Election 2017: Eight school board hopefuls vie for five spots
FAIRFIELD — Though the state’s budget was recently signed and funds to Fairfield public schools were not cut to the degree many in town feared, budgeting and finding efficiencies will remain chief priorities for new Board of Education members.
On Tuesday, Fairfield residents will elect five new members to the nine-member board.
Of the six candidates running for a four-year term on the board, four will be selected. Of those four, two must be Democrats and two must be Republicans, according to Registrar of Voters Matthew Waggner, as per state minority representation rules. In the race for the two-year term — which will be a continuation of the seat vacated by Anthony Calabrese, who resigned midterm in April — one candidate, of the two running, will be selected.
Because of state minority party representation rules, no more than six Democrats can sit on the board at any one time.
Democrat Jennifer Leeper moved to Fairfield four years ago with her husband to start a family. Her children are now 1 and 3, which she said means she will be invested in Fairfield public schools for the next 17 or 18 years.
In New York, Leeper was a school administrator and data director at a kindergarten through second-grade school. She holds a master’s degree in public policy from the University of Chicago. More recently, she worked for the state Department of Education as a data and policy analyst.
She wants to make thoughtful, data-driven decisions regarding facilities to maintain an optimal teaching and learning environment.
“I have a professional background in education. I think it’s helpful to have somebody with that perspective and voice on the board,” the first-time school board hopeful said.
Fellow Democrat Marc Patten is seeking his second term on the Board of Education. He is the owner of the Fairfield-based consulting company, Destination Entertainment. He studied marketing, English and communications at the University of Connecticut and graduated in 1990.
According to the Fairfield Democratic Town Committee website, Patten wants to see a board “that isn’t adversarial,” but is inclusive of teachers, parents and administrators. He did not respond to a request for an interview.
Jennifer Jacobsen has lived in Fairfield for 17 years and holds a master’s degree in education from Florida International University. She has three children in Fairfield public schools and worked for a time as an elementary school guidance counselor before opening her own early childhood center, My Little World Two, in Fairfield.
Jacobsen would like to see improvements to the math and science curricula in the district and see greater collaborations across boards in Fairfield.
“My goal is to maintain a strong Fairfield and a strong school district,” Jacobsen said. “Let’s keep a high quality of education at the forefront of the minds of Board of Education members.”
Also seeking a place on the school board is John Convertito, a former school board member who served from 2009 to 2013. A former Republican who decided to run as a Democrat after the Republican Town Committee opted not to endorse him in 2013, Convertito studied business administration and statistics are Fairfield University before getting his law degree.
Convertito is in favor of taking a holistic approach on the town’s schools and looking down the road for long-term solutions, as opposed to incremental solutions the board has too often opted for in the past.
“If we’re going to put in a new program, is it sustainable for five or 10 years? Those are the things I worry about,” Convertito said.
Among the Republicans running for the four four-year terms is Jeff Peterson, who grew up in Fairfield and graduated from Fairfield public schools. Though he lived for a time with his wife in New Hampshire and Colorado, the Petersons returned to town when they wanted to start a family.
He is a macro analyst and financial journalist at FactSet in Norwalk, and received a bachelor’s degree in political science from Boston University. He is the father of three children, two still in Fairfield public schools.
This would be Peterson’s first term on the board.
“One thing that got me off the couch is the tone of the board has been counterproductive of late,” Peterson said, noting that he felt a great slate of candidates has come forward this year. “I’m a big proponent of collaboration, rather than confrontation.”
Fellow Republican Nicholas Aysseh was appointed to the board in May after the resignation of Calabrese, who was appointed the town’s parks and recreation director. Aysseh is seeking one of the four-year spots, rather than running to finish out the two-year term.
Aysseh, the owner of Coastal Canine Pet Care Services in Fairfield, worked recently in Yale-New Haven Hospital’s Child Safety Department. He said his top priorities are developing more efficient and effective uses of school resource, evaluating infrastructure and finding long-term solutions to the town’s racial imbalance issue. Diminishing state funding, too, is a concern of his.
“How do we, as a town, manage to sustain and improve our school system with less money than we have had before, as we are already running very lean?” Aysseh asked.
Democrat Christine Vitale is a 20-year Fairfield resident with three children in Fairfield public schools. She studied political science and English at the State University of New York at Binghamton and worked professionally as a management consultant with the Charles Group until 2007.
Though this is her first foray into politics, Vitale has been an active member of many Fairfield school PTAs. Most recently, she was vice president of funding on the Ludlowe PTA executive board. Vitale decided to get involved this election cycle to ensure that a high level of educational services is maintained, despite continued budgetary pressure from the state.
“We need to keep the focus on streamlining services wherever possible, but for the Board of Education, the focus really needs to be on putting forth the best educational programs for the town,” Vitale said.
Republican Sally Connolly is a speech pathologist and a McKinley School parent with four children in Fairfield public schools. She serves as the director of cultural arts on the school’s PTA executive board.
In addition to finding solutions to the district’s racial imbalance issue, which directly affects McKinley, Connolly said she would look to further engage the public on board decisions.
“I think in the current political climate — whether we’re looking at the national, state or local level — my top priority would be to bring our community together to make decisions,” Connolly said. “I may be running on a party line, but my goal in life has always been to bring people together.”