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Sunday, November 21, 2010

Fairfielders Voice Hopes and Concerns on Education and the Community at United Way Forum

Fairfielders Voice Hopes and Concerns on Education and the Community at United Way Forum
Roundtable feedback will contribute to a nationwide report
(Appeared on 11/21)
By Mike Lauterborn
© 2010. All Rights Reserved.

Fairfield, CT – A small group of Fairfielders made their voices heard about education and their town at a roundtable event billed as a “Community Conversation.”

Held early Thursday evening at the Audubon Society at 2325 Burr Street, the session was hosted by the United Way of Coastal Fairfield County. Operating out of Bridgeport, this regional group serves 12 coastal communities, focusing on education, health and the financial stability of families. This was the first of many community conversations that will be scheduled twice a month after Jan. 1 in the smaller suburban towns.

“The goal of these sessions,” according to Donna Pfrommer, EVP, Brand Management for United Way, “is to listen to ordinary citizens and learn what concerns them most about their community and its education system. In this way, we can modify and prioritize our current programming to meet community needs.”

One attendee, Mary Hoag, President of the Fairfield PTA Council, said of the session, “This is a great opportunity for Fairfield to hear and talk about education. The PTA has a lot in common with the United Way in terms of its local and national focus and we want to learn from them and see how we can make a difference.”

Another attendee, Bob Hendrick, a VP at Bigelow Tea Co., said, “I’m interested in what the group has to say and how we can best utilize our education funds.”

Pfrommer led the roundtable, querying attendees about such topics as the kind of community they desire, top community issues and goals for education.

Attendees were united in their satisfaction with Fairfield as a spirited community. Chris McAleese, the Dora Wheeler Scholarship Committee Co-Chair with Fairfield’s PTA Council, said, “I’d like to keep what we have… the sense of neighborhood, its involvement, its generosity.” Hoag concurred, commending Fairfield’s civic-mindedness and ability to conduct discussions in which all viewpoints are heard. Catherine Giff, another PTA Council member and mother of three, echoed their sentiments, noting that Fairfield is a “verbal, engaged community.”

With regard to leading community issues, opinions varied. Giff believed it was key to “maintain balance between small and large neighborhoods” while McAleese said, “Redistricting and money are the two most perpetual issues in this town.”

As to goals for education, all agreed that there should be equal access opportunity, fewer government regulations and more balanced dedication of resources. Said McAleese, “Every kid should get the same shot. The Department of Education needs to compensate where there are inequalities and solve problems to keep it fair.” Hoag shared, “Sometimes there’s so much focus on special ed and gifted students that other students are neglected. Specific needs should be addressed in individual schools.”

To achieve Fairfield’s goals for education, suggestions were many. McAleese stressed the importance of strong PTA participation and that the PTA is key in spurring interaction and filling financial holes. Giff opined, “Parent involvement is key. We have some awesome parents.” Hoag suggested that parents be more educated about how the education system works and informed about the curriculum.

The regional United Way is one of 50 other networks across the U.S. initiating these conversations. Feedback like that gathered in this evening session will become part of a national report issued at the end of the calendar year.

“We hope the input we collect will help us build stronger communities and improve the educational system,” said Pfrommer.