New Canaan Democratic Town Committee condemns racist pamphlet left anonymously at New Canaan homes in early pre-dawn hours
It is with a heavy heart that we share the following statement from the New Canaan Democratic Town Committee. The content of the pamphlet, beyond an attack on two beloved members of our community, contains racism and we encourage you to only scroll down and read if you have space for such an upsetting letter.
New Canaan Democratic Town Committee condemns racist pamphlet left anonymously at New Canaan homes in early pre-dawn hours
On the morning of Tuesday, October 12th, some families here in town woke to an alarming pamphlet at their front door, left anonymously and suspiciously in the pre-dawn hours. “The intent of this pamphlet was to dissuade voters from casting their ballots for any of the candidates on Row A, and used hateful anti-Black racism and sinophobia to persuade voters against voting for any member of the Democratic slate in the upcoming municipal election,” said DTC Vice Chair Alyssa MacKenzie.
Cover letter of the anonymous, hateful letter attacking Democratic Board of Education candidates Fatou Niang and Janet Leung Fonss, as well as denigrating the work of Stand Together Against Racism (S.T.A.R.), a group founded by Fatou following the murder of Mr. George Floyd and whole-heartedly supported by Janet and so many other community members. We invite you to listen to Fatou's NewCanaanite.com podcast, included in this cover letter, by clicking here. You can check out our Board of Education candidates' website, also included in the cover letter, by clicking here.
Beyond attempting to slander the nine dedicated, hardworking women who have volunteered their time and energy to campaign and serve our town’s Board of Education, the impact of this pamphlet was to reveal the insidious nature of racism, and that even we in New Canaan are not immune. “While we do not know the identity of the authors who distributed this document, cloaked by darkness, we do know that families across our cherished community are questioning whether or not they truly belong here. And that is a distressing sentiment. This is why so many valued members of our community are committed to fostering among all not just a sense of being welcomed, but of truly belonging. We have to question why anyone might be against ensuring all families feel like they belong,” added DTC Chair Lisa Hannich.
Screenshots of BOE Candidate Fatou Niang's bio on our website, the highly-acclaimed six-part workshop series S.T.A.R. held last winter, and two posts from S.T.A.R.'s social media amplifying Black authors' and creators' voices.
Make no mistake: this is what happens when racism and extremism are allowed to go unchecked for years, and this exact xenophobia is happening here in New Canaan. Unfortunately, the divisiveness, hatred, and vitriol did not end on January 20th of this year. That some of the Republican candidates and their supporters are using fear tactics — accusing our most diverse candidates of being racist by sending anonymous letters — demonstrates that their values do not align with New Canaan’s values.
NewCanaanite.com article from June 21st, 2020 that highlights the Board of Education meeting following the murder of Mr. George Floyd, during which New Canaan Alumni, current students, and parents recounted the experiences of BIPOC students in the New Canaan School System.
Shared Fatou when she was alerted to the pamphlet, "I am sad, hurt, and frankly angry that yesterday, under the veil of anonymity and the cover of night, “concerned parents” dropped racist letters about me and what I stand for on doorsteps across town. All that these "concerned parents" see when they look at me is my color, though I know when you look at me you see me, your friend, your neighbor, your colleague, your partner, and much more. Our town is better than these anonymous “concerned parents”, and I choose to let love be what guides me."
Final two pages of the NewCanaanite.com article that was included in the pamphlet.
Following the news that these pamphlets had been delivered to homes across town, Janet wrote, "Never in my 22 years living in New Canaan have I felt so shattered to the core. I have always been aware of my differences, but I have never felt unaccepted: New Canaan is my home; it is the wonderfully perfect place where I am raising my children who have grown up happily. To be singled out as someone to be feared — someone dangerous — is to label me an outsider who does not belong, and reading those words brought back the childhood trauma of being called racial slurs by hateful people who inexplicably felt threatened by my very existence."
It is up to us as a community to come together and vote with our hearts for the candidates that center every single person in our community - no matter their age, gender, sexual orientation, religion, disability, race, or skin color. We cannot allow ourselves to be defined by this act of prejudice, intolerance, and ignorance. We are better than this, New Canaan.
We hope you will join us in sending love and support to Fatou and Janet, and will join us in ensuring no New Canaanite is so emboldened as to cause such harm to our community again.
The New Canaan Democratic Town Committee
Love the coverage of our candidates from the students behind NCHS Courant, written by Executive Editor Abigail Cushman! Check it out here: https://nchscourant.com/boe-candidates-share-their-plans-for-the-high-school/
🚨Humble brag alert 🚨
The New Canaan BOE Candidates Focused on Excellence in Education are so thoughtful, rational, compassionate, and articulate, and they exude these traits and more when speaking!
A few members of the BOE Slate were featured on Connecticut Democratic Party's podcast today, which happens to be World Teachers Day.
Check them out wherever you listen to podcasts!
Sarah and Mike Handler
Our public schools are a cornerstone of what makes New Canaan such an extraordinary place to live. We have been in awe of the exceptional measures that have been put into place to keep our children safe and in school and are so thankful for our teachers, administrators and staff working under Bryan Luizzi’s incredible leadership.
We strongly believe that our Board of Education should not be about partisan politics and that members should be elected based on qualifications, experience, leadership and first hand knowledge of our school system. As parents of 5 children, all of whom have or will attend our public schools, we know how critical it is to have all levels of our schools represented. We believe the candidates best prepared to continue the excellence of New Canaan Public Schools, with awareness and safety, are Janet Fonss, Penny Rashin, Erica Schwedel, Fatou Niang, Jenn Hladick and Karen Willett.
Sarah and Mike Handler
Sara and Spencer Schubert
How remarkable to read so many passionate letters speaking up for the future of education in our town! We would like to chime in by first giving a tremendous amount of thanks and gratitude to Katrina Parkhill, Jennifer Richardson, Julie Reeves and all those who serve presently and in the past for their incredible dedication to the Board of Education. We all know the past 18 months have been unprecedented and the members of the BoE spent countless hours working with our phenomenal Superintendent and Administrators to ensure our children’s education and well-being were not compromised. New Canaan led the State – even the country – in response to the pandemic. Given the success of these highly qualified volunteers, we were astounded to witness the Republican Party not back a single one of their proven incumbents and instead chose to support inexperienced candidates who introduced political rhetoric where non-partisan voices have always prevailed.
Serving on the Board is not about ‘fighting the good fight’. It is about coming together to discuss what is in the best interest of all our children. The Board is not about party affiliation. It is about doing your homework, about pushing your sleeves up and collaborating with everyone at the table. East School instilled the motto to “work hard & be kind” in our children. As they move forward in life we are also teaching them to acquire skill sets prior to applying or taking on a job. Elected board members will each need to have the knowledge that comes from experience and hard work to make informed decisions. They will each need to know the school system, how it runs, and where to look for information. This vote is about electing individuals – the most qualified individuals – to take on the responsibility of bridging our community to the school system.
We believe the best individual candidates, education advocates and proven leaders to continue the excellence of our schools are incumbent, Penny Rashin, Erica Schwedel and Karen Willett. Each candidate has proven themselves to be an independent thinker and has the experience needed to get the job done. Please join us in voting for them on November 2nd.
Sara & Spencer Schubert
NCPS PTC Presidents
We are alumni New Canaan Public Schools PTC/PFA Presidents who have a broad range of experience and have volunteered within our schools over the past decade and more. We have served under multiple superintendents and across all levels of NCPS.
Collectively, we have never seen politics enter any BOE elections, and we are greatly concerned that it is happening this election cycle. We have read the recent articles and listened to candidate interviews and podcasts, and there seem to be very strong opinions about how to “fix” NCPS. After years of observing Superintendent Dr. Bryan Luizzi and his administration work with complete transparency, indisputable integrity and unwavering dedication towards achieving excellence for all NCPS children, we are dismayed that this is being challenged and questioned. NCPS is not broken.
Dr. Luizzi and the NCPS faculty are considered–for good reason–the gold standard, not only within our DRG, but state-wide and nationally. This is not by accident. Dr. Luizzi has worked tirelessly to build relationships, and importantly, trust with town governing bodies, including the BOE, Town Council and the Board of Finance. NCPS’s policy and approach have always been transparent, thoughtful, and most critically, student-focused.
Our district has been a trailblazer throughout Covid and was nationally recognized as NCPS students attended school more than any other district in the state during the 2020-21 year. Furthermore, NCPS is consistently ranked among the top districts in the state, and we feel it is crucial to have a BOE slate that is aligned with a realistic vision to continue this success.
It is with our endless hours in BOE meetings, school board sessions and volunteer time within all levels of our schools from elementary through, importantly, Saxe and the high school, that we know how much BOE candidates’ experience and perspectives matter. We need a BOE with a deep knowledge base and experience with children of all ages. BOE members should be collaborative and not self-agenda focused. BOE members should believe in hiring the best people for the job–and supporting them to do that job for all NCPS students.
In closing, our children deserve a Board of Education that puts students first and above any political agenda, which is why we are voting Row A for BOE on November 2, 2021.
New Canaan Public School PTC Presidents,
Amy Cardillo, Susie Catlin, Lauren Corbett, Kelly DeFrancesco, Jennifer Essigs, Renee Fill, Susan Gelvin, Kristen Grzymski , Stacey Harmon , Suzanne Harrison , Jess Huetter, Caryn Kelly, Carrie Kurtz , Stephanie Kushner , Janet Mentore Lee , Jennifer Murphy , Kristen O’Connor , Suzanne O’Connor , Jody O’Donnell , Katherine Ong , Heather Rechtermann , Gretchen Russell , Michele Salmini , Meg Saunders , Jill Tobin
As a West School parent during the past seven years, I’ve seen the impact first hand of the volunteer efforts of many of the nominees for the Board of Education on the Democratic Party line, both as leaders of the West School PTC and, in one case, as an effective member of the BoE. The full slate are Janet Fonss, Jenn Hladick, Fatou Niang, Penny Rashin, Erica Schwedel, and Karen Willett. I support their election to the Board of Education with enthusiasm.
A recent letter suggested the need for “checks and balances” against a “leftist” Board of Education. I’m not aware of any “leftists” running for the BoE in New Canaan this year. I am, however, disheartened by that kind of rhetoric, which only highlights the stakes in this election.
In contrast with some of their opponents, the candidates on the Democratic Party line did not make partisan speeches to win their nominations only to then portray themselves as non-partisan to the general electorate. None have spoken about this town being “blue” or “red.” None have claimed they are tired of being “on defense” politically.
These are serious times, and we need serious people on our Board of Education who are committed to the non-partisan education of our kids. That’s why I will be voting for incumbent Penny Rashin and newcomers Janet Fonss, Jenn Hladick, Fatou Niang, Erica Schwedel, and Karen Willett for the Board of Education.
David J. Rucci
I grew up in New Canaan and graduated from the public school system. I am a registered Republican and come from a family of registered Republicans. I have at least two registered Democrats in my household and one undecided. At the local level, those affiliations have little to no effect on how we have chosen whom to support for the Board of Education. Local elections give us an opportunity to vote for the best person to represent our family and community, regardless of party.
Over the past decade or so – I am not sure exactly when it happened – candidates have chosen to run as a block with other candidates from their party, rather than on their own accomplishments and level of experience. Why would we choose our representatives in a block when each candidate offers a different skill set? Voting for a block is a lazy way to judge who will be the most competent or engaged person to serve on a Commission or Board. In fact, it diminishes the qualifications of some candidates who have more experience and a greater level of community service than those in their block.
While I understand that the RTC and DTC must put forth a slate and support their candidates, in the end we should vote for the individual who will best serve the community. This is about New Canaan and should not be about any national party platform. I cannot support any candidate, Democrat or Republican, who brings a national political agenda to a Board that should be focused on what is best for our students, parents, teachers, and administration. There are other ways to support those agendas, but it’s not at the local level.
All the candidates running for BOE have provided their resumes online and it is easy to review their credentials and level of engagement with the New Canaan Public School system. When voting for BOE, there is no substitute for experience. I believe it is important that a candidate have volunteer experience within the school system through the PTC or as a class parent, and have some understanding of the primary and secondary levels in our district. I also believe backgrounds in education, consulting, and finance offer our community a strong Board that can manage all situations affecting our children’s education. In the end, we need a non-partisan BOE that is well rounded, with skill sets that will continue to keep our school system at the top.
David J. Rucci
I am writing to express my full support for Janet Fonss, Jennifer Hladick, Fatou Niang, Penny Rashin, Erica Schwedel and Karen Willett for the Board of Education in the upcoming general election. I would like to start by saying I love New Canaan and even more so, love New Canaan Public Schools. It is why my family and I moved here, it is why we stay here, it is why I spent the last 4 years on the East School PTC Executive Board (including the last two years as president) and it is why I entered the process to be a Board of Education candidate. I ran as a Republican because as a fiscal conservative, that is where it felt right to run in local politics but let me be clear, as a parent running for the BOE, it was never about party. It was, is and should be about serving our children; not just my children but all of the students that walk through the five New Canaan Public Schools every day.
Politics has no place in the education of our children but the way our Board of Education is selected unfortunately makes it a necessity. The winning Republican ticket led with their whole-hearted party affiliation at each opportunity and made their unwavering Republicanism the main contrast to the other candidates. Questioning their opponents’ political affiliation (mine specifically and continually) was a successful tactic in the Republican-only caucus. Recently they have swung more to the middle and attempted to temper their previous partisan and divisive speeches. They are now trying to divert attention from their caucus rallying cries and statements including “I’m ready to fight the good fight and keep New Canaan red.”
The candidates I chose to run with and am choosing to support now don’t have to make this kind of turn. Experience and consistency matter. From the start, all these women have led with their experiences working in the schools, their time with other parents, teachers, and administrators, and their broad knowledge and exposure to all the schools in our town.
These candidates understand that the best educational outcomes for our children will come from having the best education professionals available using their unique and powerful skills in conjunction with an active and experienced Board of Education. They are all on record supporting keeping this local partnership as the main driver of our education priorities and have all driven local initiatives to help better our schools. This group of candidates has proven track records of success in our town and schools and include chairing the Saxe Building Committee, 12 years of successful service to the BOE, spearheading the West Outdoor Learning Center, founding of a local nonprofit engaged in community initiatives, and serving on the New Canaan Health & Human Services Commission. Trying to list all of their accomplishments would make this letter into a book.
They are not running because they are fearful of something that might happen, they are running because they are emboldened by all the good things that already take place here. They have seen what can be accomplished by working together and are choosing to spend even more time innovating and modernizing our schools, mentoring and counseling our children, listening to and empathizing with parents, and aiding and overseeing the school administration.
This election has real consequences to our student body population. I ask you to get to know these outstanding and qualified parent volunteers. Vote row A on November 2.
The recent letter from the Republican candidates for Board of Education to the outgoing Republican members of the committee was misleading and presumptuous.
For the benefit of all voters and our town as a whole — it bears clarification that these candidates have not been elected. Positioning themselves for a “transition” is premature.
No candidate is yet assured a spot on the BOE. There is a healthy field of experienced candidates from the Democratic party already declared, and time remains for Independents and additional Republicans to join the race.
I urge New Canaan residents to review the role of the Board of Education, and become familiar with the qualifications and experience of every candidate before voting on November 2nd.
In Chris DeMuth Jr.’ s letter of September 27th in the New Canaanite, he inaccurately cites checks and balances as the “critical question” in the upcoming Board of Education race and the reason we should elect Republicans over Democrats.
Checks and balances were introduced into the US Constitution during the Constitutional Convention of 1787, predating the existence of political parties as such. Instead, checks and balances were actually intended to check and balance the power of the different branches of government. For example, if the executive branch were to attempt to steal an election, then the legislative branch would act as a check on its power; if the legislative branch were to fail to act as a check against the executive branch, then the judicial branch would be brought to bear as an additional check against the executive branch.
It is the six Democrats standing for the Board of Education who bring balance to our local government, through their level headedness, diversity of experience, and integrity. To maintain our exceptional schools, vote Janet Fonss, Jenn Hladick, Fatou Niang, Penny Rashin, Erica Schwedel, and Karen Willet on Nov. 2.
Shona and Elliott Goldenberg
My Husband and I are active members of the New Canaan community and parents of three girls, two attending Saxe and NCHS respectively.
What concerns us the most about this election is the partisan nature which some candidates are taking. Our children’s schools are no place for politics and until now the BoE has remained entirely bi-partisan, allowing members of both parties to collaborate in order to provide the best and most balanced education for our children.
Let’s not forget that many people move to New Canaan because of our fabulous schools, which in turn has seen a tremendous surge in real estate prices and house sales and as the saying goes, “if it ain’t broke, then don’t fix it”.
What we need now is a steady, safe slate of candidates to represent the board and make sure we maintain the wonderful system that we are all familiar with and many of us moved to this town to experience.
With this in mind, and in the absence of any balanced and moderate Republicans on the slate, we will be putting our support behind the entire Democratic slate comprised of the incumbent Penny Rashin along with newcomers: Janet Fonss, Jenn Hladick, Fatou Niang, Erica Schwedel, and Karen Willet – this slate stands for togetherness not divisiveness!
I would also like to recognize the tireless work that our wonderful friend Fatou has undertaken; another important factor behind our commitment to support this slate. Her work and collaboration to lead things, such as the peaceful March last summer in support of black and brown communities, all with the full support of the New Canaan Police will stand the test of time and serves as a tribute to all that she is helping us to do. Fatou stands for everything we believe New Canaan stands for, and one of the big factors that attracts so many of us to move to the town. I work alongside Fatou in the wonderful organisation she founded – STAR has been about lifting people up not bringing them down. The ‘T’ in STAR stands for ‘together’ and we will stand together with this community and support the best people for the job, for the town and most importantly for the future of all of our children.
Shona and Elliott Goldenberg
I’ve served on the New Canaan Public Schools Board of Education for over eight years and I couldn’t be more proud of the excellence in our district and how we have navigated the pandemic. Our teachers and administration are best-in-class heroes. Our students are able to pursue a rigorous academic course of study, while participating in an extensive variety of athletics, extracurricular and academic clubs. My two eldest children were extraordinarily well prepared for college and my youngest is thriving at New Canaan High School.
It is with this perspective that I urge you to engage in the upcoming Board of Education election. Learn about and vote for candidates that will continue the excellence in our schools, while fostering a culture of respect and belonging.
I will vote for Penny Rashin, Janet Fonss, Fatou Niang, Karen Willett, Jenn Hladick, and Erica Schwedel. Each of these candidates has the professional background, skills, and perspective to move our district forward. Most urgently, we must re-elect Penny Rashin to the Board. This November, we will lose a combined 28 years of experience. While fresh perspectives energize, we must know and be informed by our history. It has been an honor to serve alongside Penny for eight years and witness how her sharp, legal mind often guides the Board. I have learned much from Penny, especially the importance of asking challenging questions and pushing, persisting in the name of excellence. When reviewing curriculum, policies, or operating procedures, Board members ask thoughtful questions and provide effective oversight and feedback. In my tenure, the Board has been constructively challenging, supportive, and never deferential to the administration. Our results bear witness. I also have personal experience with Fatou Niang, Janet Fonss, and Karen Willett. I can attest that these are talented, professional women, whom I deeply admire for their community leadership. Beyond her impressive professional accomplishments, Fatou inspires as a nonprofit leader, while Janet and Karen have been uniquely committed public servants of our schools and town.
I don’t believe that school governance should be entangled with politics. Educational leaders shouldn’t be focused on the political color of a community, but rather, laser-focused on delivering student-centered needs and excellence. This November 2nd, get out and vote for the candidates who will do that and lead us forward.
I have been a member of the New Canaan Board of Education for the past 6 years, including most recently as Vice Chair and before that, Chair. I have also worked in the finance industry for over 20 years. Recent commentary I’ve heard from candidates for the BOE is misguided, including that there must be ways to “consolidate” or “share services” to avoid “continued growth” in the budget.
Rather than using buzzwords, candidates should look at the past 5-10 years of budgets, ask questions of existing and former board members, and work to understand NCPS operations. In so doing, they would appreciate where cost savings have been (and could be) achieved. Implying that consolidation would save money means that there must be duplication of efforts or excess capacity. There is none. NCPS have reduced costs in recent years in diverse areas, including health insurance, insourcing printing and maintenance, joint purchasing and energy, among others.
If you hear someone say that the BOE budget has grown a lot you should tell them it has grown, but not a lot! In fact, the BOE budget over the past 10 years (including last year’s BOE “ask” for the current year) has grown at a compound annual growth rate of 1.9%. This approximates the rate of inflation, meaning that there has been no “real” growth in the BOE budget in a decade. Should you as a resident be worried about this lack of growth? No, you shouldn’t, because the BOE has been doing its job and doing it really well. Our school system is top in the state and yet pays less than 7 other comparable school districts per pupil, including our nextdoor neighbor.
You should be wary of those who suggest we should spend less on our town’s primary asset. At best, it’s counterproductive. At worst, it will cause a decline in our schools’ performance and home values, and an increase in our mill rates. Let’s keep up the good work of our administration and BOE by voting for those who have vowed to do so. Vote row A for the BOE – the experienced and supportive candidates who will continue the great work of our schools – Penny Rashin, Karen Willett, Erica Schwedel, Fatou Niang, Jennifer Hladick and Janet Fonss.
I am writing to endorse Karen Willett for Board of Education on the “Row A” Democratic slate. I am incredibly enthusiastic about her candidacy. I met Karen in 2014 at a BOE meeting. We were both passionate about the topic being discussed and how it affected our children. As concerned parents, we knew the best way to educate ourselves on the decision-making process was by attending and observing BOE meetings. Since that night, we’ve attended dozens of meetings, and I’ve watched Karen give public testimony to all levels of local government on important educational issues. Karen has years of experience with the multi-faceted relationship between our community and our schools.
Karen’s accomplishments speak for themselves. She served as co-president of the West School PTC from 2018-2020 and managed the initiative to create an amazing new outdoor learning space at West School (in partnership with Erica Schwedel, also a Democratic candidate for the BOE). Karen has spent years proving that she is truly dedicated to making New Canaan Public Schools the best they can be. As a member of our BOE, she will focus on building upon our district’s accomplishments and maintaining New Canaan’s#1 School District in CT ranking.
I should note that I am a Republican who is currently supporting the Democrats running for the Board of Ed. I attended the Republican caucus in July and was incredibly concerned by their lack of experience in our schools combined with their conviction to change New Canaan’s highly successful program development process. In contrast, the Democrats have presented candidates with a plethora of experience, significant contributions to our schools, and a vested interest in maintaining our district’s commitment to excellence.
Please vote for Karen Willett and “Row A” for the Board of Education on November 2nd.
Alicia Longobardo Wyckoff
I am writing to express my unqualified support of Janet Fonss, Jenn Hladick, Fatou Niang, Penny Rashin, Erica Schwedel, and Karen Willet for election to the New Canaan Board of Education. All of us in New Canaan are so proud of the high marks the New Canaan schools get for performance and for their excellent COVID response last year. With years of PTC, PFA, and BOE experience, these candidates are perfectly positioned to ensure that this tradition of excellence continues.
This slate of candidates has a deep understanding of the district’s goals and priorities and has demonstrated an ability to work collaboratively and effectively with the school administration to provide the best education possible for all New Canaan children. Their strongly held belief in a philosophy of educating the whole child by creating an academically rigorous curriculum while maintaining a healthy, supportive, and inclusive learning environment means that the needs of all children in New Canaan will be met.
A vote for these stellar, experienced candidates is a vote that will assure continued excellence of our New Canaan schools.
Alicia Longobardo Wyckoff
Caryn Kelly & Janet Mentore Lee
It is our honor to write this letter of support for Janet Leung Fonss, an exceptional candidate running for the New Canaan Board of Education.
Janet has been an active volunteer within the New Canaan Public Schools. She has served in many roles ranging from chairing events/programs to being on the Board at West School. We have worked together with Janet as co-presidents of the West School PTC. Her dedication, outstanding communications skills and creativity are just some examples of her strengths as a leader. What impressed us most about Janet is her ability to listen. She was always interested in the feedback from students, parents, administrators and teachers. People always felt comfortable talking to Janet because they felt “heard”. For example, as PTC co-President, she knew parents, teachers and administrators wanted more STEM in our schools, so she spearheaded various PTC-sponsored STEM initiatives during her tenure.
As a 20-plus year resident, Janet continues to be an active volunteer in our community through her work on the Democratic Town Committee, New England Dance Theatre and National Charity League to name a few. Janet approaches all of her volunteer roles with enthusiasm and is a collaborative team member. She asks good questions and always takes in and looks at different perspectives. These qualities are critical to being an effective member of the Board of Education.
Janet is an experienced candidate who has the ability to look at the big picture throughout all grades. She will undoubtedly ensure continued excellence in our schools and build upon the rigorous academic programs to support all of our children in achieving their maximum potential. Please join us in voting for Janet Leung Fonss along with her running mates on November 2nd.
Caryn Kelly and Janet Mentore Lee
Argentinian statesman Mauricio Macri famously said, “There is more that unites us than divides us.” That sentiment seems particularly apt in New Canaan. Many New Canaanites chose the town for the world class education provided to our children at the public schools. And when we think about the approaching school board elections, the maintenance of this quality system should continue to unify us.
New Canaan currently has one of the nation’s best school districts and has had for decades. We are rated 2nd in the state by Niche with our teachers, academics, clubs and activities all scoring A+. When it comes to our schools, we are doing things right. We have achieved this through the relevant qualifications, skill sets and experience of our administration and school board.
If residents believe, as I do, that qualifications are key to continuing to deliver fantastic public schooling, then electing school board members who respect them is critical. For this reason, I am supporting Fatou Niang. I have known Fatou since she and her family moved here some 17 years ago. I can unequivocally say two things about her:
As summer comes to an end, I hope New Canaan voters have reached out to Fatou Niang to understand how incredibly passionate she is about our community including this and future generations.
New Canaan’s school’s excellence depends on the strength of our community and active leaders like Fatou. As a parent herself living in New Canaan for the past 17 years, she and her husband have raised two young men who grew up in our town and thrived in our public schools.
As one of New Canaan’s top real estate brokers, Fatou actively advocates for our town by bringing in new families who will continue to benefit from the strength of our school system.
Fatou’s philosophy of focusing on not just academics but the environment in which our children learn makes her a perfect choice to help her drive the strategy of the Board of Education in the future.
The unique challenges of the past year have required thought leadership to ensure the most immersive education possible whether in person, hybrid or remote. The uncertainty of the future will require a unique skillset who can act decisively and quickly to ensure our children are afforded the best educational opportunities possible.
When deciding on this slate of candidates on November 2nd, I strongly encourage New Canaan voters to vote for Fatou Niang for the Board of Education.
Martha Harper, Megan Morales, Chrissy Bogal, Lindsay Tucker, Eileen Hojnacki, Abigail Skidmore, Kristin Dolan
Given the challenges our children faced over the last 18 months, this year’s Board of Education election is more important than ever. It is critical we vote for experienced candidates with a demonstrated commitment to, and passion for, representing all parents in the NCPS community. That is why we, previous members of the West School PTC Executive Board, are endorsing Erica Schwedel and Karen Willett.
Both Karen and Erica have a long history of dedicated engagement with our schools and our children through their volunteer work including as PTC Executive Board members (VP Programs and VP Parent Education, respectively) and as PTC Presidents for two years each.
One of their biggest accomplishments was the creation of the Outdoor Learning Center at West. Under their leadership, a focus group of West School principals, teachers and several talented parents conceived, designed, fundraised for and built the Outdoor Learning Center over a nearly 3-year period.
Karen and Erica demonstrated their leadership abilities throughout this extensive project. They identified the talents and skills of others, built an effective and collaborative team and showed that they are great at compromise and open discussion.
Under their leadership during Covid, the PTC worked harder than ever, redesigning, and reinventing PTC enrichment programs to work in a Covid environment. They focused on ensuring that the year was joyful and memorable and not a pale replica of a ‘normal’ year.
Karen and Erica demonstrated their commitment to our children and our school system through years of volunteering and getting real things done that have a lasting impact. They have been inspirational and effective leaders developing collaborative partnerships with administrators and faculty. They are uniquely qualified to lead our school district into the future and we hope you will join us in voting for them on November 2.
Martha Harper, Megan Morales, Chrissy Bogal , Lindsay Tucker , Eileen Hojnacki , Abigail Skidmore , Kristin Dolan
I am writing to endorse Erica Schwedel to the Board of Education as part of the “A” slate. I couldn’t be more enthusiastic about her candidacy. I first met Erica over 10 years ago in her capacity as director of development at Achievement First. At the time, I was serving on the board of one of the Achievement First schools and worked closely with Erica during her tenure there. Drawing upon her experience with education from her time at Bain and her incredible work ethic, Erica did an amazing job. As part of her job, she had to understand and interact with all aspects of the Connecticut education landscape. She led a team that worked with senior executives to raise significant funds for Achievement First schools and developed an overall funding strategy and operational controls for her group. Later, she was heavily recruited to work with a prominent family foundation on Connecticut educational issues.
We were delighted when Erica and her husband Andrew decided to make a home in New Canaan. New Canaan has been fortunate to have Erica in multiple roles contributing her education experience, strategic and analytical skills, and unbounded enthusiasm. Erica has risen to leadership positions in almost every effort she has undertaken. Erica has served as co-president of the West School PTC, co-chaired the annual appeal of the New Canaan Community Foundation where she now serves on the Board, was the parent representative for New Canaan CARES and many other roles.
Erica is incredibly smart. She is truly dedicated to making New Canaan Public Schools the best that they can be. She will always do what’s best for all students and would never let politics influence her decisions. She will bring transparency to the role and will be an innovator in finding ways to connect parents to the Board of Ed.
Please vote for the “A” Slate for the Board of Education on November 2nd.
I am writing to enthusiastically endorse Erica Schwedel, an experienced and well-qualified candidate running for the Board of Education as a member of the “A Slate” this November 2nd. Moving from another state over 20 years ago, my husband and I sought out a town with an excellent school system, recognizing that good schools also correlate with good property values. When our children were young, we knew that a strong, supportive and flexible school administration was ideal and that the abilities of great teachers to both stimulate a life-long love of learning and to instill critical-thinking skills in their students were paramount.
The third major component of the educational partnership is the local Board of Education, and the place where we, as community members, have a direct influence. Our vote is our voice! The breadth of prior experience and familiarity with our school system cannot be overstated when selecting members for the Board of Education.
Erica Schwedel would bring not only her deep resume and her passion for education, but many other desirable attributes as well.
Erica and I have worked closely together as part of the New Canaan Community Foundation team. Several years ago, we co-chaired the Annual Appeal, the major fundraiser for the Foundation, and we have collaborated on several other committees during the last few years. She believes in giving back and in improving our community and is always willing to step up where she sees a need. In fact, in recognition of her leadership skills and other talents, she was recently elected to the Board of Directors.
It is always a delight to work with Erica. As a Princeton undergrad with an MBA from Wharton, it is a given that she will bring her intelligence and analytical skills to any project. But Erica’s integrity, strength of character, high energy and positive and magnetic personality are the intangibles that make her an asset to any team. She is a listener and a collaborator.
Erica has a long-standing commitment to education, beginning in her professional career where she specialized in consulting and education at Bain & Company, IBM, Achievement First (a network of public charter schools), and at a private family foundation focused on public school education in Connecticut.
In her private life as a mom and New Canaan resident, she has been the West School PTC Co- President, as well as the West School VP -Parent Education and member of the Outdoor Learning Center Committee, Young Women’s League, and the New Canaan Cares Parent Representative Board. Erica Schwedel is highly experienced and cares deeply about children and their education, as evidenced by both her professional and personal pursuits in this realm.
If you believe that the New Canaan Public School system should continue to put the interests of the child first, that we should endeavor to both maintain and improve upon the superior quality of our local educational institutions, and that great schools make for great towns, then it is vitally important that you vote on November 2nd. There will be no make-up exam, so please mark your calendars now and plan to vote for Erica Schwedel and the rest of the “A Slate.” The slate will be easy to remember, for in education, “A“ always stands for excellence.
During my almost 12 years on the Board of Ed at the beginning of this century, I thought Democrats and Republicans accomplished quite a bit together. Noteworthy highlights include the High School and Saxe renovations, implementing full day kindergarten and introducing second language education beginning in the elementary schools. We didn’t call these Democrat or Republican accomplishments, we called them educational accomplishments, on behalf of the kids of New Canaan and the homeowners who benefitted from living in a town with a world-class school system.
It was disturbing, therefore, to read some of the comments from the recently nominated Republican BOE candidates. Somehow, despite their party’s dominance over the New Canaan BOE since time immemorial, they clearly feel angry and aggrieved; they “are tired of playing defense” and need to stake their claim as a “red town in a blue state.” After hiding from the national Republican agenda for the last four years, counseling voters to ignore the loud man behind the curtain in Washington and insisting all politics is local, it now looks like the Republican BOE candidates are enthusiastically embracing with both arms the agenda of the Republican National Committee.
Certainly they wasted no time invoking Page 1 of the RNC playbook, that race-baiting bogeyman of Critical Race Theory. No one is particularly clear on what CRT actually is, but it is obviously bad, very bad, and we all need to be very, very afraid. While the school administration has repeatedly made it clear CRT is not part of the current or any planned curriculum, we can expect little light but lots of smoke from the Republican candidates about the dangers CRT poses to young minds for the next few months as a diversion from more important issues.
And speaking of theories, what other ones might be on the list for the closer supervision of the curriculum the candidates promise (you know, that curriculum that up to now has generated a higher percentage of acceptance letters from selective and highly selective colleges than almost any other school system in Connecticut?) Let’s look to some Republican dominated states for hints. Like Texas, Louisiana, Tennessee and Florida, will they want to introduce creationism to our biology classes? Like Texas, should we withhold moral judgement about the Klu Klux Klan and instead be more sensitive to its legacy as just a misunderstood men’s social club? Will our history classes clear up the misconception that the War of Northern Aggression actually had nothing to do with slavery and instead was foisted on a reluctant south by northerners jealous of a more genteel and advanced social order?
Finally, I really can’t wait to see how the “science vs. common sense” arguments play out in our AP Government and Politics course: on the one hand government can’t tell anyone what to do with body parts above the sternum (masks on faces, shots in arms, automatic weapons on shoulders;) on the other it holds complete and absolute authority over all those parts below it.
Regrettably this year’s crop of Republican BOE candidates seems determined to make our school system Ground Zero for the RNC’s ongoing culture wars. Thankfully, as demonstrated in the last two presidential elections, New Canaan voters overwhelmingly reject this extremist national Republican platform. Independents, Democrats and yes, even some Republicans united to say “no” to divisiveness, distortion and disrespect; even in red New Canaan, Biden outpolled Trump 60/40%. The Democrats have nominated a full slate of talented and diverse candidates running on a purely local platform: keep kids safe and improve educational outcomes through collaboration with the best school administration in the state. New Canaan voters will have a real choice in November, between very different visions of our kids’ education and future.
Elaine and Chris MacKenzie
This spring will mark our 34th year in New Canaan. We moved to town from New York when our oldest was an infant: for the access to Manhattan, the quaint village, the open space, the relatively low mill rate, but, most importantly, for the schools.
Like our first fixer upper so many years ago, our town has only flourished with time — and through the lens of our five children spanning 16 years and with our youngest just 17, we have watched our community grow literally and figuratively, and in the best ways possible. We have witnessed the very grit, creativity, community-mindedness and, perhaps most crucially, collaboration that has helped New Canaan weather many storms, through upheavals and tragedies financial and otherwise.
As reflected by voter turnout, there is a false notion that federal elections, state elections, and municipal elections are of import in that order. But just as the personal is political, local elections impact our families first and most. Participation in municipal elections is a critical responsibility bestowed upon us as such fortunate residents of this town. We must take this responsibility as seriously as it requires.
We have researched all of the candidates on the ballot, both Republican and Democratic, as we do each year and have come to a clear consensus centering the preservation of what we love; what draws new neighbors to town; and known, necessary needs and improvements accessed via the very innovation that’s become synonymous with “New Canaan”.
The Democratic slate has vowed to continue our community’s legacy while working toward an even brighter future for all of our community’s members, and to do so in a rational, reasonable, thoughtful, and collaborative manner in line with our family’s values and the constraints of our capital budget. They have earned our trust as decent, dedicated New Canaanites spanning diverse families, life experiences, careers, and ages. We are bolstered by the possibility of our Town government being infused with and steered by such vital voices.
This will be the first year in our memories that both of us are voting across Row A, and we wholeheartedly encourage you to do the same: for both innovation and decency, for our vibrant town center, for conservation of our cherished “third places”, for continued reasonable property taxes, and, most importantly, for our schools.
Elaine and Chris MacKenzie
My family and I moved to New Canaan three years ago, and my son has attended Saxe since the 5th grade. We’ve had a very positive experience — from the Superintendent to the Principal, teachers and support staff.
I am an Unaffiliated voter and have voted for both Republicans and Democrats. I have not generally followed Board of Education elections that closely, but due to the pandemic, the healthy start time initiative, and other issues, I have become more interested. The Superintendent and BOE have done a tremendous job during difficult, unprecedented times. They kept us informed and kept our kids engaged and in school. I have never felt in the dark — whether it was about Covid, start times, or curriculum.
I found it troubling when the local Republican party turned their backs on their own BOE incumbents who did a great job, and instead voted in a new slate of candidates who have little education experience and have only recently been engaged with our school system. These candidates aligned themselves with the anti-mask movement, instigated unfounded fears regarding curriculum oversight, and at their caucus led with the same sort of divisive, insulting political rhetoric we’ve seen at the national level — focused on denigrating the other party and firing up their political base.
In contrast, I see the opposing candidates, including an incumbent, proposing to work constructively and proactively with a highly regarded administration that got us to a #1 school district rating. They have education experience, and have been actively engaged with the New Canaan school system across all grade levels. Politics should never play a role in local school policy, and I feel that the 6 Democrat BOE candidates are not only better qualified, they are more focused on our kids. I plan to vote Row A.
My husband and I, along with our young son moved to New Canaan more than 25 years ago. Like so many other families that moved to New Canaan we chose this town for a myriad of reasons the most important of which was the quality of the schools in New Canaan.
We have gotten to know many of the residents who have served on the Board of Education and we have always been grateful for the tireless commitments they made to our children, our teachers and the school administration. The Board has always been nonpolitical and mission driven, with the sole focus of making sure our children get the best possible education. As a result of the efforts of the current Board members, working with the administration, New Canaan is rated in the top 1 % of Connecticut’s 198 school districts, and our students had more in-person learning than any other school district in Connecticut during the pandemic.
Even though the current Republican members worked with the school administration to achieve those results, an orchestrated effort at the Republican caucus this past summer resulted in their ouster in favor of an entirely new slate of candidates. The news coverage of that event suggests that the effort was politically motivated with the goal of giving the Board a greater role in determining the curriculum and other policies of the schools. We don’t understand why the new GOP candidates apparently want to make changes in a proven track record of success.
We believe the Democratic candidates for BOE are all strong dedicated individuals, with professional backgrounds and impressive credentials. (Go to newcanaanboecandidate.com!) Penny Rashin, is a third term incumbent and the only incumbent running. She is joined by Janet Leung Fonss, Jenn Hladick, Fatou Niang and Karen Willett, all whom are equally focused on keeping New Canaan schools as strong as they have always been.
Even though there is only one ballot item in the election on November 2, this election will affect the future of New Canaan schools. Please vote Row A to ensure that the Board of Education continues to be focused on the goals that have made the New Canaan public schools great!
Letter from the Candidates
To our New Canaan community,
The upcoming Board of Education election on November 2nd will be one of the most consequential BOE elections in New Canaan history. At the Republican caucus in July, three of New Canaan’s most respected leaders were ousted from the BOE, despite their success in keeping our children in school during Covid more than any other district in Fairfield County and despite continued academic excellence. They were replaced by four Republican candidates who have no prior experience volunteering in or engaging with the schools or the BOE, all of whom appear to have been originally motivated to run for the BOE for the narrow reason of ensuring masks are optional in school. While the taglines of their platform “transparency, engagement, oversight, excellence” sound reasonable on the surface, their stated agenda is alarming.
The slate of Republican candidates is calling for a wholesale change in the way our BOE works in order to promote a partisan agenda. They are attempting to use the BOE and our schools as a platform for divisive national political issues that have never been at issue in New Canaan’s schools. Stating “we need to fight for our core values and keep race-obsessed agenda out of our schools,” they have declared New Canaan “a red town in a blue state”’ and expressed a willingness to “fight.” These candidates have repeatedly praised [Superintendent of Schools] Dr. [Bryan] Luizzi and the administration for “excellent results,” yet they have called for more oversight and transparency, implying that “Critical Race Theory” is “creeping” into our schools and that our school leadership and teachers are somehow “erasing the core values on which this country was founded” and causing students to “hate America.” The candidates have characterized our current excellent Board as being “too deferential” to Superintendent Dr. Luizzi, who is undeniably the best superintendent in Connecticut.
Critical Race Theory is not being taught in our schools. New Canaan writes its own curriculum. Partisan politics have never played a role in New Canaan schools; rather the emphasis has always been on the best ways to prepare our children for success. New Canaan Public Schools have consistently posted top academic results. In 2019, Niche.com named NCPS the #1 public school in Connecticut and in the top 1% of public school districts in the United States. We rank #1 in our District Reference Group (DRG) for English/Language Arts and Math. We have excellent college admission results, with 30% of our high school students gaining admission to the most competitive colleges.
Politics aside, the Republican candidates are inexperienced. Six of the nine incoming BOE members (5/9 if Penny Rashin is re-elected) will be new, leaving a substantial vacuum when experience and institutional knowledge are desperately needed. We are losing 21 years of collective BOE experience while managing a pandemic, new start time implementation and the usual pace of improvements that keep NCPS on top. Our team is ready to fill that vacuum. We are a group of experienced, well known and trusted candidates who have been actively involved in New Canaan schools and in the community throughout our children’s NCPS experience and beyond. Our own children range in grade from elementary to post-graduate and we are committed to representing the needs of elementary, middle and high school families.
We are former PTC/PFA Board members (including 3 PTC Presidents) and community leaders, including a highly valued current BOE member, Penny Rashin, who has served for 14 years. We understand school budgets and operations, the importance of fiscal prudence and we have demonstrated our ability to work collaboratively with parents, the administration and the greater community. We have the knowledge that will be needed to work with the Board of Finance, the Town Council and other town officials and community organizations. We are not candidates raising our hands to serve our schools and town to advance a personal agenda or for just one campaign season – we have been showing up consistently throughout the years.
Doing what’s right for our kids and keeping politics out of the classroom will be our guiding principle. We will make sure our curriculum stays at the forefront of innovation to ensure our children are equipped with the skills to be successful in the 21st century. We put children first and we are committed to keeping our kids safe and healthy in school. We care about each and every child’s happiness and success—from those who are already succeeding at the top to those who need additional support. We will continue our partnership of trust and collaboration with Dr. Luizzi, his leadership team, and our world class teachers who have made New Canaan the premier school district that it is today. We have a great deal of respect for this team due to their long record of outstanding student achievement outcomes. Respect, not deference, is the operative word, and we will actively oversee budgets and curriculum to make sure both continue to align with New Canaan’s expectations and standards.
On November 2, voters will have a choice between preservation and disruption. Our schools are our town’s most valued asset and predictor of real estate values and our slate will protect those values. We are the candidates who will protect our schools and move them forward.
Stay the Course of Excellence – Vote Row A for BOE.
Please reach out to us to join our team or if you have any questions. We want to hear from you.