NORWALK, Conn. — Among the many items up for approval by the Norwalk Board of Education on Tuesday are:
- Changing the food service provider in a move to “up the game”
- Getting the feds to pay for meals at Tracey and Kendall
- A ‘comprehensive’ digital learning curriculum, as a baseline
Video of Curriculum Committee, by Harold Cobin, at end of story
Chartwells, not Whitsons
It’s “devastating” for Bruce Kimmel: 13 years ago he voted to bring Whitson’s Food Service into Norwalk Public Schools and now he’s poised to vote them out.
Kimmel’s tongue-in-cheek quip aside, the comments at last week’s Board of Education Finance Committee about the move to Chartwells Inc. were optimistic.
“Chartwells is a major player in the school food service business,” NPS Chief Financial Officer Thomas Hamilton said. “The (Evaluation) Committee was very impressed with the understanding that Chartwells displayed in terms of the interest of the district in really upping its game and the food service, quality of food that we’re delivering, and in particular in moving to use of more fresh food, as opposed to frozen food that’s just reheated, providing more ethnic food options in our cafeterias, using only top quality ingredients, free from … additives and preservatives.”
Changing the food service provider is in line with the fifth goal of the Board’s Strategic Operating Plan, improving the nutritional quality of school lunches and the dining environment. Four companies responded to a Request for Proposals, including Whitsons, and a committee evaluated the proposals. Scorers included Board of Education Chairman Mike Barbis, BOE Wellness Committee Chairwoman Lisa Lenskold, Hamilton, two elementary school principals, a parent and a Brien McMahon High School student.
Chartwells presented a detailed implementation plan to “use more fresh foods, provide more ethnic food options, use top-quality ingredients, implement scratch cooking, and improve the dining experience over the next five years,” Hamilton wrote in a memo to the Board.
Not only that, but the $180,000 a year cost is $37,820 less than the district pays now, he wrote.
Chartwells is looking to provide “more grab and go options, more of an open cafeteria concept at our high schools, and moving away from just the batch feeding and lunch waves at the high schools,” Hamilton said to the Committee.
Lenskold commented that implementation of scratch cooking can’t be done immediately, even at one school, and employee training takes time. “(Chartwells) had a commitment to in the first year starting to train the existing employees even … how to cut fruit in our kitchens in our schools. So that’s a bonus, to have cut up oranges as opposed to a full orange for a kid that has to peel it… They had the clearest vision on a multiyear plan to get us moving toward scratch cooking.”
“I would just say change is good and I don’t want Lisa’s hard work and efforts go unnoticed,” Kimmel said. “I mean, you might be under the radar for a lot of what you do.”
Free breakfast, lunch for all students at Kendall, Tracey
A federally-funded alternative to the district’s current free and reduced lunch program will be tested at two elementary schools, resulting in free breakfast and lunch for every student at that school, Hamilton told the Finance Committee.
“The Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) program is an alternative, USDA-authorized meal service option for schools and school districts in low-income areas,” Hamilton’s memo to Finance Committee Chairman Bryan Meek states. “The CEP program allows high poverty schools and school districts to serve breakfast and lunch at no cost to all enrolled students in the school without collecting household applications.”
The program is a break-even option if 50% of the students qualify, Hamilton said.
There are two ways of being directly certified: through the SNAP program, commonly called food stamps, or through being Medicaid eligible.
Kendall Elementary is 50.3% directly certified and Tracey Elementary is 51%, so NPS is looking to experiment with the program at those schools and see how it works, he said.
“Every student in the school can be offered meals, both breakfast and lunch, without any charge,” Hamilton said. “And so we think there’s some … health and nutrition benefits to that, from the standpoint of making sure our students don’t come to school hungry. We also avoid … this perennial problem of collecting meal debt, that that issue goes away for the students in these in these two schools.”
This, like the Chartwells proposal, was unanimously approved by the Finance Committee and sent to the full Board for approval.
The Curriculum Committee on May 21 looked at NPS plans to spend $65,000 a year on Learning.com’s Easy Tech curriculum to facilitate teachers work to guide students in digital learning. The latter is up for a vote Tuesday.
“Our goal is to make a public promise: what is the digital tool kit that a child enters the high school with in Norwalk? That any teacher in the high school that wants a child to do a PowerPoint presentation, or to use a word processor, or to be safe in an Internet environment, knows that there were incremental outcomes that children met as they came through the elementary and middle schools,” NPS Chief Academic Officer Brenda Myers said on May 21, answering concerns about equity voiced by Board member Barbara Meyer-Mitchell.
“We don’t have the luxury of just adding a separate class that everyone takes every year,” Myers said. “We have to have a little more of a finesse for two reasons; one is, not enough hours in the day and the other is, not the best way children learn.”
Learning.com provides sequencing and lesson plans for teachers, she said.
Although “digital learning” is a broad term, it’s arguably one of the most important curricula for today’s students, since it ties into critical thinking and skills that are needed in every job,
“As tech evolves, it’s not about the tool, it’s about their ability to adjust and use whatever is in front of them,” Director of K-12 STEM Education Tina Henckel said.
Kimmel noted that students are ahead of teachers in many ways, and professional development is “complicated.”
Learning.com “is the most comprehensive baseline that you can start with,” Chief of Technology, Innovations and Partnerships Ralph Valenzisi said, noting that some of the cost will be mitigated by eliminating other expenses, most significantly a $7,000 expense for keyboarding curricula.
There were three options to develop a digital learning curricula, Myers said:
- Have expert teachers craft a curriculum
- Piece together specialty products
- Use Learning.com’s option
“This is the product that has the most development, and the one I have the most experience with,” Myers said.
“We’ll get more sophisticated and we’ll start to find the modules we like best, and then we’ll start to develop our own (curriculum),” Myers said. “So I wouldn’t say this will be the curriculum that we will have for the next five years but we certainly will think about it as a three year bridge to developing our own literacy curriculum, digital literacy curriculum, for Norwalk.”
“We are moving ahead when it comes to digital literacy, no matter how you cut it, like every school system,” Kimmel said. “ … We have a way to not have to invent the wheel, because there’s so much out there, at a cost of $65,000 a year until we feel that we can move in a different direction.”