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With recent announcements and upcoming elections, major change is afoot in the New Fairfield school district.

The school year ended with a cliffhanger superintendent evaluation in the works, but Dr. Alicia Roy deflated any tension over numerical evaluations or written comments with the late June declaration that she would be leaving the position at the end of next year. The notice came as a surprise to many Board of Education members.

A second unexpected announcement arrived in the form of Board Chair Steve Burfeind’s letter of resignation, effective November 7. He states in the letter that he is resigning after giving the matter “thoughtful consideration and with mixed emotions.” He went on to say that “My biggest regret is that I didn’t do more to stop the character assassination of Dr. Roy and for that I will be forever sorry.”

In November, the town will be filling seven of nine Board seats. First, town members will vote on six seats in the upcoming election; Burfeind’s seat will be appointed after the new Board is in place. In a follow-up, Burfeind says that “The new Board that gets seated and the Board Chair that they appoint will, collectively, have some very important decisions to make in 2018 and beyond. I hope these leadership changes provide an opportunity to restore attention to the wonderful things going on in our schools.”

Board of Education candidate, Rick Regan, also stressed the importance of these changes by commenting that “This is a pivotal moment. First, we have to fill seven seats on the Board. Then the Board has to elect a new chairman. And then the Board has to hire a new superintendent. These are decisions that will shape our district for years to come.”

Mr. Douglas DeRito expressed fears of a lame-duck period, with so much change looming and stated that “We need to start the school year strong and start making progress right away.” He went on to say that “I do believe that part of the effort to move the District forward is for the Chairman to allow his seat to be placed on the ballot in November, which would require him to resign sooner than election day. This will allow the voters to decide who fills the vacated seat on the BOE versus being appointed by the new Board after Election Day…Steve Burfeind has served this community well and [I] know his decision to step down off the BOE is being done in the best interests of our community and [will] allow for a more effective Board to be elected by the voters this November.”

In the aftermath of both announcements, several current Board members have 11 expressed appreciation for Dr. Roy and Mr. Burfeind. Mr. Kevin Hearty says that he is “happy to be working with [both of] them for the first part of the 2017 school year…we have some serious fiscal issues approaching.” Mr. Dominic Cipollone stated that he will “look forward to working with [Roy] during this last year of her tenure as we continue to strive towards improving outcomes for our students.” Mr. DeRito said “I have great respect for the contributions made by Dr. Roy during her tenure as Superintendent and look forward to working with her to make progress in the District in her final year of her contract.”

Board members also stressed their hopes for the future. Mr. Cipollone says “I am confident that moving forward the Board of Education will continue to make the strategic decisions that support the administrators, teachers, paraprofessionals, staff, and above all, the children of New Fairfield. I am optimistic about the future of our district and believe that we will be one of the top ten school districts in Connecticut. Our great town deserves nothing less.”

Parent Craig Rosen is “optimistic about the changes taking place and looks forward to the improvements in our children’s education.” A vocal proponent of change in leadership, he says that he is “glad that [Roy] sees that the best way to help the children of our town is to allow someone new to come in and help restore the district’s reputation.” Echoing his thoughts, parent Laura Consiglio said “I think Roy’s departure is an opportunity for a fresh start for the district…It would have been prudent for her to step down last year for the benefit of the district–instead the turmoil caused by keeping her here has cost us good teachers. I would like to see her step aside immediately and for the BOE to a begin a search right away for her replacement.”

The first Board of Education meeting for the 2017-18 school year is scheduled for Thursday, August 17.

By Sarah Opdahl