Correction 10:28 a.m.: A contract referred to between the Board of Education and Stepping Stones Museum was signed by former Supt. Manny Rivera, not the current superintendent.
Steven Colarossi is a former member of Norwalk’s Board of Education whose wife is one of the two Brookside preschool teachers who will maintain their salaries when transferred to another grade next year. He has recently filed a complaint with the state Freedom of Information Commission against the Norwalk Public Schools for failing to provide financial documentation concerning Norwalk’s preschool programs. A copy of that complaint, as well as copies of the documents he referenced, is available at http://drive.google.com/drive/folders/0B9zEmk3mJF92Q0tCQjJoYjd4ZFE
For nearly one month, parents of children at the only preschool operated by the Norwalk Public Schools have been forced to wonder what program Supt. Steven Adamowski will deign to offer them for next year.
Since May 4, when the Brookside PTO president sought information on the Norwalk Parents for Education Facebook page about rumors that Supt. Adamowski was privatizing the public preschool at Brookside Elementary School, the Administration has jealously guarded any information that might be important to the parents of the toddlers nurtured and educated in that program.
Despite days of concerned postings from the parents of children in Brookside’s preschool program, Supt. Adamowski refused to offer any information, much less any opportunity to meet with these parents. Instead, on May 9, his Chief Communications Officer posted a response that the program was not being “privatized” but that “best practices” were being implemented and that changes were “expected” for the Brookside program. Of course, those “best practices” involved ceding the public preschool to a private company with less than four years of experience and no accreditation in the field. The private company, Stepping Stones Museum for Children, had previously partnered with the private, for-profit Literacy How, Inc., in opening a preschool at the museum in 2012.
At the suggestion of a Board of Education officer who misinformed the parents in a series of Facebook posts that Norwalk’s Early Childhood Council had authority over changes to the Brookside preschool program, parents attended the Early Childhood Council meeting of May 11. There, more questions were raised when the district’s Instructional Specialist for Early Childhood explained that the superintendent had made the decision to change the program, that a meeting would be eventually scheduled for parents, but that no meeting could be scheduled until a contract was signed with the private preschool provider. Of course, after a contract is signed there is no opportunity for parental input to have any meaning. Those hearing those words were left with the sinking feeling that their parental input was meaningless as Supt. Adamowski, who has never visited the Brookside preschool program, had already decided on his privatization plan.
But still, no information was provided to the parents whose very young children were expecting to return to the school and the teachers with whom they had formed a bond over the past year.
Then, at the May 17 Board of Education meeting, supporters of the Brookside program (including the Brookside PTO president) addressed the lack of parental input into the decision that appeared to have been made behind closed doors between a newly appointed superintendent and a private preschool provider that lacked the national accreditation which the Brookside program (under the stewardship of the same two teachers who have taught there since it began in 2007) had achieved.
The only morsel offered by Supt. Adamowski was that comments made about a possible vote on this privatization plan would not occur at the June 7 Board of Education meeting because that would be a “working” meeting at which a revised Strategic Operating Plan would be presented.
Now, here we are nearly one month since parents first learned unofficially of the privatization plan and they are still without any information as to what the new program will entail, who will be their children’s teachers and how a private group with only limited preschool experience will manage the four preschool classrooms Supt. Adamowski intends to award them.
Now, admittedly, as Supt. Adamowski’s minions have stated, he did include one sentence in his draft Strategic Operating Plan of an interest in furthering a partnership with Stepping Stones Museum for Children which had been operating a preschool (not licensed by the state) at Fox Run Elementary School since October 2014. And, I suppose that working parents should have thought to read the draft Strategic Operating Plan more closely and divined the true meaning behind that one sentence. But, shouldn’t a superintendent of schools, who in the same draft Strategic Operating Plan pledged to “refine and implement a communication system to increase transparency to the community and improve feedback loops to the district,” have thought enough of Norwalk’s parents to appreciate that not everyone would have the psychic ability to discern that a nationally accredited, highly regarded public preschool program was at risk for privatization?
You see, as parents have tried to explain, high-quality full-day preschool slots are typically filled by March or April for the coming school year. Yet, Supt. Adamowski’s refusal to provide any information to the parents until he decides they are worthy of it eviscerates their ability to make an informed decision for their children. And, worse still, these parents will be left with few options if they decide that their children would be better served elsewhere.
Sadly, this lack of an organized “communication system” and refusal to allow any “transparency” into his proposed contract with a private preschool provider reflects an on-going pattern by the Norwalk Public Schools. First, the contract for the private preschool at Fox Run requires the Norwalk Public Schools (that’s the taxpayers) to pay the tuition for each child who attends the program, to pay a portion of the administrative salaries and benefits of the people hired by the private provider, to pay for the company’s supplies, to pay for all the start-up costs of outfitting the preschool classrooms, to pay for the staff needed to collect and account for the tuitions charged to the families using this program and to pay for regular newsletters to the preschool families. And, secondly, if that’s not enough, the Fox Run preschool contract also gives this private program free (and that term is used quite literally) reign to use not just their classroom but also all of the school’s other facilities. Thirdly, Norwalk has also reimbursed Stepping Stones for the costs of the annual Stepping Stones Museum memberships given to the families of the children at the Stepping Stones preschool at Fox Run. This is a contract, despite several amendments which were signed by former Supt. Manny Rivera that has never been disclosed to or approved by the Norwalk Board of Education.
Adding to this lack of transparency is that Supt. Adamowski signed a contract with Stepping Stones for the museum to provide teacher training to Norwalk’s special education preschool teachers at a cost of $245,000 over a three-year period. Certainly, this contract raises the obvious question about what expertise a children’s museum (even one with as illustrious a reputation among children’s museums as Stepping Stones) knows about teaching special education pre-school students. But, it should also raise a more fundamental question — why is the Norwalk Public Schools paying an “Instructional Specialist for Early Childhood” (who oversees 10 preschool teachers) and paying an additional $245,000 for training of her staff (a service one would expect a well-paid district administrator to provide)?
Now, like me, I’m sure that many people are certain that someone on the Norwalk Board of Education would have raised these issues when the teacher training contract was sent to them for approval. Unfortunately, like Brookside’s preschool parents, the Board of Education wasn’t given the courtesy of being informed about such an important decision.
“Communication” requires more than merely announcing decisions that have been made without any input from parents and taxpayers. “Transparency” requires a superintendent of schools to do more than offer a single, cryptic sentence in a draft document for a change that will have a significant impact on Norwalk’s youngest and most vulnerable students. But, underlying such true communication and transparency is the requirement that the leader of our schools recognizes that he is accountable to the citizens he serves, and that information is not a scarce commodity to be rationed by fiat but a right to which all are entitled.