Elementary school renovations, redistricting top issues for East Lyme Board of Education

East Lyme — Elementary school renovations and redistricting are among the top issues that Board of Education candidates said the school board will face over the next term.

Six candidates are seeking the five open seats on the 10-member school board. Democrats Ann Cicchiello, a newcomer, and William Derry and Candice Carlson, both incumbents, and Republicans Leigh McNamara Gianakos, John W. Kleinhans and Albert L. Littlefield, all incumbents, are running for four-year terms.

Voters approved last spring a $37.5 million project to renovate the three elementary schools, with construction slated to begin in June 2018 and be completed in fall 2019. The board recently hired a consultant to assist the board in planning for future redistricting.

Cicchiello, 51, who is married with two children in high school and college, works as an attorney in Norwich and her volunteer work includes helping at St. Vincent DePaul Place with food deliveries. She said her children were given a superior education and she wants to give back to the community by volunteering her time and experience as an attorney.

She named renovations and redistricting as top issues.

“I think all of the concerns of the parents and children have to be taken into account and balanced with the needs of East Lyme, so each child can get the best education,” she said.

Cicchiello said she further supports promoting more technology in the curriculum to prepare students for future careers.

Derry, 53, is a technology and engineering teacher at Lyme-Old Lyme High School and is married with two children, in sixth and ninth grades. He has been on the school board since 2015.

"This is my way to give back to the community in an area where I have some expertise and passion," he said.

A member of the building committee, Derry said he wants to see the renovation project through to completion and ensure the district has a plan to maintain all its buildings. He said it will be important to continue to communicate so parents know the board is putting children first in the renovation and redistricting process and understand why decisions are being made.

He noted that the board is working well with the administration in building bridges with the town, particularly the Board of Finance, and is regularly attending meetings and looking into joint efforts for savings.

Carlson, 44, a board member since 2012, is married and has two children in East Lyme Middle School and works as a case worker in social services for the state. Prior to joining the school board, she addressed the board in advocating for class-size ratio as Lillie B. Haynes Parent-Teacher Association president and realized she was a natural fit to advocate for children, families and teachers.

"Five years later, I am so proud of the board we have currently and the work we have done collectively and cohesively," she said, noting that the board has adopted a class-size ratio policy.

A focus for the board will be redistricting and renovations. She said the board will focus on equity and equal distribution of services and doing the project in the right way. With the state's fiscal issues, she said the board also will need to look at creating revenue sources and preserving and growing programs in a cost-effective way, including being open to collaboration with other towns.

McNamara Gianakos, 27, who is married with a 6-month-old son, works as senior talent partner at Achievement First, a network of charter schools. She previously worked as a Teach for America corps member at a middle school in Nashville. Gianakos, who has served on the board for almost a year, said she wanted to give back to the community.

"I am a lifelong East Lyme resident and proud graduate of Flanders Elementary School, East Lyme Middle School, and East Lyme High School, and I'm just so grateful for the education I received here," she said.

She said she is committed to the elementary school renovation project, along with redistricting, and is passionate about transparency with the community and stakeholders. She said she is also excited about the long-range improvement plan, particularly the opportunity for collaboration across schools. A member of the board's Finance, Facilities and Operations Committee, Gianakos said the capital improvement plan also will be particularly important, given state budget woes.

Kleinhans, 27, a board member for the last two years, is the vice president of business development for ImageWorks, a digital marketing firm, the senior strategist for Mark Boughton's exploratory committee looking at statewide office, and serves on the statewide board of directors for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. 

"East Lyme High School and the East Lyme school system did so much for me as a young person moving into town, and I want to provide that same opportunity for other students to go out there and chase their dreams," he said.

With the state's fiscal uncertainty, he said he wants to ensure East Lyme is in the best place and he brings experience understanding budgets and communicating with state legislators. With the school renovations, the board's role will be to provide guidance and ensure it's the best possible project, he said.

He said he and Gianakos bring a millennial perspective to represent the voices of younger people who are moving back to town and starting families.

Littlefield, 67, who is married and has two daughters in college, has served on the board for 13 years and is the secretary and deputy chairman. Littlefield, who served in the U.S. Navy, currently works as an intervention specialist. He said his children received a great education in East Lyme, and he enjoys serving on the board, which works in a bipartisan manner. 

"I feel that the board is heading down the right road in maintaining our quality education in East Lyme, and if I can help in that effort, I want to be part of that effort," he said.

He said the elementary school renovation is the top issue, along with identifying the criteria for redistricting and the best way to do it with the least impact to children and families. 

With those two projects, he said it will be important for the board to continue to keep the community informed. The board also will be looking at every possible savings and new revenue streams, with the state budget issue, he said.

k.drelich@theday.com 

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