NEW FAIRFIELD – At their Dec. 21 meeting, the Board of Education voted 8-1 to approve the new District Vision, Mission, and Core Values. To give a closing delineation of the process, several presenters came to the podium to reiterate the diligence that went into crafting the language in the final version. There was a discussion about possibly altering the final wording, prompted by board member and former vision committee member Mr. Rick Regan, but the board opted to move forward and vote on the language as it stood. Board chair Peggy Katkocin said, “I know where you’re coming from, Rick, but I want to make sure procedurally that we don’t ask people to do work and then kind of come in at the eleventh hour and try to change something…they put in countless hours.”
There was agreement on a number of potential changes to the BOE meeting logistics, such as possibly streamlining the approval of meeting minutes, adding a second bout of public comments later in the meetings, and possibly looking into arranging the dais in a horseshoe shape. Mr. Douglas DeRito agreed on adding a second public comment section and also suggested that the BOE open up comments to the public on future critical votes. Ms. Katkocin also encouraged BOE members to respond when a public comment is made, when appropriate.
The BOE approved the superintendent search committee’s Leadership Profile, which will be the guiding document that will be used by in the upcoming search. The profile was created based on the recent survey results and focus group information. The ideal leadership attributes listed on the document are not hierarchically ranked, but are grouped into like items. The Leadership Profile will soon be available on the school’s website.
The BOE voted to approve appointing a liaison to the community-led group that’s researching changing school start times. Many board members volunteered for liaison spots including Dominic Cipollone, Samantha Mannion, Kathy Baker, and Rick Regan. The group will need to determine next steps, including the future possibility of hiring a consultant. Busing and sports schedules are among the big issues to research and tackle. Mr. DeRito suggested that the group looks at other districts that have implemented start time changes.
There was a report on the Senior Buddy program at Consolidated School. Rosann Petruso, Reading Specialist at Consolidated,
created the program, recruited local retired seniors, and coordinates their work at the school. She remarked that last year the program had 10 volunteers, this year there are 14, and they hope to continue to grow that number. She explained that the seniors come in once or twice a week. They “listen to children read, they help them when they’re struggling with words…they help them with writing and they also engage in math activities.” She pointed out that “our youngest learners are thrilled with all of the extra attention.”
A win-win for all involved, Ms. Petruso says, “Teachers appreciate the extra help with students” and there are glowing reports from the seniors and students that benefit from the program. Kathy Hull, NF Director of Senior Services and a Consolidated buddy, pointed out that 20% of New Fairfield’s population is over 60. Ms. As a senior buddy, “It’s been a delight for me to enter the second-grade classrooms of Kathy Curran and Sue Hastings.” Many seniors who have retired from the business world are appreciating the opportunity. Sarah Gannon said that she’s been amazed “Watching their young minds work.” Aimée Suhie acknowledged that the seniors “…get so much more then we give in this program…it’s like having all of these wonderful grandchildren…It is the most wonderful experience.” Marguerite Connor said, “I currently help in the math lab, second grade, and in Mrs. Draxdorf’s first grade reading. I continually find the children astonishingly bright and just fun kids.” She went to say “I can’t get over how happy I am the minute I walk into that door.”
Ms. Debbie Parker, High School English Chair and Middle School Literacy Coach, and Ms. Casey Olson, Middle School Science Teacher, presented at a recent education conference on a teaching method they have been honing. A bridge between science and the humanities, Ms. Parker joined Ms. Olsen’s science classes and together they developed a new way to reach the students, in part by slowing them down and encouraging them to think. “The more we had students stop and think before talking or writing and after reading…we had so much more success.” A form of scaffolding, a teaching method that emphasizes building upon skills, they’ve found that when they “slow down the process of teaching” and place multiple points where students can “think,” the results are extraordinary.
Mr. Ed Sbordone reported on the Business Operations/Resource Management Committee meeting. He said that there are delinquencies in ELC payments. They are sending out letters to try to get the payments remedied and will check back in on the issue in one month. He noted that the district’s “non-payroll special education is heading over budget” and they will make transfers accordingly. Finally, he explained that the group went over the staff requests for 2018-19, which include 6 new positions in the areas of life studies, math, two stem coaches, and two safety advocates.
Mr. Sbordone also spoke as the Board of Finance liaison. He noted that the board elected Wes March as chairman again. He also gave highlights on an audit report that was presented at the meeting. It was a good report with no deficiencies or misclassifications. He explained that the BOF reviewed their policies on surpluses and they will accept requests for surplus funds. The BOF is ready for the BOE to join them on 1/17 to present the school district’s needs.
In her Superintendent’s Report, Dr. Roy described the High School’s recent Model UN simulation. She mentioned lovely holiday concerts at several schools. And she reminded everyone that she will be presenting the budget just prior to the next BOE meeting on January 4th.
In board member comments, Kimberly LaTourette spoke about the Meeting House Hill School concert and commended Diane King, the band teacher, for her amazing work.
In student reports, Jared Pryborowski and Hannah Riguglioso highlighted that the school has been running a hot chocolate fundraiser to gather donations for cancer societies, and a variety of other fundraisers. They also mentioned that meetings for rising 9th graders start in January.
In public comments, parent Laura Consiglio, thanked former board member Amy Tozzo for her service. She expressed her optimism for the new board, “we want you to succeed.” She also observed that there is a sea of volunteers that help New Fairfield function. Regarding public comment, she said “I commend you for volunteering to serve on this board and, likewise, I ask that you recognize the contributions of those who may comment at these meetings…please be patient…it is often uncomfortable to come up here, but it has become necessary.”
Parent Samantha Kennedy went to the podium to address the issue of school start times and to encourage the board to move forward. She pointed out that with the emphasis on performance, the district can help students perform by giving them a more reasonable amount of sleep.
Resident Pat Bower suggested that the board implement a second round of public comments and they are pursuing that plan. Mr. Bower went on to say that he believes that a lot of “social media” commentary that ensues would be nipped with more opportunity for public comments.
Regarding both Ms. Consiglio’s and Mr. Bower’s comments, board member Greg Flanagan said, “You asked for some time, give us some time too…I’m really excited about what we can do as a board.”
The next Board of Education meeting is scheduled for Thursday, 1/4, 7:30 p.m. There will be a Budget Presentation prior to the meeting that is scheduled to begin at 6:30.
By Sarah Opdahl