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First School Board Meeting For New Leaders Touches On Many Topics



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First School Board Meeting For New Leaders Touches On Many Topics

By Eliza Hallabeck

Following the election of new officers (see story on page 1) the Board of Education discussed multiple topics, including the district’s Newtown International Center for Education (NICE) recent trip to China, the district’s media consultant position, and adding a graduation requirement at the high school for students to take a personal financial literacy course.

During her report to the school board Superintendent of Schools Janet Robinson spoke about her trip with Newtown High School Principal Charles Dumais and NHS Assistant Principal Jason Hiruo to Shanghai, China, last week.

“This was a business trip, and from the beginning to the end our goals were very clear,” Dr Robinson said about the trip.

The superintendent also said the trip was covered by a grant from the Hanban-Confucius Classroom Network for Sandy Hook School to establish a sister school relationship for the fourth grade.

“While in China we were successful in securing that agreement,” said Dr Robinson.

She added that travel expenses for the trip for the three administrators were covered by the grant, and any additional expenses were paid for personally.

“I want to make it clear that never were Board of Education funds even considered,” Dr Robinson said. “I say this so we can focus on the excitement and the opportunity of this fantastic partnership and not be distracted by inaccurate information being circulated by a few individuals.”

Media Consultant Discussion

Following Dr Robinson’s Superintendent Report, Board of Education member John Vouros said he wanted to say some comments regarding the district’s media consultant, hired in July for a minimum retainer for $28,800 and a one-year contract through the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education, as The Bee reported this week in a separate story.

“We’ve never had one in all the years that I have been in this district,” Mr Vouros, a former teacher in the district, said. “I don’t feel we need to have this since we have a superintendent who is capable of letting us know what she is doing and what’s going on in the schools.”

Mr Vouros also said there are many ways the school district could use the money now paying Ann Baldwin, a former television anchor and radio personality, for her services and those of Baldwin Media Marketing, LLC. He also noted other ways Newtown could gain access to those types of services through tapping local experts and students.

He continued saying Ms Baldwin has been contracted through the town for a few months, and, “I don’t know who she was communicating with and what she was communicating, but none of us knew anything about this.”

Mr Vouros said he was not critiquing Ms Baldwin, and asked for her to be reevaluated.

Board of Education Chair Debbie Leidlein said a committee could be created to look into the matter.

In response to a question from board secretary Cody McCubbin, Dr Robinson said Ms Baldwin was contracted with the district based on a goal set by a Strategic Plan created in 2008 that the school district have a communications director. Since 2008, Dr Robinson said, the school district was not able to realize that goal.

Dr Robinson said part of what the district is producing through Baldwin Media Marketing is a video that will “highlight some pretty important programs that our kids have.”

The district, she said, does not have the ability to produce what is being worked on now.

Board of Education member William Hart said many districts in the state have a director of communications, which was what the Strategic Plan recommended in 2008.

“Every year we are cutting budgets, we’re cutting teachers, we’re cutting [educational assistants]; I have an issue with hiring a PR consultant,” said BOE Vice Chair Laura Roche.

After Ms Roche voiced multiple questions concerning the contract and more, Ms Leidlein asked Ms Baldwin, who was in attendance at the meeting, to give a presentation during the school board’s next scheduled meeting. Ms Leidlein also asked school district Director of Business Ron Bienkowski to provide information at the board’s next meeting regarding where the money to finance the contract and any added expenses are coming from.

Teaching Financial Literacy

Also during the meeting, the school board heard a presentation by Newtown High School Fine & Applied Art Department Chair Jay Daly and NHS teachers Melissa Cacioppo, Vivian Sheen, and Jolene Swann that asked the school board to consider making the school’s personal financial literacy class a graduation requirement.

The high school, according to the presentation, already offers the course and could support offering the course to all graduating students without adding teaching positions at the high school.

When questioned by Mr Hart on whether the school would need more staff in the foreseeable future if the course was made into a graduation requirement, Mr Daly said it would not.

“There has never been a greater need than there is right now for our children to have financial literacy,” said Ms Cacioppo.

No decision was made during the meeting, but Mr Hart said he felt the class is “a must” while adding he would like the school board to approve it with full knowledge of the cost to the district.

Reed Intermediate School Principal Sharon Epple also presented to the school board during the meeting, regarding her school’s plan to address Adequately Yearly Progress improvement.

Every year, as Dr Robinson explained to the school board, students are measured on their ability to meet proficiency levels on the Connecticut Mastery Test and on the Connecticut Academic Performance Test. If the student population or subgroup, which is designated as more than 40 students, does not meet the target level, the school is said to have not met Adequate Yearly Progress.

“We have had two areas that have been a challenge for us, and that is special education at the middle school and the special education at Reed,” the superintendent said.

Reed’s plan, Dr Epple explained, has been created to help students in the special education subgroup that did not make the Adequate Yearly Progress levels in the subject of reading. Overall, Dr Epple said, the goal is to have every student attending the school meeting proficiency or scoring above proficiency on the tests.

The school’s improvement plan includes weekly assessment by a schoolwide data team and added hours of instruction in reading, according to Dr Epple’s presentation.

A full audio recording to Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting is available with this story at www.newtownbee.com.

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