Recent BOE Candidate Reflects On More Community Involvement
Published: June 3rd, 2022

Recent BOE candidate reflects on more community involvement Pastor Jen Westervelt

By Jen Westervelt, NCSD BOE Candidate

“We do not learn from experience…we learn from reflecting on experience.”

-John Dewey, Philosopher & Educator

As a leader in our community, I have found there is great value in taking a step back and reflecting once a major project has been completed. So, it is with hope for the future that I write these words offering suggestions to reflect the best practices I am hopeful Norwich City School District (NCSD) will want to emulate for future Budget/Board of Education (BOE) votes.

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It is crucial to have clear guidelines and specific protocols for conducting all facets of this vital event.

Some may suggest I could have shared these words at an upcoming Board of Education meeting, but I have been encouraged to take a different path when sharing my feedback since thoughts shared during Public Comment have not led to subsequent action steps.

I am hopeful these insights reach as many community members as possible because this piece is in direct response to their observations and requests. I expect these concerns can be easily remedied and am optimistic that will be the course of action taken.

Use of NCSD’s Internal Email System

Moving forward, if an interested BOE candidate happens to be a current NCSD employee, it should be made very clear that one’s use of the NCSD internal email system for campaign purposes is not appropriate. This approach could provide an unfair advantage in light of the fact the Board of Education directly impacts the work of the employees of our school district. It is also not within the proper use of this communication system.

Clear, Effective Communication Pre-Vote

NCSD has improved over the course of this school year when it comes to utilizing a variety of tools to inform community members and parents/caregivers. That is appreciated. However, there are additional steps that can be taken to prioritize keeping voters informed. First and foremost, it is essential the Annual Budget vote AND Board of Education election are publicized equally. Existing platforms should be leveraged to offer equal access to all voters on BOTH of these matters. For example:

-The informative Budget Newsletter published by NCSD should also include information about the BOE candidates, such as: biographical information, proposed goals, actions taken (if incumbent), etc. This is a free publication received by all current residents of NCSD, which is unlike our valuable newspaper: The Evening Sun.

-Furthermore, this information, along with clarity on where and when to vote, should be included on NCSD’s website, app, social media and any other applicable platforms AND our local newspaper.

-Similarly, the robo-call phone system, which delivers a pre-recorded voicemail message, should be utilized to remind community members of any/all opportunities to attend public hearings, forums, and to vote.

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-Voter eligibility requirements should also be consistent on all publications AND at the polling location, so people understand one does not have to be a registered voter nor property/school tax payer in order to participate.

-The signage displayed to signal voters outside the polling location should also acknowledge the vote is for BOTH the Annual Budget and Board of Education. Since this polling location is different from other votes, perhaps having signage at other typical polling sites would be helpful in order to redirect any confused community members.

Meet the Candidates

The value of the opportunity for community members to meet the Board of Education candidates is tremendous. It has been a past practice leading up to the BOE election, and it would be wise to prioritize this for 2023 and beyond. NCSD currently offers an opportunity for voters to attend a public hearing in order to learn about the proposed budget in great detail, so it makes sense that the same level of attention would be given to those running for BOE.

While some candidates may be uncomfortable to share in a high-pressure public forum, it is important voters have the opportunity to ask questions and hear from each of the people requesting their support.

While it was mentioned turnout hasn’t always been strong for this offering, we should all agree every vote matters, and equal opportunity should be prioritized for both the candidates AND the voters. Even a small number of votes could end up being a deciding factor in an election, so anticipated low representation should not negate the value of a public forum.

Actually, it should motivate us to prioritize it that much more. If it is not appropriate for NCSD to organize this opportunity, the proper entity should be decided upon and tasked with bringing it to fruition.

Transparent/Complete Communication of Election Results

Numbers matter, so while it is very helpful to receive the breakdown of “Yes” and “No” votes for budget-related items, the final tally of votes for each BOE candidate should also be prioritized. While it was mentioned that the election was “too close to call” in a previous newspaper article, follow-up communication has not shared the final counts. I

n the interest of transparency and completion, I would like to do that here: Deb Phelps 393, Kiernan Hamilton 350, and Jen Westervelt 318.

Overall, a predetermined timeline for when each of these above items should occur, as well as who is responsible for which tasks, should be created well in advance of the vote. This ensures all community members are fully informed and able to cast their ballots with confidence.

I am hopeful for the future of NCSD and our community at large, and my unwavering commitment to see us reach our full potential will remain steadfast.

It is my understanding two seats will be up for election again next year, and these proposed changes would certainly bolster community education and involvement. It would also ensure equal representation for all candidates, which should be a priority.

As a community, we have a responsibility to come alongside NCSD as we collectively seek to Connect, Inspire, and Empower our students, families, faculty, and staff. Together, we will bring positive change.