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At their final meeting of the academic year on Thursday, June 17, the New Fairfield Board of Education approved more spending for the American Rescue Plan grant money. Having previously approved more time-sensitive spending, this bout included plans for adding a Consolidated School literacy coach and elementary teachers in residence–who will provide seamless instruction for students while teachers are pulled for professional development–Chromebooks, professional development expenses, funding for a task force to solidify plans for social-emotional learning supports in each school, and a substitute pay increase. Plans to add a two-year administrator position, Director of School and District Culture and Climate, have been dropped for the time being.

The school board also heard a presentation that reflected on the findings of the past 15 months. In addition to a 10-minute video that captured staff and student thoughts, administrators from each school analyzed the realizations and responses that worked well and will carry forward into the future.

Principal Mr. James D’Amico says that the high school has realized exactly how important relationships are to their young adults, both peer-to-peer and with adults in the school, it’s “much higher on the priority list than many adults thought.” He stressed that the resilience of the staff and students was amazing–a theme that each school’s administration echoed–and that there were many technological opportunities, both for students and for professional development for staff that were more valuable than originally imagined. At the middle school, Principal Ms. Christine Baldelli explained that they have fully adopted the notion of staying “flexible.” She said that the kids were comfortable in cohorts and never complained about atypical practices, such as eating lunches in the classrooms. She noted that a variety of multimedia was very helpful and on the opposite end that it is clearly beneficial to get adolescents outside for fresh air every day. It was acknowledged that both teachers and families loved conferencing over Zoom, which may become routine practice.

At Meeting House Hill School, Principal Mr. James Mandracchia explained that his staff has been amazed with various creative ways to connect with students and that learning can truly happen anywhere. He pointed out that the school nurses are now universally acknowledged to be “Superheroes.”  And that communication across the board is more important than ever. Mr. Rob Spino, Consolidated’s Principal, praised the enhanced model of collaboration and leadership at their school, with so many new procedures and routines. He emphasized that distance learning is very difficult for the youngest learners. And Spino said that, with the restriction of visitors, the building felt safer and there were far less interruptions to instruction.

Assistant Superintendent Ms. Julie Luby explained that summer school opportunities are in full swing. She said that there’s an emphasis on reconnecting and reengaging remote learners, but also a series of enrichments being offered to get all students excited about learning. Available for three weeks in July and three in August, enrichment options run the gamut from math and reading opportunities to yoga, wilderness survival, latin, woodworking, and more.

In subcommittee news, Mr. Ed Sbordone reported on behalf of the Business Operations Resource Management group that the quarterly reports show that the budget is now projected to be flat following fears of a deficit. He explained that the deficit was offset by surpluses in payroll. He went on to note that a long-term capital project plan is being developed and that there will likely be a request to conduct a feasibility study to place air conditioning in the schools.

Board member comments were filled with praise for the staff and for the students who are graduating, stepping up to another school, and for recent sports accomplishments.

In public comments, two parents spoke out against mask policies and asked that it be revisited and for masks to possibly be considered optional. New Fairfield Board of Finance Chair Mr. Wes Marsh pointed out that, though the budget passed, it was very close and there were a higher number of no votes than typical. He suggests that careful thought be put into that before the budgeting process begins again in the fall.

The next regular Board of Education meeting is scheduled for Thursday, August 5, 7:00 p.m. The meeting will likely be in person, as the BOE intends to begin meeting once per month in person and once over Zoom going forward.

By Sarah Opdahl