Mary Grande: Finding Her Seat on the Board of Education

New board member shares what she’s all about.

At the , Mary Grande was sworn in as a new Board of Education member, replacing Linda Barr for the next nine months. Grande has not said if she will be chosen to run in the BOE election this November but is eager to feel out her new appointment.

Though Grande is first timer on the Board of Education, she has been a vocal member of education meetings and a vital part of many town organizations through the years.

Before delving into her hopes for the Branford Education system, Grande, a mother of three, shares that her first foray in education came when she joined the PTA when her oldest son Jonathan was a student there in 1995. Her service to her community didn’t stop there. Grande joined the annual fireworks committee, The Committee, the Sports Hall of Fame Committee, the Representative Town Meeting (RTM), the Parks and Recreation Board, the Democratic Town Committee (DTC) and was a volunteer for the annual holiday parade.

“I love Branford,” said Grande, “and these events make Branford unique.” Continuing she said, “These events are what make Branford the town it is; I really believe that.”

In addition to her volunteer work on various town committees, Grande has worked in the nonprofit sector and has recently accepted a new position in the Development Department of New Haven Home Recovery, which provides shelter to single women and women with children. Prior to this job, Grande ran the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation Connecticut Chapter for three years. During her time there, Grande received the honor of 2009 Up and Coming Chapter.

So what does her background mean for the Board of Education? Grande answers: “I think being a nonprofit person, I absolutely understand that each child is unique because you don’t know what’s going on in the home and what goes on in their lives affects them when they come to school.”

Grande is a big proponent of the wrap-around services Branford already offers students and adamantly stated that the can’t get enough money. “I think our schools are confronting issues that they didn’t have to years ago,” explains Grande. “I think our schools are confronting issues and with those issues they still have to keep their main focus of helping that child grow up and help them learn.”

Grande says she hopes to bring suggestions to the table as a BOE member and plans to ask questions with her own perspectives in mind. As far as becoming a policy maker within the BOE, she said, “They are the educators and my background is development. I have to leave it up to the professionals to decide.”

Grande has long been asking questions at meetings and at her very first member meeting, just minutes after being inducted, Grande pressed Principal Lee Panagoulias regarding their new online learning initiative. Grande was concerned about younger students participating in a program like this, which is focused on independent learning. Her perspective, though not as an educator, but as a parent, brought several minutes of conversation and eventually answers. You can read more about the online learning program, VHS, .

Grande says one of her main goals is ensuring that the needs of all students of varying levels are met. “I also feel that we need to meet not only the needs of the child that struggles, but the needs of a child that can excel.” Anyone who knows Grande, knows she is a big proponent of expanding the high school’s advancement placement program (about a dozen AP classes are offered at this time). On the other end of the spectrum she says, of students who may not be bound for a traditional four-year college program, “We have to educate all our students knowing not each child is going to go on to a traditional four-year school. We have to educate them to be prepared in our ever-changing economy.”

Grande furthers, “You want school to be a challenge but not a struggle. I have seen where that challenge can be a struggle at times and that’s a perspective I bring to the board. How do we make all children exceed in the challenge?”

When Grande is not off helping people through her day job and spending nights working on the betterment of Branford, she enjoys reading and hanging with her friends on the beach at the .

She’s proud of her town and maintains her vigilance to community service by hoping to be a good fit for the Board of Education. Staying true to her ideals about why she first got involved in town ventures more than 15 years ago, she said, “When you are at the holiday parade it’s amazing. When you are standing up on that stage and you look at all the people –­ that’s why you do it. Because that’s the community where you live and isn’t that what we are all here to do?”


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