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BOE Meeting Covers Policies, Curriculums, And School Year-End Ceremonies



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A three-hour long Board of Education meeting, Tuesday, May 19, covered areas ranging from reports from the Chair Michelle Embree Ku, Superintendent Dr Lorrie Rodrigue, and various committee and student representatives, to Western Studies and English curriculums. Action on policy approvals for “Use of Physical Force/Physical Restraint/Seclusion/Exclusionary Time Out” led to much discussion before finally being passed, 5-1, with board member Deborra Zukowski opposing.

The policy on “Suicide Prevention and Intervention,” again with discussion, led to a unanimous vote to approve.

Midway through the meeting, Newtown High School English Department Chair Abigail Marks provided a thorough review of the proposed English Curriculum I and III, and stressed to board members the added value of projects such as the senior Capstone, saying that these kinds of projects are even more important now in building of a resume.

NMS Moving Up Ceremony

Moving into the third hour, board members and public listening in via telephone heard from Newtown Middle School Principal Tom Einhorn, Newtown High School Principal Dr Kimberly Longobucco, and Dr Rodrigue on plans to provide middle and high school students with ways to virtually and in-person celebrate their steps forward in learning and into the world at large.

Part I of the NMS Moving Up Ceremony for eighth grade students, said Dr Rodrigue, will be virtual, with recorded speeches, awards, and a musical interlude. Part II, she said, will be “more personal,” including teacher greetings and cluster awards.

“We want to make sure they know how proud we are of them,” she said.

The in-person picking up of certificates is tentatively set for June 8-9 for the NMS students, using social distancing protocols.

“This is a very special class,” said Einhorn, adding that organizers are “trying to model the program after what we’ve been doing for many, many years.”

Families will have a designated time to fetch certificates, he said, arriving at a festively decorated school in limited numbers. Using the primary parking lot at the school, “people can circle in,” hopefully alleviating any traffic issues for Queen Street. The ceremony would not be complete, suggested Einhorn, without a “face-to-face,” and students social distancing from their cluster teachers. The hands-on pick up of certificates will be left to the comfort level of every family, Einhorn said, and those electing to not attend will have certificates mailed to them.

The in-person piece of the program will also allow students a way to get belongings that may have been left behind when the school building abruptly closed in March.

The opportunity for kids to come back to school, and say goodbye to teachers — in a safe manner — will allow the young people to “have a sense of closure,” he said.

An Important Milestone

In addressing the high school graduation plans, Dr Rodrigue noted that the organization of it was complex, but extremely important as a milestone in students’ lives. She worked closely with Dr Longobucco and Health District Director Donna Culbert to provide a virtual and in-person option to celebrate NHS graduation safely, she said.

Student and staff speeches will be recorded in advance, and for the in-person event, scheduled to take place over three days, June 10,11, and 12, families will receive a given time slot, in alphabetical order, to take part in the walk across the 16x24-foot stage in the parking lot.

“It’s a very complex, six-part plan,” said Dr Longobucco, including a day for students to pick up a “bag of goodies” containing their caps and gowns and other graduation items. What administrators had heard over and again, she said, is that somehow, the seniors wanted a way to get back to Newtown High School.

Senior graduation celebrations will culminate with a car parade of seniors and families through Newtown, scheduled for June 15, and a possible senior picnic on July 29.

The students are excited about the parade, Dr Rodrigue interjected, and to address that anticipated excitement of the event, parents are being asked to drive any vehicles (decorated with NHS 2020 car flags) taking part.

Preliminary conversations have taken place with the Newtown Police Department, she said, regarding parade route traffic control.

Following the Board of Education meeting, Dr Longobucco provided The Newtown Bee with a detailed plan for the high school program.

Part 1- Curbside Senior Bag Pick-Up & Banner Signing - Friday June 5th,

Cap and Gown & Graduation materials.

Part 2- Record Speeches- Individual appointments will be scheduled for speeches to be recorded in the NHS Auditorium.

Part 3- Diploma Pick-Up - A stage will be set up in the first bus loop closest to the building. The diploma pick up will occur over the course of 3 days (June 10th, 11th & 12th) in 4 hour time blocks. The dates will be organized alphabetically. Within the assigned day, students will be assigned alphabetically by the half hour. Final schedule is to be released on Wednesday, June 3.

Cars will park in designated spots and students will wait until directed by a staff member to proceed to the stage area. The line will be marked with spots on the ground that are separated 6-plus feet. Students will move accordingly through the spots leading toward the stage.

Upon arriving at the stage the student will proceed to the first “X” where their name will be read. The student will walk to the next “X” and pick up the diploma cover off the table and then proceed to the final “X’’ where the student will turn, face their parents, and move their tassel. The student will then proceed to the designated picture area.

Lifetouch Photography will be stationed further down the sidewalk for individual student photographs. Lifetouch photo packages will be available for purchase. The student will proceed to the final tables, where they pick up their official diploma. Students will then return to their car. Parents/family will remain in their car until their student arrives near the stage. At that point a staff member will escort the parents to the designated viewing/picture area. Once the student has crossed the stage the family will go back to their car.

All support staff, teacher volunteers, security, and parents will wear masks. Students and administrators on the stage will not. Students may choose to wear a mask.

Part 4- Senior Parade - Seniors will arrive at NHS at 1:30 pm on Monday, June 15. Students are encouraged to decorate their car. An adult should plan to drive the car so students can safely wave through the sunroof or window and fully enjoy the parade. Cars will be organized in the NHS parking lot. The parade will have a police escort followed by a school bus with the signed NHS Class of 2020 banners on each side. Once the parade route is confirmed it will be published on social media and sent to all NPS families so they can join the festivities along the way.

Part 5- Video Debut - A video will be compiled including the national anthem, all speeches, a choral selection, students crossing the stage, and a short clip from the parade to be shared at the “Official Graduation Date” (tentatively Friday, June 19, at 6 pm). The video will be available for all families to save and keep free of charge. It will also be shareable so that family members unable to attend can see their graduates cross the stage.

Part 6 - Senior Picnic- Tentatively, Wednesday, July 29, from 2-5 pm (pending progress in social distancing relief), seniors will return to Blue and Gold Stadium one last time. Food trucks will be provided, the graduation video will be played on a big screen, there will be time for yearbook signing, and faculty and staff will be invited to wish the seniors well for a final time.

Both programs were unanimously approved by the Board of Education. Echoing positive comments from board members during the video/audio meeting in regards to the planned student celebrations, Michelle Embree Ku commented later, “I’m pleased the students’ achievements are being celebrated in a safe way,” and expressed admiration for the thought that has gone into planning.

Other Business

BOE Chair Ku reported early on in the meeting that the Regional Advisory Team that is advising Education Commissioner Cardona on reopening considerations had met, with discussion on the pros and cons of three models of school reopenings in the fall.

The first model suggests half-day attendance for students; the second alternating days, one group at a time; and the third would involve individualized interaction with distance learning. No consensus on any of the options was reached, she noted.

Dr Rodrigue also shared at the meeting’s start, that 86 percent of district students have been fully engaged in the distance learning process, while acknowledging a need to include more interaction. The administration has reached out to families of the 6 percent of students minimally engaged, she said. She also addressed the social/emotional component of learning, noting the efforts to find venues for students to meet with teachers and peers, including virtual field trips.

Plans are underway for the At The Core district wide event the weekend of May 29, a positive and artistic event using the apple as a symbol of the community’s caring, support, and resilience — “core beliefs that represent our community,” she said. More information would be coming on that townwide program, Dr Rodrigue said, that is hoped to bring “positive closure to the entire year.”

Discussion and action on Middle School staffing change, a first read of the policy regarding the nonlapsing education fund, and discussion of the project referral to the Public Building and Site Commission for the planning, design, and engineering of ventilation and HVAC renovations at Hawley School wrapped up business at the May 19 meeting.

“The Board of Eduction voted to refer the HVAC project for Hawley School to the Public Building and Site Commission for project review,” Ku said on May 20, without a lot of discussion. “The indication was there would be a team working on this,” she said, including Director of Facilities Robert Gerbert, Business Director Ron Bienkowski, and one or two board members.

That team would interview contractors and the contracts would then be reviewed by the Board of Education and authorized by First Selectmen Dan Rosenthal, in what Ku said is a typical process. The Public Building and Site Commission would issue any change orders and payments for bills, said Ku.

The full board meeting can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EMPraGy63l8&feature=youtu.be.

Board of Education Chair Michelle Embree Ku addresses board members, school staff, and the public attending the virtual May 19 BOE meeting, in this screen shot from the meeting.
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