WARWICK, RI — Judy Cobden watched every School Committee meeting for the last three years, decided the body isn’t working for the people or leading the district effectively, and resolved to take a shot at it herself with a run for the Dist. 2 seat.
Cobden, a Warwick native and head of anti-money laundering at Network Data Security Experts Inc. (NDSE), remembers a time when Warwick’s school system was the one that everyone in the state wanted their kids to attend. It’s not that popular any more, she said, but she thinks it still could be, with the right leadership.
“I know that I could do better if I was on the School Committee,” Cobden said.
Cobden attended John Brown Francis, Aldrich and Pilgrim Schools, graduating in 1986.
Cobden earned a BS in criminal justice and psychology from Roger Williams University, with a minor in forensic science, as well as a master’s degree in banking and financial regulation from the University of London. She’s spent 30 years working as a paralegal, compliance officer, and sales practice investigator at the American Stock Exchange, Fortune 500 investment banks and insurance companies in the U.S. and internationally.
She’s been a board member of the Warwick Veterans PTSA since 2017, and a pro-bono educational advocate for more than 20 years in New York City, Providence, Cranston and, for the last three years, Warwick.
Cobden said her advocate work making sure families of special needs students get the services they’re entitled to has convinced her Warwick Schools’ special education program needs reforms to make getting the services less adversarial for families.
As a School Committee member, Cobden says she’d like to stop cutting educational programs, increase monitoring and consequences for bullying, be more responsive to building health concerns, restore full-time literacy and increase physical education to five days a week, aggressively seek new grants for the system, and reinvest in the Career & Technical Center.
Cobden said some of the decisions made in the course of elementary consolidation wastefully required students to travel too far from their homes, and unnecessarily disrupted the neighborhood school system.
As a result, she said, Hoxsie School, which has taken students from Randall Holden, is full, and more buses are needed to move students to the other schools.
“Buses are $87,000 a piece and these kids are getting taken far away from their neighborhood,” Cobden said.
Part of the School Department’s problems, she said, stem from a lack of planning and leadership from the School Committee. During meetings, Cobden said, School Committee members Karen Bachus and David Testa are the only ones asking in-depth questions exploring issues and initiatives.
“It’s like they (the rest of the Committee) don’t really care,” Cobden said.
The School Committee defers to Superintendent Philip Thornton too much, and not enough to the public, she said.
“They forget that they’re (the School Committee) the bosses,” Cobden said, “And I don’t think that they treat their constituents very well at all. But what they forget is that the public are the ones that put them there and that needs to change.”
Cobden said much of the School Department’s friction with the City Council can be resolved with new leadership on the School Committee.
“I would think that with a change in the School Committee, things would be much different. Much different. We have a lot of City Council members that are pro-education,” she said.
The City Council could be more involved in School Committee work, Cobden said. She noted that a collaborative effort to send City Council members to School Committee meetings has been neglected, where it could have helped avoid recent disagreements between the bodies on the school’s budget.
But Cobden also wants the public in general more involved.
“They have not been heard for a very long time. Years,” Cobden said.