December 7, 2019

Jason Kemp (D): Candidate for Region 18 Board of Education Representing Old Lyme

Jason Kemp

Jason is a Family Relations Counselor with the State of Connecticut Judicial Branch. He helps families work through what is the most difficult time of their life, and keep children a priority as they move forward. Jason mentored children at an elementary school in Middletown while in college, and developed an interest in working with families while in law school. He has three children in his household who all attend Region 18 public schools. Jason has lived in Old Lyme for eight years with his wife, Kimball Robbins. He wants to ensure that our schools remain high quality institutions.

What are the three major issues in Lyme-Old Lyme Schools that you are currently aware of, which require resolution during your potential term of office?  Please list and explain each one briefly in order of importance?

Three major issues in Lyme-Old Lyme Schools that will require resolution in the next four years are improved communication by the Board of Education, maintenance of ageing facilities, and declining enrollment.

It has been clear to me that many residents feel major decision-making occurs without sufficient information to the public. I don’t believe this impression reflects ill will by the Board, but it is important that people feel they are a part of the process when our schools are such an important part of our town. I have thoughts on ways to improve the public relations and involvement, which I’ll discuss below.

As for our facilities maintenance, I understand that several schools are approaching an age where major maintenance may be needed. The current Board and their recent predecessors are to be credited for prioritizing regular upkeep so that the buildings do not fall into such disrepair that premature replacement is needed. It is important to budget for emergency repairs. However, a multi-year plan should also exist to take care of expected maintenance based on age to avoid costly emergencies.

The third issue I see is the declining enrollment, which is impacting school districts across Connecticut. Region 18 kindergarten enrollment this year reflected a slight increase, a standout in the region, and the high quality of our schools draws families to town. Additionally, cooperation with neighbors as with our football, cheer and other programs, allows for services that our size makes prohibitive.

Regarding Question 1, explain more about your choice of the issue of most importance and how you think it should be resolved.

The need of improved communication by the Board of Education has been particularly salient recently with the preschool expansion and the athletic fields. When there is a vacuum of information, it is often filled with anxiety and misinformation. At the most basic level, information presented to the Board or reports produced by subcommittees should all be available online in a central location. Currently, such information seems to be in varying locations, and I personally struggled to find the report produced by a subcommittee that recommended the exploration of a turf field. A lot of work was done by that subcommittee of the public and school officials, and that information should be clearly available to parents, who understandably have expressed many concerns.

I believe another major improvement that could be made for communication would be to place these public meetings online and/or on public access. I attended a training by the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education (CABE), which represents the Boards of most school districts in the state. The training was designed for candidates to learn more about the role of the Board, but I also learned that many districts, including smaller ones, have the meetings available to view online. We should at least try to make it available on public access television. Parents are very busy, and attendance to watch the meetings can be hard to prioritize, so there should be other methods for parents to follow along.

What do you see as the main relevant skills and character attributes that you will bring to the position if elected?

I believe that I am a strong candidate for Board of Education because of my patience, analytical skills, and passion for children’s learning and growth. My education in law, as well as my career of mediating and evaluating family disputes through the Court system, has provided me the experience and skills needed to critically assess the requests of the school system, and balance them with the needs of our children and the other residents of our town. I believe that I have a critical eye for detail needed to confirm that the proposed budget is appropriate and fiscally responsible for the interest of every town resident and in the best interest of our children. Similarly, I believe that I will do well in helping to develop policies in line with our town’s unique character and our student needs, while meeting legislative requirements.

My household has a mix of skills, needs, and ages, and I recognize that our schools should be a place for all children to develop academically, athletically, musically, and artistically. We must ensure that our children are seen as individuals that have different strengths and interests by continuing to offer a variety of classes and by recognizing proficiencies and post-graduation choices that may be different than others. However, I also want to ensure that children do not limit themselves too early and children are encouraged to explore a variety of options outside of their comfort zone.

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