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NEW FAIRFIELD – In a relatively brief meeting on Nov. 19, the New Fairfield Board of Education expressed appreciation for the nine weeks that the schools remained in person before going remote and the hope for a safe return soon. Superintendent Dr. Pat Cosentino stressed that the district is committed to returning on Dec. 7, with Board Chair Ms. Peggy Katkocin saying “We look forward to having them back in school as soon as it’s safe.” Cosentino hopes that “at least the 12 days” between December 7 and Christmas break will happen in person.

There was effusive praise heaped on the educators and staff who are working very hard to provide the best education possible to the remote learners. They also expressed appreciation for the parents who are helping in these endeavors in a number of ways. “I know that there were many disappointed parents that we did go on remote learning,” Cosentino said. She pointed out that there is now an Ed Advance program available for the district’s youngest learners to remote learn from Meeting House Hill School. Families can join for a fee and, as of now, there are 8 students in the program.

Cosentino explained that, given the pandemic’s unprecedented height at this point–in the town, county, and state–the cases that were rising caused extreme difficulty due to quarantining. She believes that the schools may have been  “quarantining a little bit too much” and that a meeting will be held to refine the thresholds after Thanksgiving. With so many teachers and staff members in quarantine, “we’ve all been plugging in holes,” with administrators and others stepping into unusual roles. “It becomes a little unsafe and it’s just too difficult to continue doing that,” she said.

“I am very, very proud of our ability to zoom and to teach remotely,” Cosentino stated, with a remarkably better remote learning experience in place since spring. She reminded parents of young learners that if they are having problems with remote learning to encourage their children to “read, read, read.”

Administrators explained that snow days can be designated as remote learning days this year, with a set number of synchronous learning hours. Assistant Superintendent Ms. Julie Luby says that this will help to keep from adding days to the academic calendar at the year’s end. In discussing the calendar for 2021-2022, Cosentino explained that there will be a full week of school before Labor Day to kick off the school year.

In a new school building project update, Director of Finance and Operations Dr. Richard Sanzo explained that the projects are continuing to proceed at a very rapid pace. Cosentino and Sanzo are meeting with state officials in early December to seek approval to move forward on various aspects of the projects. It was also noted that inlands/wetlands and zoning processes are in progress for both new schools.

In subcommittee updates, Mr. Ed Sbordone reported that the Business Operations Business Resource Management group is closely following the budget due to unexpected coronavirus expenses. He noted that, at this point, the budget is running at approximately a $100K deficit.

Sbordone also said that a long-term capital plan is being drafted for 2020 through 2030. In the short term, there are coronavirus relief fund grant monies that need to be spent by 12/31 and they are slated to be used on Middle School building management system repairs.

Mr. Greg Flanagan reported as a Parks & Recreation Committee liaison that the group has started the initial improvements to the docks and hope to get a lot done by spring. He explained that safe holiday activities are in the works, with a drive-through santa, a recorded tree lighting that will be released on social media, the Great Light Fight contest, and plans for a parade are being determined.

The board accepted a DERX Foundation grant in the amount of $15K, which will be used for enrichment activities. And in requests for future agenda items, Mr. Dominic Cipollone asked to look at the parent teacher conference process, especially for the secondary schools. He pointed out that the conferences need to be more “efficient and effective…I think it could be done in a better way.”

In board member comments at the meeting’s end, Ms. Stephanie Strazza thanked MHHS for their virtual Veterans’ Day ceremony, saying it was “a light in the middle of the uptick of the pandemic.” Board members also wished the community “Happy Thanksgiving.”

The next regular Board of Education is scheduled for Thursday, December 3, 7:00 p.m.

By Sarah Opdahl