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The New Fairfield Board of Education approved the district’s plans for spending the American Rescue Plan grant funds of over $2.5M at a special meeting on Thursday, 5/25. Though the allocations may change in the future, the go ahead gives Superintendent Dr. Pat Cosentino the approval to move forward in posting and hiring for positions, in addition to greatly impacting the administration’s heavy planning process that occurs over the summer break. “We’re in a very competitive climate, everyone is hiring, and all of the school systems are looking for the same positions,” Cosentino said.

Positions that will be covered under the grant monies include a special education teacher and a social worker for the middle school; a counselor for the high and middle school; kindergarten, 3rd, and 5th grade teachers to reduce class sizes; an elementary literacy coach and a writing interventionist; two certified mathematics teachers in residence for grades 7 to  12; and, a K to 12 special education coach. These are all slated to be one or two-year positions, with the understanding that some may need to be worked into future budgets. There was a brief discussion regarding how the additional 5th grade teacher will work in the current team-based approach, but Cosentino pointed out that she is addressing numbers and “we can’t run a budget based on teaming.”

The grant monies offer many other funding opportunities, such as additional professional learning days for staff; STEAM program equipment for labs in the high and middle school and STEAM curriculum for all schools; social-emotional learning programming in Responsive Classroom for grades K through 5 and Restorative Practices for grades 6 to 12; and, curriculum writing for the high school.

Dr. Karen Fildes spent time describing the STEAM program, explaining that there is a three-year aggressive plan to begin exposure to STEAM for all students, beginning in kindergarten. All elementary students will be taking part in project-based learning. And the biggest leaps will occur in the secondary schools with classes, equipment, and afterschool activities. The equipment will allow the high school to more aggressively move forward on the STEAM pathways programs for students.

When board members asked about the class sizes for next year and whether the spacing and other requirements are known, they learned that this information has not been released from the state. Regardless, planning needs to continue, “We’re flying the plane and building it at the same time,” Cosentino said.

The board applauded the creation of skills and materials that will last beyond the grant monies. They were happy that the grant funds are going to afford more professional development for the staff, “It’s so wonderful to get this money and do it all and have everyone be on the same page,” Cosentino said. When asked about the curriculum writing, Cosentino explained that the school will be hiring the same professional, Ms. Lori Ferriera, who has been working with the school all year.

Cosentino reminded the board that any grant funds that aren’t slated for spending on the school’s overall list, which includes many items and positions that were not approved at this meeting, will be put toward HVAC updates at the middle school and the school lunch program.

The school board also approved a revision of the 2020-2021 district calendar at this special meeting, switching the last three days of school—June 14, 15, and 16—to half days. The staff still have full days to pack up the classrooms and wrap up details for the school year.

The next regular New Fairfield Board of Education meeting is scheduled for Thursday, June 3, 7:00 p.m.

By Sarah Opdahl