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At their June 1 meeting, the NF Board of Education once again had a lively discussion regarding the potential new position of District Transition Teacher. Several Board members explained their concerns, most were fiscal. Though PPS Director, Andrea Einhorn, and Dr. Alicia Roy attempted to allay economic fears, the issues proved insurmountable and the position’s motion failed in 3-4 vote (two members were absent from the meeting).

In discussing the position, Mr. Douglas DeRito expressed concern regarding the unknown salary. The position was estimated to fall between $52 and $94K. The budget is approximately $47K per outplacement and transportation. He asked fellow Board members “to be mindful of the dollars.”

Ms. Samantha Mannion pointed out that the PPS department has more than doubled in the last year with the approval of multiple supervisors, teachers, BCBAs, secretaries, and a daily life skills coach. She questioned whether the needs of the two students–one family is in district now, another has agreed to come back–couldn’t be filled with current staff or by subcontracting a job coach. Dr. Amy Tozzo agreed and said “At this point, with the way our budget is looking, we need to really hold on to whatever money we have.” Ms. Mannion went on to suppose that if the program was a success and more children came back, the Board could revisit the issue. Ms. Einhorn countered with the assurance that another eight to ten students at the school now could benefit from the program. Mr. Douglas DeRito pushed back and asked what was being done for the eight to ten students now. Ms. Einhorn explained that the students do not receive vocational training currently. When Mr. Dominic Cipillone heard about the void in the current program he said “it is troubling to me that childrens’ needs are overlooked.” Ms. Mannion also remarked that the revised job description still does not sound like a teaching position.

In Board member comments at the meeting’s end, Mr. DeRito thanked parent Lori Khoury for speaking in public comments. She had emphatically appealed to the Board to approve the position. He said that he “hopes that the position can happen with current staff.”

In regards to the 2017-18 budget, the Board voted to accept the list of cuts that Dr. Roy prepared in April. Mr. Ed. Sbordone pointed out that more cuts may need to be made.

Ms. Lori Wilson, Psychologist at Consolidated School, reported on the success of their comfort therapy dog program. She’s worked for the last few years to build the program, which includes both reading and counseling components. Though there was a lot of data available regarding incorporating comfort dogs in reading programs, Wilson was not able to initially obtain information about building a comfort dog counseling program. She started from the ground up and now has years of evidence-based information that points to successes in students practicing eye contact, communicating feelings, and building relationships. Wilson referred to a particularly rewarding case in which a non-verbal child was encouraged to speak, in large part, due to the program. Her findings were published in a national education psychology journal this month.

Two of Consolidated’s three therapy dogs, Addie and Ginger, Board member Samantha Mannion’s dog, charmed the Board meeting’s attendees. Ms. Wilson pointed out that the dogs, in addition to counseling sessions, are present at classroom reading sessions throughout the week. She said that the dogs further brighten the elementary school with “The building is happy, people are smiling.” Staff member feedback was completely positive regarding the dogs. One teacher gushed that the children love the dogs and “The dogs give unconditional love to the students.” One high school student, Abigail Brown, brought the comfort dogs to the High School as part of her SEE Project to help fellow students get through stressful end-of-year exams and projects, which was a hugely popular. Ms. Wilson thanked all of the dog handlers for the wealth of time that they are affording the program.

SEE (Senior Enrichment Experiment) project discussion continued with a presentation by SEE Student Coordinator, Jolie Giacona, and High School English Teacher, Karon McGovern. Ms. Giacona said that acting as coordinator this year has been rewarding and a lot of work, noting “I’ve had to say ‘no’ to people, which is hard…[but] you just have to be professional in what you’re doing.” Ms. McGovern explained that the SEE projects aim to give students real work experience that will “make a difference in their lives and make a difference to someone else’s life as well.” Many students complete independent projects, while others pursue internships. One student, Michael DaSilva, spoke enthusiastically about his experience in Hartford, interning for a lobbyist. Planning to major in political science, DaSilva was grateful for the connections he made with various political figures in the capital. McGovern explained that they would like to have more students moving toward completing internships, rather than creating projects, in the future. Dr. Roy said that she is proud of the program which she initiated when she was principal at the high school.

High School Science Teacher, Christopher Tait, detailed the highlights of his sabbatical trip with the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. He was excited to join the Teachers at Sea program to both conduct research and inspire his students. He showed photos of the trawler ship he resided on and charts to correlate with the research he conducted. Mr. Tait explained that the NOAA is acoustically mapping the coast of California to best determine and make recommendations on fishing limits for specific fish. He joined them on the leg from San Diego to San Francisco, repeatedly making transects from the coast to about 100 miles out to sea. He is working with NOAA staff on a goal to make accessing the government data easier for students. Tait was impassioned when speaking about the trip, causing Board member Steve Burfeind to say after “That was fascinating. You sound like a kid in a candy store.”

The Board voted unanimously to approve the suggested grade 9 Dimensions Earth Science textbook. Dr. Jason McKinnon pointed out that the High School science faculty all vetted the choice and that it is on target for all of the state standards the students will need to meet. To recap from previous meetings, he stated that grades K-3 will be studying with the Foss series and grades 4-9 will now be on Dimensions.

The Board had a first review of new and existing policies: 3542.43 (uncollected fees for food service); 4112.5 and 4212.5 (both involving security and finger prints); 5141.251 (accommodating students with disabilities with special dietary needs); 6142.101 (national–not CT– healthy food certification); 6146 (graduation requirements); 6172 (alternative education programs); and 6172.4 (parent notification when Title 1 monies are spent). In discussion, Dr. Tozzo pointed out that the policy regarding students with disabilities with special dietary needs should include the language “or IDEA.” When asked about the policy regarding graduation requirements, Dr. Sanzo explained that if the Board approves adding the four attributes, or cross-curricular standards, specified in the new policy language (critical thinker, problem solvers, effective communicators, and productive citizens) to the graduation requirements, the New England Association of Schools & Colleges will look favorably upon the school. He noted that it will be several years before the students are going to be held accountable for the attributes, but that they will strive to cultivate the attributes in current students.

Dr. Tozzo mentioned that the Curriculum Subcommittee has begun discussing elementary report card revisions. She invited parents to attend the September meeting, if they would like to join the conversation.

The Board voted to accept a donation, valued at $2K from Aunt Mary’s Bookshelf. The books fit middle school level readers.

In Dr. Roy’s superintendent comments, she suggested everyone view a document she and her staff have created titled ‘NFPS Increasing Communication 2016-2017.’ The document batches and touts new and continuing developments; it will be available on the district website. She went on to praise the many sports qualifications and awards that the High School teams have won.

In public comments, parent Rick Regan pointed out that Dr. Roy’s evaluation is imminent. Under the Freedom of Information Act, he obtained Roy’s previous evaluation and was surprised and disappointed to find that, though the appropriate checkboxes were marked, the comment fields were blank. He urged the Board to conduct the evaluation in a transparent manner and encouraged them to look at online resources where they will find helpful rubrics.

Ryan Ptakowski, sophomore at the High School, shared ExpoFest results and thanked everyone for support. He went on to praise the program, saying “If I wasn’t in Digital Academy, I probably wouldn’t be able to do what I am doing now, presenting to you guys.”

The next Board of Education Meeting is Thursday, June 15.

By Sarah Opdahl