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LeMieux elected Norwalk Board of Education temporary Chairwoman

Norwalk Board of Education Chairwoman Sarah LeMieux playfully lifts the gavel for the first time, Tuesday in City Hall.

NORWALK, Conn. – Sarah LeMieux took the leadership of the Norwalk Board of Education on Tuesday, presiding as Chairwoman over a serenely serious Board, most of its members seeming to be focused entirely on education.

LeMieux was unanimously elected to serve three months as Chair, replacing Bruce Kimmel, who resigned just six days after becoming Chairman midway through what would have been a four-year term. LeMieux said she is keeping the Committee assignments laid out by Kimmel, except for replacing him in the posts he had taken. Mike Barbis has no Committee assignments. It’s quite a fall for the former Chairman, who led the Facilities Committee for years, shepherding the plan to build new schools in what looked to be a single-handed decision-making role.

While Kimmel faced up to 200 angry people in his first (and only) meeting as Chairman, LeMieux’s quiet debut featured only Norwalk Branch NAACP President Brenda Penn-Williams sitting in the front row with a “Barbis Must Step Down” sign, and NAACP members Jalin Sead and Shirley Mosby nearby.  There had been a “Barbis Must Go” sign in Barbis’ seat before the meeting began, but Vice Chairwoman Heidi Keyes removed it before Barbis walked in.

Upon being elected, LeMieux immediately sought to relieve the public with sentiments she expressed to NancyOnNorwalk the night before. Although there’s been unexpected Board of Education turnover, Norwalk Public Schools is doing fine, she said, clarifying the Board’s role.

“We are a mechanism for setting policy and providing oversight,” she said. “I don’t want to diminish the work that we do. But fundamentally, we’re a backstop and the real work of Norwalk Public Schools is done by our wonderful teachers and our peer educators in the classroom, our personnel, our administrators and our schools and our staff and our leaders in Central Office, and all that work is supported by volunteers and our PTAs, PTOs, School Governance Councils and all of that work has been humming along undisturbed. Children are learning to read and make music and do algebra and world history and they’re excelling and they’re doing great.”

It’s a great group of new Board members, each of them very competent and bringing great skill sets, she said.

“I would also like to say that in his brief time, I know Dr. Kimmel tried to set a tone of respect and inclusion and I plan to continue that tone,” she said. “I hope that everybody knows that I’m committed to building and repairing relationships in our community. That’s been a priority for me the entire time I’ve been on the Board of Ed.”

District B Democrats and Penn-Williams had been pining for LeMieux to be Chairperson in mid-November, but she had said she didn’t want the role. It’s a three-month temporary Chairwomanship because she doesn’t think it’s fair to not let new Board members decide who the Chairperson will be, she said after the meeting. “I’d like to model inclusive group decision making,” and if the Board wants her to continue after March 3, she would “totally consider” it, she explained.

“I think it’s important that we be able to work as a group and make decisions as a group,” she said, also pointing out that a replacement for Kimmel hasn’t been selected.

The Democratic Town Committee will vote on that Dec. 16.

LeMiuex said Barbara Meyer-Mitchell is becoming Finance Committee Chairperson, a role Kimmel had taken, and Erica DePalma will lead the Facilities Committee. The Personnel Committee is short one person and the Curriculum Committee only has three members but “it’s a strong three” and Sherelle Harris is “chairing.”

The complete Committee list:

 

BOE Executive Committee – meets Tuesdays preceding full Board meetings

  • Sarah LeMieux (chair)
  • Heidi Keyes (vice chair)
  • Godfrey Azima (secretary)

Finance Committee – meets second Thursday of the month

  • Barbara Meyer-Mitchell (chair)
  • Sarah LeMieux
  • Diana Carpio
  • Sherelle Harris

    Policy Committee – meets first Tuesday of month

  • Heidi Keyes (chair)
  • Diana Carpio
  • Godfrey Azima
  • Erica DePalma

    Curriculum & Instruction Committee – meets third Tuesday of month

  • Sherelle Harris (chair),
  • Diana Carpio
  • Godfrey Azima

    Facilities Committee – meets fourth Monday of month

  • Erica DePalma (chair)
  • Heidi Keyes
  • Barbara Meyer-Mitchell
  • Sherelle Harris

    Negotiations and Personnel – meets as needed

  • Sarah LeMieux (chair)
  • Heidi Keyes
  • (Vacancy)

    *Special Education Committee – meets third Thursday of month

  • Erica DePalma (chair)
  • Sarah LeMieux
  • Barbara Meyer-Mitchell
    *Needs reauthorization by the Council via a resolution

    Board Liaisons

  • Norwalk Facilities Commission – Erica DePalma
  • Norwalk Education Foundation – Barbara Meyer-Mitchell
  • Norwalk ACTS – Barbara Meyer-Mitchell
  • PTO Council – Barbara Meyer-Mitchell
  • Wellness – Godfrey Azima
  • CES – Diana Carpio
  • Norwalk Early Childhood – Sherelle Harris
  • Athletics – Erica DePalma
  • Adult Education – Heidi Keyes
  • Martin Luther King, Jr. – Sherelle Harris
  • City Safety – Diana Carpio

 

Tuesday’s meeting featured presentations about English Language Learner services and parameters for a new Superintendent, before feint echoes of the Nov. 19 Board meeting came through in a brief public speaking session.

“I just want to say thank you to the voters of voting you in. Finally, we have civility on the board,” Penn-Williams said. “One more thing I want to say is, I want Mike to resign.”

Barbis glared at her.

Sead lauded the ELL plans and referred to “languages that close doors.”

The Barbis controversy stems from an email he wrote in June, expressing frustration over roadblocks to new school construction and pushback from the South Norwalk community by calling leaders there “scum” and “a**holes,” and ending with the phrase “Blacks f*** Latinos.”

“The new superintendent should not be introduced to the city of Norwalk all the … drama that’s going on with the Board of Education, which is fueled by continued disrespect, and emails of languages against certain people in the community,” Sead said. “Two weeks ago, it should have been a joyous occasion welcoming new members to Board of Ed and also celebrating the championship of the Norwalk High Bears, in the band, but it was mostly outcry from the community who was pissed off and tired of reading language from Board Member Mike Barbis against the community.”

The Barbis “email stain” does not align with the values Norwalk is looking for in a new superintendent, he said.

Norwalk Federation of Teachers President Mary Yordon approached the lectern with a new bounce in her step and conveyed a lightened heart as she spoke.

“Diversity is only a strength if we respect that diversity and work collaboratively. So we’re looking forward to that with each and every board member,” Yordon said.

Afterwards, LeMieux said she thought the last BoE meeting was “difficult for everybody in that room.”

“Hopefully, we will be able to have conversations with everybody so that they won’t feel like they have to come out and express their displeasure with us,” she said. “Everybody will feel heard so they won’t feel like they have to come and talk at public comments to be heard.”

From left, Board of Education members Mike Barbis and Diana Carpio listen to a presentation at Tuesday’s Norwalk Board of Education meeting in City Hall.

10 comments

DrewT December 4, 2019 at 8:10 am

So let me understand something all the talk of inclusion and civility but then we Chair is just a bunch of BS. Instead of using all of the resources and sometime that is full of knowledge as in Mike Barbis she is going to follow the stupidity of Bruce Kimmel and not assign Mike to a committee. WOW Sarah thought you had more class and smarts then that. I find this decision reprehensible.

DrewT December 4, 2019 at 8:21 am

So let me understand something all the talk of inclusion and civility from the new Sara LeMieux Chair is just a bunch of BS. Instead of using all of the resources and someone that is full of knowledge as in Mike Barbis she is going to follow the stupidity of Bruce Kimmel and not assign Mike to a committee. WOW Sarah thought you had more class and smarts then that. I find this decision reprehensible.

Bryan Meek December 4, 2019 at 9:31 am

“ the former Chairman, who led the Facilities Committee for years, shepherding the plan to build new schools in what looked to be a single-handed decision-making role.”

Why do you continue to propagate this myth?

These plans to build schools for our neediest students was hatched over 4 years ago with input from a majority of board members, dozens of public meetings on and off site, with 1000s of man hours poured into the effort by expert consultants and education professionals.

When will there be a story on the efforts of the few self interested individuals to kill these plans?

John ONeill December 4, 2019 at 9:33 am

I’m sure Lemieux realizes this “Kumbaya” moment will soon pass. If she thinks all is well in Norwalk schools she’s living in an alternate universe. As far as Mary Yordon’s remarks on diversity — For someone who lives in an All-White town, she seems to know a lot about diversity. I guess if you can get away with it, why not.

Educator December 4, 2019 at 1:46 pm

Wasn’t Sarah just quoted as saying she had no idea who the board would be voting for as temporary chairman? Lo and behold she gets voted in! Lies, lies, sweet little lies. Another backroom deal with Ed. This board continues it’s downward spiral into dysfunctionality.

Niz December 4, 2019 at 2:21 pm

Lets get new schools built, provide SpEd students with F.A.P.E. & immigrant students services to learn English & help them all get up to par… best possible.
These kids are our future, some immediate… we need to invest in them & handle their educational experience with mindfulness & care!

Moving forward , getting a permanent BOE chair & New Superintendent that has experience & knows how to help a changing & growing city make those changes & improvements hapoen … get funding, get our city, district & stare legislators/ reps focused & WORKING to a well planned & implemented public school system!!

The Norwalker December 4, 2019 at 3:53 pm

They need to Censure Mike Barbis, as things are now all that he can bring to the BOE is chaos. He is nothing but a distraction….

Steve December 4, 2019 at 7:50 pm

It’s rare for me to be on the same peg as Bryan Meeks but his comments were on point. Loads of people spent loads of hours trying to get new schools built. Sadly e new site for Columbus is still not finalized when originally some thought they’d be in the school next fall. There was nothing nefarious about the boards plan to build it was with the best intentions

Sarah LeMieux December 6, 2019 at 5:32 pm

Hi Educator – you must have misunderstood. Here’s the quote from Nancy’s previous article: “LeMieux said she knows who is under consideration to be chairperson but didn’t want to divulge that information.” I didn’t feel it would be ethical to speculate on the outcome of a vote by my colleagues before the vote had taken place. I did not say I had no idea who was being considered.

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