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NPS plan for ‘consortium’ of adult services draws pushback

A sign outside the Norwalk Public Schools offices in City Hall.

NORWALK, Conn. – Local school districts are combining their adult education programs under one administrative umbrella in a move that Norwalk Public Schools says will provide better services to its adult students.

“It’s horrible, they are trying to get rid of all programs at the Norwalk Board of Ed that are minority-based,” Norwalk Branch NAACP President Brenda Penn-Williams said Tuesday.

Penn-Williams was one of two people who contacted NancyOnNorwalk this week to object to what Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski described last week as a consortium of services.

“This decision was made without regard to its effect on present and future Norwalk adult education students,” wrote a woman who asked to remain anonymous.

Adamowski at last week’s Board of Education meeting announced that staff was working on merging local adult education efforts, with “Stamford and Norwalk as the bookends” in a group effort that would include Westport, New Canaan, Weston and Darien. The district director retired last year at the age of 80, a longtime secretary also retired and the program is being run by two night supervisors who are also retiring, he said.

“We would be faced, if we simply try to replicate or continue what we are doing, be faced with restaffing the entire program. There are also some teachers there, and a counselor, who are in the same situation,” Adamowski explained.

The other reason for consolidating, he said, is that Gov. Ned Lamont has asked school districts and municipalities to share services to reduce overhead, he said.

“I don’t want to hear that mess,” Penn-Williams said, of the Lamont reference.  She heard about the changes three months ago but couldn’t get any information from the Board of Education, she said.

“They kept this under the radar,” Penn-Williams said. “Adamowski is the sneakiest man… he needs to go. He is messing up our school system like he messed up the rest of them…. Now they have an excuse. This was in the works before the governor said anything about this.”

The adult education program primarily serves minorities, according to Penn-Williams.

Stamford will “serve as the fiscal agents for the program,” which is required by the State to offer a high school diploma program for adults, English Language Learners and citizenship programs, a General Education Development Test (GED) program and workforce training, Adamowski said last week.

The idea is that once a participant completes a GED or ELL diploma, he or she goes into a workforce training program and earns a certificate from Norwalk Community College.  But Norwalk has not been offering the workforce training component, according to Adamowski.  “This is not an attempt to save money, this is an attempt to improve service,” he said.

“(If) we do this on a broader level, with the other districts involved as a consortium, we would be able to repurpose some of the money that we are using as administrative costs now to be able to pay for the workforce development program, and have the full spectrum of the adult education program,” Adamowski said.

The BoE did not vote on the item as it’s adult education, which is not under the Board’s jurisdiction. Adamowski said he was keeping them informed as the changes are being “explored now” under Norwalk Public Schools Chief Academic Officer Brenda Myers’ leadership.

The anonymous writer provided NancyOnNorwalk with an undated letter that the writer said was received last week.

“We are excited to announce our new adult and continuing education partnership with Stamford, Darien, New Canaan and Westport,” the letter reads. “… Our new partnership will allow us to expand our offerings to include Family Literacy with Child Care, Workforce Readiness with internships, and Vocational ESL for Healthcare, Eco-cleaning and Culinary, the National External Diploma Program and Computer Training and Development.”

“For the first time we will be able to mail information to all residents in our community and make the Adult and Continuing Education brochure available electronically in 90 languages,” the letter said. “Beginning with Fall, 2019 you will see over 11 different locations and they will be accessible by the CT bus line and MTA transit. We will maintain one central location in Norwalk as part of the collaboration.”

Existing Norwalk teachers will have to reapply to continue the work they’ve been doing for years, the writer said.

“The bottom line is this was a cost-saving measure at the expense of Norwalk adult education students and an idea that Dr. Adamowski implemented in at least one of the prior districts of which he was superintendent,” the writer said. “He is not interested in educating people who need to complete their high school diplomas or the many immigrants in Norwalk who need to learn English to become working, self-supporting citizens who are also able to help their children with their schoolwork.  The accomplishments of the adult ed students are not reflected in Norwalk Public Schools test scores or lower high school drop-out rates,  both of which the superintendent likes to take credit for, so it was an easy decision to outsource the adult ed program.”

“The insinuation that all we care about is accountability scores and thus have no interest in the progress of adult learners is offensive,” Norwalk Board of Education Chairman Mike Barbis wrote Monday, referring NancyOnNorwalk to both Adamowksi’s comments and a written explanation from Myers.

“Any partnership would require the continuation of all current services including High School Diploma, GED and ESL Services while expanding our adult learning opportunities to include workforce development and enrichment. By partnering with a larger service provider, we substantially increase the number of opportunities available to our families,” Myers wrote.

“Over the past few years, enrollment in our Adult Education program has continued to drop. Our programs are difficult to access because there is no evening bus route to Brien McMahon,” Myers wrote. “We must look at the locations where services are offered in Norwalk, and a new partnership would include new locations to broaden our delivery area. A person working closer to Stamford or New Canaan could also attend classes there.”

Adamowksi said last week that Norwalk High School and the Carver Center are being considered as locations for Norwalk’s adult education program.

The letter from Myers is dated “March 2019” and says the partnership is being considered.

“We value our dedicated teachers and we want to ensure we are providing our teachers with quality curriculum and resources to support their teaching. The curriculum should provide a progression to improved employment skills. Our programs must ensure that we provide certified teachers and meet all state guidelines for certification, training and evaluation,” Myers wrote. “… Often, working in a larger consortium increases the availability and options for the same amount of money.”

8 comments

M. Murray March 27, 2019 at 7:25 am

Seems like part of the story is left out here. What services are being cut? Sounds like they are adding job training and keeping GED and adult Ed and expanding it to multiple locations but it doesn’t state what programs are being cut in order to do this.

June Richardson March 27, 2019 at 11:18 am

As a Norwalk Adult ED ESL and Diploma Program teacher for the last 15 years, I can factually state that there has been no effort to retain the dedicated Norwalk Adult Ed teachers many of whom are over 65 and have worked these programs for decades. It’s always been a part time job with no benefits staffed by qualified, certified teachers most of whom live and pay taxes in Norwalk. We have been told that we have no seniority when the program moves to Stamford and will have to apply through a Stamford organized job fair where Stamford teachers have seniority. Ms. Penn William is correct when she says the entire effort by the Superintendent and his team has been a covert effort in an attempt to eliminate push back from those most affected, the teachers and taxpayers who fund his salary. The District did nothing to promote these Adult Ed classes via social media or informing school PTA’s of these available language programs. Instead, teachers in their free time went to churches and community locations and left off paper flyers. There are plenty of candidates who could direct, manage, administrate and teach in Norwalk Adult ED. Dr. Adamowski’s only intent from Day one has been to eliminate the program and save a few bucks which matches is his long standing reputation for slash and burn. It’s Norwalk’s citizens and their children who will sadly suffer.

Brenda Wilcox Williams March 27, 2019 at 12:04 pm

We very much appreciate the dedication and passion that our long-time employees have for the current Adult Ed program. But as Dr. Adamowski and Dr. Myers have said, this is in no way a cost-cutting measure; we expect the budget impact to remain about the same. The reason for looking at other approaches is to find a cost-effective way to update and expand Norwalk’s Continuing & Adult Ed program. That includes offering the workplace training program that is not currently available, as well as other enhancements.

Enrollment in the current program has been declining over the past several years, in part because the graduation rate has been rising, but also because the current location is difficult for people who rely on public transportation. We need to make sure the program not only meets state requirements but also serves the needs of our clients.

When Norwalk has confirmed an arrangement with Stamford, the program will then be submitted to the State for approval. That has not yet taken place but is anticipated in the coming weeks, which is why the Superintendent informed the Board at last week’s business meeting.

Pros & Cons March 28, 2019 at 8:45 am

Same or better quality programs and services at lower cost always a good idea. But…what’s happening here is the culmination of long neglect and letting a small group of nice enough good old boys (most of whom don’t live in Norwalk) and a secretary “run” the program (with one of if not the highest hourly wages in CT adult ed programs. Folks also seem to be ignoring the connection between helping parents learn English, get high school diplomas, etc. and their children’s learning. Sad…

RayJ March 28, 2019 at 6:01 pm

Thanks for the few posters who had facts. I hope they continue to post as new developments come available. I wish my parents had learned English through night school. At the time it was in the old center school, just a block away from where we lived. Nowadays when I see the young grade schoolers explaining to their parents in very good english , I’m reminded of how I grew up.

Joanna Cooper March 29, 2019 at 10:48 pm

This is good news for Norwalk that the superintendent was reporting. Not a cost cutting witch-hunt by our BoE and superintendent that looks to hurt minorities and get rid of teachers. Current Adult Education services in Norwalk will not only continue but improve. Having a ‘consortium’ with surrounding towns and cities will increase opportunities for those in need and save cities money.

The “pushback” comes from Brenda Penn Williams and one anonymous person. The weight given to them is incomprehensible to me. Brenda Penn Williams is clueless to the facts, makes it all about race and is seriously disrespectful in how she insults our superintendent and BoE. Her comments here serve to foster controversy and conspiracy theories that don’t exist. She is angry at the wrong people. Adult Education is not even under the BoE’s jurisdiction.

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