The forum last Thursday night gave me a good chance to get to know the school board candidates. Going in, I honestly didn't know much about them at all, except for E. Pearl Smith, who's running for her 4th term. I'm guessing most of the voters in Norristown are in the same boat, and because of their ignorance will either not vote next Tuesday or will vote for the names they've seen most on mailers or signs. Neither of those options works in a democracy. Neither do bad schools, so do your homework and vote.
Four of the candidates were running as a "team"--Smith, Rivera, Hutson, and Assenmacher. I understand the necessity for pooling funding and resources in local politics. I get that one publicity photo with 4 people in it on a mailer is cheaper than 4 individual photos and mailers. Still, these 4 took the concept too far. They were all wearing black and yellow, and kept urging us to vote for them as a team. This gave the unfavorable impression that they were joined at the hip and wouldn't be able to think for themselves. So, all our local politicians, in the future rethink the team concept, okay?
E. Pearl Smith was raised in Norristown and went to Norristown public schools. She said student achievement was her priority. She has a good attendance record at board meetings--almost always there in person, and when she can't, attends by conference call. She drops in at schools during the school day. She meets with the principals. In response to questions about funding, she explained that the current governor cut billions from the state education budget, but that the district has worked with a grant writer and also been awarded grants from local businesses like TD Bank. When asked about the arts in our schools (since Norristown is supposed to be an arts community), she said that she enjoys music and the arts herself and would like to engage groups to bring the arts into the schools. She said there needs to be more arts activities for the students. Sports need to be added back into the lower grades. In my opinion, of all the candidates, Smith came across as someone who knows more of the many facets of the job and of education in Norristown.
Pamela Assenmacher is also an incumbent. She said she's for "education reform" and "innovative programs in technology." She regularly attends board meetings and goes to evening programs at the schools. She works full-time so therefore is unable to drop in on the schools durng the day. She said she had toured the "tech school"--I wasn't sure if she meant Roosevelt, Eisenhower School of Science and Technology, or the Central Montco Tech School (which isn't in her jurisdiction). She DID seem to know a lot about the districts programs for Latino students, such as ESL classes, and had some good ideas for parent involvement in those programs. As for funding, she said the state needs to change the formula--they can't continue to cut programs. She'd like to see the district actively recruit high quality teachers.
Tiffani Henley grew up in town, went to Norristown schools and graduated near the top of her class. She feels that she wants to give back to the district. She has a child in the schools and is involved as a parent. She'd like to increase in parent involvement and in the quality of the schools. She has visited Eisenhower during the day and for other programs. She wants to see programs that encourage kids to get into the arts, even something as simple as a talent show. The schools could work with outside groups, for instance, the NAACP has programs that encourage kids to get involved in the arts. For sports, intramurals need to be added back into the 7th and 8th grade curriculums.
Matt Rivera at first gave what sounded like a typical political speech that didn't say much about himself, in fact, he forgot to give his name. He did mention that he was a musician and active with school music boosters. He said creativity was needed to solve the district's problems, especially with funding. The district needs to work with organizations and parents. When asked how many schools he's visited, his response was "as many as I could," but he only mentioned East Norriton, Paul Fly and the high school, and mostly for evening programs. He said he still volunteers for Paul Fly (now that his kids are no longer there) but did not mention in what capacity. For funding, he said the district should lobby Harrisburg, but act locally. He didn't give specifics. For the arts, he wants to see more kids involved, especially in music. Parents need to also be involved, especially in the lower schools. He said we're losing kids interested in the arts and sports in the middle schools because there aren't enough programs. We need to complete the stadium. When asked about diversity among teachers, he said we need ethnic and racial diversity, but also diversity of talent. He said we need to encourage kids to become teachers.
Turea Hutson said she has a love of education since overcoming a learning disability. She said, instead of using public funds, we should have public/private parternerships with local businesses. She said she "has not kept a tally" of how many schools she visited (there are 11 in the district), but only mentioned going to Gotwals for their Read Across America Program. As for recruiting teachers, she said we should go to teachers colleges and let them know Norristown is an option.
Ken Christovich said this was his 9th forum. Assuming he's done forums for both primaries and general elections, that means he's run for school board 4 or 5 times and has yet to win. He attends school board meetings often. In his introduction he talked about codes, accountability, transparency, government. He barely mentioned education in any of his answers. He endorsed line-by-line cuts of the school budget as a way of saving money. He said that the district doesn't earn enough from taxes. He mentioned his support for the governor, but later said we need money from the state. He says he's had 10 or 12 meetings in the schools. Unclear if he meant with the principals.
So there are your school board candidates. You'll be voting for 4 of them. Choose wisely.