Norwalk education roundup part II: School safety, ELL tutors and bus issues

Norwalk school buses, parked on Wilson Avenue in 2015.

Revised at 11:45 p.m. Aug. 30 to remove a name that was added Aug. 29. The person who sent the email preferred not to be named.

Updated, Aug. 30: Comment from Alan Lo; Updated, 3:05 p.m.: Comment from BoE member Bryan Meek. Updated, 2:26 p.m.: Comment from NFT President Mary Yordon regarding staff turnover.

NORWALK, Conn. – Here’s more education news for you, part II of our late August education roundup:

  • Lyons: staff turnover wasn’t higher
  • Schools enhancing security; apps to aid in communication
  • Assessment calendar set
  • Middle school redesign moving along
  • Adamowski: Norwalk is tops for ELL
  • NASA contract
  • Bus depot returns for a vote
  • Courtesy bus passes are defunct
  • NPS seeks architects for new schools


Lyons: Staff turnover remains steady

Norwalk Public Schools Chief Financial Officer Thomas Hamilton said at the Aug. 15 BoE meeting that staff turnover in 2016-17 was higher than was budgeted for, resulting in less money being spent as positions were open.

BoE Chairman Mike Lyons said Monday that the turnover wasn’t higher than it’s been in previous years.

He said:

“1) In 2015-2016 we had roughly 47 new hires (47/885) – 5% turnover.

“2) In 2016-2017 we had roughly 52 new hires (52/885) – 6% turnover.

“3) This year (for 2017-2018) we had 65 new hires, but 11 of those were brand new positions for the high schools and were not as a result of departures from the district. Roughly 54 of them were departures from the district (54/886) – 6%.

“So as you can see our turnover rate is consistent at 5-6%.”

Hamilton, on Aug. 15, said, “We did realize some savings in wage accounts due to higher than anticipated staff turnover. So that generated some savings compared to the original budget.”

Asked about “higher than anticipated staff turnover, Norwalk Federation of Teachers President Mary Yordon on Tuesday said, “Speaking about the motivations of many individuals can be quite difficult. However, the turnover in administrators, the increased emphasis on innovation and data, the burden placed on teachers to find their way when the big picture changes and details need to be attended to, the overwhelming number of initiatives, have all contributed to a low morale, and, it seems, could be contributing to teacher attrition. Our teachers tend to be seasoned veterans who have remained in teaching because they want to be, but who can choose to retire. Many schools last year saw retirements of teachers who had been pillars of their school communities: dedicated, loyal, hard working, and effective.”

On Aug. 15, the Board approved 36 appointments of school instructional staff members. That included 10 high school teachers.

Finance Committee Chairman Bryan Meek, in a Monday comment on NancyOnNorwalk, said that more high school teachers were hired “to make up for the shortage in course offerings we had historically.”
“This is an effort to reduce the number of study halls and in line with the strategic operating plan to require 26 credits for promotion,” Meek wrote. “This may give the appearance of high turnover this year, but our turnover rate is fairly low considering some 1200 headcount under NPS. Generally speaking, Norwalk has some of the lowest turnover rates in the region and teachers often remain on board years after reaching retirement eligible age.”


NPS $2.5 million investment in safety beginning to pay off, Kassimis says

The Raptor system will be in place in all of Norwalk’s schools, in September, BoE member Artie Kasimiss said on Aug. 15. Also, “the anonymous app” will assist students who are being bullied, and the Warnable app will be piloted at Brien McMahon High School, he said. Last but not least, the schools’ video systems are being greatly upgraded.

“We put money away, $2.5 million a couple years ago,” Kassimis said. “Finally… it’s all coming together.”

The 2014-15 capital budget funded $1,725,000 for enhancements to school security, in addition to $100,000 that was provided the year before; all inspired by the tragedy in Newtown.

The Raptor system is used in Newtown and Greenwich, Kassimis said.

Mass Notification & Emergency Communications (MNEC) describes this as a visitor management software allowing school staff to quickly screen visitors against a custom watch list as well as against a national database of registered sex offenders.

As for the Anonymous app, “Basically, anybody who is being bullied can notify an administrator anonymously… it’s going to be rolled out soon,” Kassimis said.

Warnable was developed by BMHS students, he said.

NPS Communications Director Brenda Wilcox Williams said Monday that she thought recent BMHS graduates had developed the app.

“It warns students that there is somebody in the building, somebody outside the building, it’s text messages,” Kassimis said, explaining that there’s money in the budget to pilot the app at BMHS and the Norwalk Early College Academy (NECA).

Finally, on video, NPS is switching to IP-based digital video, he said.

“We can see a pimple on somebody’s nose. In other words… no more pixelated video,” Kassimis said.

Not only is the video cheaper but it will integrate with the police department’s video system, he said, explaining, “It really helps us, we can communicate now.”


BoE sets 2017-18 Assessment Calendar

“You began this practice last year,” Adamowski said, as the Board prepared to unanimously approve its 2017-18 Assessment Calendar, as shown below.

Adawowski said the calendar is “reflective of our efforts to reduce assessment, only those that are most important and directly related to strategic plan.”

The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) assessment date have been moved up a year due to federal regulation, a source said. Previously, assessment accountability was in the Spring of 2020; the new assessment accountability is in 2019.


Middle school curriculum chosen

Norwalk held its second annual middle grades learning professional institute at Roton Middle School this month, according to Adamowski. It was begun last year in response to concerns expressed by teachers, who were worried about being prepared to carry out aspects of middle school redesign, he said.

It’s even more important this year because Norwalk Public Schools Chief Academic Officer Michael Conner has spearheaded a successful drive to complete a math and English Language Arts curriculum for middle school students, Adamowski said.

“We will finally have an English Language Arts and math curriculum that will enable us to move from simply program adoption in Tier I to teaching to the standards and using a variety of materials, which makes this Professional Development training and enhancement of our teachers’ skills even more important as teaching becomes even more difficult and complicated.

Adamowski said Curriculum Design Institutes chose the curriculum; Wilcox-Williams said Monday those were “groups of teachers and administrators that met over the summer to work on various parts of the curriculum.  This summer, work was done on K-5 & 6-8 ELA & Math, Music, and World Languages.”



English Language Learners getting boost

Norwalk’s English Language Learners (ELL) will benefit from a $25,000 grant from the Fairfield County Community Foundation – benefit even more, that is, Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski said at the Aug. 15 Board of Education meeting.

“The English Learner Support Services is a new organization formed by current and former university professors in the area, last school year,” Norwalk Public Schools ELL Instructional Specialist Helene Becker said to the Board. “So, it’s very new. They formed this to support high school ELLs with limited or interrupted education so that these students can eventually graduate.”

The grant went to ELSS but is dedicated to Academic Support Program to lnspire, Reinforce, and Empower (ASPIRE), created in conjunction with the NPS ELL department, which will begin this fall at Norwalk High School and hopefully spread to Brien McMahon High School, she said.

Norwalk has received about 150 ELL students in the last three years, with the low skills described, Becker said.

“We get many of those students. The combination of having limited skills and then starting later in the school year is a double whammy for them. So, we are really targeting those students so they can catch up in their classes,” she said.

“ASPIRE will contribute to FCCF’s ‘All Fairfield County Youth Thrive by Age 25’ initiative by helping English language learners graduate within four years,” a press release in the Board packet said. “They will have greater proficiency in English and other content area skills, which will be necessary to transition to post-secondary academic programs or certificate training programs.”

Instead of going to a study hall, the ELL students will meet with an ASPIRE tutor, who will be supervised by a district English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher, Becker said.

Adamowski said the Board poured over data during its recent retreat.

“While we were able to close one-third of the achievement gap in general this past year, our high needs, low income, special needs and ELL students had the greatest growth,” he said.

Compare the growth of Norwalk ELL student to the rest of the state and Norwalk is significantly higher, he said.

“I think you can conclude that if one is an English Language Learner, Norwalk is probably the best place in Connecticut to be given the progress that our schools have made in getting English Language Learners to proficiency,” Adamowski said, going on to say that “some of our most outstanding students,” including a recent Brien McMahon High School valedictorian, started as ELLs here.

“That did not happen by accident. We have an outstanding program. We have an outstanding staff,” Adamowski said.

Mayor Harry Rilling said he’s been the mentor for a boy from Guatemala who came here five years ago unable to speak a word of English. The boy entered the Norwalk Early College Academy (NECA) and is taking Norwalk Community College classes, with a 3.8 grade point average, Rilling said.

“He is an amazing young man who has grown so much since I have known him, from a shy young man who would hold his hands in front of his mouth because he was unsure of himself, to a very confident young man,” Rilling said. “ … It’s not happening by accident, it’s happening because of the team building that we have, the professional teachers that we have, the Board of Education and so it’s very gratifying to see this.”



NASA contract ratified

A new two-year contract with the Norwalk Association of School Administrators (NASA) will commence on July 1 and end on July 22, 2017, except that a switch in health insurance carriers to the Connecticut Partnership 2.0 are effective now that the Board on Aug. 15 ratified the contract.

“The new contract provides for general wage increases in each year of 2.0% plus step movement for administrators not yet at the top steps on the salary schedule. The total projected cost including step movement is 2.52% in 2018-2019, and 2.21% in 2019-2020,” Attorneys Melika Forbes and Thomas Mooney wrote in a summary to the Board.

“It’s a reasonable, gradual increase in medical payments from 16 to 17 and 2 percent base pay increase every year,” Lyons said on Aug. 15, adding that the pay increase rate is lower than state average.


Bus depot finally moves forward

Remember that bus depot issue? The City in 2015 decided to rent a lot at 332-334 Wilson Ave. for use as a bus depot and then sublease it to a school bus company, believing that it would save money.

The city would lease 332-334 Wilson Ave. from 332 Wilson Avenue LLC, an entity affiliated with Stanley M. Seligson Properties, for 15 years, it was said in 2015, with Common Council member Bruce Kimmel (D-At Large) predicting $100,000 a year in savings.

In early 2016, it developed that environmental issues were holding the deal back but it’s moving ahead now.

“It was in the law department,” NPS Chief Financial Officer Thomas Hamilton said on Aug. 15, reminding everyone that the idea is to encourage competition in the future, when the city seeks a new contractor for bus services.

The need to find a place to store the buses has always been an obstacle, he said.

The Board voted on a 25-year lease for the Wilson Avenue property, with the city acting as a joint tenant. Also approved was a sub-lease with First Student.

“{W}e have negotiated a lower monthly lease payment, which will save the District $56,860 in the first year of the lease. The first year lease payment under the proposed lease, after a $10,000 first year abatement, will total $318,500. Base rent under the lease will escalate at a rate of 1.95% per year, providing some stability in these costs for many years,” Hamilton wrote to the Board.

The 1.95 per cent escalator is “a reasonably attractive number to lock in at,” Hamilton said at the BoE meeting.

Hamilton said that 332 Wilson Avenue LLC will improve the roof and install new carpeting, landscaping and signs, while other repairs will be the responsibility of tenant.  The deal will need to be voted on by the Common Council.



‘Temporary’ courtesy bus pass system ended

The Board on Aug. 15 changed its transportation policy to eliminate courtesy bus passes, in a plan that was hatched this spring out of a need to cut money from the budget.

“This goes back to May when we did the budget reconciliation to the amount allocated by the Council, which as you know was a very generous amount but notwithstanding, we had to reduce $1.2 million in adjustments,” Adamowski said.

Half of the needed adjustments are coming from eliminating the extra bus riders.

“Those are the students who do not qualify but we were letting them get on the nearest bus to where they lived,” Adamowski said. “…We were putting extra buses on to enable courtesy transportation.”

The Board struck this passage from its Non-Instructional Operations Policy:

“A temporary courtesy bus pass will be issued by the school to parents who apply for an unassigned bus seat, after ¡t has been determined by the school principal that such seats exist after all eligible riders have been accommodated.  Application to the school principal is to be made annually on a first come first served basis. Temporary courtesy passes may be revoked during the school year by last date of issuance order ¡f it is determined that not enough seats are available for eligible riders due to change in stop or route or new enrollees.”


“It was referred to as a temporary courtesy,” Adamowski said.

Although there was an outcry on the Facebook page Norwalk Parents for Education, there was almost no feedback from parents when a letter went out, he said.

“They were surprised by other elements of the policy that were there all along,” Lyons said of the Facebook group.

“Is this new? I swear it used to be broken out by elementary, middle and high school. And if this effects kids who took the bus in the past when were they planning to tell parents?” a parent said in early August on Facebook.

“It’s new and was part of the cuts. Sigh. We are now not eligible for the bus, I believe. Despite that it would be dangerous for my daughter to walk to school from our house,” BoE candidate Barbara Meyer-Mitchell replied.

Wilcox-Williams explained to the group that the letters about the change only went to people who have gotten courtesy bus passes previously.

“A limited number of courtesy passes were available in the past via lottery for secondary students only, based on available space. Extra space for those courtesy passes, for secondary students who don’t meet regular eligibility requirements, is what’s no longer available. The eligibility information is not new; it’s based off of Connecticut State Guidelines. So, messages were sent only to people impacted by the change in courtesy bus pass availability,” she wrote.

“They didn’t cut buses for 4th and 5th grades. Brenda already commented that the eligibility requirements are not new, they have always been like that. Budget cuts only affect courtesy busing for middle and HS,” a parent said.

Lyons on Aug. 15 said, “They were surprised by other elements of the policy that were there all along.”

Adamowski said that if children walk to a bus stop that they aren’t authorized to use they will be denied entry to the bus.

“We are trying to get buses up to 80 percent capacity,” he said. “There may be a few seats… We will certainly let students on, on an individual basis.”


Barbis: 14 architectural firms seek contract

The drive to build new schools has moved into a search for architectural services, BoE Facilities Committee Chairman Mike Barbis said.

A request for bids to design the two new schools that were authorized in the capital budget netted 14 applicants for each school, with most of those the same companies, he said, explaining that a Committee was going to whittle it down to a short list and there would be interviews.

Wilcox-Williams said Monday that she didn’t believe a firm had been selected yet.

On Wednesday, Norwalk Building and Facilities Manager Alan Lo said that the interviewing process has been completed and recommendations will be submitted to the Norwalk Facilities Construction Commission (NFCC) and the Common Council Land Use and Building Management Committee on Sept. 6.

One comment

Rick August 29, 2017 at 5:46 am

332 Wilson Avenue who is responsible for any gas polution into Village creek?

There was some rediation done there in fact test wells were put in I trust the city knows whats going on?

WEe have nice people in city hall ,has an of them made sure the property is clean before the take over?

If its not is the city on the hook for any pollution problems when the lease has run out?

Trust the city has taken all the steps to make sure Stanley doesn’t pull a fast one on Tom and Bruce.

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