Norwalk Board of Education Chairman Colin Hosten, Vice Chairwoman Diana Carpio and Secretary Godfrey Azima are members of the Board’s Executive Committee. Alexandra Estrella, Ed. D., is superintendent of Norwalk Public Schools.
Each year, nearly 2,100 new students enter Norwalk Public Schools to start or continue their academic journey towards graduation, and ultimately, college and career. In a typical year, that number includes about 900 new kindergarteners, as well as more than 450 multi-lingual learners who speak a language other than English at home.
Every new family represents an opportunity for the school district and city to make a first impression, laying the groundwork for meaningful family engagement.
Yet families new to NPS face a confusing maze of contacts and locations. Families may start at their neighborhood school, while follow up on health forms, bus transportation, language testing and other essentials are spread throughout Central Office, on the third floor of City Hall.
Enrolled families also report difficulty navigating different stops, calls or locations when they have questions. New or current, what all families have in common is their need for information. Our current set up makes it a challenge to efficiently link customers with accurate information, available resources and quality assistance.
To support families throughout their child’s academic years, Norwalk Public Schools and the Board of Education have proposed creating the NPS Family Welcome Center. The proposal recognizes that families are essential partners in a student’s success. It also brings to life the District’s and City’s commitment to equity, inclusion and access for all.
A standard feature in many top school districts, the Family Welcome Center will be the first point of interaction with families and students. Open year-round, the Center will be designed as a warm and friendly environment.
By consolidating existing roles and responsibilities into a single location, it will provide better customer service when families need to register students, get information, voice concerns or resolve issues. As a single stop for district services used most frequently, it will promote an ongoing, collaborative relationship with all customers, including our most vulnerable families.
Service at the NPS Family Welcome Center will include central registration, as well as information about how to apply for magnet schools and choice programs. It would incorporate the current Multilingual Learner Welcome Center, which handles enrollment, language assessments and class placements. A bilingual special education ombudsperson will help families access services and programs. Student Health Services staff will discuss vaccination requirements, medication protocols and state-mandated health forms.
The Transportation Office will provide information about eligibility, routes and bus stops, while Foodservice will help parents enroll in free or reduced lunch programs or put money into a lunch account. The NPS Tech Depot will deploy laptops or Chromebooks to students and staff, and replace or repair devices.
Volunteer recruitment and registration will be onsite, and students can pick up transcripts or other student records. The location will also include meeting space for professional development and family programs, including workshops on how to support learning at home.
Office space for our community partners can be available, helping to connect families with essential supports and services.
Current Board of Education offices at Norwalk City Hall have no realistic options for consolidating these district resources in one place. As a result, we have explored other possibilities. The most promising is the former Norwalk Pathways Academy at Briggs.
Why this location? This one-story building has great potential to become a warm and friendly environment that would feel welcoming to all, including those who are reluctant to come to the beautiful, but imposing, Norwalk City Hall.
Right on Main Avenue, it is easily accessible and on a city bus line. It offers enough space to locate family-facing school services together. While the main building is currently used only for storage, the site’s former school health center has already been renovated into the NPS Center for Specialized Learning in Literacy.
Importantly, the building is City-owned and operated by the Board of Ed, so funding to purchase a new space will not be needed.
While the location has great potential, there are challenges. Required renovations would be less than those needed for an active school, but repairs to the roof, windows and throughout the building would still be necessary. A preliminary estimate of $7 million could be partially offset by a 16.25% reimbursement from the State.
While the NPS Welcome Center will put an under-used and unattractive Norwalk building back to full use, the real value comes in the commitment it represents to families and students. We respectfully request that the Common Council and City of Norwalk approve this proposal as part of the 2021-22 Capital budget.