On February 16, the Board of Education heard from four parents who called for action regarding a Middle School teacher’s misconduct. The parents implored the Board to substantiate the reasoning behind the teacher still being in a classroom after showing what they say was an egregious lack of judgment in allegedly zip-tying a student’s hands. They also called for greater transparency from the Administration. One Middle School parent, Dawn Lipke, poised that the Superintendent and Board “may care more about image than safety.” Another parent, Craig David Rosen, expressed concern that the children who are still in that classroom, including his own child, are afraid. He went on to say that parents in that class would have appreciated notification, soon after the incident, that the administration is aware of what happened and taking steps to remedy the issue. Parent Laura Consiglio asked for a “zero tolerance” policy for this type of teacher misconduct.
Keith Conway, President of the New Fairfield Education Association and 8th grade teacher at New Fairfield Middle School, took the podium to clarify that in regards to the teacher misconduct, the NFEA does “not condone or support this type of behavior” and they would not “under any circumstances…defend abusive behavior toward a student.”
Immediately following the public comments, Dr. Alicia Roy addressed the issue by stating that her “job is to ensure the students and the staff are both treated appropriately.” She went on to explain that, “as mandated reporters, outside agencies are brought in to determine student risk. If they deem that there is no substantiation of risk, then the teacher’s confidentiality remains.” Roy noted, “That’s the case here.” She has since reminded all faculty of their responsibilities regarding conduct.
In Board comments at the meeting’s end, member Samantha Mannion emphasized that although there may not have been “legal harm” established, there is evidence for “substantive harm” in this matter. She pointed out that the Board should be responding to the community feedback. Board member Dominic Cipollone suggested that they revisit the consequences that occur regarding incidents like this. Dr. Amy Tozzo concurred and is concerned about “the impact that it has on other children, seeing certain types of behaviors.” Chairman Steve Burfeind closed the discussion by saying that they will determine the appropriate forum to discuss this further, adding “I don’t disagree.”
In a mid-year data report, Dr. Jason McKinnon, Chief Academic Officer, and Mr. Keegan Finlayson, STEAM Director and Intervention Coordinator, walked the Board through a series of statistics for national Star testing, and our internal benchmark testing, Fountas & Pinnell. In analyzing the district’s Star results, McKinnon and Finlayson were happy to report that they were able to set a high bar and that, overall, our students performed remarkably. The test analytics allow them to pinpoint not only achievement, but also the rate of growth based on similarities and disparities in percentile rankings.
When Board members commented on evidence of some lower scores, Dr. McKinnon explained that they are using testing data to identify needs for shifts in curriculum, such as pacing, and to determine what professional development is needed for the faculty. Maureen Kenney, 2nd grade teacher, came to the podium to underscore the dilemmas she experiences with the pace of the current curriculum, in particular, Stepping Stones. She hopes that the program will slow down a little bit. Dr. McKinnon noted that the internal benchmark testing has helped staff to pinpoint weaker instructional areas and provide targeted reviews. The benchmarks are also informing a revise of our elementary report cards.
Representing the subcommittee Business Operations Resource Management, member Ed Sbordone explained that they reviewed the proposed budget a final time and are happy with it. He reminded everyone that the Board of Education will propose the budget to the town’s Board of Finance on March 4 at 10:30 a.m. The state’s cuts of $4.3MM to the town will be a main topic of concern. Dr. Roy introduced a new “Making Sense with Budget Dollars” 4-page pamphlet that provides highlights and a laymen’s overview to the budget. Later Board member Dominic Cipollone urged parents to attend the BOF meeting to support the proposed education budget.
Ed Sbordone also noted that the Auditorium Committee is working on a feasibility study to determine next steps. The committee is meeting again on March 14, 7 p.m. at the Board of Ed Annex Building and is open to the public. They will be discussing possibly renovating the existing auditorium or creating a new building, which would be located by the town garden. He also noted that they will be extending the copier contract another four years at the same rate.
Dr. Amy Tozzo gave a brief report regarding the Curriculum Subcommittee, noting that they are now up-to-speed on new SAT, PSAT, and ACT scoring methods.
Member Samantha Mannion reported on the Special Education Ad Hoc Committee meeting. She explained that discussion points included policies regarding substitute teachers in special education classes, the need for improved communication and the value of service logs, the DMC report’s recommendation that each child’s IEP goals be reviewed, and the fears regarding state budget cuts impacting special education funding.
Aaron Herold, member of the Technology Subcommittee, reported that the group is drafting a technology plan and procedure manual. Where they have been primarily concerned about security, they are shifting to more heavily consider user engagement. They will also detail policies for everything from anti-virus management to device life cycle.
Dr. Roy noted that a search committee will be formed to fill Sarah McLain’s position. The committee will survey the staff and parents, create a brochure for the position, and interview prospective candidates. The committee will consist of Board members, faculty, staff, and parents. Dr. Amy Tozzo offered to sit on the committee. Dr. Roy explained that the ideal schedule will have a candidate before the Board in spring.
The House of Rebel-sentatives has begun at the High School and they’re very excited about the ideas that came out of the first meeting. The next step is to form the Student Senate to prioritize the ideas.
Dr. Roy noted several positive district new items, such as the record $8,744.66 fundraising efforts for the Meeting House Hill School Hoops for the Heart.
The next Board of Education meeting is scheduled for Thursday, 3/2, 7 p.m.
By Sarah Opdahl