Thursday, October 29, 2009

Candidate Interview: Artie Kassimis (R)

Below are unedited responses to questions posed by NorwalkNet to all the candidates for BOE. Candidate answers are being posted as they are received.

1. Please describe why you feel you are qualified to be on the BOE. Please list your educational, professional, and community background.

I am currently the Senior Pastor of a local non-denominational Christian Church in the heart of Norwalk. Every Sunday morning, for the past 14 years, we have been running Christian education classes for Norwalk’s children. Our children form a very diverse group that come from all the neighborhoods of Norwalk. We are very proud of them. Our church has conducted outreaches that have benefitted many of the charitable organizations throughout the city and abroad.

My background in corporate America, as an IT executive will bring a much needed business mind to the Norwalk Board of Education. Whether it is through technology, cost cutting, consolidation of effort and/or retiring of obsolete practices; there are areas of our School System that need to be addressed immediately so effective budgetary decisions can be made. The last thing we want to do is cut the positions of those individuals that directly influence the lives of our children (e.g. teachers, aides …)

I have been a Little League coach for over 11 years, for both boys and girls teams, recently, as the coach for the Angels NAA Girls Softball Team.

Over 5 years ago, I was one of the first parents to raise the flag on gang violence in our schools. I represented a group of very concerned parents that were looking to create a safer environment for Norwalk’s children. I pulled together a Town Hall meeting that brought in many of our elected officials and city leaders to discuss the issue and propose recommendations to our School Board and City Leaders. One of our recommendations was for the placement of Police Officers in the High Schools. The former mayor had enacted a policy that would have placed resource officers in our high schools. However, no officers were placed in any of the schools until Mayor Moccia was able to coordinate the funding and assignment of those officers.

2. What are your top 3 goals for the next term and how do you plan to achieve them?

Communication between the Board, Central Office and the Public – Increasing communication with all stakeholders (parents, teachers, administrators, taxpayers and students) will be my number one goal. I would like to see “Town Hall” meetings conducted by the Board of Education in each of the districts/neighborhoods of the city. These meetings would solicit the feedback of all concerned citizens.

A communication breakdown between Norwalk’s current educational leadership has directly affected the budget process and the search for our next Superintendent.

Superintendent search – This is the most important and most urgent decision facing the next Board of Education. A well thought out list of qualifications of the next Superintendent, should be put together and made available to the public for input.

Test scores – There is a wide gap between many subgroups within our schools. The causes behind these gaps need to be fully investigated and resolved. I believe our parents and teachers are the best resource in decreasing this gap.

3. Norwalk is seeking a new superintendent. What qualities do you believe it is important for this person to have?

Norwalk needs a strong leader with a significant proven track record of success. A Superintendent who will pull all involved parties together and create a unified approach in raising student achievement scores; A Superintendent who will support the diverse culture of the Norwalk community. A Superintendent who is committed to higher performance levels and fiscal accountability measures for himself, Principals, Administrators, Staff and Students within the Norwalk Public School System.

4. The Cambridge and CREC reports have cited communication within the district as a problem. What specific ideas do you have to improve communication?
There has been a breakdown of communication between Norwalk’s current educational leadership and the public. By improving communication we will create a school system that, I believe, will be the best in the state. Reaching out to parents, taxpayers, teachers and students will give the Board of Education greater insight into the needs of our schools.

I propose holding “Town Hall” type meetings throughout the city of Norwalk. These meetings will draw valuable information from the parents and taxpayers, since they are all stakeholders in our educational system.

A percentage of Norwalk’s students are bussed to schools outside of their neighborhoods. I propose that school meetings should also take place in these neighborhoods to benefit those parents that do not have transportation. Parental involvement is an integral part in a child’s education. The data proves it! Parents must not be left out because of the lack of transportation.

Also, the BoE should be visiting all schools on a regular basis, so they can see for themselves what impact their decisions are making at the school level.

Increasing communication will immediately improve the budget process and give ample opportunity for all involved to address any proposals put forth by the Board of Education.

This will also better serve the needs of our Special Ed kids and put a stop to the payment for legal services. These funds would better serve our kids on services they deserve!

The next Board of Education will select the next Superintendent of Schools. Open lines of communication will allow for valuable input from our citizens and enable the Board of Education to select the right person to lead our schools.

5. a) If you’re running for re-election. Please speak about what you’ve accomplished during your term on the BOE and why you should be re-elected. b) If you a new comer please describe what you feel the current board as succeeded in accomplishing and where it has fallen short.

The current members have given of their time over the past 4 years, and for that I applaud them.

I believe that most of their decisions have fallen short in meeting the needs our students. One such example was back in February with the abstaining vote for the selection of Ms. Ockasi as Naramake’s next principal. She was the best qualified for the position as well as the recommended candidate by the parent search committee. Yet, the majority of the BoE abstained from voting for her. There were hundreds of parents that turned out that night to address the BoE and plea for her appointment. I, also, addressed the BoE that night. Communication is a “two way street” and this has been the number one complaint of all parents and taxpayers. That same night, I was deeply saddened by the comments made by the parents of the victims of Spectrum Kids. One by one they recounted the disservice that was done to their children by the BoE selection of Spectrum Kids. The BoE has also fallen short with our Special Needs kids as well.

I believe it’s time for change. It’s time for a new Board of Education.

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