Hagerty-Ross: Financial background serves board well
Hagerty-Ross, a Republican, said education always has been stressed in her family and that she and her sister were both first-generation college graduates.
"My mom always told me to make sure I got my education, got my work experience out of the way before I settled down to have a family," she said. "The dedication that I to put into my job, when I decided to become stay-at-home mom, is the same dedication I put toward my children and to me knowing what their education is going to be all about."
Hagerty-Ross said she needed to know what was going on and understand what they were doing in school, which was something that came naturally to her. That's why she chose to run for the Board of Education six years ago.
"To me, it's all about being dedicated to my children. And, in the end, not just my children, but the children of Darien," she said.
She -- and her fellow incumbent, Sarah Schneider-Zuro as well, she said -- both continue to volunteer within the schools as much as they can despite being unable to take any official positions.
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"We can't take positions on the PTOs or anything, but if there's a book fair, we're stacking books. Or if there's a picnic at Royle, we're both serving food. Anything we can possibly do to get involved."
Hagerty-Ross received both bachelor's and master's degrees in finance with a concentration in accounting from St. John's University in Queens, N.Y.. She worked for more than 20 years in finance before she had the opportunity to retire.
"One of the things I brought to the board was an extensive financial background," Hagerty-Ross said. "I think the biggest challenge that we have (in the Darien school district) is the economy we're living in at this point in time, and how do we deliver that excellent education that we need with the addition of the unfunded mandates?"
The state's Common Core Standards policy, she said, is going to be unfunded, but the schools will have to adopt "in some way, shape or form." The standards give a clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, with teachers and parents knowing how to help them. The state adopted the policy in 2010.
She also said Darien had to build an in-school suspension room. "That was a mandate that came down that we had to fund out of our budget," Hagerty-Ross said. She also said Scientific Research-Based Interventions, "which are incredibly successful," were something that the board had to bring into the schools.
"Our children are responding to it and we're having great success, but it's unfunded," Hagerty-Ross said. "So unfunded mandates are not always bad; there are positives to them, but they cost a lot of money."
Hagerty-Ross said Darien has to make sure the Legislature is aware that the state continues to hand down unfunded mandates. "There's a little bit of us having to get involved in what's going on in Hartford so those people know what's going on," she said. "Fairfield County is different from a lot of the other towns. Fairfield County's voices need to be heard in Hartford and that's what we need to do as board members, get behind that."
Hagerty-Ross believes that student-centered instruction is not a challenge of the district because "it's something that the administration believes in.
"It's a matter of measuring it and making sure we have the right metrics to measure it to make sure it's successful," she said.
Hagerty-Ross has two sons in the Darien school system: Matthew, a junior at Darien High School, and Brendan, a seventh-grader at Middlesex Middle School. She has volunteered in the Darien school system through the PTO and served as a budget representative and chairman for the Council of Darien School Parents for 12 years.
As for whether her experience gives her an edge over the other candidates, Hagerty-Ross believes it does.
"I've built up a lot of relationships and credibility within the town. I can call up our first selectman or our Board of Finance chair and we can have a conversation about what's going on or what's going to come up in our school."
She also said the budget is a huge part of the Board of Education. "The budget is the Bible," she said, adding that when she first began volunteering, she didn't miss a Board of Education or Board of Finance meeting.
"When you get into the board you have two or three meetings and then you're in the budget," Hagerty-Ross said. "So if you don't have the ability to hit the ground running and understand what you're getting into by that first January meeting you're behind the eight ball a little bit."
She continued to say that "having the CDSP and the understanding about how the town works so you can make these connections with people, that's really what you can do to be a better member."
In the end, Hagerty-Ross said the No. 1 goal of the board is to not only make sure education in Darien is the best it could be, but be mindful that it doesn't overburden taxpayers. "We understand that there's fiscal responsibility in that," Hagerty-Ross said.
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