Spotlight on New Board of Education Members

Behind the prestigious awards, advanced technology, and sophisticated budgeting of the Westport Public Schools is the town’s Board of Education, which consists of seven members. On Nov. 21, two new members, Jennifer Tooker, a Republican, and Michael Gordon, a Democrat, were inaugurated to the BOE and are bringing new points of view to the organization.

“I didn’t run on an issue based platform,” Tooker said. However, she added that both she and Gordon, as new voices, will ask new questions and bring fresh ideas to the board.

“Two out of seven is not a small percentage,” said Tooker. “We are expected to inject some different questions and opinions.”

Gordon previously worked in child advocacy and is also a business owner. But beyond professional credentials, he is also a father, with his oldest child in the school system.

Tooker, who has a background in business, ran for the position due to the excellence of the school system. “We have a spectacular school system,” Tooker said. “I think I have a great skill set to make sure it stays on the cutting edge.”

Tooker’s business experience in global marketing corporations applies to the BOE’s Westport 2025: Meeting the Global Challenge, a program that aims to develop students’ problem solving, critical thinking, and collaboration skills in order to prepare them for the global community economy. According to Tooker, the program will result in changes in curriculum over time. One change that has already been implemented is this year’s new Global Themes course, which incorporates more problem solving and critical thinking than the previous Western Humanities course.

Gordon is also excited for the 2025 Initiative. “It’s exciting because my children are young, and one of my kids will be graduating in 2024.”

Although the program will prepare students for the global economy of tomorrow, the board also must face current budget pressures. According to Tooker, money is one of the major topics that the board deals with.

Both Tooker and Gordon boast business experience and have realistic perspectives on budgeting. Gordon acknowledged that the difficult economic climate will call for cuts. “[The BOE] will have to make harder choices than previous boards,” Gordon said. However, he proposes cuts outside of the classroom that won’t affect learning. Tooker also prioritizes spending in the classroom and on infrastructure, but believes there is room to be more efficient. Tooker hopes to consolidate town and school operational functions and to make cuts on unnecessary purchases. Tooker also believes that the schools’ sophisticated technology provides an opportunity to economize organizational tasks. “There are places we could be more efficient by using technology for support,” Tooker said.

Aside from budget, the BOE is discussing other programs. “We are voting on a new bullying policy,” said Gordon, who is eager to reduce bullying in schools. “All of the board’s decisions are for the benefit of the students,” added Gordon.

Tooker emphasized the necessity for students to be aware of the decisions being made for their school system. “A huge piece of the board’s agenda is communication with community,” said Tooker, who encouraged that students and community members attend meetings or watch them streamed live online.