Norwalk BoE moves some projects along, not others

Brien McMahon High School Principal Scott Hurwitz, left; former Brien McMahon High School Principal Suzanne Koroshetz, right.

NORWALK, Conn. – Here’s a roundup from Tuesday’s Norwalk Board of Education:

  • No deal yet on proposed food service changes
  • No votes on West Rocks Middle School window project
  • New Brien McMahon principal
  • Ed specs approved
  • Middle school music thoughts
  • English Language Learners’ gap closing
  • Center for Global Studies plans

Food service: a decision not to decide, yet

“Really, the executive chef position gets to the heart of trying to make forward movement and progress in terms of addressing food quality in the district,” Norwalk Public Schools Chief Financial Officer Thomas Hamilton said, explaining proposals to upgrade the food quality at the schools, such as hiring a chef.

The chef would work for Whitson’s, not NPS, BoE Vice Chairman Mike Barbis said, offering “some facts.”

Barbis, the BoE representative on The Wellness Committee, said that Norwalk Health Department educator Theresa Argondezzi had led the Committee but had resigned. Lisa Lenskold had been the “number two” for the Committee, but also just resigned, he said.

The only accountability for the chef is through the Wellness Committee, he said.

“I have made this clear to Central Office now on several occasions that we need more accountability on our end, even though it is not our area of specialty,” Barbis said. “But we either need the executive chef to be on our staff, which the superintendent thought wasn’t a good idea, I think his arguments were reasonable. We have no accountability on our side at all…. At this point, we are handing everything over to Whitson’s. We have no say in what they are doing. They are going to run the show.”

The people on the Wellness Committee did a lot of work, out of passion, and were ignored, he said.

“They are pissed so they walked,” Barbis said, later adding that Whitson’s “played a PR game this year because they knew they were in trouble.”

Both a consultant and the state said that Norwalk’s food service has a structural issue, with both a district employee supervising district staff and a Whitson’s food service manager, Hamilton said.

“This bifurcated responsibility led to a situation where essentially no one was in charge,” Hamilton said.

Norwalk looked around and found that this is the only district that has “this hybrid of outsourced management vs unionized in-house workers,” Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski said.

Whitson’s “certainly knows they are on a short leash,” Hamilton said.

It’s a one year contract and if things haven’t improved by January the Board can start looking for a replacement, he said.

BoE member Erik Anderson suggesting tabling the item to next week’s meeting, to allow for further discussion.

The vote on that was a unanimous yes.


West Rocks windows

The BoE approved educations specifications on the West Rocks Middle School exterior window and door replacement project with a 7-2 vote.

This is a project that was approved for capital budget funding. These ed specs allow Adamowski to sign a grant application.

BoE Finance Committee Chairman Bryan Meek voted no.

“Looking at the school I went to almost 40 years ago, it’s dilapidated,” Meek said. “This is not even a Band-Aid. We shouldn’t stop here, this school needs to be upgraded in its entirety. I am just afraid that we are spending more good money after bad and not really going to get a long term solution for the city.”

“I was also opposed to this in the initial presentation. I will be voting no,” Anderson said.

“I realize we have gone over budget… it is just a necessity that we need to get done,” BoE secretary Heidi Keyes said.

Approximately one-half of the windows are set to be replaced this summer, with the remaining windows to be done in the summer of 2018.


Brien McMahon has a new principal

Scott Hurwitz received unanimous approval to replace the retired Suzanne Koroshetz as Brien McMahon High School principal.

Hurwitz said he spent 12 years as an English teacher at McMahon, “the most diverse high school in the state,” before serving nine years as headmaster.

“My goal has always been to look after the needs of every student and a realization that as we have tried to raise the bar and close the gap that really means addressing each individual student where they are, and doing our best to secure resources, and work with families and the amazing supportive teaching staff of Brien Mcmahon High School, who truly do make a difference in the all the lives of Brien McMahon students,” he said.

Chief of School Operations Frank Costanzo said 30 people applied the be BMHS principal, including candidates from out of state. Two members of the BMHS School Governance Council helped to screen applicants, including participating in interviews, he said.

“At the end of the day we were fortunate to have the strongest candidate be an internal candidate,” Costanzo said. “…He had a great role model in Suzanne Koroshetz. As a housemaster he learned best practice through her and persevered through the process.”



New school applications ready to go

The BoE unanimously approved educational specifications for two new schools, an expansion of Ponus Ridge Middle School into a STEM magnet and a new home for Columbus Magnet School on the Nathaniel Ely site, without debate.

Much later in the meeting, Barbis said, of his work on an ed specs committee, “It was actually a lot more work than I thought it was going to be.”

Visiting other schools in Bridgeport, Stamford, Darien and Trumbull was “a very enlightening experience and I look forward to working on the next stage of it all,” he said.


Possible middle school music rethink

“Our hope is at this point is this is not necessary,” Adamowski said, of a proposal developed to end middle school music lesson “pullouts.”

NPS studied how other school districts handle music lessons as a possible balm for eliminating music lessons as part of budget cuts this year. Now that the BoE and the Norwalk Federation of Teachers have agreed to negotiate further those proposed $2 million in budget cuts may become a distant memory, but the research may do some good, he said.

Trumbull and some other districts have a “sectional” approach to music lessons, while Greenwich and some other districts have a “flex” approach, Adamowski said.

In the latter, music teachers come in to work a period earlier than other teachers or a period later, he said.

“I am looking forward, along with Dr. Conner, to being able to discuss these models with our … middle school, music educators this summer in the hope of developing a plan that is comparable to what other districts are doing, to be able to allow our students to have these lessons without negatively impacting other areas,” Adamowski said. “…Other districts can do this, I am sure we can, also.”

“Every crisis has a silver line and there’s an opportunity,” Adamowski said. “If nothing else, I am glad that this crisis has placed attention on this issue, which is a solvable issue for us.”


ELL a topic – for the future
The entire Board should hear the presentation made to the BoE Curriculum and Instruction Committee regarding English Language Learners, Committee Chairman Artie Kassimis said.

The Committee had just heard that 30 percent of Kendall Elementary students are ELL, he said.

“The ELL achievement gap is shrinking so much it’s caught attention of the state,” Kassimis said. “They are looking at it as a model, what we are doing here.”

Also worthwhile is a dual language update, he said, explaining that Silvermine students spend half the day speaking Spanish, and half the day speaking English.

That will shift next year, with one year spent speaking Spanish than one year speaking English, he said.


CGS, on paper

The state’s demand that Center for Global Studies students get “full-time” instruction means a shake-up, mostly at the administrative level, officials said.

Center for Global Studies Director Julie Parham.

Instead of two or three CGS courses, students will take seven or eight CGS courses, CGS Director Julie Parham said.

CGS and Brien McMahon have shared students for at least 16 years, but the state has suddenly asked for a revision.

Math and science teachers will be trained to offer their classes with a global perspective, she said.

What is global math? Well, for instance, students can learn about the circular economy in Japan, she said.

Students can Skype and Facetime with biology teachers in other countries, as well, she said.

It’s “getting students to think about how our perspective is not the only perspective, and that is pretty easy and reasonable to do in every subject. So, we have high hopes that this global theme can be infused pretty effectively with all of our subjects,” Parham said.

So, on paper to the state, things will look very different, with 290 students going from part time to full time at CGS, she said.

“We all know that we have 290 students in our building all day anyway so from a building perspective that does not look like a great change,” Parham said. “For the state, it is going to look like we are adding 12.5 teachers. from a building perspective those teachers are already there, they are already teaching math, science, P.E. From a state level, it looks like we are getting a huge shift in money to pay for those teachers as a result of additional student-based budgeting coming our way….  But that money is already in the building, already paying for the teachers in math and science.”

“The big challenge is for Mr. Hurwitz and I to continue figuring out what the details look like,” Parham said. “…The students, although they are a little bit nervous, they are really game, they are really gung ho.”


5 responses to “Norwalk BoE moves some projects along, not others”

  1. Bruce Kimmel

    I believe it’s important to note that many of the windows at West Rocks are falling apart and are contaminated with PCBs. Their replacement should not be put off. What the city and the BOE needs to do going forward is include reserve funds for major construction projects to cover whatever remediation is required.

  2. Concerned

    You are correct Bruce, in addition, you would be hard pressed to find a classroom that is able to open ALL of their windows. So on hot days, or days when it is cool enough for fresh air, the windows don’t open because they are broken.

    I bet if Meek had his children in West Rocks he would have voted differently.

  3. Bryan Meek

    @Concerned. My children, when old enough, will attend WRMS in just a few years when this project is completed. I also reluctantly voted to eliminate Kindergarten aides, even though I have two children inbound to that program.

    My vote against the windows job, was not because of need. Rather because the whole building is a knock down. The job is already over 200% of original budget and it hasn’t even started. My concern is that we end up spending more on just windows than a down payment would be on a new school building down the road.

    But thanks for your uninformed opinions of how I might have voted for my self interests. Please also note, that unlike many who protest here with false information behind false names, I nor anyone in my family are on the payroll.

  4. Steve Colarossi

    It must be the heat, but Mr. Meek makes a valid point that you don’t do extensive repairs on a building that should be demolished. The validity of his point begs the obvious question- if you believe West Rocks is in dire straits, what have you done to prioritize this need for rebuilding West Rocks? Hmmmm. . . .

  5. Tony P

    WRMS is a nightmare – Mr. Meek is correct, they should knock it down and save the window money to rebuild it.

Leave a Reply

Recent Comments