As a father who has a stake in the success of Westport schools, I was struck by the choice that was laid bare in last night's debate for the Westport Board of Education race, hosted by the Westport League of Women Voters.
On one hand, you had the current board members touting their experience, time in the job, and the 'process'.
On the other hand, you had fresh, private sector talent vying for seats on the board, touting accountability and results.
Camilo Riano and Jamie Fitzgerald faced off against current board members Lee Goldstein and Neil Phillips. Goldstein is infamous for refusing to recite the pledge of allegiance at meetings of the Westport BOE.
Riano has built a reputation of calmly, but firmly confronting the board on bad policy during BOE meetings for the last three years.
I saw a lot of shaking heads agreeing with Fitzgerald and Riano on their assessment that Westport schools have lost their focus on academic rigor, and safety for students.
"Westport schools are in decay," offered Riano right out of the gate with his first response. "There is a time lag for changing priorities focusing away from academic rigor to reach the high school level."
Riano stated that Saugatuck Elementary, where his children attend, is now 56th in the state, as opposed to top tier rankings previously enjoyed, due to a shift from academic basics, to 'how students feel'.
This type of educational decay will have a direct result on property values long-term in Westport.
Riano talked about the lack of vision, and transparency in current board proceedings. He described how he had to be a detective to find out where the meetings were to be held on the 'equity study' which is transforming Westport schools into a model of 'equal outcomes' instead of 'equal opportunity'.
The equity study meetings were not live streamed as are regular BOE meetings. One can guess as to why.
In response, Goldstein focused on the board's emphasis on 'how kids feel', and how that should be at least equal to academic rigor, if not prioritized. "Students need to learn how to be empathetic, and how to become good human beings," she declared. "They have to learn to relate to the world."
"We have to support emotional health, and teach students how to be a good friend, to make them happy, successful adults."
Goldstein has been previously recorded saying that 'making up for 400 years of oppression' should be a focus of Westport schools. She touted her long-term experience in education and on the board, and her relationships and interaction with other administrative agencies, 'stakeholders' of Westport education.
Riano and Fitzgerald emphasized how parental interaction should be the primary concern of the board.
Goldstein got a laugh from the audience when she declared, "The equity study meetings couldn't have been so secret as you were there," referring to Riano's inference the board was not acting in good faith with the equity study implementation.
Phillips focused on 'process' and his 25 years of experience in the field. He declared mental health was the number one issue for Westport schools.
Riano countered that children are not 'sad' as Westport officials want to suggest, but that children are naturally going through a discovery process in growing up, and academics are most important to ensure success. He decried the political ideology which has infested Westport education.
Riano received firm affirmation from the audience when he declared that recent incidents of violence at Westport schools were not an 'administrative disciplinary' issue, but criminal behavior, and suggested the lack of focus on accountability by the board was endangering the safety of Westport students.
Finally, the issue of LGBT pornographic materials in Westport schools was raised. Goldstein refused to admit that graphic images of anal, oral gay sex is pornography, calling it 'mature content'. She came across as very disingenuous.
Any thinking human should be able to admit that images of boys with another male's penis in their mouth is pornography. Or, images of another male's penis in the rectum of a boy is pornography, and parents should have a say if this material is provided to their children in a school setting.
Fitzgerald added that Westport education should be focused on 'facts only', and suggested her involvement with the board would lead to a private sector-like emphasis on results. For instance, on the issue of slavery, she suggested students should be taught what actually happened, and make their own decisions, not told 'how to think' about difficult subjects, through an ideological lens.
Riano described parents as the 'stockholders' of their kids educational corporation, not 'stakeholders' as Goldstein offered.
The debate showed Westport parents have a stark choice in their quest to rejuvenate their child's future education - trust the current process leading to decay, or force accountability that will in the long-run enhance their children's opportunities and success in life.