The five candidates for three of the Stamford Board of Education's available seats met Wednesday evening in the gymnasium of the Yerwood Center to address members of the community in a forum-style debate.
Republican candidates John Hoch and incumbents Lorraine Olson and school board Vice President Jerry Pia answered questions alongside democratic newcomer Dolores Burgess and current board President Polly Rauh to address their concerns and visions for the future of Stamford's schools at the debate, hosted by the NAACP Stamford Chapter and the PT Council.
A variety of topics were covered, ranging from what candidates consider to be the top three main responsibilities of the board, overcrowding, infrastructure needs, special education, the achievement gap and extending school hours.
In terms of student hour expansion, the candidates were split on whether extending a students day or extending the school year, but all seemed to support the idea of keeping students in school for longer periods.
"I think [extending] the day is better," said Burgess. "I think children adapt to a lot of things. The problem will be the parents that will have more trouble adjusting to it. If good learning is going on and it's fun and [the kids] are being challenged and motivate, I think they won't mind going a little longer."
Olson challenged that position, saying students are overworked as it is and cited "studies" that showed students have trouble waking up for the classes they already have on their plate. She said extending school hours was important, but extending the year was the best option.
"Colleges require kids to be well-rounded," she said. "They fit sports into the end of the day and all these other extra-curricular activities. I just don't know if you could extend the day with a child, it's just too long already."
To the achievement gap, there were several different theories projected. Several times throughout the evening, Pia took the stance that per-kindergarten introduction to educational elements was important to a student's future success. He said focusing funds in that area would be imperative to closing the achievement gap in Stamford by helping everyone get to the same level of learning early on.
"Preschool is extremely important," he said. "You have to get to children really early. We've seen through various results that everybody learns on the same level, they just don't come in at the same level and that's the key. We have to get them to all come in at the same level."
Rauh said engaging the community and getting all the players in a child's life involved in their education is an important factor in closing the gap, but she said spending money in areas where it isn't needed isn't an especially effective course of action.
"The resources of the district need to be put where the needs are," she said. "We talk about equality [in giving funds per school]. I think we need to get away equality and look at equity and put our efforts exactly to the point of the needs of the children in those particular schools and also monitor that the standard curriculum and the amount of time spent on instruction is implemented across the district and not in variations."
Hoch said everyone present, regardless of party affiliation or previous experience, was up there for the same reason—because they cared about the students of the city of Stamford. Every action they participated in was for the betterment of those children.
"I've enjoyed this process," Hoch said. "The people up here are willing to give their heart, soul, blood, sweat and tears to the young people of Stamford and whether or not we will agree on every issue if I'm elected, I know that I will be starting from that place. My hope is that we'll all have a little civility because we're all up here for the same reason."