STAMFORD, Conn. — The Stamford Daily Voice recently met with Jerry Pia, a Republican candidate, for the Stamford Board of Education.
Pia is vying for one of three open seats against fellow Republicans Lorraine Olson and Jonathan Hoch, and Democrats Polly Rauh and Dolores Burgess.
The 62-year-old, grandfather of seven boys was born and raised in Stamford, spending 60 years in Glenbrook before recently moving. In addition to 21 years on the board (1980-98 and again since 2010), he was on the Board of Representatives from 2004-11, and served as the chairperson for the Republican Town Committee for a year.
When he is not working as the executive director of the Glenbrook Community Center, he can be found working with his band or coaching baseball.
1) Biggest Issues Facing Stamford Schools?
One of the biggest issues in the city for Pia is the lack of pre-kindergarten education, and he would want the board to figure out a way to expand it to people who can’t afford the other options in the city. He believes that would immediately decrease the achievement gap in Stamford. “By the time they get to kindergarten, they will be pretty much on grade level,” Pia said.
He said the board needs to figure out what options kids have in the city and add to the pre-kindergarten options. Pia added currently that whenever and wherever he is, if he sees a parent with a child who should be starting pre-kindergarten, he will talk to them and try to help them find a viable option.
Other issues facing the school district include the expected rise in the student population, which may lead to needing another school, and getting more capital projects done to fix up the school buildings, he said.
2) What are your biggest achievements while being on the board?
Being the fiscal committee chair for the board, Pia is proud of producing what he said are three fiscally responsible budgets, which also were able to add some educational initiatives. The operating budgets were lower than the previous 12 years, when he was not on the board, he said.
Hiring Winifred Hamilton as superintendent, which he said was strenuous, but “I think we did the right thing.” He also mentioned hiring the other superintendents he was a part of during his first 18 years on the board.
He also is proud of all of the people he has helped get the necessary things they need for their children, specifically mentioning the special education program.
“That’s what drives me, that’s what keeps my energy up,” Pia said.
Going back to the early 1980s, Pia remembers the board going to a seminar to learn about computer-assisted instruction, and then did not have it in the budget, so he went around to each department asking them to give back money until he was able to get enough to add the program.
“That was the beginning of me being me,” he said.
3) Are the schools headed in the right or wrong direction?
Pia said the adoption of the Common Core State Standards will help the schools move forward, but there needs to be an increased pre-kindergarten program to help students start at the same level, and the board needs to work with the community centers with after-school programs to continue to help kids.
The population of the city is very diverse with different economic backgrounds and ethnic backgrounds that the board needs to help kids of every population, and by forming a triangle between the community, families and the schools that should help, he said.
“It’s a beginning for the school system,” Pia said, adding that for the previous decade, the district was doing something else and now is in the process of changing.
He is also excited with the new “zero” planning he started this past year, which in addition to helping form the budget, will give the district a look at children in the city from ages zero on up, and will help them plan.
Pia also wants to see Hamilton’s plan and goals as well.
4) How would you keep your constituents involved in your decision-making process?
Pia said he and the board have to go to the community centers and neighborhood associations throughout Stamford and meet people. He added the board can’t just have meetings in different locations, which it tried in the past, but it has to listen to what others are saying.
“You have to get everybody involved,” he said, adding the board can’t wait for people to go to its meetings, and the board has to ask what the community’s concerns are and hand over the microphone to them, “It’s not for the board to talk to people.”
He added he likes doing stuff like that and knows that Hamilton does, and is excited to do more outreach into the community.
Pia also mentioned possibly re-forming a student advisory committee, which they had in the past with high school and middle school students.
5) Why should people vote for you?
He said he has a passion for helping people, helping educate children and meeting with people.
“I love doing what I am doing,” he said.
He also said he has experience with the budget process and the school system, as well as the respect of the staff and community. Pia said when people have issues, they like to know someone wants to help them.
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