Norwalk super’s plan may hit fan in Tuesday’s BOE meeting

Norwalk Public Schools Superintendent Manny Rivers, foreground, listens to a speaker at a recent Mayor's Night Out in South Norwalk.
Norwalk Public Schools Superintendent Manny Rivers, foreground, listens to a speaker at a recent Mayor’s Night Out in South Norwalk.

Updated, 1:14 p.m., letter of support from Mayor Harry Rilling.

NORWALK, Conn. – Plans to use the South Norwalk Community Center as an after school learning center next fall are “heaven sent,” according to one area grandmother, but a center spokesman sees resistance in the community.

“It appears that the actions of some of the community leaders are not in sync with the needs of those they should be serving,” center Deputy Director Pat Ferrandino said. “Self-interest is taking more precedence over the acceptance of positive programming for all the children of the community.”

The plans drawn up by Norwalk Superintendent Manny Rivera will be voted on at Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting. Board Chairman Mike Lyons declined to say if he expected resistance to the idea.

Under the Memorandum of Understanding under consideration Tuesday, Norwalk Public Schools would provide educational program oversight and management, instructional materials, a site coordinator (five days a week, three hours a day), childcare staff (four days a week at two hours a day and one day at three hours) and snacks. Two certified teachers would also support the program, giving a similar amount of time. Outside enrichment is also budgeted at $3,200, which would pay for two art classes and two music classes a week.

That’s all music to the ears of Georgiana Scott, a Chestnut Street woman who, less than two weeks ago, stood in the neighborhood school her daughter attended — the school her grandson cannot attend — decrying the state of affairs to Mayor Harry Rilling and others in the latest Mayor’s Night Out.

“We have the South Norwalk Community Center there … it is in the neighborhood, why can’t it be utilized for education and entertainment? It’s there, it’s available, the neighborhood,” said Scott.

Told Sunday night that Rivera is planning just that, she said, “I’m delighted. It gives me hope for the children. I will do everything I can to make sure that it’s successful. I am so honored and pleased that we have such a great superintendent.”

She did, however, indicate that she knew people are pressuring Mayor Harry Rilling not to have the program at the South Norwalk Community Center, which has shared the building with the troubled Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now (NEON). The two agencies engaged in a very public feud last year over financial and space arrangements. Some people have a perception that NEON serves the black community while SoNoCC is therefor the Latinos, but both agencies are set up to serve all people in need of the services they provide.

Rilling did not respond to a Sunday night email asking him if he supports the idea. On Monday afternoon, Ferrandino provided a March 18 letter of support from Rilling, attached below. “I endorse and fully support your collaboration with Dr. Rivera and Norwalk Public Schools in creating a Learning Center at 98 South Main Street,” Rilling wrote in the letter. “The Learning Center will provide an extraordinary opportunity for the children of District 99.”

The plan for the center is for an expansion of the school system’s existing After the Bell program. The satellite site would serve Title 1-eligible students living in District 99, which is bordered by Interstate 95 to the north, West Avenue and Dr. Martin Luther King Drive to the west, the Norwalk River on the east and Belle Avenue/Grove Street/Burritt Avenue and Mack Street to the south. The students would get 10 to 11 more hours of learning time per week at a cost of $98,719 to the school system.

The center would provide 4,000 square feet of pro bono space, general liability insurance, building security, and would arrange to use a part of Ryan Park and the playground. The center is also responsible for “social service case management wrap around services,” the MoU states.

The children would be able to walk to the center, or a new bus stop would be arranged.

Rivera also intends to expand the After the Bell program to at least one more location, if not next fall then in 2015-16. Lyons said he doesn’t know yet where that might be.

Ferrandino said building security would be no problem after Phase I of the renovations funded by a Community Block Development Grant (CDBG) are complete. That should happen this summer, in time for the fall opening of the new satellite school.

The children will be “totally segregated” from other activities in the building in the space that will be created when the renovations are complete, Ferrandino said. No one will be able to get in without a pass, he said.

But there’s another CDBG wrinkle in this plan. While Common Council members are planning to grant the center an additional $100,000 in federal funds through the CBDG program for Phase II of the renovations, they are not at this point planning to grant a $50,000 request for services at the center. That request was put in to fund the wrap-around services planned for the after-school program, Ferrandino said.

“This (MoU) wasn’t shown to the Planning Committee, but rather a summary,” he said. “We have suspicion that the wrap-around program was not included in it. The Planning Committee didn’t not understand what our request was for.”

But, “We do have a grant writer on staff,” he said. “We are going to be initiating a Renaissance capital campaign.”

The center already has liability insurance, he said.

The District 99 kids go to eight different schools, the MoU states. Scott said children who are just a short distance from her home are not in District 99 and go to Brookside Elementary School. She was angry when she found out that her grandson had to go to Silvermine, she said.

District 99 was explained to her thusly: The South Norwalk kids get the leftovers. People in other areas get to choose which school their child will go to first, and the District 99 kids get what is left.

“How disrespectful,” she said. “How uncaring.”

She is raising her grandson, who is now in first grade at Silvermine, but she can’t attend many of the activities there, she said. He’s doing well and is “not part of the achievement gap,” she said, but, “That has to be number one, number one, number one. We have to close the gap. We should be ashamed.”

Rivera is a “breath of fresh air” who doesn’t care about politics, she said.

“All I am interested in is how we can help the children,” she said. “This is a lovely idea. If anyone is concerned about it not being fair, then come out and get involved. Just help out so it will be fair.”

“As we forge ahead we just need to filter out the noise,” Ferrandino said. “I am confident the Board of Education will understand and embrace the vision of our superintendent.”


MOU with SNCC for ATB Program

Letter from Mayor Rilling – 3-18-14


21 responses to “Norwalk super’s plan may hit fan in Tuesday’s BOE meeting”

  1. EveT

    Why has it not been generally known among Norwalk taxpayers until now that “People in other areas get to choose which school their child will go to first, and the District 99 kids get what is left”? This clearly seems discriminatory. And why is it done that way?

  2. Lifelong Teacher

    Just because someone someone is quoted with a statement like “People in other areas get to choose….” it doesn’t make it true.

    NPS policy is that unless an elementary family applies and gets accepted into a magnet program (Columbus Magnet, a segment of Silvermine for Mano a Mano, or a few spots at Jefferson), children attend the school in their designated attendance zone. To state otherwise is a blatant lie.

    That being said, the long standing practice of bussing children out of the so-called 99 zone to far flung more suburban areas stinks. I applaud the superintendent for having the courage to take this on and look into a neighborhood school in South Norwalk. As usual in our city, no good deed goes unpunished and some are calling this idea racist. Absurd.

  3. C.G.

    Unless you live in that area or know how the lottery works for the South Norwalk magnet/charter schools (Columbus/Side By Side), one really wouldn’t know. Each school district is allowed a certain amount of spots, sibling priority reduces that district’s allowable amount. District 99 is it’s own district in terms of entering the lottery. Once that option is over, the waiting begins…some are unaware of what school their child will attend until summer of that school year. It’s quite unsettling.

  4. Lisa Thomson

    The whole Distrct 99 concept stinks for kids who get bussed 45 minutes each way to the far flung corners of the city.
    I too, applaud Dr. Rivera for taking on this issue. South Norwalk parents and children desserve after school CHOICE and hopefully one day a school. I supported Rev. Linsay Curtis’ academy and have been directly involved in the after school programs with the kids in the Norwalk Housing Authority. As a taxpayer, I supported NEON until its flawed management issues were exposed. How is the SoNoCC after school programs any different? Silly question, I know. Bottom line, the South Norwalk neighborhoods need to allowed choices. Let the parents and kids decide – and I think, “if you build it they will come.”

  5. Dawn

    i know many South Norwalk parents who still do not know where their child will attend school in September. How do you have a neighborhood without a school? I makes no sense.

  6. Marjorie M

    Are you aware that not all 99s get to attend the After the Bell program? According to an anonymous person on Norwalk Speaks, only the students who attend schools that get Title 1 money are eligible to attend. That means if your 99 child attends, let’s say, Cranbury School during the day, that child can not attend the after school program.

  7. Lisa Thomson

    Thank you anonymous marj, quoting another anonymous source on an anonymous blog! The state and feds for that matter are looking for districts to find better ways to close the achievement gap. How will SoNo CC be any different than the kids who choose to go the NHA after school program over the After the Bell and who are at Cranbury School? Parents and children should be allowed to CHOOSE whether they want after school programming 45 minutes from home or in their own backyard. How can that be a bad thing? If they don’t enroll, the program will go away. Again, kudos to Dr. Rivera for trying new things!

  8. From the MoU: “District 99 students have no ‘home school’ within these boundaries. Without an established home school designated for these children, these families must often wait beyond the March 17th registration date, in order to register their children for Kindergarten, which only happens after the number of ‘open and available’ kindergarten spaces in other school districts are determined. Sometimes, this means that families must wait to register their children until June, and even as late as the end of July.”
    At the last BOE meeting Bobby Burgess spoke in response to Dr. Rivera’s announcement that he would like to open a school in South Norwalk. https://www.nancyonnorwalk.com/2014/04/anger-bubbles-over-at-norwalk-boe/
    Dr. Rivera called District 99 discriminatory.
    “Let me just share with you that there have been some discussions about potentially possibly having a school in the South Norwalk area,” Rivera said. “That statement that I made arose from the question about access of children who live (South Norwalk) … Those families have to choose a school after everybody else is selected. They are placing kindergarten children in June, July sometimes as late as August and it just so happens that these families happen to be families who are African American and Latino. The last choice. Quite honestly, I think it’s been a discriminatory practice, so what we need to do is change that so there are more options.”

  9. Bruce Kimmel

    Nancy, thank you for the information. A much less important issue that will be addressed later is reducing the cost of school transportation in the city. Having students from the same block attending schools all over the city is expensive.

  10. Marjorie M

    There you go again, Lisa Thomson. Let me spell it out for you. Title 1 is a federal grant. There are rules for federal grants. If the rules are not adhered to the district could have their money taken away from them. One of the rules for this grant is that the money is only to be used for schools that are eligible for Title 1 funding. Once the money is assigned to the school, only those students who are academically targeted for assistance may get that assistance. While eligibility for the school is based on thefree and reduced lunch numbers, targeted students are based on academic needs. (Whether the student in need gets free and reduced lunch or not) What the After the Bell program in Norwalk is doing is taking money away from eligible schools, probably including students who are not eligible to receive these funds (because of the schools they attend during the day) and taking money away from academically challenged students who are not the 99s. However you look at it, this does not appear to be legal. If you support this program, the SDE will likely report Norwalk to the Feds. Someone should have looked into the legality of this idea before presenting it to the public. WHOOPS!

  11. Lisa Thomson

    @marj I hear you, but Norwalk will be at 50% Free and Reduced lunch very soon. I think it’s 49.5 % now and once that happens, Title 1 funds are no longer school specific. Not a statistic to celebrate, but certainly one that will allow the money to follow the child. Best for the district to start planning for that now.

  12. Marjorie M

    Lisa, where did you get that information about 50% free and reduced lunches? Please direct me to that legislation.

    In the meantime, I guess you think rules don’t apply to you or to Norwalk. If this program goes through, Norwalk will lose all federal funding. Does that matter to you? As planned, this program is ILLEGAL! You don’t understand. Please don’t pretend you do.

  13. Susan Wallerstein

    Marjorie M = LM?

  14. Mike Lyons

    Marj, we’ve reviewed the law on Title I with our counsel; if the school system as a whole goes over 50% free/reduced, the Title I funds can be used anywhere in the school system to address issues relevant to Title 1; they will no longer be limited to individual schools. Given your expertise on all things educational, I’m surprised you didn’t know that.

  15. Anne Sullivan

    There must have been a good reason to create the “99” process in the first place- does anyone know what it was?

  16. Lifelong Teacher

    The reason it was done is because back around 1970, the old Columbus School was nearly all African American, and it violated the racial balance guidelines established by the state. They closed the school, sent all of the students out into the more suburban and ‘whiter’ schools, and reestablished Columbus as a wonderful magnet program.

    White students were attracted to the Columbus Bank Street Program, the suburban schools were integrated, and magnet enrollment was manipulate to mirror the cities’ demographics. This has since bee ruled illegal by a Supreme Court decision. It was, and continues to be, grossly unfair to the ’99’ children who have no neighborhood school and are bussed around the city. Why Burgess and others are up in arms about eliminating this practice is a mystery to me.

    Mike, Marj’s agenda and history is clear. Long gone from the system, but working someone else’s agenda.

  17. Marjorie M

    Once again, I would like to know where it says that in the legislation. I couldn’t find it anywhere that all schools share in Title 1 funds at 50% free and reduced lunch. It is rude to speak to me like that when I am asking a question, but then all you Apples come to each other’s defense here. I will be the adult here and ask if you could please just show me the legislation on that. Thank you so much.

  18. Marjorie M

    Oh…and Mike did your lawyers state that the use of Title 1 money could be used for the 99 students in South Norwalk?

  19. It’s rude to call someone an “Apple” who has never been a member of that organization, Marj (as long as we’re talking about practicing “adult” behavior). I’ll get the legal references.

  20. Marjorie M

    Mike and Lisa, I am patiently waiting for the 50% free and reduced rule…….

  21. Marjorie M

    I was promised the legal reference for the 50% rule. I was told if the district reaches 50% free and reduced lunch, Title 1 money could be spent in any way the district saw fit. Mike Lyons? Lisa Thomson? Please provide me with the reference. I am asking politely just because I really want to know.

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