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Residents Grill Westport School Board Candidates

WESTPORT, Conn. – With questions about all-day kindergarten, bullying, sex education and budgets, Westport’s four Board of Education candidates were quizzed by residents Monday night during a debate sponsored by the League of Women Voters.

During the hourlong debate, Democrats Mark Mathias and Michael Gordon with Republicans Jeannie Smith and Jennifer Tooker answered questions submitted by the audience. One questioner asked whether they thought the current sex education curriculum needed to be expanded.

Tooker , a mother-of-three, said she believes this curriculum, like all curriculums, should regularly be reviewed. “The various components to consider are what’s best for the child, what’s best for the community, what is the community trying to achieve and what are other high-performing school districts doing,” she said. “Together, we take a look at all these issues as part of the curriculum review and make a decision.”

Like Tooker, Mathias and Gordon said it was important to review all curriculums on a regular basis to make sure they meet the needs of the students and the community.

Smith , a mother-of-four, said she believes the best education children can get is one that will help them in all aspects of life. “We know that we are here as a school to educate our children on making the best choices,” she said. “It’s important that that begins at home, but that the school continues to carry that so we do provide the best education for children in every area of their life.”

When asked what cost-saving measures they would consider, all four candidates spoke in favor of finding more ways to consolidate services with the town.

Queried about all-day kindergarten, Gordon, Mathias and Tooker said they would have to carefully research the issue if it were to come up to the board. Smith, a mother-of-four, said the current setup — three full days and two half days — satisfies her as both a mother and former teacher.

The candidates were also asked how they would enrich education for students in the district. Mathias , an incumbent and father-of-two, said it all comes down to having the best teachers. “We need to put the best teachers in front of the students that we can,” he said. In order to attract the best teachers, he said it was important to provide teachers with “an environment where their skills are desired, they are given opportunities to shine, given facilities that are conducive to education, compensated fairly.”

Gordon , a father-of-three, stressed the importance of maintaining class sizes. “We have been able to maintain Board of Education guidelines set on class size a long time ago, and we need continue meeting those guidelines because if we get to a point where we have to exceed them, it will be that much harder [for teachers] to personalize and even the best of teachers will have a hard time reaching every student,” he said.

If you missed the debate, it will be rebroadcast on Channel 79 (AT&T Channel 99) Friday, Oct. 7, through Sunday, Oct. 9, at 8 p.m. It will also be available on the town website through Election Day on Nov. 8.

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