Updated, 2:41 p.m.: PDF added, copy edit; correction, Bruce Kimmel did not “sit in” on the task force meeting; 7:47 a.m.: Copy edits
NORWALK, Conn. – Some items from Tuesday’s Norwalk Board of Education meeting:
- Committee formed to study later high school start time
- A new GPA system ready for a vote
- SpEd Advisory Councils
- An update on education funding task force
Norwalk looks to set first on school start times
Science has shown that high school start time is a health risk for students, Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski said Tuesday. Adamowski announced that a Committee has been formed to study the issue as part of the Board of Education’s Strategic Operating Plan priority implementation steps for 2018-19.
“Part of this will be an education process. I think the Committee is well aware of this,” Adamowski said.
“Not getting enough sleep is common among high school students and is associated with several health risks including being overweight, drinking alcohol, smoking tobacco, and using drugs, as well as poor academic performance,” the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states on its website. “One of the reasons adolescents do not get enough sleep is early school start times. The American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended that middle and high schools start at 8:30 a.m. or later to give students the opportunity to get the amount of sleep they need, but most American adolescents start school too early.”
The problem is figuring out how to do it, Adamowski said. He explained that Norwalk Public Schools put out a Request for Proposals (RFP) last year for a bus consultant to help analyze the issue.
There will be a focus group of staff, parents and students in each school and a survey will go out, he said, cautioning that every Connecticut district that has done this is much smaller than Norwalk.
“There is no large city yet that has accomplished this, so I am hoping that we will find a way to be the first in that regard,” he said.
The Committee meets Nov. 29 to organize and will meet twice a month through March, at different schools, according to Adamowski.
A Latin honor system instead of traditional class ranking
The controversy that raged at the end of the last school year has resulted in a proposal for revisions to the grade point average system.
Current juniors and seniors would keep the old system of a valedictorian and a salutatorian but today’s sophomores and freshmen will use a Latin honor system instead of the traditional class ranking, in a proposal to be voted on by the Board in December.
The new system stems from ill feelings between Norwalk High School and Norwalk Early College Academy students in May over who would be NHS valedictorian in the first year of NECA students being part of the mix, and a change to the grade point averaging (GPA) system. NECA students can take 12 credits per year, while other students can only take eight, leading some to express concern that students in NECA have an advantage over others.
The polarizing firestorm was resolved when the Board created co-valedictorians, and promised to create “a contemporary updated system that may be less competitive than the traditional system,” Adamowski said.
A Committee began working on that in September and has held a couple of day-long sessions followed by café-style focus groups at each of the high schools, Chief of School Operations Frank Costanzo said Tuesday.
“We think we have a reasonable compromise policy that meets the needs of most of the population at both schools,” he said.
Initially, the Committee considered a nine-credit ceiling, but it was thought that NECA students would have an advantage because half year courses counted as a full credit; the proposal now is for NECA students taking classes at Norwalk Community College to earn half a credit for semester-long classes, Costanzo said.
In addition to a valedictorian and a salutatorian, Norwalk High School graduations for the next two years will feature a NECA Scholar, he said. Afterwards, the high schools will use a three-tier breakdown, based on GPA ranges, and a graduation speaker would not necessarily be the valedictorian but would be determined by a panel evaluating students for their academic accomplishments but also characteristics that make them “well rounded,” he said.
The determinations would be based on statistics at the end of the third marking period.
Next summer, should the policy be approved by the Board, the high schools will revise their school profiles, a one-page document that goes to colleges, he said. He later explained that colleges are moving away from GPA consideration but NPS will be able to provide that statistic if asked.
The controversy last spring was a glitch from an oversight when NECA was created, but the new policy is a silver lining on the cloud, Board member Bruce Kimmel said.
“This being on the agenda with the later start thing I think is indicative of a district going in the right direction,” Kimmel said. “… Once we are into the Latin system, I think we are going to really reduce stress on high school students. That’s the bigger issue looming over this entire episode.”
New acronym: SEPAC
The Board gave its blessing for the Connecticut Parent Advocacy Center (CPAC) to work with parents to create a Special Education Parents Advocacy Council (SEPAC), which Board member Sarah Lemieux said is “intended to be a parent driven body.”
Special Education works best when all of the stakeholders have as much information as possible so CPAC proposed councils, modeled on similar programs that are mandatory in some states, CPAC Executive Director John Flanders said.
Opinions regarding Norwalk’s embattled Special Education Department have been wide-ranging. Chief of Specialized Learning and Student Services Yvette Goorevitch and the BoE have claimed much progress in addressing sharp criticisms issued by the Capital Region Education Council (CREC), but Attorney Robin Keller recently spearheaded the filing of the systematic complaint with the State Department of Education, which she said is similar to a federal class action lawsuit.
The Board will be briefed about that by its attorney during a Dec. 4 executive session, Adamowski said.
The SEPAC will create information that can be shared with the community to move Special Education issues into a “cooperative and collaborative communications situation,” Flanders said. “It is largely a self-driven organization. We are going to let the members of this establish their structure within very reasonable parameters.”
“This is a Board that will form itself, lead itself and then at the end of a year come back to this Board and give you a report on their view of the status of Special Education and recommendations for doing a better job. Hopefully it can continue on indefinitely,” he said.
This “blessing” was unanimously approved; Lemieux said the move is whole-heartedly supported by the Ad Hoc Committee on Special Education.
School funding commentary
The “Mayor’s task force on education funding” had its first meeting, BoE Chairman Mike Barbis said, referring to what was called the Ad-Hoc Committee on School Funding in an April press release.
The “interesting group of people” includes a former Stamford Superintendent of Schools who lives in Norwalk, a Board of Estimate and Taxation member, and Common Council Finance Committee Chairman (and former BET Chairman) Greg Burnett, Barbis said, calling it “ a really diverse group that I think will hopefully make progress.”
This isn’t likely to help with the 2019-20 budget but Adamowski has been meeting with Mayor Harry Rilling regularly to discuss that issue, Barbis said.
BoE Finance Committee Chairman Bryan Meek said he’d reached out to Burnett to arrange a joint meeting of the Council and BoE Finance Committees to discuss the next school budget.
Kimmel said the task force is “looking at longer term issues, not this budget cycle.”
There were some good ideas and “I think that at the very least we will figure out ways to generate savings,” Kimmel said. “If we can generate additional revenue sources, that will be the ultimate goal.”
NancyOnNorwalk was not at the meeting but wrote this story from the NPS livestream video.