Name: Robert Benacchio
How long have you lived in Westfield? 12 years
What are your qualifications for office?
I have been an employment/labor and commercial attorney for nineteen years. For the past three years, I have been a commercial real estate broker and assist in managing the overall operations of that business. I have negotiated over $2 million in deals and advise clients regularly on short and long-term property strategies. I have served on the Town Board of Adjustment and coached youth sports in town for six years. I will rely on this experience to address the district’s biggest needs.
What would your top priorities be if elected to the school board?
- Our students are getting 90 fewer minutes per class each week, and the time they are in school is not being used efficiently. I will work to reform our hybrid education plan to get that time back for our kids and develop a long-term plan to get them safely in class full time.
- Our fields and facilities are inadequate. I will use my experience and resources to develop short, mid, and long-range plans for maintaining, reconfiguring, and expanding our facilities and fields.
- We must reform our IEP and emotional health programs. We have outstanding counselors and teachers that need greater support to put their plans into action.
How would you work to promote diversity in Westfield public schools’ education?
We cannot ensure diverse hiring and curriculum without taking direct responsibility for it. The Board of Education — by its own policy — does NOT review all hires, or all courses and texts provided to our students. I will move to eliminate this policy. We should also provide immersive experiences outside the formal classroom for students and parents to experience together. This way, we educate the community and give parents the chance to set an example.
What are some of the challenges COVID-19 has brought to the district and how you would handle them?
Most districts in the state are facing the same COVID challenges: providing the same education quality in the safest manner with limited space. Our district’s planning does not hit the mark. Our students do not have enough class time, and the time they do have is not scheduled efficiently. Independent studies (where teachers sometimes are not even present) and recorded specials are scheduled during in-person class hours. Leave requests for teachers were due August 17 – nowhere near enough time for the Board to give teachers the response they deserve. As a result, parents found out days before the start of school that some of their in-person students would attend class taught by remote teachers. This certainly was not fair to teachers, who themselves were not sufficiently consulted in planning. Successful districts made multiple plans to cover multiple outcomes and acted early on the things they could control. We have shown no willingness to interact with parents and answer their concerns with canned responses and messaging. We are measuring our response against other districts’ shortcomings - not their innovations.
We must set more lofty goals for in-person instruction and increase class time, whether virtual or otherwise. Independent studies and specials should be in the afternoon when our students are largely working independently anyway. We must develop multi-track plans and benchmarks for our students to return to school safely, full time. We must put in place a real parent education and feedback plan. Right now, we do not inform parents - we manage the information that goes to them. We must stop our “wait-and-see” approach and do what we can now.
What else would you like the readers to know?
It is time our Board of Ed and administrators stopped living off our schools’ reputations and started living up to them. To write me in, go to the “School Election” section of the ballot, and the column on the right marked “Personal Choice.” On line 1, write in my name, Robert Benacchio, and fill in the circle next to it. Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and view the attached links: http://bit.ly/BOEcandidateQandA; http://bit.ly/robyoutubeannouncment.