Meet the Candidates for the Norwich school board

NORWICH – Eight candidates will be vying for the three board of education seats up for grabs in the Norwich City School District’s budget vote and school board election on May 18. At 6 p.m. tonight, voters will have an opportunity to meet these individuals and hear their stance on issues faced by the district at a Meet the Candidates Night sponsored by Norwich’s Parent Teachers Student Association in the Stanford Gibson Elementary School Auditorium.

According to PTSA President Victoria Mitchell, the event gives district residents a chance to learn more about each candidate and help them make an informed decision on election day.

The three board of education seats up for grabs in the upcoming election are those currently occupied by Board President Bob Patterson, Vice President Kathleen Coates and Bill Loomis.

Patterson and Loomis are both seeking re-election. Former board members Clyde Birch and Mark Hollifield have also entered the race, as have first-time candidates Heather Collier, Linda Horovitz, Thomas Morrone and David Older.

Meet the Candidates: Incumbents

Bob Patterson

School Board President Bob Patterson says he is running for another term in order to finish what he started six years ago.

“The district was in a slump and needed change. We are now cresting that hill and need to set plans to continue our children’s success,” said Patterson, who has been a district resident for 32 years. 12 of those years have been spent on the Norwich City School Board. He served his first term from 1992 - 1995, then again from 1996 - 1999. He returned to the board in 2004. He has been President of the board for the last three years.

“The most pressing concern we face as a District is to maintain a well rounded education program for our children as we deal with the financial challenges coming in the next year,” Patterson said.

According to Patterson, what sets him apart is his love of a challenge, and the satisfaction he gets from achieving a positive outcome.

“Another valuable asset I offer is experience,” he said. In addition to being a taxpayer and long-time school board member, Patterson is also “a retiree on a fixed income who has broad work experience from labor, public union representative to supervisor.”

Patterson said he feels he has made an impact on the community over the years by volunteering.

“I have done this as a PTA member receiving an Honoree Life Award, Boy Scout leader with Pack/Troop 63 through United Church of Christ, Girl Scouts (loved working the cookie drive), Red Cross, school volunteer, P.A.C.T. Coordinator, school boosters, District task forces, Norwich Youth Board, life line responder, and Norwich City School Board.”

As a school board member, Patterson said his most significant contributions “have been to listen to every person, young and old alike, and work their issues and concerns to the best of my ability for the community as a whole.”

The school board president said he has made a point to question and research everything that comes before the board, as well as “learn from those around me and apply that knowledge to serve the children of this District.”

Bill Loomis

Bill Loomis is currently serving out the remainder of the school board term he was appointed to in July of last year. He previously served on the board from 1995 to 1998.

Loomis and his wife Betsy have four children, two of which are currently enrolled in the district. As both a tax payer and parent, Loomis said he has “a vested interest in every decision made as a board member.”

“Being a lifelong resident of this city, serving on the board allows me the opportunity to give back to my community, something I strongly believe in,” he said.

Loomis cites state and federal aid cuts, unfunded mandates and the responsibility to local tax payers as the district’s top concerns.

“We must continue to look for opportunities to cut spending, while at the same time allowing our children to have a well rounded, quality education experience,” he said.

Loomis said he and his fellow board members were forced to make tough decisions this year during the budget process, including the elimination of a number of positions.

“I felt that it was necessary to bring a budget to the community that balances the needs (and) wants of the local taxpayers with the educational goals established by the district,” Loomis said. He is currently Hewlett Packard’s North American Service Coordinator assigned to the P&G account. He credits his professional background for his ability to make difficult decisions, as well as the analytical thought process he brings to the board.

Loomis volunteers for a number of local organizations, and is a strong supporter of Norwich athletics.

Meet the Candidates: Challengers

Clyde Birch

Former School Board member Clyde Birch, who served on the board from 2005 to 2008, is making his first run for office, since failing to retain his seat in the 2008 election. Originally from the Syracuse area, Birch has lived in Chenango County for 22 years - 18 of which have been spent in Norwich, which he calls his “adopted hometown.” He and his wife Laureen have two children, both of whom graduated from Norwich High School.

Birch has worked for NBT Bank for 23 years. He currently serves as branch manager for the bank’s Sidney branch. In his position, he also oversees his counterparts in the Bainbridge and Afton branches.

Birch said he decided to make another run for the school board because he wants to see the board restore its focus on children.

“My focus is on the students,” he said. “I really want to serve the district and help it continue to move forward.” He believes his strong financial background, and more than 25 years in the industry, will make him an asset to the board.

“The real thing I bring to the board is that I don’t have an agenda,” he said. “I really love serving the district. It’s all about the students.”

According to Birch, Norwich has made a great deal of progress in recent years - some of which he had the privilege of being a part of while on the board - and he wants to see that momentum continue.

“I want to see this school district continue to flourish,” he explained.

Birch is very familiar with the demands and responsibilities of serving on a governing body such as this.

“I’ve got a lot of board experience,” he reported. In addition to his tenure on the Norwich school board, he has also served on the boards of the Sidney Rotary Club, Afton Sertoma, Opportunities for Chenango and New Berlin Housing & Preservation. He has served on OFC’s finance committee for the last 10 years; and as treasurer and finance director at New Beginnings Church for the last 15. He also chair’s the Norwich City School District’s internal audit committee.

Heather Collier

Norwich High School graduate and Pharsalia native Heather Collier is also vying for one of the three vacant board of education seats. During her youth, she served as volunteer and EMT with her local fire department. She also ran a summer youth program for her town. After receiving her diploma from Norwich, Collier pursued a degree in education. She worked for 11 years in her chosen field in the North Country, before returning to the Norwich area in 2007. Upon her return, she became principal at Perry Browne Intermediate School, the school she herself had attended as a child. She said she served in that capacity “with the best interests of the children and the community as (her) moral compass.”

She resigned from her position last spring, and is currently a full-time doctoral student, pursuing a PhD in Education.

Collier said she has chosen to run for the school board at this time out of an interest to serve the community. It is her professional experience as an educator and administrator which she says sets her apart as a candidate.

“I am familiar with the policies and procedures that have been set forth by the Norwich City School District and the NYS Education Department,” she explained.

 According to Collier, “being able to do what is best for the children and community during a time of difficult decisions due to the uncertainty of funding over the next several years” is the most district’s most pressing concern.

Mark Hollifield

Mark Hollifield has lived in Norwich for the last 51 years and is a 1977 graduate of Norwich High School. He currently resides in the City of Norwich with his wife, Dr. Sara Long. He has worked as chief of maintenance for Golden Age Apartments in Norwich for 32 years.

Hollifield has previously served two terms on the district’s board of education, from 1992 to 1998. Two of those years were spent as vice president of the board. He is also a past president of the Greater Chenango Jaycees and a graduate of both Leadership Chenango and Norwich Citizens Police Academy.

According to Hollifield, he is running for the board once again because he feels that with today’s challenges, strong leaders are needed “to provide direction to administration and get our school board back on a productive path.”

The most pressing concerns facing the district, in his opinion, are “good leadership” and trying to maintain programs in the face of the current fiscal crisis.

Hollifield said he believes he will bring a different perspective to the board.

“I am an independent thinker who considers all sides of an issue before making a decision,” he explained. As a person who has a learning disability himself, he says he will also be “an advocate for giving students of all abilities the opportunities to succeed.”

Hollifield cites his past experience on the Norwich City School board of education as one of the most significant contributions he’s made to the community. He said he is particularly proud of his work with a committee which had been tasked with determining how best to utilize a state matching funds grand.

“I recommended that we use the money to help parents who have problems helping their children with their school work. The ‘Even Start’ program was born from this idea,” he explained.

Dr. Linda Horovitz

Dr. Linda Horovitz is making her first run for a seat on the Norwich School Board. Horovitz, who obtained her PhD in audiology from the University of Florida, first moved to Norwich when she was 10. She left after graduating from Norwich High School to further her education and establish herself professionally, but returned to the area to be near her family. Upon her return, she went into private practice, establishing Chenango Speech and Hearing Services.

According to Horovitz, her work with special needs individuals is one of her primary motivations for seeking election to the school board.

“I really believe in excellence in education for everyone,” she said, explaining that she has been disheartened by difficulties she has encountered in getting students the equipment they need to be successful in the classroom. “I want to be able to advocate for the kids who need it.”

“I have a great deal of experience in education,” said Horovitz, citing her work on a competency based education committee formed by the governor of New Hampshire during her time in the state. Locally, she has served as an itinerant speech therapist through BOCES, as well as a professional provider in the community.

“I don’t look at it as a political race,” she said. “It should really be in what’s the best interest for the kids.”

Horovitz said she has fond memories of her childhood in Norwich, and playing varsity athletics while in High School.

“I loved Norwich,” she reported. “It was a great place to grow up.”

For her, maintaining the excellence in education for which Norwich is known, on a budget which does not overburden taxpayers, needs to of primary importance.

She admits that these are challenging times for the district, particularly with the current fiscal situation, but she says she is up for it.

“I’m always ready for a challenge,” Horovitz said.

The local business owner has served on the boards of the Chenango SPCA, Chenango County Child Care Council and Mt. Hope Cemetery. She volunteers for Gus Macker and Relay for Life, and is active with the Norwich Rotary. She describes herself as an avid bowler, golfer and reader of professional journals, and enjoys competing in agility events with her cocker spaniel, Max.

Tom Morrone

Tom Morrone’s resume is a short one. For more than 50 years, the Norwich native has had but one employer - Christman Motor Sales. He started at the local car dealership in 1958, cleaning and preparing cars for customer delivery. Today he is president of the business, which sits just blocks away from the house in which he was raised.

By far the lengthiest portion of the document is the veritable laundry list of community organizations Morrone has been involved with over the years. First and foremost is his role as chairman of the Chenango County Republican Committee, a position he has held since 1981. His 29 years as the party head has earned him the distinction of being the longest standing chairman in the state, he explained.

Despite his strong Republican ties, Morrone stresses the fact that his run for school board is not a political race. His interest in a seat on the board, he says, is an extension of his continued dedication to his hometown.

“I know what the word ‘commitment’ means,” he said. “I’m committed to this community.”

That commitment has included serving on a number of boards and as a member of numerous organizations, including: the Chamber’s Government Affairs Committee, the local chapter of the American Cancer Society, the Norwich Kiwanis Club, Chenango Memorial Hospital Building Fund, City of Norwich Traffic Commission, St. Bartholomew’s Church Fund Drive Committee, the Greater Norwich Local Development Corporation, the American Legion and others.

He is also a past president of the New York State Auto Dealers Association, of which he is still an active member.

“I’ve done a lot of things in this community that have benefited Norwich and the greater community,” Morrone reported. He has been recognized for his contributions on more than one occasion. Such as in 2006, when he received Commerce Chenango’s Commitment to Community Award. The following year, he was named the Boy Scout’s Distinguished Citizen of the Year.

Morrone said he wants to ensure that the Norwich school district maintains its reputation. He said he feels the district’s most pressing concern is the “financial impact the budget will have on the community.”

David Older

David Older is seeking his first term on the Norwich City School Board. Originally from the Corning area, he has called Norwich home for more than three decades. He and his wife have three children, all of whom live outside the area.

Older earned his Bachelor’s Degree in Chemistry from LeMoyne and an MBA from Syracuse University. His professional career was spent working in the pharmaceutical industry, primarily in logistics and operations management. Now retired, he takes classes through the Norwich branch of Morrisville State College.

While Older has never held an elected office, he has served as both chairman of the Plymouth Planning Commission and treasurer of Opportunities for Chenango.

“Over the years I have been described as highly creative, frank, analytical and data driven,” the former pharmaceutical executive said, enumerating the characteristics which he believes will make him an asset to the board.

Older said he was prompted to run for school board out of a desire to give back to the community of which he has been a part for more than 30 years.

“I also believe the combination of Obama’s pushing for measuring and rewarding teacher performance, along with the New York State education funding crisis, makes it likely that real change in our education system is a possibility,” he explained. “I have some skills that would be useful in bringing about such change.”

Older said he believes “getting full value for the money spent” is the district’s most pressing issue at the present time. While he says Norwich is ahead of most New York schools in this regard, there are some both in state and in other parts of the country which he believes do “a better job while spending less on a per student basis.”

“Closely tied in with the subject of value is teacher competence,” Older says, citing studies which illustrate the positive impact good teachers have on their students, as well as the detrimental effect “bad teachers” can have. “It is almost criminal to keep incompetent teachers in the classroom and we need to work with the unions to remove these teachers.”

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