Though Republican Sarah
Schneider-Zuro has only served on the Board of Education since her appointment in June, she is looking forward to her first victory as an elected member.
Schneider-Zuro replaced Amy Bell, who took a full-time position at the Darien Community Association. As for why she agreed to serve in the first place, Schneider-Zuro said education has "basically been her whole adult life."
She graduated from Oberlin College and went to teacher's college at Columbia University, where she got a master's degree in education. She then took a teaching position at Bedford Village Elementary School.
"I loved my years there, and I always wanted to know more about how children learn, about how school districts work, about what makes an effective school district," Schneider-Zuro said. "And that led me back to graduate school again for a second master's and some doctoral work."
After receiving her second master's, she took an administrative position in the Ossining School District, where she had responsibilities for pre-kindergarten to grade 12.
"It was all the things you hear about at the board table -- responsibilities for budget, curriculum development, professional development, teacher evaluation, teacher mentorship and support, summer school, and I also had to interact effectively with the school board while I was there," she said, adding that it was "a very comprehensive sort of role."
When her oldest son went off to kindergarten, Schneider-Zuro found herself redefining her role in the town, so she joined the PTO. "I got to serve alongside some wonderful people in that role, and it was really at that point when my love for this town just really started to grow and grow and grow," Schneider-Zuro said.
After her service on the PTO was over, she joined the Council for Darien School Parents as a budget representative.
"I did that for several years and got to know just by the definition of that that our budget process is a January-to-June process," she said. "You're attending meeting after meeting after meeting and you're becoming very familiar with all the workings of the school district."
For her, the Board of Education was the next logical step. "I love this town, and what always amazes me about this town is the level of volunteerism that happens," Schneider-Zuro said. "It's really a very unique thing when you think about it, and when I think of all of the people who have volunteered time to help my family through the years, it seems to me to be a very small thing for me to give back."
When she thinks of town government and some service providers -- all of which are volunteer based -- she is in awe.
"I think we all benefit as a town. When we all invest, we have a certain democratic process that comes from that and that is really special and unique about our town."
As for what challenges face the Darien school district, she believes that some of Darien's greatest challenges are also its greatest strengths.
"We have a lot of big issues we're dealing with and I think one of the things that makes us unique is that we run out to deal with them head on, whether it's a BOE issue or it's handled by our administration or our faculty. When we look at issues of student achievement, one of our big focuses is learner-centered instruction, and that takes a lot of reflective, hard work and we've got a team of teachers and administrators that are working really hard to look at the delivery of instruction to make it learner centered," she said.
Schneider-Zuro said she thinks the job of the Board of Education is to create the conditions that help foster learner-centered instruction.
"We always are balancing our need to deliver an excellent education with being fiscally responsible," she said. "How can we prioritize our needs so that we affect the greatest number of students and have a positive impact on student achievement, while at the same time recognizing that we're all paying taxes in the town and we have to be responsible about that?"
Schneider-Zuro has three children in the Darien school system: Charlie, a seventh-grader at Middlesex Middle School; Jack, a third- grader at Royle; and Ellie, a kindergartner at Royle.
While she hasn't been formally elected, she has been serving on the board since June and Schneider-Zuro believes that that experience does give her, and her fellow Republican incumbent Elizabeth Hagerty-Ross, a slight edge over the competition.
"I think it speaks to our role as board members, as we're community liaisons with a knowledge of the inner workings of the schools," she said. "By having both of those perspectives, I think we're in a position to be in a leadership role in the discussion of that and in making our community more aware of it and gaining the advocacy where we need to."
She said every year is like a "book of the Darien public schools and every board meeting is a chapter of that book as it unfolds and develops."
The first chapter of the book begins in July, when the board and administration identify all of the goals and objectives for the school year.
"To be able to come in at the ground level of that was definitely an advantage," Schneider-Zuro said. "And now I'm walking the walk through the year as we tell the story."
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