NORWALK, Conn. — Norwalk Public Schools is getting $1 million to deal with an influx of immigrant students, thanks to a unanimous vote at Tuesday night’s Common Council meeting. An additional $400,000 for an outside agency’s rendering of behavioral health services to the students’ families was also approved by all 13 Council members present.
In requesting the school funding, Norwalk School Superintendent Steven Adamowski outlined various accommodations necessitated by the swelling immigrant enrollment. Noting a 13 percent increase in English Language Learners (ELLs) since last year, compounded by another 50 new registrants currently in process plus 90 more predicted in January, he pointed out that 66 percent of Norwalk Public School (NPS) students are classified as having “high needs,” meaning that they either require special ed, are ELLs, or qualify for free or reduced lunch.
District C Council member John Kydes pondered the impact of ELL-focused programs on non-needy students. “As the father of two kids in the public school system,” he said, “word has gotten back to me that non-ELL students’ education may be suffering because of all this. What is being done to make sure this is not the case?” Adamowski replied, “The best way to help students who are not English Language Learners is to provide support for those who are learning English.”
“Will the one million be enough?” Council member-At-Large Colin Hosten’s asked, prompting Adamowski to reply, “This year is an anomaly. If the increases continue, the answer is ‘no’.”
Addressing future budgets, Mayor Harry Rilling later asserted, “Not only have we reached out to our federal delegation to see if there are Tier I funds available to help with unaccompanied minors coming into our school system, but we’re also reaching out to the governor’s staff to see if there is any possibility that there could be some extra funding available…We are cautiously optimistic that some amount of money can be found.”
When Council member-At-Large Manny Langella asked if other school districts were having similar experiences, Adamowski cited a Norwalk Chamber of Commerce estimate that 80 percent of Connecticut’s immigrants are coming to Fairfield County. As to why Norwalk’s increase this year exceeded that of Stamford and Bridgeport, the Superintendent explained, “Families that are here say that we have the best programs for ELLs.”
Advocating for the appropriation to fund Mid-Fairfield County Child Guidance Center behavioral service, Norwalk’s newly-appointed Chief of Community Services Lamond Daniels articulated immigrant students’ families’ critical need for mental and emotional support, prompting Rilling to note that while NPS has its own social workers, those practitioners can’t engage in home visitations.
Encouraging a “yes” vote, Rilling proclaimed that, “Norwalk has shown the unique ability to prepare…The Strategic Plan is clearly working.”