Monday, November 25, 2013

New Board of Education re-elects Dr. Gene Nocera as Chairman

A new Board of Education met for the first time on Tuesday evening (11/19).  Newly elected members Vinnie Loffredo and Linda Szynkowicz joined newly re-elected members Sheila Daniels and Franca Biales and the rest of the board in unanimously electing Dr. Gene Nocera as Board Chairman, Sheila Daniels as Vice-Chair, and Ed McKeon as Secretary.  "I am thrilled and honored in this position," Dr. Nocera commented, "and I will try to do my best."

In District Highlights, MHS Athletics/Activities Director Mike Pitruzzello reported that the fall season is going very well for MHS athletes.  Additionally, the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference (CIAC) considers the MHS Athletic Complex as one of the finest facilities in CT, and so MHS has been asked to host:

  • Girls and Boys soccer semi-finals and final state championships
  • Girls volleyball semi-finals
  • Girls and Boys fall and winter diving championships
  • Semi-final state football championships
  • Three of four state track championships
  • Girls softball state tournament games
  • Boys baseball state finals at Palmer Field
Additionally, the track and four tennis courts at Woodrow Wilson Middle School will be re-done (including new fencing) this spring, with a projected completion date of June 2014.  These new facilities will be open for public use during the summer.  The six tennis courts behind Keigwin Middle School are scheduled to be redone over the summer, and Pitruzzello is trying to work out a deal with Portland High School so that MHS can use the Portland courts for practice when Portland is away.  Currently, MHS shares Wesleyan's courts with Wesleyan, Mercy and Xavier.

David Reynolds, Coordinator of Career and Technical Education, highlighted Middletown's #3 ranking out of more than 150 schools on the Connecticut Statewide Career & Technical (CTE) Assessment.  In the last four years, Middletown rose from a state rank of 89th in 2010 with only 33.33% of students scoring at or above the threshold score to 80th place (30.22% at threshold) in 2011, to 17th place (67.14% at threshold) in 2012, to 3rd place in 2013 with 141 out of 177 students (79.66%) scoring at or above threshold.  Canton High School took second place, with 17 of 20 students (85%) scoring at or above threshold, and Griswold High School took first place, with 66 of 77 students scoring at or above threshold.  Reynolds was quick to point out that MHS had more students at or above threshold than the #1 and #2 schools combined, and that Middletown scored #1 in the "Areas of Concentration" of Natural Resources and Video Production.  Furthermore, no other school had more "Areas of Concentration" in the top 10 than Middletown (8 of 11 areas tested).

During the Public Session, three MHS students complained about the lack of late bus transportation after school.  Senior James Robinson, Junior Gabriela Mikunda, and Sophomore Carolyn Reid told the BOE that students were discouraged from participating in after school activities because of the length of time it takes to get home on the one bus provided (up to two hours for some students).  The three students also described unsafe conditions such as overcrowding, students sitting in the aisles, and "unbearable" behavior such as screaming, yelling and pushing.  The students asked the BOE for a second late bus, noting that Woodrow Wilson Middle School's late buses were not crowded and possibly could be reassigned to MHS.  

When Robinson, Mikunda and Reid finished speaking, they left the Council Chambers and Transportation Director Marco Gaylord quickly followed after them.  Gaylord told the students he had heard no complaints about late busing, and he asked who else they had talked to about these issues - the answer was no one.  Gaylord also asked if the students knew which specific days had overcrowding and behavior issues so he could pull and review the video footage from those days - again the students didn't have specifics.  After instructing the students to tell an administrator at MHS then next time an issue happened with the late bus, Gaylord also promised to check into the need for more busing and to provide additional transportation if it was necessary.  During his Transportation Report to the BOE, Mr. Gaylord repeated what he had heard from the students and told the Board that he would look into the reports of overcrowding and poor behavior and take immediate action to correct the situation: "We're going to address it and make some positive changes. We want to help kids participate in after school activities."

Superintendent Pat Charles shared her 2013-14 goals with the BOE, noting that she's really focusing in on 4 areas to concentrate effort and effectiveness.  These goals are:
  • Increase student achievement and reduce gaps between subgroups
  • Provide the resources necessary to ensure educational excellence in a safe and healthy learning environment
  • Hire and nurture high quality personnel in all positions
  • Promote our schools and build public support and pride in our educational system

Assistant Superintendent Enza Macri updated the Board on the transition to the Common Core Curriculum and the new testing procedures.  While each elementary school now has the necessary computers to conduct the Smarter Balance testing (no more CMT testing as that applied to the old curriculum), Macri shared several concerns about the new testing: "The test requires use of a mouse, and our younger students are used to tablets and touch screens.  In one place, there is a split screen and you have to scroll down though two separate but side-by-side screens.  I'm worried our students don't have the mouse skills to do that."  While time limits no longer apply to the various tests, 3rd graders, for example, have 7 hours of testing, with only one set of 25 computers for each school.  Students also cannot go back and check their answers - once they move on in the test, they cannot back up.  Macri has been taking sample tests for each grade in order to train teachers on how to help their students prepare to take the tests, but she has a growing list of concerns about whether students will be able to transmit correctly the knowledge in their heads to the computer program.

In financial news, the District budget is showing an anticipated balance of $219,790 as of October 31st.  As it is very early in the year, this balance is not expected to remain, especially since additional paraprofessionals need to be hired (more than what was originally budgeted).  In comparison, at this time last year, the district budget had a $1.2 million deficit.  Not included in these budget numbers is the $1.2 million spent on mold removal in several of the schools during this summer.  Currently, insurance has only covered $460K in the remediation costs, with another $120K approved but not yet paid, and $200K more still in negotiations.

Lastly, the Board discussed committee assignments and approved the following:

            Committee                                 Chair                            Members

            Budget                                       McKeon                       Loffredo, Szynkowicz
            Communication                         Hart                              McKeon, Wynn
            Curriculum                                Biales                            Daniels
            Facilities/Feasibility                   Loffredo                       McClellan, McKeon
            Policy                                        Daniels                         Hart
            Transportation                           Szynkowicz                 Wynn
            Negotiations                              n/a                                Biales, Hart, Daniels
            ACES                                                                             Loffredo
            Cultural Council                                                             Hart
            TEMS (Thomas Edison Middle School)                        McClellan
            Agenda Set                                                                     Nocera, Daniels, McKeon

The next Board of Education meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, December 10th at 7pm in the Common Council Chambers at City Hall.  Superintendent Charles is scheduled to present her 2014-15 recommended budget.


James Robinson said...

Gabby, Carolyn, and I informed Mr. Gaylord that Tuesdays and Thursdays are especially crowded days on the late bus. He agreed that certain days are more crowded than others, and told us that it could be feasible to add a second bus on these highly active days. He plans to review the bus videotapes and determine which days are the most crowded.

I am in my fourth year at MHS and the late bus has been a deterrent to kids wishing to stay after school since I was a freshman. It is a very well-known problem among the student body and staff club advisors, and nothing has ever been done about it. This is why the three of us decided to report directly to the BOE and the public--to ensure that our calls for action were heard loud and clear. We do not believe we would have gotten results had we privately contacted administration.

Anonymous said...

It's somewhat ironic that the late bus is usually on the chopping block when it comes to trimming the budget.