Nearly three weeks ago Leslie Moriarty was elected as chairman of the Greenwich Board of Education — the first Democrat in more than 30 years to hold the position.
However, Moriarty is far from the new kid on the block as she has volunteered in the district for more than 15 years including treasurer, first vice president and president of the North Street PTA, and president of the Greenwich PTA Council. One would be hard pressed to find an individual more experienced in the inner workings of all things schools.
Fellow board member Nancy Kail nominated Moriarty on Dec. 1, citing her 6 years as the board's vice chair, institutional knowledge, productivity and skills in problem solving, communication and management as qualifications that will ensure success as board chair.
Longtime Democratic Board of Estimate and Taxation member Larry Simon described Moriarty an "effective communicator and player behind the scenes." Simon said Moriarty's strength lays in her ability to think strategically. "If you don't have the strategy right," then the details won't connect, Simon said.
Through the budget process thus far, Simon sees Moriarty as being very "accommodating" and trying hard to align the Board of Education with the administration and the needs of the district. Key to the success of the district, says Simon, is a "budget that supports that alignment."
Before the Greenwich Board of Education was on her radar screen, Moriarty worked for W.R. Grace in New York for 11 years in several roles including deputy director in the Financial Planning and Analysis Division; group Vice President of Business Development and Co-Chair of Corporate Strategic Review. More recently she was the vice president of business development for Baker and Taylor in Stamford.
Moriarty graduated from Wesleyan University cum laude with a bachelor's degree in economics and has a Master of Business Administration from Harvard University. She and her husband John have 3 children, all of whom attended Greenwich Public Schools.
Moriarty discussed her vision and plans in an e-interview with Greenwich Patch.
Q: You are the first Democrat Board Chair in over 30 years; to what do you attribute being selected? Do you think being a Democrat will hamper you? Were you surprised at receiving a Republican vote?
A: Other than the election of officers, there are few partisan issues regarding education at the local level. I think my selection as BOE chair was a reflection of the board’s recent history and a choice to function differently. Our board consists of only eight members and I know that everyone is committed to working together to improve the Greenwich Public Schools.
Regarding the Board of Education’s interaction with other town agencies, I will build on the relationships I have developed over the past 6 years. In that time, I have worked well with many members of the BET, the Selectman’s office and the RTM and know that the BOE can rely on their professionalism and commitment to support a strong school system.
Q: While no one can deny the tenor of the previous board, which resulted in the resignation of the school superintendent, how will your approach be different?
A: Communication and collaboration are important to foster understanding and commitment. It is my goal to create an environment in which board members develop shared goals and accept responsibility and accountability for the board’s effectiveness.
I also believe it is important for every board member to be engaged and have confidence that their views are considered. Differences of opinion are constructive when the board is considering an issue, but it is how the board works through those issues to reach a consensus viewpoint that will make us more effective.
Q: Republican Board member Peter Sherr gave you the edge to win the chairmanship. He has been critical that the PTAC has too much influence in how the school board conducts its business. What happened to sway his vote to support you, a graduate, if you will, of school involvement vis-a-vis the PTAC?
A: I believe that question is more appropriately directed to Peter Sherr.
Q: The Board Chair has been called a powerful position as well as merely one of eight votes. What will be your primary goals as chair? What do you think you need to do to be a successful chair?
A: My goal is for all community members to speak with pride when talking about Greenwich Public Schools. Greenwich has high expectations for our schools and, while the district works hard to achieve those, we need to obtain stronger academic results for all students — underachieving, average performers and high achievers.
We also need to do a much better job of communicating our successes and challenges. In the short term, the board must successfully conclude our search for a high achieving superintendent and re-orient our efforts to focus on the key areas that impact academic achievement.
Q: Do you believe that Policy Governance works? If yes, can it be improved and how? If no, how would you amend it so it is effective?
A: Policy Governance recognizes that responsibility and authority must match an organization’s structure so that boards and administration members can focus on their respective roles. The underlying principle for Policy Governance to be effective is trust between the BOE and the superintendent.
However, any governing system needs to be periodically reviewed and the participants need to have training to improve its implementation. Neither of these areas have had sufficient attention from the Board. There is an immediate need to review the implementation of policy governance in our district to determine where changes in policy and/or implementation need to be made.
One of the most important issues is a review of the management processes starting from goal setting to measurement, reporting and accountability. When implemented properly, Policy Governance allows the Board to focus on goals, setting priorities, allocating resources and measuring outcomes.
Q: The last 4 years have been very tumultuous with many board meetings being characterized as confrontational. What steps can you take as Board Chair to ensure civility while still fostering constructive dissent?
A: The key is for board members to understand the roles, responsibilities and processes, so that each of us can be effective advocates for our individual point of view. The board can only provide direction to the superintendent when it acts as a group. This requires respectful discourse when debating issues, but the understanding that the voice of the majority provides the direction.
The chair needs to allow all views to be expressed, but be able to move the discussion towards a conclusion. Having different perspectives represented on the board is important and healthy, but the effectiveness of the board will be measured by how we reach consensus and provide clear direction. Our responsibilities are too important for the involved adults not to find a way to work together.
Q: You have talked about the superintendent search as highest priority. What are the characteristics you personally will be looking for?
A: I believe the superintendent needs to be an energetic educational leader with a proven record for improving academic achievement using research based solutions; an articulate, inspirational, visible and experienced professional who believes in collaboration and who is willing to provide stability to our district; a leader with the management skills to be successful in a challenging, fast paced district with high expectations.
Q: After the hiring of a new super, what do you see as the board's next highest priority?
A: While integral to everything we do, a more direct and laser-like focus on actions to obtain substantive improvement in academic achievement for all students.
The board’s actions need to support the belief that every child can learn and is expected to achieve mastery standards in all academic disciplines. The board needs to assess how it sets and communicates goals, reporting and measurement systems to insure alignment of objectives and resources. The board needs to reinforce district actions that systematically address these challenges.
Q: Over the past 6 years, what have been the high and low points for you as a Board of Education member?
A: Highs – Every graduation ceremony, MISA funding approval, Hamilton Avenue School’s Vanguard award, talking with teachers about their successes.
Lows – discord that led to loss of Superintendent Freund, mold (at Hamilton Avenue School and at the modular classrooms at Western Middle School).
Q: You have talked in the past about the importance of community engagement. How do you think the Board can do this effectively?
A: Communication and engagement will always be a challenge; however it is important for the community to have an appreciation for the goals, strengths and challenges of the schools. I would like all board members to view outreach as part of their responsibilities, by using their interactions with community groups as opportunities for expanding the conversation.
I support having forums on important issues, so that board members can hear community input. I would also like to expand communications through the district website, email and media about our successes and challenges. There are opportunities for each school to try to involve more of their neighborhoods in school events.
Ultimately, the goal is to provide opportunities for board members to get feedback on issues and to present a balanced view of the schools.
Q: What is your view ALP Program?
A: I believe it is a core value of our community that the schools deliver appropriate opportunities to expand the academic experiences of all the students in our schools. It is a critical component of that core value that the Greenwich Public Schools have a strong program aimed at the needs of the high achieving students from elementary through high school. I am a strong supporter of ALP services.
Q: More than any Board member, you have a very deep understanding of how the BET works. Will having their pulse assist you in the upcoming budget process?
A: It is easier for both the BET and the BOE to perform their roles with a good understanding of each other’s objectives and limitations. I have spent the time over the past few years to be aware of the issues facing the BET and be in a position to work together to achieve both our goals. The same approach will be valuable this year, with pressure on capital spending, limitations on operating budget increases and exploration of shared services.
The BOE needs to advocate for the resources we need to achieve our goals, but this can best be accomplished by working with the BET to help them achieve their goals too.
Q: And in looking to tomorrow and beyond:
A: I am looking forward to leading the board as we address our challenges. There are high expectations for the performance of this board and the district. I believe we have the commitment, skills and resources to make a positive.
Local editor Barbara Heins contributed to this report.