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2011 Was A Busy Year For Newtown's Schools

Published: December 30, 2011 at 12:00 am

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2011 Was A Busy Year For Newtown’s Schools

By Eliza Hallabeck

For Newtown Middle School Principal Diane Sherlock, 2011 was “the year of the roof,” with the new roof being replaced primarily over the summer and celebrated during the 2011-12 school year. 2011 was also the year that Newtown High School’s expansion opened for student use.

In and out of Newtown Public Schools, students accomplished a multitude of things in 2011, from a student-organized dog walk to raising funds for a school built in Cambodia.


Despite snowy weather the weekend before, Newtown High School’s expansion was ready and open for student use by Monday, January 10. Some work still remained to be done in the space, but students, staff, and faculty were given access to the space. The $38.8 million expansion was approved by voters and broke ground in May 2009, and included a new cafetorium, science classrooms, culinary classroom space, and a new nurtury space.


At Head O’ Meadow Elementary School, students worked in January to create copper leaves for a permanent copper tree sculpture, later installed in the school’s main lobby, under the guidance of Bruce and Joanne Hunter, husband and wife and co-owners of the Art Spot on Route 7 in Danbury.


By the end of January, the 2011 Valentines For Troops effort was nearing the end of its effort to send valentines to troops serving overseas. On January 28, boxes of letters and collected donations were being decorated and stamped for shipping at Reed Intermediate School. The day’s efforts were overseen by Hawleyville Postmaster Mark Favale and Valentines For Troops Project Chair Donna Monteleone Randle.


The start of February had the Board of Education inspecting the 2010-11 school calendar. With eight snow days already marked off from the school year, the board approved a new protocol for making up lost time from snow days. Until 2011, the school district’s protocol concerning snow days, as listed at the bottom of the school calendar, had been to add a day to the end of the calendar for each canceled snow day. The school year cannot go into July, per the state law, so any additional added snow days would be made up for out of the calendar’s April break. For 2011, that protocol was amended to reflect the unanticipated snow cancellations.


Visitors From China


From February 7 to February 13, a delegation from Liaocheng Middle School #3 in the Shandong Province of China visited Newtown High School, Newtown Middle School, and Reed Intermediate School. During the stay, delegates attended classes, met with school administrators, and stayed with host families from the area.


February was also the month that Newtown High School’s Chess Club received its trophy for earning the championship title during the Danbury Area Scholastic Chess League, held on February 10. Students who participated in the event were Cole Baldino, Tim Barrett, Kai Hedin, Peter Kung, Matt Pruner, and Tristan Villamil.


High school students in the group Two Schools One Song, an outside of school student group focused on raising funds to first build then fund supplies for a school in Cambodia through the American Assistance for Cambodia program, held a fundraising concert on February 25 at the Fox Hill Inn on Federal Road in Brookfield. The Sean Fleming Band performed during the night event, and a silent auction helped raise money for the cause.


February also had one of Newtown’s teachers named an Everyday Hero by the American Federation of Teachers. It was not until the Board of Education’s meeting on March 1 that Reed Intermediate School’s Karen King was announced by Superintendent of Schools Janet Robinson and Reed Principal Sharon Epple as having earned the title. The announcement came after a finalist round on the American Federation of Teachers’ website, where members of the public were asked to vote for the teacher in a designated region who exemplified the qualities of an Everyday Hero.


NHS Expansion Completed


When a 2006 New England Association of Schools and Colleges report first placed the Newtown High School on warning status, it pointed to one area as a main concern: overcrowding. At the start of March, NHS Principal Charles Dumais was notified via a letter the warning status had been removed, thanks in large part to the completed high school expansion. In the letter, the Commission on Public Secondary Schools cited the completion of the expansion, the positive impact of the renovation work, the addition of a ninth grade mentoring program, the enhancement of the grade nine transition experience, and the implementation of monthly half-day releases in place for professional learning communities as reasons why the warning status was lifted.


A group of four Newtown Middle Schools students — Baxter Hankin, Arnav Singh, Lyle Lee, and Sean Lee — were preparing in March to head to Washington, D.C., in April as representatives of the Northeast Region of Council of Educational Facility Planners International (CEFPI) after being named finalists in the School Building Week’s School of the Future Design Competition.


In April, another group of NMS students — Alyson Montague, Maria Labati, and Alondra Marmolejos — continued visiting Masonicare of Newtown following an eighth grade science project that had them test whether face-to-face communication was possible, even for teens used to texting or communicating through the social network Facebook. April was two months after the completion of the science project, but the girls continued to visit Masonicare, after establishing bonds of friendship with residents there.


Following school tradition, Head O’ Meadow students voted in their own referendum the day for before Newtown voters head to the polls to cast their votes on the 2011-12 budget. Overseen by school PTA volunteers Joan Plouffe and Sharon Saunders, students were asked to vote on Monday, April 25, for which category of books they would like purchased for the school’s library.


By the end of April, Middle Gate Elementary School fourth grade students were giving the annual “Living Biographies” presentation, which has students research a historical figure, then portray that persona for visitors at the school. Multiple Mark Twains, Nathan Hales, Phineas Taylor Barnums, who is better known as P.T. Barnum, were represented throughout the classrooms. Other students chose people more obscure, but not necessarily less famous, persons.


With music drifting out of the Newtown Middle School auditorium from multiple music groups, art lining the hallways, and students feverishly drawing down corridors, Tuesday, May 3, marked the annual NMS Celebration of the Arts.


Top Students


Two weeks later, Newtown High School’s top students were recognized on May 17 at a Board of Education meeting. Newtown High School Principal Charles Dumais introduced Drew Robinson and Brian Reed of the Class of 2011 as the valedictorian and salutatorian, respectively.


After two semesters worth of work, students in Newtown High School’s information technology research and development (ITRD) class, formerly called Connecticut Technology Innovation Academy, earned awards Saturday, May 21, during the Connecticut Student Innovation Expo, a statewide competition, in Hartford at the Connecticut Convention Center. At the expo, the student group placed first in “Outstanding Web Design,” “Outstanding Expo Booth,” “Outstanding Presentation,” and “Overall Mobile Application Development.” In addition, the team tied for first in the “Design Document/ White Paper” category. The students earned the awards and honors for designing and developing a mobile application called “VeggieFetch.”


On June 16, an official Dedication Ceremony and Open House marked the end to the NHS expansion and renovation project, which had broken ground on May 28, 2009.


Four days later, the NHS Class of 2011 had another reason to celebrate: Graduation. On Wednesday, June 22, the 422 graduates walked across the stage at Western Connecticut State University’s O’Neill Center to receive diplomas.


And on June 24, another gathering at Western Connecticut State University’s O’Neill Center assembled to witness the 2011 eighth grade class move up and on to high school. NMS Principal Diane Sherlock welcomed all in attendance to the event before graduating eighth grade students Victoria Madden and Kyle Watkins sang the “Star Spangled Banner.”


The first day in July saw the switch of positions of Jennifer Sinal and Anthony Salvatore within the school district. Ms Sinal went from the position of assistant principal at Sandy Hook School to the same position of at Reed, while Dr Salvatore went from being assistant principal at Reed to the same position at Sandy Hook School.


By the middle of the July, with work on the NMS roof project begun, the school district announced the property was closed to the public while work was under way.


Delayed School Opening


On Tuesday, August 30, the day school was supposed to start in Newtown, Superintendent of Schools Janet Robinson announced a one-week delay, to Tuesday, September 6. At the time, 78 percent of Newtown was still without power, and many roads were still impassable, following Tropical Storm Irene.


Just hours after the 2011-12 school year began September 6, officials around the district reported students seemed eager to start the school year. As Dr Robinson posted on the school district’s recently renovated website (www.newtown.k12.ct.us): “The start of the 2011-12 school year may have been delayed, but it is now off to its exciting start.”


“On time” and “under budget” were used repeatedly during the opening remarks for Newtown Middle School’s Ribbon Cutting Ceremony held on October 17. The event marked the official end to the summer’s NMS roof project. The $4.2 million project was overseen by New Britain-based Kaestle Boos Associates, Inc, and Silktown Roofing, Inc, of Manchester. For the ribbon cutting ceremony, local officials and students gathered on the school’s front lawn facing the Queen Street school.


By the end of October, NMS’s yearly My Favorite Scarecrow Sculpture Contest was again on view for people passing by the Queen Street School. Each year student groups, including students involved in Art Enrichment and the Gifted and Talented Education Students, work to assemble scarecrows that will frighten away a demon of the group’s choosing. The winners were announced Wednesday, November 9, as “Monsters Inc,” or scarecrow 36, in first place, “Crayon Dragon” (scarecrow 12) in second place, and “Tweety Bird” (scarecrow 13) in third place.


In the wake of Winter Storm Alfred the school district saw the expected last day of school pushed back to June 21.


School Board Turn Over


Meeting for the final time before three current members of the Board of Education were replaced by newly elected members, the school board took a small portion of November 15 meeting to recognize Independent Party of Newtown member David Nanavaty, Democrat Lillian Bittman, and Republican Andrew Buzzi for their service to the school district. The three newly elected members of the school board — Democrat John Vouros and Republicans Laura Roche and Cody McCubbin — were sworn into their new roles on Sunday, November 27.


At the start of December a box was set up in the main lobby at Reed Intermediate School by fifth grade student Isabel Pacchiana for her first Holiday Doll Drive. All donations made to the drive were then donated to Newtown Social Services for its annual Holiday Basket Program.


Nearly halfway through December, Sandy Hook fourth graders Henry Wishneski, Colton Procaccini, Devin O’Connell, and Emmanuel Wilford were the first in line on December 12, to check out a new option at their school’s library: Amazon’s Kindle. The day marked first day the e-readers became available for students to sign out from the school library, and the new option made the elementary school the first in the district to offer the option to take Kindles out on loan.


At the end of December, Sandy Hook School Principal Dawn Hochsprung reported 35,000 books were in the process of being electronically cataloged in the school’s Language Arts Center. The automated system will not only provide an efficient system of inventory, the principal said, but will also make volumes more accessible to teachers to locate and use in classrooms.


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