Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Board of Education Recognizes DECA Student Achievement

At last night’s regular Board of Education meeting, seventeen DECA students were recognized for their outstanding performance at the 57th Connecticut State Leadership Conference on March 10th. Competing against over 1,000 other business education students from more than 40 Connecticut schools, 17 of 45 Middletown students were winners in their respective events. Fifteen of those students did well enough to advance to the upcoming international competition in Anaheim, CA. The Board of Education warmly congratulated these students, and Superintendent Michael Frechette was presented with a signed group photograph.

The Board also recognized Steven Benavides for his accomplishments as the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame, Northern Connecticut Chapter Scholar-Athlete of the Year. Benavides received this award for excelling in academics, leadership and football playing ability.

In the public session, the Board heard from two retiring teachers who are part of the group not offered the Board’s new incentive for retirement. Apparently, these teachers received verification that their retirement had been accepted as the Board was voting on a new incentive package to encourage more retirements in an effort to bring budget costs down. Both teachers expressed frustration and disappointment that after decades of service, there would be a group of teachers left out of the incentive process. Both asked the Board to reconsider its decision.

The Board also heard from a parent, Amanda Sickel-Smith, and NEAT Director Izzie Greenberg on the subject of JCJ Architecture’s community outreach on the District Utilization Study. Both urged the Board to consider carefully how children will be affected if students have to change schools to solve overcrowding and racial imbalance issues. Greenberg told the Board outright that no child should have to move twice (once for a short term fix and then again for redistricting), that solving Moody’s overcrowding problems should not then result in Macdonough being overcrowded, and that parents must be informed and involved at all stages of the decision-making process. Greenberg also commented that it would not be acceptable to break up the Macdonough community just to solve the city’s racial imbalance problems, especially given the dramatic improvements the school has seen as a result of outstanding leadership and dedication from the principal and teachers. “Whatever is decided for September,” Greenberg finished, “moving no students is better than making a bad choice and having to fix it by moving students again.”

Superintendent Michael Frechette reported that Middletown has been notified that Macdonough Elementary School is racially imbalanced (it is more than 25% over the average at the other schools). The District has 120 days to tell the state how it plans to address this problem. Frechette noted that JCJ Architecture had already been told this issue might arise, and he stated that JCJ was already working on a solution. Board member Corinne Gill asked if the state would grant an extension since JCJ’s report wouldn’t be done in time to have an approved plan to give the state. Frechette said that wouldn’t be necessary because the District can simply tell the state that there’s an on-going study in place to resolve the issue.

Director of Facilities Ken Jackson reported on the MHS building project. There are one or two minor roof leaks in the auditorium, which Jackson stated was “normal for a new roof installation.” There was also some discussion regarding the retaining wall on the south side of the parking lot: last month the wall started to fail and it is now a safety hazard. BOE Chair Ted Raczka asked if a sidewalk could be installed at the same time the wall is being fixed to get students off Newfield Street as they walk to school, but it appears that the extreme slope of that area would not allow a sidewalk. Board member Bill Boyd was concerned about the shape of the desks in MHS classrooms (they’re pie-shaped to give teachers more flexibility) since the classrooms seem to be very crowded with 25 desks in them. Principal Fontaine commented that the original design called for classrooms to be about 300 square feet larger than they actually are. Subsequently, some furniture is too big for some places. However, teachers have not complained about the desks, and some have even stated that the close quarters have been beneficial for the learning environment. Fontaine also pointed out the construction in one of the cafeteria corners: Seasons Federal Credit Union is opening a branch to help train business education students. The Bank is covering all costs and both students and faculty will be able to bank at the branch.

The Board voted to allow the Ultimate Frisbee Team to travel to Ohio to compete over the weekend of May 8th. The team has raised $3500 of the needed $6100 to cover bus costs, but it is still waiting to hear how many students will be allowed to compete.

Assistant Superintendent Barbara Senges asked the Board to consider approving early release days for elementary teachers for every month in 2009-2010 except the months with scheduled professional development days (August, November and January). Senges reported that teacher feedback from this year was overwhelmingly positive, and that she wanted parents to know now, way in advance of the next school year, what those days would be so they could make childcare arrangements. The expanded number of early release days would also allow for additional use of those days for professional development and cross-district meetings. The middle schools have asked for delayed openings in a similar fashion, and Senges confirmed that the busing schedule would not be harmed by these release days. The Board asked Senges to propose a calendar at the May meeting.

Finally, the Naming Committee will hold a public meeting on Wednesday, May 6 at 6:30pm in the Keigwin auditorium. The Committee is seeking public comment on how the facilities at Woodrow Wilson Middle School and Middletown High School should be named. For example, the current names from the old facilities could simply be transferred to the new facilities, or new names could be given to some of the facilities in general (“The (name) Sports Complex”), but not specifically to the pool or the gym or the football field, etc. Or, none of the facilities would be named other than “Middletown High School Gym,” and so on. The Committee wants to hear from the public, and will host a fact-finding/Q&A session so it can get a sense of what people want. Suggestions could also be emailed to Board member Bill Boyd at

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