On August 6, a town meeting will be held in Durham to elect a new member to the Region 13 Board of Education. The following is a Q&A with Democratic candidate Eileen Buckheit.
Family: I am married and have three children – two boys ages 11 and 9 and a girl age 4.
Experience: I served as Commissioner of Planning and Development for the City of West Haven from 2006 to 2011. In this position, I oversaw the departments of Building, Community Development, Grants, Planning, Property Maintenance, and Zoning. I was responsible for obtaining state and federal grants for the City totaling several million dollars. I fostered close relationships with local, state and federal officials, and, as a senior advisor to the Mayor, I was involved in strategic planning, budgeting, and personnel issues.
From 1999 to 2006, I was the Director of Municipal Services for the Regional Growth Partnership, a regional economic development organization that supported 15 towns in the Greater New Haven area. At RGP, I specialized in brownfield redevelopment, urban planning, and grants writing.
I currently work as an analyst for New Market Real Estate Group, a commercial real estate firm.
My husband, Steve, and I are both very involved in the community. I proudly serve as President of the Durham Woman’s Club. We are active members of the Church of the Epiphany, volunteering on the Sunday school committee. You will recognize Steve from his years coaching Little League with our two sons. I am active in the RSD13 schools that my children attend, and volunteer in the classrooms. I look forward to seeing my daughter experience full-day kindergarten, a benchmark of progress in the District, when she enrolls in school next year.
Patch: Why have you chosen to be a candidate for the RSD13 Board of Education?
Buckheit: The predominant hurdle to a quality public education is managing a thriving and dynamic school system when the budget restraints get tighter each year. I intend to participate in building an educational environment that prepares our students for the future while eliminating any unnecessary expenditures. I have spent my career solving problems in the federal, state and local government ranks. In urban communities of Bridgeport and West Haven, I demonstrated an acute knowledge of the grants acquisitions process and maximized resources to preserve athletic fields and art centers. I worked tirelessly navigating partisan politics and became a catalyst for re-development projects that were abandoned or overlooked as too challenging by other administrations.
From my days pursuing a Bachelor’s in Political Science and Masters in Public Administration at the University of Connecticut, I have demonstrated an active role in many Connecticut communities. Entering my 11th year as a Durham resident, I have a parent’s perspective on this District, as well as an understanding of what is working elsewhere.
Patch: What special qualifications would you bring to the board?
Buckheit: My career has been built on bringing economic development to communities that have various levels of economic stress. I successfully managed projects by seeking out and winning grant dollars and using creativity to get the job done. In the City of West Haven I oversaw all the departments related to development in difficult economic times. We had to “do more with less”.
On a personal note, I am the child of educators who instilled in me a love of learning. I believe that one’s education is never complete, whether it is in the classroom, or a community meeting listening to your neighbors. I attended my first Board of Education meeting at age 6, where my mother served on the Board of Education for 14 years. My father was first a teacher, then a well-loved and respected guidance counselor in the City of Hartford.
Patch: Are there any particular areas of local education that you hope to focus on?
Buckheit: For several years now, student enrollment in RSD13 schools has been declining. I want to help address that challenge with thoughtful planning. I am also interested in the curriculum changes necessitated by the implementation of Common Core Standards to make sure that our students are prepared to compete in this technology driven environment. Lastly, I want to bring my perspective as both a taxpayer and a parent to improve communication between RSD13 and our community.
Patch: How will you approach balancing the needs of the education system and those of the taxpayer?
Buckheit: As a parent and a taxpayer, I believe the needs of both are intertwined. I want to focus on a merit system of priorities where stakeholders, parents, students and teachers are accountable for producing results. My husband and I have struggled in our own home with increased costs of living. The need for our children to excel in an increasingly competitive society is always present, as is our tax bill, which is why we need to prioritize wisely and invest in the resources that are producing positive results.
As we implement important educational initiatives such as Full-day K and Common Core Standards, I believe we must look closely at opportunities to reduce expenses by monitoring student enrollment levels and challenging the status quo.
Patch: Any additional thoughts?
Buckheit: As a working mom and taxpayer I will bring a balanced perspective and strong commitment to the Board. I want to contribute to our community and help to preserve a vibrant and effective school system.