Vincent Grady is in his fifth year on the Enfield Board of Education. Vinny was elected vice chairman of the Board in this, his third term on the school board, but first in the majority. I recently sat down with Vinny to talk about issues to do with the school board as well as some other matters.
Q: Vinny, you’re starting your fifth year on the Board of Education. What has been your most satisfying accomplishment thus far?
A: Satisfying…..I don’t know if it’s really been so much satisfying thus far. It’s been frustrating at times dealing with the budget process. I’m a pretty pro-active guy. I’m in the schools a lot. I see things we’ve had to cut. Understandably times were very, very bad…. I’ve seen a lot of programs that have disappeared. I’d like to see them come back and add on…especially at the high school level. So I haven’t been real happy these last four years, but I’m hoping we turn things around and people really understand what the school system actually needs.
Q: This leads to my second question…what has been your biggest disappointment.
A: Yeah, I think the whole budget process. It has been frustrating because of the economic times. I’m not saying it’s a political thing. It is a very bad time. I don’t like…I hate to be biased but I don’t like cutting where we shouldn’t be cutting. People have to understand that a good educational system in town is the root of a good town. I understand there were some cuts…yeah there was some fat in there, but I think we’ve gone deeper than we should have gone. I really think we should…I’d like to see things brought back and expanded…but not wasting money. You need to be fiscally responsible. And you remember things we used to have when we were in high school. Café Rendevous…and its stuff like that we don’t offer. My daughter is interested in culinary arts and we only have two classes in the four years of high school. I’d like to expand on programs for kids that want to go in that field. Nursing, IT, the vocational part. Not everyone is going to go to college. So we have to look at more of the vocational part and we need to look at that and support those programs.
Q: What do you think is the greatest challenge facing you guys as a board aside from financial?
A: Having the public understand what public education is all about. We’re losing a lot to these magnet schools. And people are going to these magnet schools thinking their kids are going to smaller classes. I have yet to see any data to support the contention that magnet schools are any better than what we are offering. I’m a little frustrated with people yanking their kids out of public school because of that. I’m not saying all magnet schools are bad…Suffield Vo-Ag is an excellent school….the Hartford Magnet Arts Academy…dance classes are very good. These are programs that we can’t offer and there aren’t enough kids interested for us to support that. I just don’t see why people are pulling them out and not giving public education in Enfield a chance to do their job. I’d like to see them stick with the public education here in town. These magnet schools are killing the budget….absolutely killing the budget. That’s very frustrating…..I’d like to see the trend reverse. I want us to have these things available so people aren’t pulling their kids out.
Q: The last four years you’ve been in the minority. This year you’re in the majority. Has that made a difference as far as you’re concerned?
A: I don’t see a difference just yet. Being in the majority or the minority….I think as a board of nine you need to look at what is best for the school system. I really don’t like politics being involved in the board of education. I know it is on the town council. I really would love to have a very non-biased board. I wish we didn’t have to get on there by a political party. I want to see people who have an agenda for the kids…fiscal responsibility for the townspeople but be there for the kids.
Q: High school reorganization…that’s going to be controversial. How are you going to deal with strong opinions. Some are going to want Fermi…some are going to want Enfield. I know you guys decided in a non-partisan 8-0 vote to utilize the Enfield High location. How are you going to deal with that as far as trying to bring the town together?
A: The number one thing you have to do is have respect and listen to people. Whatever my opinion or any other board member’s personal opinion is….we have to listen. We need to have the respect of other people’s points of view. A lot of people have really good ideas out there. This reorganization is a golden opportunity for the town. I don’t want to shut down a high school to just cram these kids in to save money. I like to see a school that is state of the art, fiscally responsible and actually bringing back some of these programs and making this a high school that these kids want to go to. The mascot thing, and colors…I understand that other towns that have gone through this thing have actually held a vote on this….that is an opportunity we might want to take. We need to have an open mind and listen to people.
Q: I know the hockey team…Fermi/Enfield combined. I’ve been to a few hockey games and it’s nice to see the Enfield kids and the Fermi kids kind of pulling in the same direction.
A: Believe it or not, when I first heard this was going to happen I thought it was going to be a firestorm with a lot of emails and ticked off parents. But I found out it was actually the parents of the hockey players that first proposed doing this due to reduced numbers. And that’s a fantastic thing for the schools and for the town. It’s worked out real well. There are a few glitches and some kids that could have otherwise played are not, but it’s the first year and there are some bugs that have to be worked out. There are going to be bumps in the road but hopefully they’ll work out.
Q: Getting away from Board of Ed for a minute…a lot of people don’t know that you teach fire safety at the elementary schools. Can you tell us a bit about that?
A: Oh yes, it’s a great program. It’s been around for 23-24 years. Actually Maureen Sampl started it through the Enfield Women’s Club. I had the opportunity seven years ago to apply for the job and got it. I’ve had a great time with these kids. If you get through to a couple or even one kid about fire safety…and it’s worked. Not to have an ego here but it has worked we’ve been to calls where the kids say they did what we told them to do. We have fun with the kids but they actually learn it. When kids come to me three or four years down the road and remember me, it means a lot because it means they listened to me. When I have parents yelling at me because their kids are nagging them to check their smoke detectors or have fire drills, I know the program works. It’s a good program not because I’m teaching it. It’s taught to all third graders in public and parochial schools throughout the town. It’s just a great program.
Q: On a personal level, I’m sure a lot of people don’t know that you’ve been in remission for ten years for cancer. What would you say to people diagnosed with cancer? It seems like there are so many people recently that I personally know that have been diagnosed. What do you tell people as a survivor?
A: What I tell people is….when most people hear cancer….and I did….you think it’s the end. I was ready to go see Buddy Browne (Browne’s Funeral Home)….it is a very devastating news to get. I tell people to stay positive. Stay positive through the treatments…believe you’re going to beat this thing. If you dwell on it and think it’s the end…you’re going to have good and bad days….but if people can stay positive it helps get through the treatment. It’s not a ball of wax…treatments have changed over the years from what I had. I have helped a few people I think that have gone through it…its…..I don’t know what to day. I’m at a loss of words right now. But you really have to stay positive…it’s a very scary process…that C word is the worst news that anyone can get. But if you have friends…..family and friends can get you through anything. You have your bumps in the road…I’m still nervous. Every six months when I go to get checked I’m nervous. But if you find someone to talk to about it, believe it or not it helps. The thoughts you get in your head and having someone listen to you who has been through or even if they haven’t does a world of good.
Q: Last question…how long are you going to do this for? Any higher aspirations…town council or anything?
A: No, no…my wife always kids with me about council being my next step. I like being on the board of education. It’s near to my heart. I’m in the public education system. I see what the teachers, students and administrators go through. I believe in public education. I know we have to be fiscally responsible to everyone not just people in the school system. I know I had a good public education. I want to give these kids what they deserve. Not everyone wants to go to college. College is very expensive. I know that one semester where my daughter goes to school costs what four years used to. But it’s important to have support of your family. Sometimes the late meetings get to my wife, but she’s very supportive of what I do. She understands it means a lot to me. As long as the public wants me I’ll keep doing it. We have a very dynamic board right now and very diverse. We have former teachers, former administrators, fiscal conservatives, moms who were involved with the school reorg. I’m very happy with the makeup of the board and we’ll see what happens. It is always interesting, that’s for sure.