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A New School, A New Budget, A New Awareness Of Drug Problems--2003 Was A Year Of Many Changes For Newtown's Schools



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A New School, A New Budget, A New Awareness Of Drug Problems––

2003 Was A Year Of Many Changes For Newtown’s Schools

By Larissa Lytwyn

The school system in Newtown underwent many changes this year, including the election of a new Board of Education and the opening of a new school.

Welcome, Reed Intermediate School!

January marked the opening of Reed Intermediate School, named for former superintendent of schools John Reed. While the building itself gleamed, Reed’s roofing proved susceptible to a stormy New England spring. A leaking area detected in early March quickly led to mold concerns. By month’s end about 150 students were visiting the nurse with complaints of rashes and itchiness. The situation worsened after April vacation. Students complained of varying degrees of dizziness, nausea, headaches, sore throats, and fatigue. Five female students were eventually schooled at Newtown Middle School for the remainder of the 2002–03 school year.

This past June, state legislators passed an Act Concerning Indoor Air Quality in Schools, mandating stricter building and maintenance policies in schools statewide.

In a July Bee article, Maintenance Supervisor Dominic Posca noted that the district was in compliance with the bill’s new mandates, including a now-mandated Indoor Air Quality Committee he says was established well over a year ago.

This fall, there have been no complaints of any potentially mold-related health problems.

This past December the state awarded Reed an official certification of occupancy (CO), allowing community access throughout the building. Remaining punch list items, including some minor door adjustments and floor repairs, will be completed by January 5.

Budget Woes

The school board struggled through a tumultuous spring as the town’s twice-rejected budget sliced the school budget to $49,4017,147. On June 17 the school board approved a number of changes that would help it operate within the constraints of the final budget. Those changes included moving from a four-tier to three-tier bus system originally estimated to save the town $141,213, further technology cuts, moving the Discovery Program to an after-school volunteer basis, and instituting a pay-to-participate fee for all clubs not directly connected to the school, such as the Newtown High School yearbook, or charity-based organizations like Key Club.

First tier Newtown Middle School and Newtown High School schedules were set to run from 7:42 am to 2:04 pm. While high school students began their day 12 minutes later, the change was significant for middle school students previously schooled from 9:14 am to 3:22 pm.

Second tier Reed Intermediate, Hawley, and St Rose School now operated on an 8:33 am to 2:53 pm schedule. The change was greatest for Reed, who previously operated on a 9:15 am to 3:40 pm schedule.

Third tier Middle Gate, Sandy Hook and Head O’ Meadow elementary schools faced the most dramatic changes. Sandy Hook and Head O’ Meadow were shifted from an 8 am to 2:12 pm school day to a 9:22 am to 3:34 pm schedule. Middle Gate’s changes were slightly less significant, shifting from an 8:30 am to 2:42 pm school day to the 9:22 to 3:34 schedule.

A Troubled Start

Bus owner operators, administrators, and families struggled to adjust to the changes wrought by the three-tier system. Many parents felt that the school board had not been communicative enough about the changes, particularly those pertaining to younger elementary-school students.

In a September Bee article, Head O’ Meadow parent Kiki Iannazzo worried about her 8-year-old daughter’s 55-minute bus ride home after an already-late 3:22 pm dismissal time. The Iannazzos live seven minutes from Head O’ Meadow.

St Rose School students and other private schools including Fraser-Woods also experienced travel delays and mix-ups. Complications also arose over late hiring of crossing guards, causing massive early-morning traffic delays. Student overcrowding, especially at the high school level, also became a concern.

Administrators, including Transportation Director Mary Kelly, worked overtime with bus owner operators to alter routes and eventually add two and one-half buses, totaling $65,000.

By mid-October the problems began to subside.

Superintendent of Schools Evan Pitkoff thought that many of the problems were due to an unforeseen increase in student population. “As of September 19, we have 216 more students in the system than last year,” he said in a September Bee article.

The Newtown High School Expansion/Academy Study Committee, established by the end of January, will address burgeoning space issues.

In December a new transportation director, Anthony DiLonardo, was hired following Mary Kelly’s retirement announcement in October. Mr DiLonardo, a longtime Waterbury transportation coordinator, begins work in mid-January.

Pay-To-Participate ‘Compromise’

The school board’s decision to incur a pay-to-participate fee was enacted in late September.

Students were mandated to pay a $40 pay-to-participate fee for most extracurricular activities.

While monies were collected at Reed Intermediate and Newtown Middle School, the complexity of Newtown High Schools’ activities system proved this effort to be much more difficult.

While some Drama Club members, for example, simply volunteered a few hours collecting tickets, others spent weeks or months rehearsing roles or designing and creating sets.

Rehearsals had already begun for Newtown High’s student-directed fall play, Noises Off!, when administrators informed student director Leslie Greenfield, a senior, about the fees. Drama Club advisors Tom Swetts and Sabrina Post postponed the play until the pay-to-participate issue was resolved.

During its November 12 meeting the school board unanimously approved a pay-to-participate “compromise,” establishing a flat $40 fee that excluded intramurals, FBLA, tech crew and short-term workers including ticket-takers and makeup artists.


Newtown ‘Connects’ To Confront Substance Abuse

As in many suburbs across the United States, residents have continually whispered about a problem more frequently linked to inner cities.

Originally founded in the mid-90s to confront substance abuse from a unique parent-to-parent perspective, Parent Connection, led by founders Dorrie Carolan and Donna DeLuca, resurfaced this fall following a rise in local drug-related arrests.

Its September forum, featuring John Hamilton, executive director of Fairfield-County based substance abuse agency Liberation Meridian & Guenster [LMG], attracted about 200 attendees. A second forum in October featured Newtown Youth Officer Dana Schubert and Police Detective Seargent Robert Tvardzik discussing the reality of substance abuse in Newtown, including information on drug costs and abuse symptoms.

A forum is scheduled January 21 at 7 pm at Newtown Middle School that features Wendy Davenson of Newtown Youth Services presenting “I’m A Good Parent…Not My Child!”

New School Board Members

School Board Chair Elaine McClure now serves with newly elected Vice Chair Lisa Schwartz and Secretary Andy Buzzi. The Board also welcomed new members Paul Mangiafico and Tom Gissen. Beginning in January, meetings will commence the first and third Tuesday of the month.

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