After playing a huge role in her children's preschool as the board president, Democrat Patty McCormick felt the next logical step for her was to get involved in the Darien public schools and to gain a seat on the Board of Education.
"I wanted to be a part of shaping policy and curriculum and what happens within our schools with our kids," McCormick said. "I'm extremely passionate about education, and I'm really involved in best practice and what works, and I would love to see those ideas implemented within our schools."
For McCormick, the top challenge facing Darien Public Schools is enrollment. "How do we get a handle on that, and with the two major new developments in town it's difficult to project how many more kids we're going to have within our school systems," she said.
Darien already has portable classrooms at many of its schools and had to turn the art room at Tokeneke School into a classroom "because we don't have enough space at a brand-new school," she said.
She said class size needs to be reviewed, as well. "We live in a great community; who wouldn't want to live here? We have great schools and low taxes and a great commute; of course families are going to want to flock here."
She believes the second-largest challenge facing the Darien schools is special education.
"The state of Connecticut no longer reimburses 100 percent to us, which they're supposed to, for special education costs, and they don't give us a number as to how much they'll give us," McCormick said. "And each year that number has been decreasing, and so it then falls on the Board of Education to figure it out."
If the Board of Education cannot come up with the funds, it has to go to the Board of Finance for the money. "It's always a moving target," she said, "and so we need to start to hold the government more accountable for how much they're going to reimburse us because we have great special ed services here."
McCormick thinks if you can help more students who need special education services "in-house and provide services within the school community rather than sending them to a school that's outside Darien would benefit the town in many ways."
McCormick was born and raised in a suburb of Detroit before she moved to California, where she lived in San Francisco and Los Angeles. She received a bachelor's degree in English from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.
She had various jobs: as a writer for the Palo Alto weekly newspaper, as an after-school teacher in northern California, as an intern for web development for Grace Cathedral in the San Francisco Bay area. And when she moved to the East Coast, she and her husband decided it was time to settle down and have kids. She worked on Wall Street in the hospitality industry for a while before finally becoming a stay-at-home mom.
"It's been a long journey, but I've always been passionate about education," McCormick said. "I started out my education thinking I wanted to be a kindergarten teacher."
Her time at her children's pre-school, the Community Cooperative Nursery School in Norwalk, which has a play-based immersion curriculum, was rewarding.
"It's such a gem," McCormick said. "They have award-winning teachers, and the parents are involved, they're in the classroom, and it's one of the places where you meet people that are friends for life."
She said being in the CCNS "re-ignited her passion for being with kids and seeing that spark in them, that love of learning, and being able to foster that love of learning. And hopefully that never goes away. Hopefully, you always want to be better and you always want to learn new things."
When she tackles an issue or a task, she likes to ask a lot of questions. "If somebody's doing something a certain away, I want to know why they're doing it," she said.
"And how does this best serve our students? And is this the best way to serve our students? And how does that make our schools a better place? Because we have outstanding schools there's no question about it."
McCormick believes that Darien has a real opportunity to be an education leader, and she thinks that Darien can push to do more. "I don't think we've done that, and I think we could."
As for what she'll bring to the board, she thinks it's a fresh perspective.
"The current board I think is great. I think they've done a great job. I think any of the candidates, any of the three of the four of us who get in, will do a great job, but I think that people need to start asking a little more questions and be more educated about things, and more transparency would be great," McCormick said.
"I think there's a lot of people that don't understand what's going on within our education system and I don't know if that's because they're not informing themselves because they're not reading things in the newspaper, because they're not reading things online, because they're only talking to other parents on fields with soccer or football or whatever it is, and they don't go to Board of Education meetings. But I think a greater transparency and how we deliver the message and communication is really critical and key," she said.
McCormick's two children attend Darien public schools. Her daughter, Fiona, is a sixth-grader at Middlesex Middle School, and her son, Eamonn, is a first-grader at Ox Ridge.
She started both of her children in school at 4 years old.
McCormick said she can't say enough good things about the teachers in the district. "They need support, and they're great, and they do a great job."
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