BOE bids farewell to three former members

Departing Board of Education members Brenda Kupchick, Dave Weber and Helen Dodson -- who all began their terms together six years ago -- were given special time to say a few words before the board delved into agenda items Tuesday night.

Dodson said she was proud of the fact the Board of Education has never been a partisan board. She said a slew of thank-yous to so many she's worked with over the years, including Superintendent of Schools Ann Clark and the school district's music department.

She would say that everyone should go to a concert "and see what your tax dollars pay for."

Dodson also encouraged remaining board members to focus more on curriculum. She also asked a favor of everyone, on their final night together, to address one another by their first names, rather than their last names and Mr., Ms. Miss. and Mrs. pre-fixes. However, old habits die hard and some people found it hard to honor this request. Dodson, a journalist who used to work at NBC under Tom Brokaw, was unable to be reached for this story for some follow-up comments.

Weber hasn't given any thought yet to how he'll spend his expanded free time. Kupchick may no longer be on the education board but she'll still be committed to town service. She will be sworn in on Monday as a new member of the Representative Town Meeting (RTM). It's a return for her, as she was an RTM member for four years prior to joining the Board of Education.

Kupchick thanked administrators for their help when she was a new BOE member. If she had a question about something, she made a phone call. Kupchick specifically thanked deputy superintendent Jack Boyle and Gary Rosato, director of curriculum, instruction and assessment, and Tom Cullen, director of operations.

"It really helped me get up to speed," she said.

Kupchick said that while she is now known for being outspoken, she was actually "pretty quiet" that first year.

A couple of former board members also got a turn at the microphone. Alexa Mullady told Brenda that was a really good year -- the year she was quiet -- but "all good things must come to an end." Mullady served on the board with Kupchick, Weber and Dodson for four years.

Former longtime member Jim Lee -- whose service on the board only ended due to a rule about minority representation -- said to Kupchick, Weber and Dodson: "You have set a high standard for those that come after you."

Weber, a former chairman and vice-chairman of the education board, said "we put up so many new schools" but added he was most proud of McKinley Elementary School. He told Clark, who will be resigning as superintendent next year, that she's done a great job and will miss working with her.

Two days after the meeting, during an interview with the Fairfield Citizen, Weber said the thing is perhaps most proud of is Fairfield's recent number one ranking by Connecticut magazine. Education had a lot to do with, he noted, adding that Fairfield scored the highest in the educational category.

Outside recognition of the quality of Fairfield's school system means a great deal, said Weber.

Weber said when he, Kupchick and Dodson joined the board, it was a very contentious time, "with a redistricting issue hanging over our heads."

After a redistricting plan was approved, the board then spent a substantial amount of time on facility issues. The board would also change the high school start times to allow students more time to sleep a day's worth of classes. Weber said Dodson, who served on facilities planning committee, deserves a lot of credit for the later starts (7:40 a.m. for Fairfield Ludlowe and 7:50 a.m. for Fairfield Warde) that were implemented.

More than anything, Weber said the first a board member needs is optimism.

"It's reflected in the administrators, the teachers. Educators have a certain optimism about life -- they feel they can make a difference for their students and so I think board members need to share in that optimism and support the teachers and administrators as much as possible."

Kupchick, during a phone interview yesterday, said she's most proud of the "work we did at McKinley School, the programs we put in place to improve achievement; the pre-kindergarten program we put in place, and I'm proud of the work we've done to improve maintenance in our buildings and reduce portables."

Weber added that eliminating portables was definitely a goal when he, Kuphick and Dodson joined the board. In their six years on the board, nearly every school in the district was renovated or had portables removed. In addition, Tomlinson Middle School was expanded and a second high school came into being.

In recognition of their service, Weber, Kupchick and Dodson will all have school books donated in their honor to their schools of choice. Kupchick chose McKinley Elementary School, Stratfield Elementary School and Fairfield Woods Middle School; Weber chose Sherman (Elementary) School; and Dodson picked Fairfield Warde High School.

Kupchick was surprised when her father Leonard Benton got up to say something. He arranged it ahead of time.

"She cares. That's her greatest asset. She cares," he said. Benton added that it was his daughter who got him to run for the RTM earlier this month. He was an "unknown 72-year-old man who never did anything political" but whenever he visited a household, he brought up the name Brenda Kupchick, his daughter. It nearly worked. He lost the election by three votes.