December 7, 2019

Suzanne Thompson (R): Candidate for Region 18 Board of Education Representing Old Lyme

Suzanne Thompson

Suzanne Thompson has been active in our community since 2002. She and husband Brent have two daughters in Region 18 schools.  She has a strong background in public policy and communications, from United States Senate, Washington, DC, to life sciences corporations and journalism.

Suzanne has written for The Day, hosts a weekly radio show on WLIS 1420 AM/Old Saybrook and is Save Oswegatchie Hills outreach coordinator with Connecticut Fund for the Environment.

She is Old Lyme’s appointee to Connecticut River Gateway Commission, a Duck River Garden Club officer and former Girl Scout leader and Lymes’ Youth Services Board member.

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.

  1.  This is a crucial time for our BOE to lay out the big-picture facilities needs and spending plans over a 5 to 7 year time frame.  We need an open, transparent process, engaging residents in understanding and setting the priorities and considering appropriate options, not just a final yes or no on the annual school budget.
  2. The Board of Education and district administration need to foster better two-way communication and engagement with Old Lyme residents and taxpayers on policy decisions, as well as the budget. We are elected to represent the citizens and to provide thoughtful guidance and perspective to the superintendent. We also need to maintain and support human capital – the educators who work daily with our children. Open, respectful and trusting communication is key to maintaining motivated and inspired teachers and staff.
  3. We, as a town and a school district, have to continually address the fiscal and demographic realities facing this state and our region and look for ways to maintain our high quality schools. While Region 18’s marketing programs have helped stabilize our student enrollments in recent years, we cannot ignore that student populations across our region are declining. At the same time, the state’s fiscal crisis will directly affect our ability to continue providing the breadth and depth of academic and extracurricular activities that have contributed to the success of our students and made our schools so good. 

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

We fortunately have strong community support for our schools. However, we do not exist in a vacuum. What we can afford to do will be affected by the state’s fiscal situation, the cost of living in Connecticut, and our enrollment numbers.  

We know we need more playing field space on high school and middle school campus. While a BOE committee has studied and recommended an artificial turf field (not crumb rubber-based), is this still what we need or want? Is it safer and better than natural grass for young athletes to be playing on, from injuries perspective? Do our schools need it to compete in certain leagues? How are similar turfs holding up in other school districts? If it costs $1-1.5 million, is it something we can afford if the district also needs to bond up to $10 million in coming years to upgrade HVAC systems and other infrastructure?

These are policy decisions that merit greater community input and engagement than the annual budget vote. Town residents don’t have the time or desire to attend every BOE meeting to follow along with committees or board deliberations. It is the BOE’s obligation to foster open communication. This may be through open houses, tours, hosting discussions, forums different from the traditional BOE meeting where the public sits in the back.

I believe in providing high quality education while maintaining low mill rates for our residents and businesses. And I am a vocal advocate for achieving both of these goals.

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

I decided to run for BOE last spring after observing how decisions were made and communicated to parents and town residents around universal pre-K for 4-year-olds. I believe our BOE and administrators can do a better job engaging the community, listening, considering and responding to their concerns, and explaining our decisions and actions.  

Professionally, I have worked in public policy, advocacy, communications and community outreach challenges, as a journalist, for a United States Senator, a federal financial regulatory agency, chemical and life sciences corporations, environmental advocacy non-profits, new business start-ups and our own family business in Old Lyme.  

So I bring a wealth of experience, professionalism and integrity as a BOE member. I am not afraid to ask difficult questions or point out what might blow up in our faces if we don’t adequately engage our town and address residents’ concerns. I am pragmatic, yet creative, and fiscally conservative.

Through 17 years of civic and community involvement in Old Lyme, I see opportunities for collaboration, innovation and coordination for the betterment of our schools. I seek to work across party lines, ages and interests, looking for common objectives to achieve realistic goals. I volunteered for the committee that cost-effectively saved and restored our Middle School greenhouse so it can support academic and enrichment programs. Volunteers included Mentoring Corps for Community Development, farmers and school staff. I collaborated with Lyme-Old Lyme Junior Women’s Club and Duck River Garden Club to install a native plants wildlife garden around Cross Lane Playground.

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