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Meet the Candidate: Ari Steinberg

Ari R. Steinberg. Submitted photo

We-Ha.com is offering our readers the opportunity to meet the candidates running in the Nov. 5, 2019, municipal election. 

Compiled by Ronni Newton

We-Ha.com is offering our readers the opportunity to “Meet the Candidate” – designed to help them get to know the candidates running for office in the 2019 municipal election.

Identical questionnaires have been sent to all candidates, and each profile received has been submitted directly to We-Ha.com by the candidate or the candidate’s campaign management. The responses have not been edited but have been formatted to match our publication style. Questions left blank have been deleted.

As profiles are received, they will be published on We-Ha.com under the “Government” tab. We-Ha.com is not making endorsements of any political candidates but we are publishing this information in order to assist voters in being informed and prepared when they go to the polls on Nov. 5.

If you are a candidate and wish to submit a profile, please return it by email to Ronni Newton at [email protected] as soon as possible.

Name: Ari R. Steinberg

Age: 49

Party, position seeking: Democrat, Board of Education

Family information: My husband Howie and I just celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary. We have resided in West Hartford since 2000. My daughter, Riley, is a senior and my son, Alexander, is a freshman at Hall High School. 

Other occupation, if applicable:  Clinical Psychologist, Grace S. Webb School

Political experience: No previous political experience

Other relevant experience: While I am a newcomer to the political arena, I have been actively involved in my children’s school experiences. I served as the PTO Vice President for two years as well as serving as a room parent every year for both of my children during their time at Aiken Elementary. In addition, I also created and volunteered to coach the “Aiken Running Club” for my daughter’s 5th grade class which included weekly practices, providing students with training programs, and running the Celebrate West Hartford 5k. Presently, I volunteer for activities (e.g., baking for special events, chaperoning at evening activities) that I can participate in while working full-time.

During my time working at the Mandell JCC, I organized and implemented numerous community-wide fundraisers (e.g., spinning, boot camps, cycling) in order to raise funds for American Heart Association, Susan G. Komen Foundation, and the UCONN Health Center.  

Why are you running for office? I recently returned to work as a clinical psychologist at the Grace S. Webb School at the Institute of Living – it was my work there that piqued my interest in running for the Board of Education. The message that I often relay to the students that I work with is that they are with us to address the emotional-behavioral issues that are preventing them from being successful students. I started to realize that this message is not specific to students at a therapeutic day school – this message is relevant to each and every school-aged child and adolescent. In other words, a student’s ability to learn and succeed academically is highly dependent on their emotional, social, and psychological well-being. I believe that my training and mindset as a clinical psychologist can help to provide some different insights, especially regarding the emotional, behavioral, and psychological needs of our students and families in West Hartford. My decision to run for a seat on the Board of Education was further solidified when I heard the highlights from Superintendent Tom Moore’s convocation speech. His emphasis on the importance of optimism, his determination to keep our children safe in the schools, and his increased focus on the mental health of our students is right in line with some of the issues that I feel very passionate about and look forward to addressing through my work on the Board of Education.  

What issue(s) are your primary area of focus? My role at Grace Webb has made me very committed and passionate about providing children and their families with the appropriate clinical resources and educational services. I would like to be able to do this on a larger scale within my own community. I believe that my education and training as a clinical psychologist enables me to bring to the board a comprehensive understanding of the emotional, social, and mental health needs of school-aged children and how they can be supported by educational policy. 

Upon completing my internship in clinical psychology at the Institute of Living in 2001, I chose to put my career on hold and stay at home to raise my children until my son Alexander entered middle school. I initially returned to work on a part time basis as a personal trainer at the Mandell JCC, and eventually chose to go back to work full-time to complete my training as a clinical psychologist. I feel that I have a good perspective on the issues that parents along the work world continuum often face related to their ability to be involved in their children’s educational experience. I would like to be a voice as well as a support to these parents trying to navigate the balance between work and family.

What do you feel is the biggest issue facing West Hartford today? Regarding the Board of Education, I think one of the biggest issues has been and will continue to be how to navigate an adequate balance between budgetary restraints and the student experience. As we all know, West Hartford has been rated time and again as one of the top school districts, not only in Connecticut, but in the country. So, the real question becomes “How can we continue to thrive as a top-rated school district that provides its students with excellent academics, strong arts programs, competitive sports teams, and ample student supports/resources while remaining fiscally responsible?” Fortunately, some of the key factors that have allowed us to not only maintain, but strengthen our schools, are not financially driven. These factors include: generous parent engagement and support of programs, active volunteers, solid relationships with community organizations, frequent fundraising efforts, and establishing mentoring opportunities (e.g., student teaching, internships). In addition, it is worthwhile to note that there are many external initiatives/resources available to the district that would not put an additional strain on the current budget. However, it requires some added effort and resourcefulness to seek them out. 

During my time at the Grace Webb School, I have tried to “think outside of the box” in order provide our students with opportunities and experiences that did not negatively impact the school’s annual budget. The initiative that I am most proud of is the Webb in Motion Program that I created and implemented for the 2017-2018 school year. It provides students with some form of physical activity at the start of each school day. We are currently in the third year of the program and have seen an increase in students’ ability to focus and concentrate on their schoolwork and a decrease in disruptive behaviors across all levels of our school. I have also established a partnership with the Sandy Hook Promise Foundation and serve as the liason at our school to implement their psychoeducational programs and week long initiatives to address school violence, social isolation, and mental health issues. Lastly, I initiated and worked with the volunteer services department at Hartford Healthcare to provide weekly therapy dog visits for the elementary, middle, and high schools. While all of these programs have greatly enhanced our students’ school experience, they did not require any additional funding, or drain from the school’s annual budget.

Please provide a brief statement regarding your opinion of the Town of West Hartford’s fiscal situation, and what, if anything, can be immediately addressed. (This question is more relevant to Town Council candidates, but Board of Education candidates are welcome to comment on the school budget.) N/A

What do you feel differentiates you from other candidates also running for this position? I am beyond grateful and excited to share in this campaign with my “slate-mates” Amanda Aronson and Sean Passan. I feel very lucky to be running with two well-qualified, enthusiastic, and hard-working individuals that will both in their own right be exceptional additions to the Board of Education. However, I do feel that there are a few things that set me apart as a result of my both professional and personal experiences. First, I believe that my training as a child and adolescent clinical psychologist can help to provide some different insights, especially with respect to the emotional, behavioral, and psychological needs of our students and families. Second, given that both of my high-schoolers have attended West Hartford Public Schools since Kindergarten, I have had the opportunity to be involved as a parent at the elementary, middle, and high school levels. It has provided me with valuable insights into the different issues, policies, and parent experiences that exist across the educational continuum in our town. Lastly, in my professional role at Grace Webb, I am always trying to create a better environment and experience for our students. During my time there, I have spearheaded many initiatives (e.g., Webb in Motion, Sandy Hook Promise Foundation, and Therapy Dogs) at my school which have enhanced and improved our students’ overall well-being, especially during their school day.

Anything else you would like to share? Having raised two children in West Hartford, I have a genuine appreciation and understanding of the values and mission of the West Hartford Public School system. I feel very fortunate to live in a town that values and embraces the importance of education. I would welcome the opportunity to serve on the Board of Education in order to give back to the town and school system that I feel so grateful to have been a part of during my 20 years as a West Hartford resident. I hope to have your support on November 5th.

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