Meet the Candidates: East Haven Board of Education Elections 2021

On November 2nd 2021, East Haven citizens will be voting for their six Board of Education (BOE) members who will have a major influence on their children’s education at their local polling place. The candidates who will be running for re-election are Michele DeLucia (D), Erika Santiago (D), Patricia “Tia” DePalma (D), Thomas Hennessey (R) , Jennifer DiLungo (R) , and Jack Stacey (D).

New candidates who will be running for positions include Karyn Putney (D), Lynn A. Torello (R) , Dominic Milano (D), Bildon L. Francis (R) , James R. Roaix Jr. (R) , and Michael B. Enders (R) .

Michele DeLucia is a professor of psychology at Southern Connecticut State University re-running for her position on the BOE with the Democratic Party. She has studied Art History & Italian Culture abroad in Italy and has earned multiple degrees. Mrs. DeLucia has two children in EHPS and one child who graduated from EHHS in 2020. She has been a member of the East Haven BOE since 2013 and has served as their chairperson since 2017. Her goals for this year include engaging more families throughout the district, to improve communication, and to provide students with the resources they need. She said, “...I believe to be the top three goals of public education 1) to educate our students through the instruction of the knowledge and skills necessary for strategic thinking and problem solving, 2) to provide our students with the social and emotional support and resources to better understand both themselves and others as they navigate through social situations, and 3) to aid our students in their civic development, by offering models of civic duties as well opportunities for engagement.” Mrs. DeLucia initially ran for the Board of Education because she wanted to gain a better understanding of the district her children were being educated in. After attending the meetings for about a year, she decided that her profession could offer a skill set that could benefit the district. Her main goal is to tighten the gap between the district and families by offering more involvement.

Patricia “Tia” DePalma, an educator for 36 years, will be running for re-election with the Democratic Party again this year. She has raised three children who have all graduated from EHHS. Mrs. DePalma has been a member of the Democratic Town Committee for many years. As an educator, mother, and grandmother, she is vested solely in the interests of EHPS Children and not the political aspect of the BOE. “I do not think of myself as political. I am an elected Democrat, but once elected, I serve the entire town and work as one Board with one voice.” When asked about problems facing the community, Mrs. DePalma stated that a lack of communication is one major factor. She feels there needs to be more open communication between the Board of Education, teachers, and families. “As I mentioned above, open communication is a must. I believe with two meetings a month we should be able to have some time set aside to address concerns with stakeholders. BOE policy would need some revision.” To support upcoming EHHS graduates, Mrs. DePalma feels that students should be supported in whatever aspect they need and that the district must offer them the best possible education possible. She does not feel that she is better than any other candidate and that her time as a BOE is a humbling experience. Mrs. DePalma says she will continue to fill her position with honesty and integrity as a member of the BOE if elected again.

Bildon L. Francis is an engineer and new candidate who will be running with the Republican Party in this election. He has two sons enrolled in the EHPS system currently. Mr. Francis believes in strong STEM programs in addition to the current EHPS curriculum in order to help students planning on going into those fields. He says, “There are some changes to the curriculum that I would like to see implemented (such as a stronger focus on STEM-science technology engineering and math, trades, foreign languages etc.) that will have a significant positive impact on the future of East Haven students.” He also believes that a tutoring program (both in and out of school) for all grades would be beneficial in terms of helping get students back up to speed. Mr. Francis, coming from a technical background, would like to implement more focus on STEM careers and open those possibilities to students entering the workforce. He would like to form a beneficial relationship between the BOE and the teachers in the EHPS district so that they can be provided with the resources they need to help their students go above and beyond. With these ideas in mind, Mr. Francis feels his methodical approach to complex problem solving can benefit the BOE in many ways.

Karyn Putney is a nurse and local wildlife rehabilitator who will be running with the Democratic Party in this election. Mrs. Putney has two daughters in the EHPS system currently. Her mother was a chairperson in Milford, so she grew up around and with knowledge of politics. She is also very involved in the community, working with local animal shelters through her wildlife rehabilitation program, Farm River Wildlife and Rehabilitation Center. Through her campaign, Mrs. Putney would like to see more aid given to teachers and paraprofessionals so that they can be more one-on-one with their students. She is also a big advocate of open communication and community members speaking their minds about what EHPS could be doing better and what they have been doing well. “One thing I’ve noticed is that a lot of high-school students, I feel like, are coming forward with great ideas and sharing their concerns. I feel like for our older students we definitely need to be hearing them and giving them a platform”. She feels this feedback is important from students who are directly affected by the board’s decisions. Her goal is to improve test scores, get students the resources they need, and to help teachers get back to feeling wanted and appreciated. One of Mrs. Putney's goals is to implement life skills into the EHHS curriculum so that students are prepared for the workforce. What matters to Mrs. Putney is the education of East Haven students and that they are being supported. “I feel like a basic level of microeconomics and dealing with household budgeting can totally be introduced in the school. I think real world examples when you are learning any theory can really drive the point home. They’re huge - they need to be built into the curriculum instead of needing a whole new program. I just think it’s something that’s really needed in general.” She is also a firm believer that politics do not belong in education.

Erika Santino-Santiago, a clinical technician, is running for re-election for her 3rd term on the BOE with the Democratic party. Being the daughter of town councilman Joe Santino, Mrs. Santiago says she has always grown up around politics and had involvement within the community. She says she currently has 3 children enrolled in EHPS and one child who has graduated. Originally, Mrs. Santiago ran because “Communication was lacking, policies needed revisions, our district needed work. At that time I felt the best choice was to jump in and do my best to help where I could.” Her goal was to improve the district her children were being educated in. In response to the questions posed by EHHS Comet staff, she feels the major problems facing the district currently are COVID-19 and communication with families within the district. Mrs. Santiago would like to see improvement in terms of district wide test scores by having intervention services to help not only with school but emotional services as well. She also believes that providing proper funding to areas like the guidance departments can help students majorly in terms of accessing resources for college and trade schools. Her perspective comes from not only being a board member, but from being an East Haven citizen and a mother as well. She says she chooses to vote for what is right and will continue her position with integrity.

Lynn A. Torello is a former Army Reserves Veteran running with the Republican Party in the 2021 election. Mrs. Torello has three children currently in the EHPS system and is the daughter of a Vietnam Veteran. She says her strong work ethic and unwavering moral compass inherited from her father helped her make the decision to run for a position on the BOE. Mrs. Torello “Felt compelled to run when I saw students struggling to receive a quality education during the pandemic, as well as parents who were beyond frustrated. Someone needs to stand up for those that are unable to stand up for themselves.” She also feels that there are some major issues facing the EHPS community including students who are performing below grade level in terms of academics and the language barrier between students. EHPS teachers not receiving as much support and appreciation from administrators as they should is another issue she hopes to tackle. In light of these problems, Mrs. Torello is presenting a solution: stronger ESL programs for students who are learning English as a second language and more support and resources for EHPS teachers who are struggling and to help students get back up to speed. She is also an advocate for open communication between administration and families. Mrs. Torello is also in favor of mentoring programs for highschool students and working to help them explore their career paths. “My main focus would be to open up the lines of communication between the teachers, administration, students and parents. We need to form a cohesive team that collaborates to ensure the best possible educational experience to the students while also providing a supportive and positive work environment for our teachers and staff.“ Mrs. Torello says she did not decide to run for the political aspect, but for the children of East Haven so that they can have a successful education and graduate from the district ready to take on the world.

All of these candidates come from different backgrounds and have certain skills that can help benefit the education system in East Haven. As you go to your polling place on November 2nd, take a moment to remember the responses of each candidate and what their responsibilities will be if they are indeed elected. Now that you’ve met the candidates, who’s got your vote?