Goorevitch claims progress at Norwalk preschool center

Chief of Specialized Learning and Student Services Yvette Goorevitch, left, speaks to Norwalk Early Childhood Center (NECC) Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) members Thursday in City Hall.




Updated, 12:31 p.m.: Copy edit.

NORWALK, Conn. – From unwelcoming senior citizens to unsanitary car safety seats, Norwalk moms made problems at the Norwalk Early Childhood Center known Thursday.

In return, Norwalk Special Education chief Yvette Goorevitch, in a warmly upbeat Ad Hoc Sped Committee meeting, emphasized progress being made at the nearly 2-year-old center while agreeing with parents that there are issues.

Rumblings of problems at NECC reached NancyOnNorwalk in December, with four mothers speaking under the condition of anonymity early this year.

“When you tear it apart, when you really look deep, there are a lot of issues, a lot of problems,” one mom said.

“The (NECC) classrooms are beautiful. It is attached to the senior center which presents some very interesting opportunities and has also presented some challenges, particularly around the parking lot,” Goorevitch said last week, opening a Committee meeting held in the absence of Chairman Erik Anderson.

Anderson was said to be ill and new Board member Sarah LeMieux ran the meeting. Also in attendance was Board member Barbara Meyer-Mitchell, who is not on the Committee, along with parent members and five mothers who are part of the recently formed NECC Parent Teacher Organization.

NECC was conceived in 2014 under then-Superintendent of Schools Manny Rivera.  The old Roosevelt School, at 11 Allen Road, was renovated at a cost of $2.9 million into a centralized location for pre-K schooling and opened in September 2016.

The preschoolers, many of whom have special needs, share a property with the Norwalk Senior Center.

“I have stood in the parking lot, and between parents and seniors it is a sight to behold. The city is working on widening the parking,” Goorevitch said, after explaining that the city is looking to move a retaining wall.

Building and Facilities Manager Alan Lo has promised “to put a barrier around the school as well, just because right now there is no barrier and there’s a lot of seniors,” PTO member Kim Burke said.

Goorevitch sympathized with parents, saying that she understood that a three-year plan to improve the facility’s safety “doesn’t make anybody feel great when you are talking about young kids.”

There are 160 students in the school now, according to Goorevitch. Administrators didn’t realize that some of them are also enrolled in School Readiness, a full-day program, and were being bused to the center, she said, opining, “3-year-olds and 4-year-olds just shouldn’t be commuting.”

That’s being addressed, with the school district seeking to provide the children services at their School Readiness facility, she said.

The transportation issues involve car seats, she said, explaining that the bus drivers and monitors went through a safety retraining in February.

Burke explained why: she had noticed last year that the aides didn’t know how to use the safety seats, concluding that if there was an emergency they wouldn’t have been able to get her children off the bus, she said.

Not only that, but there were sanitary issues with the “disgusting” seats, and “from September until just recently,” her daughters’ bus was arriving at school 30 to 45 minutes late, she said.

“Those families at the outer rims of district, those runs were coming in late,” Goorevitch agreed.

From left, Norwalk Early Childhood Center (NECC) Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) members Kim Burke and Amy Hodgkins speak with Chief of Specialized Learning and Student Services Yvette Goorevitch last week in City Hall.

The buses going to NECC, some of them carrying 10 preschoolers, are on their third run of the morning, PTO mom Gillian Hedges noted, and Goorevitch said the recent safety retraining included instructions to clean the children’s safety seats, which are provided by the bus company.

NECC will be going to full day sessions next year, Goorevitch said, eventually prompting speculation about how the kids will be fed lunch.

The food will either be delivered or meal preparation done by sharing the space in the senior center, Goorevitch said, inspiring laughter among the NECC moms, who had said the seniors don’t want the kids there.

“They were there first, I think that’s the problem,” a mom said, with Goorevitch laughing and offering assurance that the seniors could learn to enjoy the children.

While federal law mandates that the student body at a Special Education facility such as NECC be least 50 percent “typical,” Goorevitch acknowledged that it’s currently at about 56 percent. The percentage will improve on March 27 when a new half-day Special Education intensive class opens, she said, with a Special Education lawyer silently watching in the audience.

Two School Readiness classes will be coming to NECC from Brookside Elementary School next year, Goorevitch explained, and while parents suggested this might lead to overcrowding, Goorevitch said it would improve the ratio of Special Needs to typicals.

Referrals look like they’ll up from last year and there have been 435 PPT (Planning and Placement Team) meeting so far this year, Goorevitch said.

Teachers attend the PPT meetings, taking them out of the classrooms.

“With so many PPT meetings it is staggering to see how the teachers are out of the room so much of the time. My question always is, who is teaching the class? What’s happening?” Burke said, commenting that “We have all seen TVs on constantly. That’s not why we are sending our kids there.”

“There should be no videos on ever, unless it’s a teachable moment,” Goorevitch said.

She suggested that “building trust and communication” would cut down the PPTs because parents are demanding them and, “We don’t need to open up an IEP (Individualized Education Program) every time we want to tweak an issue for a kid.”

Good news at NECC included a functional website, completed training for assessments, collaborations planned with the Norwalk Public Library and the Maritime Aquarium, as well as the senior center, and the initial implementation of ReThink, a data collection system.

ReThink serves multiple functions, as it provides training to staff members with “a library of exemplars of curriculum,” facilitating the educators to gain the certifications they need, while also being a storehouse for data on the children, Goorevitch said.

“I can pull up data,” Goorevitch said, explaining that an elementary school child had recently had “an enormous spike in externalizing behaviors” and when staff members looked at two months of data with the child’s parent, they discovered that, “Lo and behold, the kid had a virus.”

Meyer-Mitchell pressed for ReThink to be used as “a communications log” between parents and staff, so parents “can calm down a little bit” on federal compliance issues.

“I think that there are alternative ways on the compliance issue,” Goorevitch replied.

ReThink is “meant for child data collection, to look at phase changes, trendlines, gap closing,” Goorevitch said.

“I hear what you are saying and it’s a very useful tool, especially for the staff to do a data assessment,” Meyer-Mitchell replied. “But what I am suggesting is from the ‘Board of Ed’ perspective, of course we want to avoid complaints and lawsuits and due process and all of that.”

Burke said she asked for service logs last year, and after weeks of waiting she was “given all this paperwork.”

“I didn’t understand any of it,” Burke said. “I went into a PPT with so many acronyms, and honestly, the therapist couldn’t explain what was going on. It just made me walk away saying, ‘Are my kids really getting these services?’”

Right, Goorevitch said, expressing a desire to provide parents with meaningful reports but that there are issues with having data online.

Goorevitch went on to talk about evaluations.

“We create a simulated classroom so that we can assess young children in an environment that we are welcoming them into,” Goorevitch said. “… It was great to get phone calls from other districts saying, ‘Can we see what you are doing?’ We want to encourage the growth of our staff and have people saying, ‘Gee they are doing a great job.’”

The PTO parents have been “exceptional,” she said, with Meyer-Mitchell calling them “founders.”

Other lingering issues include needs for a playground, window replacements and a permanent administrator, as interim administrator Maureen Sullivan has been on the job longer than expected.

A “very, very strong” administrator candidate was interviewed last week and another resume came in, Goorevitch said, expressing faith that someone will be hired by July 1.

As for the playground, “We wanted a design that was really designed for young kids,” Goorevich said, explaining that she and others insisted that it had to be 20-25 percent accessible, so that every child could go up the slide.

At least one window in every room has been replaced so “at least they can open and get some fresh air,” Goorevitch said, predicting that the rest of the project will be done soon.

Again, she was upbeat.

“The full day co-teaching program provides a new model at NECC,” Goorevitch said. “I am really excited about that. It’s going to have really excellent outcomes.”


Joseph JV March 19, 2018 at 1:06 pm

Pulled my 3 year old out of NECC in February. The school is overwhelmed and understaffed for the amount of children it holds (her class had over 20 kids). The drop off / pick up situation is a disaster, not to mention some occasional physical violence endured from a special needs classmate. One day I was not allowed to enter the building to pick up my child. An aide communicated to others inside the school via radio/walkie-talkie and they brought my daughter outside. The aid’s response was, “Sorry, it’s another crazy day in there.” I am glad the truth is finally out about NECC. The community needs to know that this school is far behind on what it touts itself to be. NECC and BOE has a lot more work to do.

Mike Barbis March 20, 2018 at 7:04 am

Why is putting the kids with the seniors a disaster? There is lots of science that shows the benefits of mixing the young and the older — and the long standing Marvin Center is a true success story

Bryan Meek March 20, 2018 at 8:07 am

This glass is more than half full, but it will never be full for some even when eventually over brimming.

Piberman March 20, 2018 at 9:44 am

Who is charge here ? Supt ? Central Office Administrators ? Who can parents complain to demanding change ?

sped parent March 20, 2018 at 3:14 pm

Mr. Meek,
Since when is non-compliance a more than half-full glass? I respectfully disagree with your view point that this is little more than “it will never be full for some even when eventually over brimming.” There are rules and regulations in place and when they are not in compliance, it has nothing to do with being satisfied, no matter whether it’s half full or brimming over. These guidelines are put in place for a reason and to provide for the safety and security of our children, and one should not be satisfied when they are bent or broken. It is also these failures to comply that ultimately cost taxpayers even more money, and these inefficiencies or incompetence needs to stop, for everyone involved. Would you please elaborate on your post for clarification.

Donna Smirniotopoulos March 20, 2018 at 5:13 pm

I’ve spent considerable time recently with an elderly relative with dementia. How wonderful it would be for her and members of her community to share space, even a few hours a day, with young people! I believe Yvette Goorevitch will be able to work through the remaining difficulties. Given the number of complicating factors—specifically the degree to which PPTs take teachers out of the classroom—it should surprise no one that the current iteration works imperfectly. Preschool children need special car seats for bus transport. There’s an expectation of a balance of typical and special needs children. The load imposed on public school systems by IDEA seems to grow by the day. Maybe Norwalk should take a different approach and include special ed expenses in the ELL and free and reduced lunch budgets. Factor in the areas of overlap so the people in Hartford have a clearer idea of where our need is. The law requires a free and appropriate education. But it does not define what appropriate means. Norwalk may reach a point where good enough is good enough simply because the taxpayers footing the bill can’t afford to pay any more. And the leadership at City Hall can’t seem to grow the local economy.

Bryan Meek March 20, 2018 at 9:08 pm

@SP. Children have always been part of that building going back 30 plus years and the building is beautiful if you haven’t been in it. You should take your concerns up with the council and mayor who don’t want to continue funding SPED improvements. That’s not up to the board {…}
Edited to remove an insult, ascribing motives without proof and harassing the writer, all violations of the comments policy. https://www.nancyonnorwalk.com/comment-guidelines/

Sped Parent March 20, 2018 at 11:00 pm

Donna, there is a law that defines ‘good enough’ and it has nothing to do with what the taxpayers can or will pay. What is missing here is that your good enough is quite often not appropriate and it ultimately costs taxpayers much more. I completely understand the frustrations you feel over IDEA, but Norwalks repeated denial and failure to be compliant costs the taxpayers much more than if they had acted appropriately and compliantly in the first place. In my child’s case the district spent so much more in legal fees fighting me and those fees added up to so much more than the small amount of services I originally asked for because my child desperately needed them to remain in public school. In any event, you indicated on another post your belief that Norealk should consider what you deemed fiscallly responsible and provide lower than appropriate services so parents move to other districts. If I’m not mistaken, that sounds similar to Hitler’s motivations.

Donna Smirniotopoulos March 21, 2018 at 10:28 am

@sped parent, the law that defines “free and adequate education” does not fund it. The taxpayers do. Taxpayer funded programs vary widely. For example, my relative with dementia pays $11,000/month for her care. Until she is bankrupt she will continue to do so because this is how the law is currently written. My adult children have FICA withheld from their income though they hold out little hope that they will ever see a Social Security check because this is how the law is written. IDEA goes back to 1975. That’s only a little more than 40 years. Perhaps IDEA will be expanded. Perhaps it will be refashioned based on financial need, similar to my elderly relative’s program. She pays for her own care until she can no longer afford to do so, at which point the taxpayers step in.

I find the comparisons to Hitler telling. When you’ve run out of ammunition, compare your adversary to Hitler. One thing that is missing from your personal narrative is the fact that in order to cost the district more money in legal fees, you had to have the ability to pay for your own lawyer. Most families in Norwalk with high needs children are not so fortunate. They lack the wherewithal to hire lawyers. In fact perhaps the grossest special education inequities—the ones that should rightly be most upsetting—are those that grant the most services to the children whose parents “scream the loudest” as the last CREC report said. Such a system—in wihch those who have the sand to hire lawyers are rewarded with more services than those who can’t—is deeply unfair to everyone. I’m sure we can all agree on that.

sped parent March 21, 2018 at 4:05 pm

Donna, As if! The district ends up paying for everyone’s lawyers fees, both the parents and the district’s lawyers – that’s why it costs the district so much money when they don’t do it right the first time. Once again, your premise is completely inaccurate. I am well aware of the unfunded issue with IDEA, as I said in my post. But the reality is the law is the law and when NPS violates these rules and regulations it cost everyone in the district more than it would otherwise.

Donna Smirniotopoulos March 21, 2018 at 10:50 pm

The Endrew case is not a game changer. The Supreme Court rejected the argument that a SpEd student’s education should be substantially equal to that of a typical student but focuses more on progress in light of the student’s disability. The law may support a fair and appropriate education. For now.

Your “as if” moment—the notion that all parents regardless of capacity will hire an attorney —is dubious. There are those who cannot afford to hire counsel and who won’t for financial and other reasons. And there are some who can afford to hire counsel and who will do so even if their student’s are already receiving FAPE in district. They just want more. And they want others to pay. At some point we should be bound by our personal choices and accept that we are living in a world of limited resources. We can’t always count on people, even parents of special needs children, to do the right thing.

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