New Canaan Democrats on Monday night nominated six total candidates for the Board of Education, setting up a wide field for contested races in the Nov. 2 election.
In unanimously endorsing five candidates for four-year terms on the school board and one candidate for a two-year term, the Democrats are seeking to pick up multiple Board of Education seats.
Addressing fellow party members during the Democratic Town Committee’s endorsement meeting, the Board of Ed candidates made a point of saying that the elected body should be mission-focused rather than political, and they praised the New Canaan Public Schools administration for leading the high-performing district through the pandemic.
Incumbent Board of Ed member Penny Rashin, who is seeking re-election, called Superintendent of Schools Dr. Bryan Luizzi “the top superintendent in Connecticut,” saying he and “his incredible administrative team” helped ensure that New Canaan students “spent more time learning in the classroom than any other district in Connecticut.”
“It’s just one example of their foresight, talent, creativity and dedication to our students,” Rashin said during the endorsement meeting, held via videoconference.
She added that during her time, “we have been an open, supportive and inclusive school district and Board.”
“And one of the things I think we would say is that 98% of the time we kept politics out of Board of Ed decisions,” she added. “So we have never been a red Board, a blue Board, a purple Board. We have been a students-first Board, and all the decisions that have been made by the Board of Education and by the administration and the teachers have been done with the best interests of the children in mind. And I think that guiding principle and light when you are making difficult decisions is what has kept our district moving forward. So moving forward, another important aspect is that education is dynamic, and you need to improve every year or you fall behind. I think we are giving a world-class education to our students and I think we need to innovate to keep it that way.”
Board of Ed member Sheri West is not seeking re-election, so all other Democratic candidates for the school board—Janet Fonss, Jenn Hladick, Fatou Niang and Erica Schwedel for four-year terms and Karen Willett for a two-year term—are newcomers.
They will face a slate of four Republican candidates for the school board who won party backing at last week’s GOP caucus, meaning voters will choose from among 10 candidates seeking to fill six Board of Ed seats. Currently, Republicans hold four of those seats, Democrats two.
Town Councilmen Liz Donovan and Sven Englund also are not seeking re-election.
Here’s a table showing candidates who accepted their parties’ nominations. The table does not necessarily reflect all candidates who will appear on November’s ballot—for example, petitioning candidates still may file:
Election 2021: Candidates After Caucuses
|First Selectman (1)||Kevin Moynihan*||none|
|Selectman (2)||Nick Williams*||Kathleen Corbet*|
|Town Council (6)||Tom Butterworth*|
|Board of Education 4-Year Term (5)||Dan Bennett|
|Board of Education 2-Year Term (1)||Hugo Alves||Karen Willett|
|Town Clerk (1)||Claudia Weber*||none|
|Town Treasurer (1)||Andrew Brooks*||none|
|Board of Assessment Appeals (3)||Pavla Levin|
|Constable (7)||Arvind Bajaj*|
Mary Anne Mercogliano*
incumbent Selectman Kathleen Corbet announced her intention to seek re-election earlier this summer. Outside of the Board of Ed, the only contested race shaping up for the general election is for constable.
State Rep. Lucy Dathan (D-142nd) and DTC members Angela Jameson, Alyssa MacKenzie and Martha Harper Fitzgibbons introduced candidates during the meeting, which was overseen by DTC Chair Lisa Hannich and Nominating Committee Chair B.J. Markus.
Here are brief bios and quotes from more Democratic Board of Ed candidates:
- Janet Leung Fonss is a lifelong Connecticut resident with a background in finance who has lived in New Canaan for 22 years. She has two children, one in college and one at New Canaan High School, both of whom have come up through the public school system here: “I know being a New Canaanite is not defined by my party affiliation but by New Canaan’s shared core values of caring, commitment, community and service. I’m running for the Board of Ed because it is the most apolitical of all our town bodies. Having volunteered with many organizations within our schools, I understand our community and the issues important to parents of all ages. I have a record of working collaboratively and respectfully across the political spectrum. I believe my background in banking and finance will allow me to critically assess our schools’ budget needs while balancing the town’s needs for fiscal prudence. The Board of Ed is the most fulsome in touching all community members. The New Canaan Public School system is a world-class premier school district because of its strong partnerships. These partnerships include the students, teachers, parents, administration, faculty and support staff. My key takeaway from my school volunteer experience is if any one of these partners does not feel valued—if it doesn’t feel heard or empowered— the partnership as a whole fails to thrive. So I would work very hard to make sure those partnerships stay strong and to keep those lines of communication open.”
- Jennifer Hladick has lived in New Canaan since 2007 and worked in social services and education prior to her older son’s birth. Her two boys are now set to enter the ninth and eleventh grade at NCHS, and Hladick now works part-time at the Carriage Barn Arts Center: “We love living in New Canaan and I have had a wonderful time contributing to the community that’s given so much to my family. I have had the privilege of being involved in each of the schools my sons have attended—as a room mother, volunteer, member of the PTC executive board and various other avenues. I say ‘privileged’ because throughout elementary, middle and high school I have been so impressed with the administration, the faculty and staff, and the parent volunteers who work so hard to ensure that our children have everything that they need to succeed. I believe my background in education and my volunteer experience in the New Canaan schools and wider community, and my perspective as a parent to children attending New Canaan Public Schools, have given the knowledge and the skills necessary to be an effective member of the Board of Education. I have the highest admiration for our school system, which lives up to its reputation as the jewel of our community. This past pandemic year has reminded me of how truly lucky we are. Regardless of our national political leanings, I’m convinced that what the people of New Canaan want is high-achieving public schools that are able to meet the diverse needs of students and prepare them to be successful adults in the world at large. If we focus on this common goal, we can ensure that our school system continues to thrive.”
- Fatou Niang is a 17-year resident of New Canaan and mother of two boys who have come up through the public school system. She is founder of Stand Together Against Racism, an organization created in the wake of George Floyd’s murder in May 2020 whose mission is to equip residents with tools and resources to understand systemic racism and to proactively advocate for racial equity and bias elimination: “I am so honored to be considered for this opportunity to serve New Canaan. I moved to New Canaan 17 years ago after a few years in New York City and before that coming from France because of my husband’s work.I have two boys that have come through the school system and have learned the good, the bad and the ugly, but mainly the excellence of our school program. The amazing work that the district has been doing—that’s also one of the main reasons why we chose New Canaan when it was time to leave New York City, and I am looking forward to supporting that work, encouraging that work and making sure that the diversity for our kids to learn is respected and reinforced. I am looking forward for our whole slate to be able to be successful and move along the needle of equality, fairness and creating very well-rounded young adults in New Canaan.”
- Erica Schwedel has lived in New Canaan for 11 years and has two children, seven and nine years old, at West School. She has served on the boards of the Newcomers Club and Young Women’s League, and New Canaan CARES Parent Representative Board: “But I found my most important, meaningful volunteer work on the board of the West School PTC. My first year I coordinated the parent education programs for the school and then I accepted the role of co-president of the PTC for the last two years. I led over 100 parent volunteers during the pandemic and worked very closely with our principal and the district to reinvent each and every program and event this past year to ensure that this year was not a pale replica of years past, but its own very special, meaningful year that our students, teachers and families would never forget. In addition to my personal journey to this moment, I’ve also had a long-standing interest in K-12 education and I’ve worked professionally in the education sector for nonprofits since 2010. I am deeply interested in the important work of educating all children and have sought out opportunities to learn more about how to delver excellence in education at scale. I am immensely proud of the Board of Education and the district’s heroic work this year to serve our children both academically and emotionally through the pandemic. I am running for the Board of Ed to continue building on our district’s successes and to keep the focus on excellence.”
- Karen Willett has lived in New Canaan for eight years and has two sons, one entering the fourth grade at West School, where she has served on the PTC board, including as co-president, and one entering his freshman year at NCHS. She has a background in finance and consulting: “We lived in New York for 12 years and moved here after falling in love with the town while visiting friends one December. We were charmed by the Holiday Stroll, and there was really no going back after that. One of my favorite things about New Canaan is the strong sense of community that I think is built on our high rate of volunteerism, like many of you. Much of which revolves around our children and excellent schools and the local control that we have over them. Engaged parents can and do have a big impact here. And like Lucy said, I have been really involved in the schools. I served on the board of the West School PTC and led the board as co-president for two years. And it is nerdy, but I have attended nearly every BOE meeting, budget hearing, curriculum overview and parent education forum over the last several years. This has given me a good understanding of how our school district operates and of the issues that we face. One of the many, many things that we do right here is that recognize that maintaining our excellence requires continuous improvement, so every year the BOE is making a lot of critical decisions that are necessary to maintain our district’s success and excellence. And I am running for the Board of Ed because I want to ensure that our Board of Education and administration continue to prioritize the needs all students, as it makes these sometimes difficult decisions. And I believe that a bipartisan, respectful and cooperative approach is an absolute necessity if we are going to have a productive and efficient process that consistently put their students’ needs at the center of their decision-making.”
In her speech, Rashin said that the Board of Ed has strengthened the public schools curriculum “in many ways” during her time—for example, through expanded AP and STEM offerings, and by adding a social-emotional curriculum.
“We changed our teacher evaluation process, and we have our own special one in New Canaan because the old one wasn’t working well enough for our teachers and students,” Rashin said. “And we improved our foreign language offerings, K through 12. Ahead we have many challenges including implementing the healthier school start times, supporting the new innovation center and a particular favorite of mine is continuing to make the buildings greener, because I do like infrastructure, and we are looking at solar and CHP [combined heat and power] initiatives that will do that.”