On December 5, the New Fairfield Board of Education heard an update on the district’s English as a Second Language (ESL) program. Having reached the state threshold for mandated services for the number of ESL students in the district earlier in the year, the school hired its first full-time ESL teacher, Rowena Zylali, to update what had been primarily before- and after-school services to a more fully-integrated program.
Assistant Superintendent, Julie Luby said, “We hired one person, but got two people essentially” regarding Ms. Zylali, who has hit the ground running as a leader and teacher and taken on the program’s revamp with gusto. Having taught ESL for 15 years in Waterbury, after teaching English abroad, Ms. Zylali has spent the first few months of the school year working work students, identifying new students for services, partnering with fellow faculty members, implementing new online systems, and beginning to build a rapport with parents.
Ms. Zylali stated of her job, “I love it and I love the kids” and that her primary goals include teaching the kids and to “help them become independent.” She explained that she hops between schools each day, with at least two daily visits to Consolidated and Meeting House Hill School, and typically one session at the Middle School. Of the 83 students in the district who have been identified as needing service, 57 currently have requested direct instruction.
If the student speaks another language at home, they are tested on the language standards, even if they have been speaking English at some level for some period of time. Ms. Zylali explained that some families do not opt for services for their child, even if they have not met the testing standards. To help parents better understand the program, and the services being offered, she is sending consent forms to parents that have been translated into four languages. Parents and students have also received their testing scores for the first time.
Ms. Zylali has been busy working with teachers at each school to offer “high-yield linguistic support,” at every level. She has implemented new systems so that they can go online and see the testing results, tabbed for each year, to better track a student’s progress. She said, “I really didn’t realize that people didn’t know what language learners needed,” but she can tell that there has been an impact, “I know they’re really listening because during conferences I heard teachers repeating things I had said to them.”
Going forward, Ms. Zylali will continue attending child study team meetings and PPTs to give the groups a variety of suggestions to help the students. She will also begin state mandated testing in January.
In a school building project update, Director of Business and Operations, Dr. Richard Sanzo, explained that the Permanent Building Committee will be interviewing architects on Dec. 10 and two owner’s representative candidates on Dec. 17, the Morganti Group and Collier’s International. Interviews for the architects and the owner’s representatives will be held in executive sessions.
In other news, Dr. Sanzo noted that the state reimbursement rate is up to 38.22%, a half a percent more, which equals approximately another half a million dollars. He did not know the reasoning behind the increase.
The board was introduced to a new textbook for Physics, a course that will be rolled out to all Juniors next year–as a catch up to the switch, seniors will also be offered the course in 2020-2021. Creating continuity, Physics of the Universe is published in the same series of workbooks that have been adopted for Biology and Chemistry. Administrators are working to get a fair price for the student consumable.
BOE members approved a new, highly-praised textbook, The Culinary Professional. And they approved a plan to alter the Civil Air Patrol, which will include combining Middle School and High School units and providing instruction after school. Board member, Dominic Cipollone praised both programs, saying that they are “creating more pathways for kids and finding their interests and passions.”
The board approved many policy revisions, including adding vaping to the overarching Smoke-Free Environment policy; adding a DCF check to the fingerprinting policies; removing the 180 days of school requirement for graduating seniors; specifying that any member of a Special Education PPT that is employed by the BOE shall not be disciplined or punished for recommendations; stating that parents of all students who test as eligible for Gifted & Talented should be notified; and more.
In her BOE Chair report, Peggy Katkocin gave an update on the Consolidated faucet testing, confirming that two additional sinks had elevated lead levels, one in a classroom and one in a broom closet. Measures are being put into place to correct those. In the Superintendent’s report, Dr. Pat Cosentino noted that the school is continuing to look for substitutes. She encouraged college students to apply to work, as they might be able to fill in during January and May/June.
Board member, Rick Regan pointed out that in the Curriculum Subcommittee the group had an update on the math analysis, which included the news that math instruction is being increased to daily in grades K though 5. He also explained that, at the upper school levels, they are looking at increasing at least Algebra I and II instruction to daily starting next year. He also noted that the number of Early College Experience courses, in which students follow a college syllabus and have the opportunity to earn college credit, is on the rise at the High School. And he proposed a plan to offer academic “signing days,” in addition to sports signing days. In discussing whether scholarships are tethered to the signing days, it was noted that some include scholarships, others do not.
The next regular BOE meeting is scheduled for Thurs., Dec. 19, 7pm. The meeting will include the first 2020-2021 Budget Presentation.
By Sarah Opdahl