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Concerns Raised At Coffee & Dessert With The Board



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Concerns Raised At Coffee & Dessert With The Board

By Eliza Hallabeck

With dessert prepared by the Newtown High School’s culinary department and coffee offered on tables in the high school’s cafetorium, Board of Education Chair Debbie Leidlein welcomed all in attendance to the Coffee & Dessert With the Board event on Tuesday, February 29.

A full Board of Education, Superintendent of Schools Janet Robinson, and Assistant Superintendent of Schools Linda Gejda were in attendance during the event to answer questions from the public.

“We’re welcoming any comments or questions that you may have and we will try our best to answer those questions as you bring them forward to us,” said Ms Leidlein.

One after the other, members of the public spoke on a range of subjects, from bullying to the potential implementation of full-day kindergarten in the district for the 2012–13 academic year.

The first speaker, Alicia Brown, asked the board members to outline the referendum process concerning implementing full-day kindergarten.

Ms Leidlein explained the money to implement full-day kindergarten is currently in the BOE recommended 2012–13 budget.

 “What happens now, is we present our recommended budget to the Board of Finance,” Ms Leidlein continued. “The Board of Finance asks questions, deliberates that budget, and they make their recommendations. They can add or subtract from our bottom line budget. That budget then goes forward to the Legislative Council, and the Legislative Council goes through the same process.”

Once passed by the Legislative Council, the budget will go to a town referendum, Ms Leidlein said, and the money set aside to implement full-day kindergarten will not be listed separately in the budget if passed by both the finance board and Legislative Council.

Later during the night Ms Leidlein said her board is also waiting for further information, including how the kindergarten curriculum will be effected if a full day is implemented. When that information is learned, further deliberation about full-day kindergarten will happen.

Board of Education member William Hart said full-day kindergarten was a unanimous vote of the board, but in order for it to happen, the budget needs to pass with the money for the program included.

“Get involved,” said Mr Hart. “Understand the issues, but ultimately, if we are going to be able to afford to do full-day kindergarten or all the other good things we should be doing — I think we should keep the integrity  of the music program and I think we should have the same kind of global coordinators for all of our critical subjects — but to afford that we need to have the resources to do it. So we need you to come out. Campaign for us with the other bodies, and ultimately come out and vote at the referendum.”

Bullying And Sports

Melissa Mottola was the first resident to ask what safety issues are in place in the district regarding bullying.

“Every high school deals with drugs and bullying, and unfortunately some high schools are dealing with shootings,” said Ms Mottola. “I know for a fact that students who are being bullied won’t say they are being bullied. They are afraid.”

Dr Robinson said the only thing to do is set up as much of a safe school environment as possible. She said there is a committee at each school that is set up to connect with students.

The school district also has an anonymous reporting system in place, the superintendent said. Dr Robinson also asked the parents in the room to contact the district if they notice a change in behavior in their child.

Assistant Superintendent Linda Gejda said there has been a great effort in Newtown to address mean behaviors in school and out of school. Everyone who works with students also must be trained in bully prevention, in accordance with a new state guideline, Dr Gejda said.

Multiple speakers during the night also asked the school board to look into bullying in sports.

“We need to address bullying in our sports atmosphere,” said Griselle  Santos.

When someone does not address bullying or does not have the training to address the situation, Ms Santos said it puts obstacles in a student’s path to excellence.

“Some of the kids and parents who have said they have issues, hold back, because they say, ‘my kid won’t be played, he’ll have to sit on the bench, they are going to give him a hard time,’” said Ms Santos. “Well you know what? I’m one parent. I don’t care if you sit him on the bench, because my kid is here. I pay taxes. I’m a human being. He’s a human being, and we should all be treated equally.”

Ms Santos said she hopes the board is aware of the bullying that is effectively happening because of the system.

“If they speak up, they don’t get to play. If they speak up, they aren’t making the team next year. That is bullying,” said Ms Santos. “Their rights are being taken away. That is a problem and we need to address that.”


Another resident, Susan Engler, said she too had some frustrations with the sports environment in Newtown, and her son was a scholar athlete.

Ms Engler echoed what Ms Santos said. After saying she is proud to have Athletic Director Greg Simon working in Newtown, “after 15 years in Newtown, it has been a fight to have communication with your coaches,” said Ms Engler.

The coaches, she said, need education in bullying.

While her son was a student, he was also involved in an effective bullying policy, Ms Engler explained. In that case, her son, she said, helped a special education student who was being bullied through a peer mentoring system in school, not in sports.

“This boy made it through the school, because of a one-on-one connection,” said Ms Engler.

 Board member John Vouros spoke in response to the multiple people who spoke about the issue of bullying in sports.

“This is something, I promise you, we will address,” said Mr Vouros. “There is no need for children to go through this.”

Resident Po Murray asked the school board to focus on the educational needs of Newtown’s students, because there are two other governing bodies in town that focus on fiscal responsibility.

“I really believe,” Mr Vouros said in response to Ms Murray’s comments, “that I can tell all of you that there is a board sitting here that is highly attuned to the children and their needs in this district.”

He also said efforts are moving in the direction of supporting the children’s needs.

“So you should see some wonderful progress,” Mr Vouros said, adding, with a smile, “once we get the money.”

At the end of the evening, Ms Leidlein said the board appreciates everyone coming out for the event.

“We have taken notes, and we will be addressing many of these issues that you brought forward,” said Ms Leidlein, “and certainly appreciate your time. We will be looking forward to scheduling another Board of Ed coffee very soon.”

A full audio recording of the event and video highlights are available at www.newtownbee.com.

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