Tuesday, November 13, 2012
Challenges for New School Board Chair
By James Lomuscio
Elaine Whitney, unanimously elected chair of the seven-member Westport Board of Education Monday night, today discussed her vision for the school system and its challenges, long term and immediate.
Elaine Whitney: keeping focus on exceptional educational program. Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com
“The vision is to really keep our focus on delivering an exceptional educational program and to prepare future leaders and enrich the lives of all of our students,” said Whitney, a four-year board member who has been board secretary for the past year.
Whitney, a Democrat, replaces acting chairman Jim Marpe, a Republican, who officially stepped down from the board Monday night to run for First Selectman. The board is currently accepting applications for a new member to fill Marpe’s position.
Whitney said the new member, according to the Town Charter, must be a Republican and that applications are due by noon on Tuesday, Dec. 11.
“We are hoping to be able to appoint someone at our meeting on Monday Dec. 17,” she said.
Another immediate challenge for Whitney, a healthcare consultant and mother of three in the school system, will be to work with the board in deciding how to make up the full school week lost due to Storm Sandy.
The board concurred with Schools Superintendent Elliott Landon that it does not want to extend the academic year beyond June 21, nor does it want to cut into professional development days at a time when there are new curriculum initiatives.
Landon has suggested targeting part or all of the April vacation, options the board is exploring before it votes on a decision Dec. 3, Whitney said.
On a broader scale Whitney said challenges facing the school board include “the importance of encouraging faculty innovation, using technology in more innovative ways,” long term infrastructure planning and cost management.
“So that we focus our educational resources on the visionary, we need to be careful with our management of our costs,” she said.
“One piece of that is to continue the town’s effort to establish a more sustainable employee benefit cost structure over the long term. Specifically, I’m talking about pensions, benefits and OPEB (other post employment benefits).”