At their February 7 meeting, the New Fairfield Board of Education were updated on a Facilities Study that is being created by QA&M, an architecture firm based in Farmington, CT. The board approved funds in the amount of $28,500 for continuing the study, which is examining renovation needs at NFHS and the Consolidated School.
Rusty Malik and Angela Cahill, of QA&M, have been completing renovation projects with school districts and working with them to connect with state funds “for decades,” said Ms. Cahill. They presented to the BOE the four typical steps that a district takes before taking large renovation projects to their community in a referendum. First, enrollment projections are examined, which is an initiative the district has been pursuing for some time. Second, educational programming is discussed at length–QA&M is working in conjunction with groups at the school in this stage now. Third, concepts are created and a competitive analysis of concept design options versus preventative maintenance plans ensues–aforementioned funds were approved create these concepts. And, finally, the architecture firm works with the district to apply to the state for grant assistance.
Walking through a hefty list of critical renovation needs that were identified at the schools, Mr. Malik and Ms. Cahill pragmatically described a range of issues to address, from the obvious problems of the high school auditorium and locker rooms to the lesser-known well-water systems and insulation issues at both schools. Having recently completed the high school’s culinary arts wing, the two are familiar with NFHS and pointed out that in concepts they will address the ways that the school can be more useful, noting the tight office space, lack of collaboration and meeting spaces, inconveniently placed elevators, and more. Mr. Malik was optimistic, saying “The reality is that you can actually change these [existing] facilities to be facilities that can be future-ready for education.”
For now, the firm has completed 3D CAD plans of the two schools. They will work with these to create a variety of concepts with estimates for each, which will come back to the BOE for discussion in April or May. Superintendent, Dr. Pat Cosentino, pointed out that the state grant application needs to be in place before a June deadline.
Pupil Personnel Services Presentation
Dr. Cosentino is continuing to invite a variety of groups to present on the work that they do for the district, in both an effort to better inform the board and to recognize the staff for their efforts. On the evening of 2/7, the board heard from many staff that fall under the umbrella of Pupil Personnel Services. Behavior analysts, school psychologists, speech pathologists, social workers, and physical and occupational therapists filled the audience and took turns taking to the podium to explain the advanced degrees and certifications that each hold, in addition to the many ways that they provide service for the students, faculty, and parents in the district.
The roles that each area performs for the students overlap and intertwine, marrying in IEPs and 504s that are spelled out to address the needs of individual children. For example, a student with an intense behavior plan, identified by the behavior analyst, may also benefit from movement breaks or preferential seating, which is confirmed and identified by an occupational and physical therapist. And where a student might be working with a speech pathologist for hearing or speech impairments, their social worker might be helping the child’s parents navigate corresponding hearing or speech-related health insurance paperwork.
The aim of each of these roles is to help students, faculty, and families thrive, understanding that in the day-to-day that means that their work schedules are always evolving, based on the particular needs of the students. “No two days look the same” said Ms. Bibi John, NFMS School Psychologist, highlighting that the needs of the students come first. And while this was reiterated in the description of each role, there was also a healthy amount of more rote time described, spent in assessments and evaluations, IEP and 504 meetings, in trainings such as bullying prevention, and the like.
New Fairfield Prevention Council Survey
Craig Rosen, Treasurer of the New Fairfield Prevention Council, presented a proposal to conduct an attitudes survey at NFHS. Mr. Rosen explained that the anonymous survey would ask the students a variety of personal questions about habits and environment that would help gain insight into their thoughts and behaviors. Though he originally proposed that they would conduct the identical survey that was last conducted three years ago, with hopes to compare “apples to apples,” board members pushed back and asked the council to return in the near future with information on how modifiable the survey questions are. They pointed out that, for example, with the rise of vaping and the ever-changing uses of social media, the survey needs updating to truly assess the current student climate and check the pulse on their attitudes and behaviors. Plus, with investigations into changing school start time, questions about sleep habits would be included.
Mr. Rosen agreed to look into modifying questions and welcomed member board input on wording. He explained that when the anonymous survey was last conducted three years ago, all involved were surprised and pleased by how candid the students were in their answers. He went on to explain that the study has had lasting implications, from the school’s reliance on the survey to help in needed areas, to the choices that the NF Prevention Council has made in its offerings. Though he didn’t have a specific figure, Mr. Rosen said that the response rate was “pretty high” to the survey. The New Fairfield Prevention Council would like to have the updated survey conducted before the end of the school year; the survey will likely be issued to students during an extended Rebel 33 period.
Subcommittees and Liaison Reports
In related committee updates, Mr. Ed Sbordone gave an update on the school-based Safety Committee, who discussed the problem of people walking their dogs near the schools in the recent spring-like weather, which is against the rules during school hours. They went over the most recent concussion report and discussed the new evening security guard. The similarly-named, but separate, School Security and Safety Committee, had a vendor presentation at their most recent meeting. Ms. Peggy Katkocin asked concerned community members to attend the meetings. She pointed out that the meetings and initiatives are ongoing due to the original public outcry, but now community participation has steeply fallen off.
In other subcommittee news, Mr. Dominic Cipollone noted that the Curriculum Subcommittee reviewed proposed new textbooks for AP Environmental Science and a new college-level mathematics course. Ms. Samantha Mannion, representing the Policy Subcommittee gave a brief first reading of eight policies that are in review.
In the Chairman’s report, Ms. Katkocin reminded everyone that the budget has moved forward and will be presented to the BOF on March 2. She urged concerned residents to step forward now, rather than waiting until the last second to voice concerns. Budget materials are available for review at Newfairfieldschools.org.
In the Superintendent’s report, Dr. Cosentino thanked the administrative team for the Facebook Live session about the budget. She also thanked the 14-member team that is interviewing candidates for the open high school principal position.
In public comments, resident Jim Mellet followed up on his previous request to form a senior scholar advisory council. Parent Pete Pomeroy thanked the board for their previous work on the school start time change initiatives and reiterated the reasons why such a change would be beneficial. He asked for action, saying “For over a year we’ve had subcommittees…we are no closer to implementing this than we were two years ago.”
In the second round of public comment, Khris Hall stood up to thank administrators for the aforementioned Facebook Live budget session and remarked that she felt it was very useful. She suggested that more people would likely participate in future sessions. Finally, Ms. Hall said that she is excited about the renovation of the schools and she urged the board to consider solar energy as a priority.
The next regular BOE meeting is scheduled for Thurs., Feb. 21, 7pm.
By Sarah Opdahl