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Norwalk BoE set to revise GPA system, work toward keeping teens in bed longer

Norwalk Public Schools Chief of School Operations Frank Costanzo, shown in a screen capture from the livestream of Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting.

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.”

BoE GPA 11-20-18

GPA BoE 18-1120 FollowUpPPT.pptx revised.pptx3

 

 

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.

CPAC Sped advisory 18-1120 NPS BoE

 

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. 

8 comments

Enough November 21, 2018 at 5:48 am

You missed the entire first part of the meeting on them eliminating middle school sports for the rest of the year.

Mike Lyons November 21, 2018 at 7:47 am

Nancy would not have been surprised by the reduction (not elimination) of MS sports, since she covered the Board vote to do so back 5 months ago in June. In a year where the City cut the Board’s budget request by millions of dollars, a lot of unfortunate reductions had to be made. As Nancy wrote then, “Recommendations delivered by Norwalk Public Schools Chief Financial Officer Thomas Hamilton include eliminating 12 paraprofessionals, with a retirement incentive lessening the actual pain; cutting four middle school guidance secretary positions; consolidating four high school assistant principal secretary positions; cutting two Central Office positions; keeping two guidance counselor positions vacant; and discontinuing the Pathways at Briggs Academy. The middle school sports budget is recommended to be cut in half, at $80,845, instead of being eliminated as was originally proposed, and the Naramake School Resource Center is slated for closure.”

Board member Bruce Kimmel stated “While the middle school sports funding is being halved, “we’re really looking at it as a one year moratorium,” Kimmel said. “…We think we can create a more efficient, much better system for the kids.” This will involve working with Recreation and Parks, and, “there are leagues all over the city, we just have to get a handle on what’s going on, what’s possible,” he said.

Hopefully this year the City will more equitably fund our budget and similar reductions will not be required.

Bryan Meek November 21, 2018 at 7:51 am

Enough missed the part about how $80k was funded and local autonomy was given on how to spend it. Enough wants to blame the BOE for decisions made by their principal and school governance council. Enough knew about these decisions going back to last June when the money was allocated.

It’s too bad the activities were not funded to the extent everyone wants. This is going to be a common theme going forward for various programs. The BOE’s budget requests not being fulfilled require reductions in areas not everyone likes, but that is what the Common Council and Board of Estimate were willing to allocate. It would be nice for once to see the people who constantly foment angst and anger at the BOE for its decisions to get the attention focused where it belongs at the city government level.

Kevin Kane November 21, 2018 at 8:46 am

Regarding:
“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.”

Can I start by consolidating bus stops from what can be 1 stop every 100 yards to centralized stops? The extra walking may also help in the exercise category all be it minimal.

Can I start by bringing a larger knife, ideally a chainsaw, from my drawer to get some real money cut and tax relief?

-Bus Consultant

Bruce Kimmel November 21, 2018 at 8:57 am

Correction: I did not “sit in” at the funding task force meeting. I’m a member of the task force.

Piberman November 21, 2018 at 10:49 am

As a City we’re so fortunate to have both literate and thoughtful members of our BOE willing to communicate in the press to the citizens who elected them. Demonstrating a real commitment to “public service”. What always puzzles me is why members of our other elected Board – the Council – are unwilling to engage the public. Maybe they dance to a different drummer. Anyway kudos to the BOE for speaking to the public when the opportunities arise and kudos to Nancy for covering the BOE.

enough November 21, 2018 at 11:06 am

No I did not miss any of those meetings and was well aware of the $80k that was allocated. My only gripe is why give the schools money then all of a sudden say no we can’t have competitive sports. That isn’t helping our students get ready for the next level of competition. I am fine with doing clinics, however, there still needs to be a competitive edge to these activities or what is the sense in having them. I agreed with all of the parents comments last night, and the passionate educators who stood up for their students. Am I blaming the BOE no, this was the Superintendents decision not the BOE. However, this is something that should be discussed at the end of the school year, not in the middle once everyone had already began their programs. It just sets a bad precedent. I am not attacking anyone on the board and I thank you for your service. I just don’t feel this decision was made on good judgement by whoever gave it the green light.

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