September 26, 2013 11:12AM
By Kimberly Primicerio
MERIDEN — A competitive Board of Education race has begun in the city with nine candidates vying for five seats.
Three Democrats, two Republicans and four We the People party members are in the running this election season. Most said they feel passionate about improving the schools and hold strong opinions on a variety of issues. During interviews this week they discussed their platforms and what they hope to see more of in the school system if elected. Technology, adding more programming and personnel were popular topics.
Democratic incumbent Michael Cardona said he’s looking to expand student support by adding more personnel. He said students are in need of extra help and there needs to be more people available to the students. Extended-day programming is another initiative Cardona said he supports and hopes to see expanded. The program is in place at two elementary schools, adding an extra 90 minutes of instruction to the day.
“It’s been great at Pulaski,” Cardona said. “My son goes there. At first it was quite an adjustment, I had a great level of concern...but it’s been great.”
Both high schools Platt and Maloney will be undergoing major renovations during the next few years.
“I want to make sure they go smoothly and there’s no curriculum impact,” Cardona said. “So throughout the next term, I would keep an eye on that.”
Cardona also said he supports the district’s experiment with a program allowing students to bring their own technological devices to school and would like to see it adopted as a policy.
Republican incumbent Kim Carbone-Pandiani said there is more the district can do to make schools welcoming places.
“I’m a big proponent of making sure schools have a very welcoming feel,” Carbone-Pandiani said.
As parents walk into the schools, they need to feel welcome. It can be off-putting if someone isn’t as friendly to a parent as they need to be, she said. “I think we can do a little bit more than what we’re doing,” she said.
Another important issue for Carbone-Pandiani is keeping the schools as safe as possible.
“We need to continue to push for school safety and take recommendations very seriously,” Carbone-Pandiani said.
Paraprofessionals do a lot in the schools and deserve more professional development, Carbone-Pandiani said. She said much is asked of the paraprofessionals and it’s worth it to invest more in them.
“We need to make sure the paras are getting training,” she said.
Under the supervision of Superintendent Mark D. Benigni, Carbone-Pandiani said the school system has done a good job reducing the costs of special education and making sure students stay in the city rather than being out-placed to schools throughout the state. She said she hopes to see it continue. “We’ve seen a cost savings,” she said.
Niki Carabetta, a We the People Party candidate, said more needs to be done in the schools to get parents involved. She would also like to see more computers and iPads in the schools.
“A lot of families probably don’t have access to computers or the Internet,” Carabetta said. “Where are these kids supposed to get computer skills?”
Carabetta said the Internet and technology is a major part of learning for children and they need more access to it.
Incumbent Republican Scott Hozebin said he would like to see an increase in after-school offerings that would provide students with class credit. Hozebin said giving credit for the extracurricular activities would motivate more students to do well and take part in their education.
In light of the high school renovation and reconstruction projects, Hozebin said now is the time to modernize curriculum offerings. He said the schools can get modern equipment such as a genetics sequencing machine. Students would be trained and learn about the different types of career opportunities in the sciences, a field where there are many job opportunities. “Now’s the time to expose students to other career paths,” Hozebin said.
Newcomer to politics, Kyle Abercrombie, a Democrat, has been door knocking and talking to residents. On a recent walk he talked to a woman who said there’s a lack of culture in the city. Abercrombie said he wants to change that by increasing the time students spend in the community and volunteering.
Technology is also an important topic for Abercrombie. He wants to see the Bring Your Own Device policy come to fruition and bring more 21st century skills to the students.
A “huge” thing for Abercrombie is alternative discipline practices. He said students go to school to learn and it’s important to keep them in the classroom rather than expel or suspend them.
We the People party candidate, Jerry Staszewski said if elected he would like to look into the maintenance program at all the schools to see how it’s run and whether it can be improved.
Incumbent Democrat Steve O’Donnell agreed with other candidates and said there needs to be more technology in the classroom. Tablets should get into the hands of all the students, he said.
O’Donnell also supports the extended-day program and said it should be expanded into the rest of the elementary schools. He could see it being implemented into the middle schools in the near future, he said.
He said there also must be more opportunities for students to regain credit lost due to a high number of absences if the student has mastered the content of a class. Other ways to make work up, such as the current Saturday academy, should be available, he said. We the People candidates James Ming and Nancy Luca Kenney could not be reached for comment.