The following appeared in The Republican-American - https://www.rep-am.com/
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WOODBURY – Bethlehem and Woodbury residents will go to the polls Tuesday to elect four members to the Region 14 Board of Education.
Polls will be open for in-person voting in both towns from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Board Chairman Janet Morgan said next week’s election will be the area’s first in-person election since the COVID-19 pandemic took hold back in March.
A total of eight candidates have been nominated for the four open seats on the board, which has a total of eight members. Four are not up for re-election.
Two seats are open in each town and voters will be able to choose four candidates, two from each town. Board members are elected to three-year terms beginning July 1.
Incumbents Ed De Cortin of Woodbury and Michael DeVine and Pam Zmek of Bethlehem are looking to return to their seats and have each been nominated by their respective parties. Longtime board member Maryanne Van Aken opted not to seek reelection,
Newcomers on the ballot are Woodbury residents Jonathan Kapstein, Derek Packett, Tikva Rose and Casey Rushin, and Bethlehem resident Melissa Wesaw.
First-time candidate Kapstein, a retired international journalist and Navy officer, has been endorsed by both the Republican and Democratic parties.
The four remaining challengers all have children in the school system and have made that a key point of their campaign, especially as there is not one current member of the Board of Education with a school-age child.
In a letter to the Republican-American this week, Woodbury resident Diane Macleod addressed that fact, saying the board needs to better represent “the composition of its community” and called next week’s vote a “consequential election.”
“Should none of the four parent candidates be elected onto the Board of Education, the board will be made up entirely of non-current parents, an anomaly for sure,” Macleod said.
Packett, a financial adviser, has two kids in the district and says parents’ voices need to be better heard and represented. He has pledged to use his experience to assist the board in navigating these uncertain times. Packett said Region 14 needs to continue to attract families as Connecticut towns begin to see an increase in interest as people look to move out of the more congested areas.
The son of a lifelong educator, Packett said he understands the challenges facing teachers as the whole education system has had to change “on the fly.”
Kapstein is running on his experience, commitment to “sympathetic education” and a “world view” about what is needed for life ahead. His career spanning the globe has allowed him to see that education is a key to maintaining American leadership in a global environment and he is seeking to lend a hand in that process, he said.
De Cortin was first elected to the Board of Education at a special election last summer to replace John Chapman, who stepped down midterm. De Cortin, who owns Deep Woods Nursery in Woodbury, has long been active in local politics and is a member of the Republican Town Committee. His supporters say he has earned a reputation for his civic mindedness and his ability to “look at the whole picture.”
De Cortin says he wants to continue his work on the board to help students face the complex challenges of social change and global competition. He is also an advocate for “cost efficiency” where schools look to reduce costs not directly associated with positive student outcomes.
Rose also has children in Region 14 schools and is concerned about the lack of parent representation on the board. This is especially true, she said, during a time when learning may continue to take place outside the schools, and when parents are resuming the roles of at-home teachers more than ever before.
Rose is relying on her finance and education backgrounds to be the kind of well-rounded member the board needs. She said her main goal is to ensure no student “falls between the cracks” and is guaranteed the tools and support needed to succeed. She wants to empower parents to have more input into the educational process.
Rushin said not all students learn the same way and knows first hand what it’s like to “fall through the cracks.” He wants to make sure that never happens in Region 14 where he has a 9-year-old daughter in school.
A member of the Woodbury Zoning Commission, Rushin has been active in the community since his arrival in town 12 years ago, including a stint as a volunteer firefighter.
DeVine has been a member of the board since 2014 and has long been an active member of the Bethlehem community, particularly when it comes to finance, also having served on the Bethlehem Board of Finance for 12 years and serving as town treasure for 12 years before that.
DeVine, a semi-retired computer technology consultant, grew up in Danbury and moved to Bethlehem in 1986. He’s been a mainstay in the community ever since, including as a volunteer firefighter for the past 33 years.
Pam Zmek is the board’s current vice chair and is seeking her fourth term on the board, where she has earned a reputation for being a good listener and understanding all sides of an issue. She is a third-grade teacher at St. Rose School in Newtown. Before that, Zmek spent 14 years working as a learning specialist for the Diocese of Bridgeport and three years as a classroom teacher in Our Lady of Fatima in Wilton.
Zmek, a 17-year resident, is also a member of the Bethlehem Historic District Commission.
Wesaw said she plans to focus on issues of transparency and efficiency, technology, special education, and investing in the students and staff. She has pledged to be a good listener and find fair and safe solutions that benefit the students and parents. She says she will advocate for the community and speak up when others are not able.
With her past legal experience, education and long history in both towns, Wesaw is looking to bring “a new light” to the board, which she said needs a change of perspective, including having more parents of school age children. She has five children with one at almost every school in the district.
In a joint statement released Friday, De Cortin and Kapstein said they agree that a more dynamic conversation between the board and Region 14 parents and other taxpayers is needed.