We reached out and asked candidates to respond to a set of questions. Updates from all candidates are welcome and will be published as Letters to the Editor. The questions posed to the candidates were:
- Tell us a little about yourself.
- Why are you running for the position?
- What do you see as the important issues facing your town and how would you address them in your role?
- What are the key things you love about this town and its people?
- Additional thoughts to leave voters with?
Brenda Buzzi (D): I have lived in Higganum most of my life (and am a fourth generation Haddam resident!). I graduated from HKHS in 1984. I have two amazing daughters who also graduated from HK, Rebecca and Rachel. I have been a RSD#17 student, parent, volunteer, and employee. I enjoy gardening, my honeybees, reading, writing, painting, the beach, and walking at Haddam Meadows and the Higganum Cove. I also have chickens and my cat Cali.
My career has been working with children. I ran a large daycare in Westbrook. I then owned, directed and was a teacher at my business in Higganum, The Children’s Garden Preschool. I was employed at RSD#17 and Middletown Public Schools as a substitute teacher and a Special Education Para-educator. I have a bachelor’s degree in psychology, and currently I am working on my master’s degree in social work at UCONN. I have participated as a volunteer for many organizations and causes throughout the years: Sunday school teacher, various church leadership positions, Girl Scout Leader, PTO President, school/parent volunteer and did an internship at Mason Youth Correction Facility.
Currently I volunteer at Middlesex Hospice on the Bereavement Team; HDTC (member, past secretary, and chairman); Haddam Elderly Housing Committee (VP); I run the Coffeehouse Open Mic at HUMC; I am a member of a refugee group called The Valley Stands Up; and currently I am doing an internship at Family Advocacy in Middletown. I am a Justice of the Peace and I have been on the RSD #17 Board of Education since 2017.
This will be my second 4-year term. I am running for the Board of Education because I would like to continue with the work that I have been doing. I bring a lot of life and employment experience to this position. These are some of my goals for when I am re-elected:
- This summer I helped lead the Superintendent search. This fall I will assist with the transition of our newly appointed Superintendent. We are excited to have this experienced, smart, and easy-going gentleman in our leadership position.
- I will help to promote our “Vision of the Graduate” in most things we do. This starts in elementary schools, not in high school. It supports each individual child’s interests; help make children and families feel that they belong at HK.
- Work to implement Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) tools into our schools. This is NOT Critical Race Theory! DEI is basically more about everyone being treating the same for what they need and to be kind to each other.
- Work with the BOE and the consulting firm to construct a long-term strategic plan to take our district from great to superb.
- To constantly be fiscally responsible with the budget and expenses, yet keeping the students’ needs as a priority.
- To be the teachers, staff, students, and YOUR voice on the BOE.
Haddam is truly amazing: from our traditional town celebrations such as the Memorial Day Parade, the Haddam Neck Fair, and Haddam River days to our natural town gems like Swan Hill, the Connecticut River, Higganum Cove, and so much more. But it is not only the beauty of our town that makes it so great, it is the people, from our youngest generations to the town elders. We are blessed and lucky to live here. I love the “small town” connections of people knowing each other and taking care of each other. I love being called by my first name at the Post Office, bank, stores, and restaurants in town.
I know we do not always agree but we all want what is the best for RSD 17 and our town. I continuously will bring you approachability, honesty, transparency, humor, and rationality to the BOE. Let us set the example for the children and BE KIND to each other! I am always a call or email away. I greatly appreciate your support and vote in November.
Corey Roberts (R): Corey Roberts, her husband and twin daughters reside in Higganum. Corey’s parents moved the family to Haddam when she was 15 years old for her and her sister to benefit from the exceptional school system. This too is the reason that she and her husband moved back 6 years ago.
Corey is active within her church here in town where she has volunteered with the youth and children ministries. Most recently she is working with the church to lead a marriage growth group alongside her husband.
Corey has her bachelor’s degree in business management. She has had oversight to both local and international manufacturing sites for a multi-billion dollar company. Her plan is to use her business experience, extensive back ground in leading, and strong communication skills to give our children the best education experience while bringing the community together.
Steve Bayley (D): My wife and I moved to Haddam 10 years ago after we purchased a house and were ready to start a family. I have worked in educational technology for the last 20 years and for the last 13 years, I have worked at UConn Health in the School of Medicine. I have a Bachelor’s degree in History as well as an MBA, my computer knowledge is mostly self-taught as my dad was a computer programmer while I was growing up. My dad did not attend College and was an auto mechanic after graduating high school and then transitioned to a computer programmer. Although he never attended higher education he was one of smartest people I ever knew and taught me about hard work, problem solving and lifelong learning.
I am running for the Board of Education position because I want to work together to make region 17 stronger. My wife and I moved to Haddam because we were both aware of how great the school system was and it has not disappointed. I currently serve on a Board of Directors of nine people and have served on a variety of other boards in the past, so I understand how to work on a community board along with people that have different views and backgrounds. I have been able to build consensus on these various boards to achieve the greater good for a community. The most important reason I am running for the Board of Education is to give back to the community. I enjoy learning, listening and working together to improve the community I live in.
I want to make sure the school district offers a dynamic curriculum to prepare students to succeed after graduation. There are a variety of skills that are needed to succeed in the 21st century and the curriculum should not be simply focused on math and reading. With the increase of social media and the current pandemic there has been an increase in social and emotional health issues among students in the district. No student should be scared to attend a school in Region 17. I want to make sure wellness for everyone in the district is a priority, a healthy community is a successful community. College should not be the only path for graduating students, the school district should support and help grow whatever passions a student may have. Students learn in a variety of ways, some are visual learners, some are auditory learners, and some are hands on learners, so the curriculum should be varied enough for all students. I also want to make sure accountability is a focus of the Board of Education. The accountability should include students, staff, teachers, the Superintendent, fellow board members as well as myself. I have heard examples of issues in the past being brushed aside for a variety of reasons, I pledge no issue, large or small, will be brushed aside if I am fortunate to be elected to the Board of Education.
I love how everyone helps each other out in town and there is a strong sense of community. I have seen it locally in my neighborhood as well as throughout town. Recently, when a student tragically passed away the community support was overwhelming to witness. When our long driveway was buried under almost 3 feet of snow a neighbor was available to clear our driveway. I have volunteered for HK little league and although I may not agree with every parents political views, I have not met any parents who are not passionate about their student and their success. I have also used local businesses for a variety of work at our house and it is nice to see them around town, there is a real sense of community. I enjoy the rural setting of the town but still have Higganum Center and Tylerville in town for shopping, services and a place to eat.
I feel that my experience, skills and temperament would be an asset for the Board of Education. I humbly ask for your vote on November 2nd and thank you for reading this article.
Hamish MacPhail (D): I am deeply passionate about education and its role in preparing our kids to thrive. I am a former kindergarten teacher who now works at an education nonprofit, ConnCAN, where I serve as the Policy and Research Director. There, I research innovative, high-quality school models across the country and identify ways to improve our schools for all kids in Connecticut. My wife is a first-grade teacher who loves supporting students to achieve their academic, social, and personal goals. We are proud parents of a toddler, who we hope can find a lifelong love of learning at H-K. We live in Higganum and are active DIYers, updating our home and learning new skills along the way.
I am running for the Board of Education to create a path for every kid. We are at a pivotal moment in our district. In the last three years, we have had leadership transitions, a school closure, a pandemic, and a massive shift in the future of our economy. We have the opportunity to reimagine what an education looks like in the 21st century, and that requires strategic planning, research, analysis and smart investments in our schools.
To build a path for every kid, we must introduce all high school students to work-based learning, or apprenticeships, before they graduate. That way, students can develop their passions, build marketable skills, and prepare for the real world by attaining life skills. This will separate us from any other district in the state. We will offer something fundamentally different and give families a reason to move here and stay here. Finally, it will allow students to map out their career path, identifying if college is the right path, or whether they can enter the workforce through specific credential programs.
An excellent education system makes all other things possible. Good schools increase home values, reduce crime, encourage high-value economic development, and signal to employers that they should relocate to the area. Here is the framework to a world-class school system:
- A strong foundation in literacy, math, sciences and civics in early grades;
- Excellent academic, social, athletic, artistic and musical offerings that build essential skills to support future interests and occupations;
- An inclusive and welcoming environment for all children to feel cared for, supported and accepted for who they are; and
- Apprenticeships and experiential learning for ALL high school students before they graduate.
To achieve these goals, we must budget strategically. I promise to be an excellent financial steward of tax dollars. Every single dollar must be spent with a clear, well communicated strategy for improving our schools. Anything less is unacceptable.
My wife, son and I moved to Haddam because of its schools, natural beauty and historical significance. We love that people in this town value the outdoors, take great pride in their homes and surroundings, and give back to the community generously and consistently. Haddam is small but full of thoughtful, hardworking people who want to see our community thrive. I am excited to be part of this community and promise to do my best to ensure its future success.
Take time to research all the candidates. Each year, I take a few days before the election to research all the candidates, their positions, and their character. And, through that research, I have voted for candidates of different parties because they aligned with my viewpoints. I encourage everyone to do the same this year. We have a wonderful opportunity to make RSD17 the highest-performing school district in the state, and I believe that I can help make that happen with my passion, my honesty, and my work ethic. And I hope that you have the same conclusion after conducting your own research.
Prem Aithal (Petitioning Candidate): I’m a current RSD17 Board of Education member running for re-election for a four year term. I’ve been a resident of Haddam since 2010 and many of you know me more appropriately as Mrs. Aithal’s husband [my wife Becky is a kindergarten teacher @ Burr] & Asha’s dad [my daughter is now a 4th grader @ HKIS]. I am Chair of the BOE Strategic Planning Subcommittee & also a member of the BOE Finance Subcommittee. I’m currently Vice Chair of the Economic Development Commission and an active volunteer for the Higganum Farmers Market on Fridays.
Professionally, I am a Senior Finance Director at Anthem, Inc. (my work home for more than 15 years) where I manage the Individual Segment in Financial Strategy. In my role, I set long term financial targets for 14 states and then work collaboratively with the states to apply strategies to hit these targets. My strengths of long range financial & strategic planning will continue to serve the District well should I be fortunate enough to be re-elected.
I am running for re-election for one simple key point: I enjoy the work! I was elected in July 2020 to complete a term of a Board member so you’ve had a test run of me for more than a year. The Board of Education has provided me with a new setting to utilize my professional talents and allows me to demonstrate that my campaign tagline “Growth For All” applies to everyone, including me. I have found that regardless of what is discussed at Board of Education meetings, I usually leave energized and refreshed.
My single most important goal is to complete a multi-year Strategic Plan for our District and connect it to the recently completed Vision of the Graduate, and we are on a good path to making that happen. This Plan will develop a strategic mission, vision, clear & measurable goals, and accountability & monitoring mechanisms to ensure we hit the goals. We are currently in the data & perception gathering phase of this process and I invite the entire Haddam (& Killingworth) community to participate in giving feedback when we send out a survey later this fall which will focus on current state, priorities, quality, and other key items.
Other key goals on my radar include:
- Creating a fiscally responsible budget centered around the needs of our students & teachers that provide the instruction with a line of sight to the future and long-term budget needs.
- Communicating more effectively and proactively on the purpose of critical DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) initiatives and how advancing these will help all students (i.e. exposing students to diverse viewpoints & culture will improve their critical thinking & communication, which are key skills & dispositions of our Vision of the Graduate and will prepare them for life outside this District when they graduate and leave the RSD17 nest). Critical to this is removing misperceptions that are fueled by political operatives and addressing them head-on.
I have chosen to run as a petitioning candidate in Haddam while not accepting endorsements from either political party because it is the authentic me and free of influence. What you will continue to get from me is someone that will listen to the facts and make educated decisions that will benefit our students and our District and its employees. What I love most about this town is when people with various backgrounds come together for a common purpose such as what happened with our vibrant Higganum Farmers Market. I’ve always been known as “the glue guy” in my experiences both inside and outside work for bringing a team together and making them stronger. As such, I encourage everyone to disengage from negativity and polarization on social media and focus instead on what you and others have in common, what you both want, and how to get there. People achieve great things working together and you’ll be surprised to find that a lot of us want the same things instead of only focusing only on what our differences are.
Most of all, I want to prove to others that yes, you can run a campaign without a large body backing you up and hopefully it will help other good citizens step up and serve our town in the future for the greater benefit. I have been encouraged along the way by fellow residents assisting and offering to assist me in my re-election campaign so I wanted to thank you in advance for your continued support and hope you will consider voting for me on Tuesday, November 2nd! Thank you!
Joanne Nesti (Petitioning Candidate): I have lived in Haddam for 40 years and have felt very fortunate to be here. I worked as a substitute teacher when I first got out of college, then went back to school and was fortunate–once again–to land a job doing radio news, which then led to television news and a career of more than 30 years in broadcasting.
My time on the Board of Education really began once I left my job and was able to start attending meetings of local boards. I realized I had been a resident of Haddam, but never really lived here until I took more of an interest in how our town works. I spent one term as a Board of Finance Alternate, and I was appointed to the Board of Education to fill a vacancy in 2015 and won a full term in the election of 2017. I have said many times that the BOE is the most challenging, most interesting job I have ever had and I am fully committed to it. Running as an Unaffiliated/ Petitioning Candidate has been important to me because I want to be able to talk to and listen to both sides of an issue. That may be my news background showing itself. But we have important work to do on the Board with our strategic planning, facilities assessment and the uncertainties of a pandemic all ahead of us.
It’s important to me to stress that, as a member of the Board of Education, my focus is Regional School District 17 which, of course, encompasses Haddam and Killingworth, but is not exclusively about either town. It is about the education of all of our children. What the school board owes our two towns is an awareness of the issues small towns like ours face, including the budget, economic development, road repair, infrastructure. As best we can, the school board must be mindful of the powerful impact its budget has on our towns and on their ability to fund their specific needs and requirements.
I am so fortunate–there’s that word again–to live in a place that is peaceful, quiet, serene, and to be among a group of neighbors who feel equally grateful for the serenity we share. I’ve been spoiled by it and I know it. It’s hard to picture living anywhere else. Along the way, through my work with the Haddam Historical Society, the Capital Planning Committee, the Jail Committee and through interactions with the people at the Town Office Building, I also have been grateful for the dedication and commitment all of them have shown, whether volunteers or not. I still believe in the power of volunteer service and I’m grateful for the chance to do my part.
I am asked sometimes if I ever “miss” the news business and my answer every single time is NO. I strenuously “portion-control” my exposure to “the news,” however you might define that ever-changing entity. I’m astonished sometimes at the certainty people display in offering a point of view, and my question usually boils down to “How do you know what you know?” I ask myself that all the time and work hard to make sure my sources of information are reliable. I’m asking for re-election to the Board of Education to continue to be part of its important work for the children of Haddam and Killingworth.
Jordana Fournier (Petitioning Candidate): I have proudly called Higganum home for the last 10 years. I love the small-town feel here and the exceptional sense of community that comes with it.
As the mother of 2 children who will enter our school district in the near future, I feel compelled to get involved now, as an agent of unity, especially in this time of adversity. I want to give back to the community I have come to love and set an example within the board. An example of integrity; professionalism, transparency, honesty, and approachability. Professionally, I was an educator for 9 years. I hold a Bachelor’s in Elementary Education, and a Master’s in Special Education. Now a business owner, I intend to use my interpersonal and negotiation skills to achieve win-win results for our students while addressing the concerns of those within the district.
One of the greatest challenges our school district faces is to ameliorate the division that exists. A division long-sown over fiscal decisions, desired student outcomes, and which curriculum material or teaching strategies to support. We should be repairing this division by opening lines of communication and truly listening to the needs and concerns of our students, school staff, and greater community. Additionally, the last 2 school years have caused a greater disruption to continuity of learning than many of our students will (hopefully) ever see again. We need to ensure that we are tailoring their education to fill those gaps while continuing to provide them with the utmost quality opportunities. Our students should leave our district as critical thinkers who are fully prepared to take on the world outside our immediate community.
As an unaffiliated candidate, I can promise you that I will not put politics over the greater good for all of our students and the HK community as a whole. I will be acutely focused on making decisions based on what is best for them and what provides them the greatest likelihood for the most successful outcomes. I am honored for the chance to be your voice on the RSD-17 Board of Education.