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District welcome center proposal recognizes families as essential partners

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.

7 comments

John O'Neill January 29, 2021 at 5:27 pm

So….According to one Board of Ed member families are fleeing the district because there’s no money for bathroom stalls. Why would these three prefer putting off current stall issues for this welcome center? What will operating costs be once center is up and running? That seems to be missing from the plan. Or did I miss something? If this is such a terrific plan why haven’t the other Board of Ed members signed this letter?
There are some Board members that seem to think money grows on trees. Sadly, that is not the case. It’s time for a reality check. This is another example of voters needing to vet candidates better (Why does the number 137 come to mind)
Again one board member is telling us people are exiting due to insufficient funding of bathrooms and the above 3 seem to be telling us the heck with those bathrooms. Let’s spend our all we have on this project.
While I appreciate Ms. Estrella & Co thinking outside the box, let’s fix the bathrooms and take it from there. I don’t fault her, I fault the Board of Ed members. They are supposed vet ideas with a pragmatic lens. That seems to be missing and it will eventually cost taxpayers plenty. I recommend a Math lesson from Henry Dachowitz. He’s the only one I trust with my wallet. After all, you’re dealing with my money !!

Note to Henry: As a taxpayer I beg you to set these people straight. It will be a shame if Norwalk turns into Hamden,CT and other broken CT cities….Thanks in advance.

Breaking the Taxpayers' Backs January 31, 2021 at 9:27 am

With this new center, Superintendent Estrella will be able to repurpose the current welcome center office and the current transportation office for yet more 3rd floor offices. Has anyone done a headcount of central office administrators, comparing that number to what the district had last year? Superintendent Adamowski added administrative and other positions at City Hall during his tenure, but it took him years to do that. In less than a year, the current superintendent has already added several generously compensated administrative positions in the central office, as well as new administrative (at least one) and non-administrative positions in the schools, and I’m not counting anyone brought in on a consulting contract.

Back to the welcome center story: I note the language of the letter. It says that $7 million is a “preliminary estimate.” Let me translate that. In “Honest English,” that means that they don’t know how much it will cost. The letter also says that a state grant “could” offset 16.25% of the cost. “Could,” in Honest English, means that there is no guarantee of this state funding. I’m sure Bob Duff will promise that the state will come through for Norwalk, but even if that is the state’s contribution and the construction estimate is accurate, it would reduce the amount by $1.13 million, leaving the district to fund costs of close to $6 million. You can fix all of the district’s bathrooms for that amount of money, with money to spare.

The bigger picture is that we still have the NHS construction project, a politician’s vanity project, but which the BOE seems to have accepted, rather than do what is right for overall NPS student population, many of whom sit in buildings that need serious help. Tens of millions of dollars (the city’s required contribution), plus inevitable cost overruns, will be borne entirely by Norwalk taxpayers, leaving no availability of bonding dollars for fixing far older buildings in the district, 3 of which date back to the 1930s. Not one of those 3 has ever seen a significant building-wide renovation. Someone please help me to understand how this is part of any strategic educational plan. By the way, the city is still paying on the bonds for additional tens of millions of dollars in work done on the current NHS building over the past dozen years. Those bonds must also be paid off, and I don’t know if the state will pay its share of the cost for any parts of the renovations that will be demolished for the new building.

I close with a reaction I had to a Common Council member’s commitment to reviewing the budget proposals this year with particular attention to the impact on the taxpayers. Aren’t Common Council members supposed to do that every year?

JustATaxpayer February 1, 2021 at 8:22 am

We are such a coddled set of mankind. Today we get automatic calls and emails to let us know school is closed. Back in the day it was tuning into the scroll in the bottom of the TV screen to see your school name appear.

Margaret February 1, 2021 at 9:06 am

We cant afford it plain and simple. Just like having the schools start latter that cost over $500,000.00.
As parents we need to become involved in our children’s education and do everything that entails. My children went to NPS if I had questions I’d ask other parents you involve yourself in the solution.
Be at least honest this Welcome Center is for BiLingual Learners. Those new to NPS don’t need another handout they need a hand-up. They need to find solutions and solve problems. They need to become part of the fabric of the city. That can’t/will not happen if yet again they are spoon-fed solutions. This is not life! In life you solve problems and seek solutions everything is not provided for you. Sometimes you succeed and others you fail but with each step you learn another skill.

I implore you don’t isolate them encourage them to be involved in their schools and their chid’s and their education.

Going to a new school is a learning process for every new parent. You meet others and you figure it out its called life

The cost estimates to staff and operate this specialized center are costs that we economically/socially can not afford. Please for the families table this proposal.

Missy Conrad February 1, 2021 at 12:00 pm

Here is another example of money not being available for a wonderful plan. We are supposed to “promote the general Welfare.” We will all be happier knowing that Good is being done. Please tell our representatives in our US Congress to sign on to the bill to cut military spending by 10% & send that $ back to the states. And, give more money to the IRS, which was slashed by Congress during the Obama Administration after its director questioned groups affiliated with the Tea Party that requested tax-exempt status.

Alexandrea Kemeny February 1, 2021 at 12:28 pm

While I agree with John O’Neil the voters of CT have chosen the open borders policies of the Democrat Party. Elections have consequences. It should be no surprise that Norwalk has experienced a great influx of non-English-speaking immigrants. We are now faced with the responsibility of educating their children.If we do not, we will be left with an illiterate population. Dumping non-English speaking children into regular classrooms is not only bad for them but detrimental to the learning of the American students already there. I think people need to really think about what goes on in a classroom. Imagine teaching a math lesson and constantly stopping to try to explain it to a child/multiple children who have no idea what is being said. When I studied in Hungary at the Franz Liszt Academy of Music I had many foreign acquaintances there. They all received a year of “Hungarian immersion” training before ever entering a regular classroom and it worked amazingly well. A “Welcome Center” may look reassuring from the outside and convince the public that we are “doing something”, but in reality it is only “putting lipstick on a pig” as they used to say. Teach kids English then put them in the appropriate classroom setting.
This of course leads to a philosophical discussion. Do people really think immigrants are risking their lives to come to this country just to live on welfare and become “Democrat” voters? No. They are coming here in search of what is left of the American Dream. They are leaving dangerous countries run by drug cartels that threaten them and their families. They want to work and thrive. The political question is how does their presence affect American workers–but that is not the point once you accept them into the country. If you voted for open borders you have voted for increased expenses in education and healthcare and you must then accept the responsibility of paying for it. Elections have consequences. The only question that remains is how best to implement their education.

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