that they say was never implemented.

“The audit has 1,000 recommendations that could save the district $5 million,” Lyons said of the document that cost the city $450,000 but was ignored by former superintendent Salvatore Corda.

Lyons said the audit recommends “dramatically improved productivity” and workflow changes, not a reduction in staff. Lyons would like to consider privatizing some school services such as building maintenance and janitorial services.

The Republicans also want to take a proactive approach in revamping the district’s curriculum to meet national standards, which are tougher than the state’s current standards, that will go into effect in 2014. Geoff Kieburtz recently wrote an opinion piece in, saying, “The adoption of the CCSS [Common Core State Standards] is the most dramatic change in our public education system in a generation.”

“Our current curriculum is not going to pass muster,” said Lyons who heard a presentation by a group of Norwalk educators about the new standards at a recent board meeting. “The board needs to move fairly quickly to make sure a coherent curriculum is implemented well in advance of the deadline.”

The Republicans want to create School Councils of parents, teachers and administrators to reform — or as Lyons puts it, “do something bold” — in schools. The platform lists several school reform models from places such as Stanford University and Johns Hopkins University that could improve student achievement and school culture in Norwalk.

“The purpose would be to share the managerial power of the school,” said Lyons, who spearheaded an effort to improve test scores at Marvin Elementary School in the 1990s when his children went there.

School reform models cannot be imposed from top down, he said. “This has to be a grassroots effort,” said Lyons. “It would be up to the school to choose what model fits their needs.”

Follow for continued coverage of the Norwalk 2011 elections.

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