Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Board of Education Elects New Chairman

Dr. Gene Nocera, former principal of Woodrow Wilson Middle School and Macdonough, Bielefield and Snow Elementary Schools, was elected unanimously as the new Chairman of the Board of Education at Wednesday evening's meeting. Sheila Daniels was elected as Vice-Chairman and Ed McKeon was elected as Secretary. After thanking out-going Chairman Ted Raczka for his years of service, new Chairman Nocera commented that he wants to do his "very best to serve the children of Middletown" so that the public school system goes from "first-rate to world class."

The meeting moved along quickly: committee assignments were suggested verbally by Chairman Nocera, but he wanted BOE members to process his suggestions and provide feedback in the next few days.

MHS Principal Bob Fontaine gave an update on the District Accreditation visit that was supposed to start October 30th: the NEASC team tried to continue the visit in spite of Alfred, but decided to give up when it became obvious that school would not resume to finish out the visit. The rest of the visit is tentatively scheduled for December 7th and 8th. Fontaine expects that MHS will receive full accreditation, but the final report won't be released until about May.

Superintendent Michael Frechette spoke briefly about the calendar and the possibility of using Spring Break to recover lost days. The 2011-12 school year already has 7 days to make up, putting the last day of school on June 20th if nothing else changes. Looking back at the last few years, the district lost 8 days last year, 2 in '09-'10, 4 in '08-'09 and 2 in '07-'08. Since the winter hasn't even started yet, Frechette asked the Board to "tell people not to plan vacations over Spring Break" in the event that days have to be made up. New BOE member Cheryl McClellan asked if the band would be allowed to go on its trip even if Spring Break was canceled, and she was told that the band would be able to miss school if necessary. BOE member Ryan Kennedy asked why February vacation couldn't be used, and BOE member Sheila Daniels urged the Superintendent to consider taking a few of those days instead if it became necessary.

Facilities Director Ken Jackson asked for approval to spend funds to replace the walk-in cooler/freezer at Keigwin. It's 35 years old and has developed a frosting problem that would take over $20,000 to repair. It's less than $40,000 for a new unit, and the board approved the use of funds from the Capital PM account.

Finally, Jackson also introduced Lee Osborne, Chairman of the Building Committee for the New Middletown High School and Vocational Agriculture Project, to formally announce that the High School is finished. Once the BOE accepts the project, the State can conduct a final audit and the last of the State funds can be released. Osborne also has to appear before the Common Council in January to ask that the Building Committee be dismissed. Both Jackson and Osborne thanked the members of the Building Committee for the work done over the last six years, and Jackson asked the board to consider a personal letter of thanks to those involved. Osborne also commented on the use of MHS as an emergency shelter: "We were way ahead of other communities in terms of our ability to function as an emergency shelter, and that's thanks to the work of the might not have been perfect, but we had generators, staffing, and the room to be an effective shelter." The Board of Education voted to accept the project and to send a letter of thank you to committee members.

[Fun facts: The High School took over 10 years, 3 mayors and 3 building committees to complete. It cost $110 million to build and is 282,000 sq. ft of educational space.]

In the second Public Session, parent Jane Majewski welcomed the new BOE members and then expressed her sadness over Middletown's inability to makeover its educational system in the same way it has rejuvenated Main Street and the business community. "I saw the leadership on TV last year, acting inappropriately in my opinion, and it didn't make me feel safe as a parent. It wasn't a good example for my kids, and I'm starting to look at the magnet schools in Hartford. Let's put our children first, take this seriously, and get a paradigm shift to catch up with the rest of our thriving town."

The next BOE meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, December 6th at 7pm.

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