New Board of Education chairman outlines priorities for school district
For Michael Gordon, the success of each student in the town's public schools is paramount. He believes that children should enter school with an open mind and graduate with critical thinking. Kindness and respect are valued qualities to foster, he'll tell you.
He recently listed personal goals for the school board in the coming year. Among them is getting "a strong budget for students."
"We need to keep pushing the envelope academically," he added, noting the board recently approved four new innovative courses at the high school next year. They are AP computer science principles, animal behavior, zoologym and lifeguard training. He said the school system is on the leading edge and constantly striving to improve.
In addition, he said, the school budget needs to be fiscally sound, but not at the expense of programs that benefit students.
For example, he said Elio Longo, the school system's business manager, has suggested some cost-sharing programs with the town that will benefit the bottom line for both. "And we're also looking at moving our energy services to performance-contracting," Gordon said. "All of this helps our costs and allows us to keep and expand great programs for kids."
He said the school system has also been focused on security since the shootings in Newtown nearly two years ago where Adam Lanza killed 26 people, including 20 elementary school children.
"We've made some important enhancements and I expect us to be looking at and implementing more in the near future," Gordon said.
In the long term, Gordon, a public relations professional, said he would like to see the school district "expand its leadership in areas that are vital to the global economy, as well as in programs that promote creativity, critical thinking and kindness."
Board member Mark Mathias, who nominated Gordon, a Democrat, for the position, said he demonstrates leadership skills in many ways and puts the needs of students first, has experience in education issues, and is a fierce advocate for students.
He said Gordon, elected to the board in 2011, isn't shy about asking the right questions to ensure "thoroughness and transparency.
Mathias said that given the "fiscal matters our administration has faced," that Gordon has "the right skill set to move us forward."
That was a reference to the $1.65 million cost overrun at a project at Kings Highway School that was discovered this past summer during a municipal audit. That sparked controversy when it was revealed that the money was taken from the school district's operating budget to cover additional expenses for cleaning up lead and mold at the school.
As a result, the board last month approved a new capital projects policy.
And just earlier this month, there was discussion concerning the school system's continuing education's fund balance which has declined nearly $700,000 over the course of the last three fiscal years. School administrators are predicting a possible $25,000 deficit in that account, which is currently the subject of an independent town audit.
There will be some challenges ahead for Gordon, but as board member Jeannie Smith put it, when she seconded his nomination: "Michael does his job with intelligence and integrity."
She added he's also known to "lighten the mood at our most stressful time," and, she said, that's something she's thankful for.
Gordon, who had been board secretary since November 2012, has an extensive background in education policy and child advocacy, according to his biography on the Democratic Town Committee website. He has also sat on the boards of several organizations supporting children, including the Bridgeport Child Advocacy Coalition, ADL Connecticut and the Center for Arts Education.
Gordon and his wife, Linda, were also honored with the ADL's "Distinguished Community Leadership Award." They have three children.
Gordon coaches Little League, a fact Smith brought up when she seconded his nomination, saying around her house he's known simply as "Coach Gordon."
He founded the New York-based Group Gordon, a corporate public relations firm, "after seeing a need in the market for a firm that excelled both strategically and tactically," according to information on the company's website. The business received the 2014 SABRE award for "Best Boutique Agency to Work For."
Before starting his career in public relations, Gordon served in the Clinton Administration as spokesperson for Attorney General Janet Reno during the President's second term, according to information on the company website.
He worked in the Administration's first term as a special assistant on elementary and secondary education policy.
Gordon has been a guest on CNBC, CNN, MSNBC and FOX discussing corporate and crisis communications matters, and he has been featured in the Huffington Post, the Daily Beast, USA Today and other media outlets.
He serves on the boards of the Penn Fund, the Bridgeport Child Advocacy Coalition, ADL Connecticut and his local Federation. A former attorney with Skadden, Arps, Gordon earned J.D. and M.B.A. degrees from Columbia University and his B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania.