Tamm strives for Western Greenwich representation on board

Between now and Election Day, the Greenwich Post will be running profiles of the six candidates running for four spots on the Board of Education. This is an interview with Samarpana Tamm, one of the two Democratic candidates endorsed by the Greenwich Democratic Town Committee.

 

Samarpana Tamm, one of the two endorsed Democratic candidates, says that for too long the Board of Education has lacked real representation from Western Greenwich. — Ken Borsuk photo

Samarpana Tamm, one of the two endorsed Democratic candidates, says that for too long the Board of Education has lacked real representation from Western Greenwich.
— Ken Borsuk photo

Saying she wants to bring a voice from a part of town she feels has been underrepresented for far too long on the Board of Education, Samarpana Tamm is quick to highlight her unique qualifications.

A former teacher as well as a longtime town volunteer, Ms. Tamm said the opportunity to run for the Board of Education appealed to her because she feels decisions made by the members have for too long directly impacted the two schools on the western side of town, New Lebanon and Hamilton Avenue Schools, without any membership from residents there to actually speak on the board.

“The entire west side of Greenwich has no representation at all on the board,” Ms. Tamm said. “This is our school district. We’re part of this town. It’s not separate. We need representation because we have long been neglected. The town was first cited for racial balance in 2000 and nothing was done until now, I feel, because there was no representation from Western Greenwich on the board.”

Ms. Tamm does not fit the mold of what has been the typical Board of Education candidate in Greenwich in recent years. Her children are grown and she never served on any of the local PTAs. Instead, she says, the experience that will make her an effective board member comes in other areas. A former teacher, Ms. Tamm is a tutor and an active volunteer in the western side of town, working at the Byram Archibald Neighborhood Center, the Den for Grieving Kids and Kids in Crisis, as well as serving on the board of the Byram Library. Ms. Tamm is also a current member of the Representative Town Meeting and has worked on the Community Development Block Grant board as well.

Ms. Tamm has so far enjoyed strong support from Greenwich Democrats. She was not only endorsed by the Greenwich Democratic Town Committee’s Executive Committee but at the party’s nominating caucus over the summer she received the most votes of the four candidates who were running. Now she’s in another race, this time among the three Democrats seeking the party’s two open seats on the board.

“I appreciate all the work that the PTA does in the schools and some of the other members of the board have come from organizations like the PTA and the Junior League, but that’s not where I come from,” Ms. Tamm said. “The Democratic Party has supported me because they understand as a former teacher, I have a great devotion to the children. My life has been centered around children. I’ve done a tremendous amount of volunteer work in the community and I’m very familiar with the workings of the town.”

While she stresses that on the Board of Education she would work for students everywhere in town, Ms. Tamm said that having a representative from western Greenwich is particularly important now with such major decisions expected from the board. Not only is New Lebanon School, the school for Ms. Tamm’s neighborhood, facing an overcrowding issue, but that school and Hamilton Avenue School are both in racial imbalance, according to state law.

That means board decisions will directly impact those schools and the board could well vote tonight, Oct. 10, at its 7 p.m. meeting at Central Middle School on a solution to try and deal with racial imbalance and facility utilization through an open choice and magnet school plan favored by Superintendent of Schools William McKersie, whom Ms. Tamm praised as having done a “remarkable job”during his time in Greenwich.

Since the vote is likely to take place before the election, none of the new board members, which could include Ms. Tamm, would be able to formally speak on it, but would then work to implement it once taking office. Ms. Tamm, though, said she sees no reason to delay a vote.

“It makes sense to do it now,” Ms. Tamm said. “The state has cited us for racial imbalance many times and the state is waiting to have a plan in place for Greenwich. This plan must be implemented as soon as possible, and there’s a huge amount of work that needs to be accomplished before the start of the 2014-15 school year. There’s curriculum. There’s transportation. There’s encouraging people to transfer to a magnet school and advertising that magnet school and getting behind it so it is a place people will want to send their kids to.”

Ms. Tamm said that there have been several “interesting plans” that have been put forward, but she said parents have been clear about what they want and that she would vote for the current choice plan if she was on the board now because the board, Dr. McKersie and parents had all worked on it. She grants that the question of whether this will actually work in addressing racial balance and facility utilization is the “great unknown” but repeated her strong commitment to having racially balanced schools in town.

“It doesn’t work if you have imbalanced schools,” Ms. Tamm said. “All the research shows that putting more money into a racially imbalanced school isn’t going to improve achievement. It’s documented that when children are in an environment that is economically and socially diverse, the grades will improve and the achievement gap closes. … The results of the law being used to integrate schools have been very conclusive. It’s one of the best ways to achieve success and to enable the children to be prepared for college and their careers. It’s to the children’s advantage to have this ability. This is a global society we have today and if you’re narrowly focused then how are you going to integrate yourself into it?”

The achievement gap in Greenwich is also a problem particularly focused on the western side of town where test scores have shown a gap between students speaking English as a second language and in the free and reduced lunch and their wealthier counterparts in town. Ms. Tamm said she feels the standardized tests have put Spanish-speaking students at a disadvantage, creating an uneven playing field, but that there is growth inside the Greenwich schools the longer those students are in the district.

“We should be looking at growth and not just test scores,” Ms. Tamm said. “We have become a society of only wanting to hear about those scoring the highest. And that’s wonderful for those kids because we have a town of brilliant students. We have 17 Merit Scholars. But along with that there are children working as hard as they can and achieving as much as they can. But they’re still below that standard. These children need to be encouraged and given the accolades and opportunities that they have earned as well.”

To raise achievement throughout the district, Ms. Tamm is a big proponent of pre-K education, saying “without a doubt it is paramount” because the sooner education starts for a child, the better the child is going to develop and learn. The issue that the district faces, she grants, is space for additional pre-K classes, and that’s why she favors expanding school facilities where needed to provide for it. Other ways she says achievement can be improved are through smaller classrooms and additional teachers, especially as the common core curriculum is implemented and digital learning is phased into the district.

Ms. Tamm said she understands requests like that would face a lot of opposition from the Board of Estimate and Taxation but that it can be overcome if parents push for it.

“You can’t give up on something like this,” Ms. Tamm said. “Appeal to the town. Appeal to the citizens. These are not private schools. These are public schools. This is not for one community. It’s for the entire town.”

 

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