Veterans Honor SSgt. TJ Lobraico Jr. with a Memorial Plaque at the Sherman School Assembly


Story and Photos by Alicia Sakal

On Veterans Day, over 450 students, faculty, parents, veterans with relatives, and elected officials attended the 5th Annual Veterans Day Assembly held at the Sherman School. IMG_5230They congregated to formally honor all veterans and to share the significance of this national day of recognition with the students. The Sherman Veterans Association also formally recognized SSgt. TJ (Todd James) Lobraico Jr., a fallen US Air Force soldier who died serving in Afghanistan in 2013. He was a Sherman School 2004 graduate and a New Fairfield High School 2008 graduate. Several members of his family live in both Sherman and New Fairfield and many were in attendance.

The Master of Ceremonies was US Navy Veteran Ed Hayes. The impressive one-hour assembly officially began with a student drumroll as the veterans walked in one-by-one to take their places of honor. Each veteran then went up to the podium and shared with the audience his or her name and branch of service. Some of the World War II veterans shared their stories, humor, and connections with the community so the students could better relate.

After the introductions, Interim Principal IMG_5109Andrew Schoefer talked with the students about “why we are here today” and “what does that mean?” He said that Veterans Day “is a time to give thanks to these great men and women who have done their part to ensure our way of life. Veterans Day is about taking a time out from what we do to honor those who have served our country, from the Revolutionary War to World War II, and for those who continue to keep our country safe.”

Next, the Pledge of Allegiance was recited by all. SSgt. TJ Lobraico Jr.’s sister, Alexa Lobraico, and other students Courtney DaCunha and Kayla Fierko, beautifully sang The Star-Spangled Banner.

IMG_5221Then, a prayer was said by a guest reverend. Afterward, Mr. Hayes introduced State Senator Michael McLachlan, State Representative Richard A. Smith, and Selectman Bob Ostrosky, and he commended these elected officials for attending this assembly.

Commander of the Sherman Veterans Association and US Air Force Veteran, Monty Clark, was the keynote speaker. Right before Mr. Clark Spoke, Mr. Hayes asked a student to answer a question about the significance of Normandy because Mr. Clark just got back from a trip to Normandy. A student summarized how the Invasion of Normandy was a major invasion that took place in France during World War II.

Mr. Clark then related the historical invasion and the loss of lives to SSgt. TJ Lobraico Jr.’s story. He was also a courageous solider who died in active duty while serving our Country, but in Afghanistan.

IMG_5169TJ’s medal of honors include a Purple Heart and the Bronze Star. His described acts of courage and sacrifice captivated the audience, especially many of the students. Mr. Clark also shared TJ’s long-term plan, which was to be a police officer like his father. Mr. Clark then elaborated more on how the Sherman School was an important part of this young man’s foundation while growing up.

The next part of this touching ceremony involved much student participation. Several Grade 7 students read aloud what “freedom” personally means to them. IMG_5128After that, Grade 7 and Grade 8 students presented to the veterans patriotic ribbons tied around “official Sherman veteran banners.” School Counselor Anita Brown shared with the audience how many of the Grade 7 and Grade 8 students read military stories to the younger students and how the ribbons bestowed to the veterans have meaningful descriptor words written on them by the students. Grade 5 then presented homemade poppies to each of the veterans. The final memento was given to the veterans by the Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts. Mr. Hayes then told everyone how many of the veterans have kept all of the mementos from the children through the years and how special they are to the veterans.

IMG_5198The Assembly began to wind down with words well said by both State Representative Richard A. Smith and Selectman Bob Ostrosky. Mr. Smith shared his insight into the meaning of Veterans Day. He said how he observed some people saying “happy Veterans Day” and he thinks it should be more like “thank you Veterans Day.” He also feels that people should say “thank you” to the veterans every single day and we should “thank them for their sacrifice, their service, and for doing what they have done for us because without them we don’t have what we have…” Mr. Ostrosky expressed his gratitude to all veterans in an eloquent speech. He summed it up nicely with a quote by Elmer Davis. “This nation will remain the land of the free only so long as it is the home of the brave.”

Near the end of the service, several of the grades continued to honor veterans by singing the US Military songs of the five branches. Lead by Music Teacher Steven Trinchillo, Grade 4 sang the Coast Guard’s Semper Paratus (Always Ready), Grade 5 sang The Air Force Song, Grade 6 sang the Navy’s Anchors Aweigh, Grade 7 sang the Marines’ Hymn, and Grade 8 sang the Army’s Caisson Song.

IMG_5156After the last song, Mr. Schoefer mentioned how TJ was his student 15 years ago and he reiterated some of his lifetime academic and military achievements. He stressed the meaning of Veterans Day to the students and said “boys and girls, this is why we stop what we are doing on November 11th and say ‘thank you’ to all brave men and women who ensure our freedom.”

Senior Chief anIMG_5222.JPGd US Navy Veteran William Butts then read aloud the inscription on the memorial plaque, which is a gift from the Sherman Veterans Association: In honor of Todd James “TJ” Lobraico, Jr. Nov. 23, 1990 – Sept. 5, 2013. Sherman School Class of 2004. Wounded and died serving our country. Operation Enduring Freedom, Afghanistan.

On a solemn note, Hunter Johnson, a Grade 3 IMG_5217student, played an Amazing Grace rendition on his recorder and the reverend concluded with a benediction. Chip Zellner then performed Taps on his bugle.

Once the Assembly ended, each class lined up single file and went outside in the dreary weather to view the memorial plaque. It was a somber time to honor TJ along with all veterans of the US Military for their service and dedication to protect and serve our Country.

A short version appeared in the November 18th edition of the Citizen News.

Community Togetherness and Excitement at This Year’s Harvest Fair


By Alicia Sakal, Harvest Fair Chairperson

On Saturday, October 17th, the Sherman School celebrated its 12th Annual Harvest Fair sponsored by the Sherman Parent Teacher Organization. Over 300 people attended this year’s event including volunteers, sponsors, and children with their parents and friends.

IMG_5059In classic small town Sherman-style, community togetherness and fun certainly filled the air, both literally and figuratively. While walking up to the entrance area, families could hear the cool vibes of Classic Rock & Pop music playing from the local After Hours Band.

Also settingIMG_4873 the stage for what was to come was a festive pumpkin tradition display with a brand new sign painted by artist-parent Sarah Wiggins.

Just inside the main event entrance was a Pumpkin Decorating Contest table that showed off some of the most original pumpkins ever.

On the opposite side, wasIMG_4982 a free raffle table for the children and they could win really nice prizes donated by several local businesses. Looking straight ahead, visitors could catch a glimpse of the gigantic fall harvest photo prop that was hand-painted by artist-teacher Alisyn Hamilton.

IMG_4968In the playground area, children enjoyed participating in many sponsored activities including a visit from the Home Depot Kids Workshop of New Milford, Donut Bobbing with Julia’s Wings, and Inflatable Obstacle Course fun with the Democratic Town Committee. UPCYCLE! Arts & Crafts with Little Munchkins and the cookie decorating table with American Pie Company cookies and Sherman IGA extras were also a few of the creative attractions. The Touch-A-Truck live exhibit was popular, too, with Thom Piel’s Kabota tractor and antique army jeeps, Paul Setzler’s cherry picker bucket truck, a Connecticut State Trooper car, and a Sherman Volunteer Fire Department truck. In addition, Grade 8 offered a Spooky Sling Shot activity.

IMG_5020Inside the cafeteria, children had fun doing the Republican Town Committee Cake Walk, creating “thankful for…” cards at the Girl Scouts Troop #40072 table, getting faces painted and arms tattooed, playing BINGO, and making a funny pumpkin picture frame at the arts & crafts center. Some of the girls also had fun getting their nails painted at The Amore Table! and Grade 4 offered Concessions to families with appetites.

All of this fun was only possible with help from the many dedicated volunteers and supporters…

IMG_4885Thank you to our Volunteers: Gette & Christopher Bacarri, Ashleigh Blake, Tricia & Justin Campbell, Daniela Crompton, Sheera Desjardin, Madison Devine, Shellon D’Andrea, Marie Fierko, Kerry Foy, Jen Freed, Daniel Gallagher, Kenric Gubner, Alisyn Hamilton, Renee Harris, Julie Head, Louise Hofsdal, Jeannine Johnson, Mackenzie Kean, Trish Kreuger, Linda Lewis, Lina Orozco, Kyle Paist, Kathryn Raffaele, Joanna Ribisl, Kevin Sakal, Luke & Stephanie Scanlon, Sabine Scherner, Arica Vancil, Leah Vannini, Jessica Waldmann, Kristina Wilmot, and Sarah Wiggins.

Thank you to our Supporters: After Hours Band, American Pie Company, Amore Restaurant, Bank Street Movie Theater, Big Y, Carvel, Children’s Movement Center, Citizen News, Democratic Town Committee, Girl Scouts Troop #40072, Hair by Susi, Happy Rainbows, Holiday Restaurant, Home Depot of New Milford, Julia’s Wings, Little Munchkin Day Care, New Milford Sports Club, Nordica Toys, Republican Town Committee, Sherman IGA, Sherman Playhouse, The Sherman Sentinel, Stop & Shop in New Fairfield & New Milford, Tasty Waves, Touch-A-Truck: Connecticut State Troopers, Sherman Volunteer Fire Department, Thomas Piel, PS Enterprises LLC, Walmart Community Grant Foundation and The New Milford Store, and Webster Bank of Sherman.

IMG_5064Worthy of mention, this year’s Harvest Fair was awarded $1,000 by the Walmart Foundation Community Grant and the New Milford Store. This paid for an abundance of fall-themed decorations, supplies for the event and for almost every activity center, along with giveaways for every child. One term for accepting this grant is to spread the word to other schools and non-profits and encourage them to apply. To start the process, please contact Mike in Personnel at the New Milford Store: 860.350.4823

Save the Date: Next year’s Harvest Fair is already on the school calendar! For community organizations, small businesses, and corporate sponsors who would like to advance plan, the event will be on Saturday, October 15, 2016, Noon to 4 p.m.

A flat month of job creation in Connecticut

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On Wednesday, October 28, 2015 the Connecticut Department of Labor (CT DOL) – Office of Research released their monthly Business and Employment Changes Announced in the Media report. For the month of October, the Startups and Expansions outlook was bleak, especially for those unemployed and hoping to see the State of Connecticut in an employment expansionary phase.

The only company to report hiring activity in October was from MC Credit Partners, a direct fund lending provider. This financial services company is relocating its New York City office to Stamford, Connecticut and they plan on hiring 26 more employees over the next four years.

As for Layoffs and Staff Reductions reported in October, RBS Securities of Stamford is continuing to lay off more employees by an additional 64 employees before the end of the year. Day Kimball Hospital of Putnam also announced they will lay off 23 employees before the end of the year. Both of these company announcements offset the one reported gain the State will make in the longer term.

This article appears on Examiner: A flat month of job creation in Connecticut

By Alicia Sakal. Contributed Photo.

Rain or Shine, it’s… HARVEST FAIR TIME!

IMG_4854 REV

Sherman, Conn. – Parents, grandparents, and friends in neighboring towns… mark your calendars for the 12th Annual SPTO Harvest Fair at the Sherman School, which will take place on Saturday, October 17th from Noon to 4 P.M.

This well attended and much anticipated family event is sure to entertain the children. Plus, the After Hours Band will be performing popular Classic Rock & Pop tunes for all ages to enjoy. As for “what’s new”… there will be two additional Arts & Crafts centers: Little Munchkin UPCYCLE! and The Amore Table! The Home Depot Kids Workshop is also coming to the Sherman School, which is sure to offer some creative building time.

As for “the classics” children look forward to year after year, they’re all back! Donut bob with Julia’s Wings, Touch-A-Truck at the real-life exhibit, decorate an American Pie Company sugar cookie using Sherman IGA extras, get a face painted or arm tattooed, play a game of bingo, make a picture frame at the art table, bring a decorated pumpkin at Noon to enter in a contest for a prize, burn off energy running through the DTC Inflatable Obstacle Course, win a tasty treat from the RTC Cake Walk, and vote for the best SPTO cover.

What’s more, several local businesses are donating gift cards and tickets for free raffles and prizes, peanut / tree nut-free food, and supplies: American Pie Company, Amore Restaurant, Hair by Susi, Happy Rainbows, Sherman IGA, Sherman Playhouse, Webster Bank, Bank Street Movie Theater, Carvel, Children’s Movement Center, Holiday Restaurant, Home Depot, New Milford Sports Club, Nordica Toys, Stop & Shop, and Tasty Waves.

Donation bins will also be available for the SPTO Clothing Drive and for the Sherman IGA Food Drive that helps to feed hungry Connecticut families.

There are event upgrades to also enjoy thanks to a $1,000 Walmart Foundation Community Grant & the New Milford Store, and Home Depot of New Milford.

Press Release by Alicia Sakal. Sign artwork by Sarah Wiggins.

Part 2: State of Connecticut Educators and Attorney Address Low SBAC Test Participation with Sherman School BoE


Sherman, Conn. (Citizen News) – Last week, the Citizen News reported on the first half of the Sherman Board of Education (BoE) Special Meeting. Although the session only lasted a little over two hours, the information the panel shared with the BoE was extremely in-depth and multifaceted.

State and local education experts were there to answer questions and address concerns posed by the BoE about Common Core and Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) Testing. This meeting came about because the Sherman School had a low testing participation rate of 53% for students in Grades 3 through 8 who took the SBAC exam this past spring.

In the second half of this session, Moderator and Superintendent Don Fiftal and BoE Members asked the panel a series of questions. This included data collection, confidentiality, and data mining concerns, the test itself and the future of the test, and what the consequences are if the Sherman School continues to have a low participation rate.

The first expert to address the concern about whether or not there is a breach in protecting private student and family information was the Connecticut Department of Education Commissioner Dianna Wentzell. She began by saying that all student data resides on private and protected servers in Connecticut, and the State does not share this data with anyone. She added “there is no additional data collected for the purposes of the SBAC assessment that is beyond what was collected for the Connecticut Mastery Test (CMT).” In other words, it’s the same data collected and it resides in the Public School Information System (PCIS). Ms. Wentzell gave examples and said they collect information like town, school, name, and birthdate. What’s more, they use only state assigned student identification numbers and they no longer use social security numbers like what they used to do “back in the CMT era”.

In response, the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education (CABE) Deputy Director and Chief Counsel, Patrice McCarthy, stated “in terms of both Federal and State law, Connecticut students have double protection. There is FERPA, the federal right to privacy that protects the personally identifiable information of students. But in Connecticut, we also have specific statutory language…” She then elaborated on how this law states “there needs to be a public school information system to report test data but that system must maintain the confidentiality of the student data.” Regarding who can see these test results, Ms. Wentzell added how Connecticut has not changed the way local districts can access their results. She then discussed how this process works in more detail and who has access at the Sherman School.

Board Member Dorinda Lenihan commented “it sounds like Connecticut has another layer, so maybe you can speak to the Federal portion of it.” She then asked about what happens to Personally Identifiable Information (PII) if students move out of state and whether or not the State allows for permissible data to be shared, like how the Federal government now allows this to happen for the purpose of educational institutions or other kinds of organizations wanting to conduct research studies. Ms. Wentzell assuredly replied “we’re extremely ultraconservative at the Department and even when it’s permissible by law we don’t share our student data”.

On the other hand, Ms. Wentzell said “the school can do whatever the school does, that’s a different thing”. However, the State could if it wanted to if it’s for a research institution “but we don’t do that” she said. Education Connection Director of School Programs and Services, Jonathan Costa, commented how unwise it would be for any local administrator to share data without parental consent. Chairman of the BoE Rowland Hanley replied “we just passed a policy last year that explicitly states that no test will be administered without formal parental consent. The privacy results of that are tactile.” Mr. Costa then gave an example how there are 1,500 children in the State that are in federally funded instructional programs with a research component. He said that 1,500 parents have to sign 1,500 releases in order to participate.

Board Member Joe Keneally asked about data mining and whether or not there should be concern. Ms. Wentzell stated “I think it’s always good to have a relatively high level of concern around information sharing… When you have the State protecting the data I think the SBAC data is one of the safest places for kids data…” In other words, she thinks the data is safe in Connecticut so that it will not become “a mechanism for data mining”.

However, Ms. Wentzell gave a warning. She said “there’s a lot of things out on the internet where you can sign up for a free trial” and how teachers sometimes recommend these offers. “Sign up for this thing and practice the math SBAC” was her example. She then shared her own experience and how she signs up for offers with her 10-year-old. Sometimes, all of a sudden, “we’re getting all kinds of emails trying to sell us things (like math books)” she said.

Ms. Wentzell stressed “there is a lot out there in the EduBiz world but Smarter Balanced is not that. It’s not put out by a testing company. The governing body of Smarter Balanced is a consortium of the States that work together to create the test and it’s administered through the University of California, Los Angeles. We chose, as a consortium of states, we voted, after the development of the test how we’d be organized, and what would be the thing that holds us together after words, and we specifically chose a university to be the hub of that because we didn’t want it to get absorbed by a testing company.” Regarding the security of online database systems, Interim Principal Andrew Schoefer added how on a local level the School is doing its due diligence.

The next question Mr. Fiftal asked had to do with whether or not the children who took this harder test at the Sherman School felt like failures. Director of Curriculum and Instruction, Mary Boylan, stated “we don’t emphasize the scores for Smarter Balance. We try to just prepare the kids to take the test online and prepare them throughout the year by what we teach. What we’re looking for is growth over time and how they perform each year and making sure the vertical movement is there. We encourage them to do their best but we don’t pressure them.”

Mr. Costa added “the adaptability within the grade band does mitigate some of that as well. So the test has the ability within the grade level to adjust questions down or up depending on the answers that students give. So it is more challenging but it’s also more flexible.”

Mr. Fiftal then wanted to know if the students’ performance on the test will one day be unfairly used to evaluate teachers in Connecticut. Ms. Wentzell said “our most recent flexibility request to the Federal government included delaying the requirement to associate student test scores on the state tests with teacher evaluation. We received that flexibility so that is not something that is required in Connecticut now.”

Ms. Wentzell continued to say that doing so is a local decision but it is not something the State requires. However, she pointed out how there is uncertainty if the Elementary and Secondary Education Act will be reauthorized. She encouraged people to contact their congressional representatives in Washington D.C. if they are concerned. She also said that if it is one day required then “it will be growth that is focused on, not absolute scores.”

After much discussion on how the Sherman School evaluates teachers, Mr. Fiftal directed his next question to the State panelists regarding “the topic that got us here tonight”. He specifically wanted to know what the consequences are for the Sherman School having an extremely low test participation rate of 53% compared to the rest of the State that’s almost at 96% and Ms. Wentzell replied with humor “you get a visit from the commissioner!”

Ms. Wentzell then answered more seriously “that’s a great question and it’s a question that a lot of states are wrestling with related to the participation and the non-participation that’s become an issue with these new assessments… This year, in Connecticut, fortunately, the way the Federal government looks at it is ‘Connecticut made its participation requirement’ and we exceeded 95% participation, which is considered almost universal participation. They need to know that we are not purposely leaving kids out to make our results look better…”

Ms. Wentzell also discussed in more depth how her department is handling some other low participation rate districts and how they will publish best practices and offer more support and technical assistance in order to make the test participation rate universal. As for the assessments being tied to the funding for the State, Ms. Wentzell said they are and how “all of our districts receive some Federal funding directly.”

Both Ms. Wentzell and Mr. Schoefer discussed how the State and the School are getting the information out to parents and how this special meeting is one way to “take the mystery out of the SBAC Testing”. Mr. Schoefer also stressed how “a score is just one part of a child’s educational portfolio and we truly believe that.”

Board Member Themis Enright then asked the “what if” question regarding what if the Sherman School still has a low participation rate after receiving the State’s guidance and support. Ms. Wentzell said that Title 1 Funds (federal funding) will be at risk “if there is a State pattern of non-participation or if the State could not demonstrate that we had intervened to improve a pattern of non-participation.” She does not think the State is at high risk right now because the overall participation rate for Grades 3 through 8 in the State is really good.

Mr. Fiftal’s next question was “how are the SBAC results that we have, though they are limited, going to be utilized and interpreted by our school and our staff to inform us, and inform our parents, and inform our children as to how they are doing?” Ms. Boylan replied “for the most part, we’ll just be looking at the individual students and their progress, at this point… With all of the other data we have, this is just one little piece of the data.”

Mr. Fiftal then asked about the adaptive test itself and whether or not it’s now more difficult to compare one district to another. Ms. Wentzell pointed out that Connecticut is “a little late to the game on the delivery of computer-adaptive State testing programs” and how “this particular assessment went through five years of piloting.” She also indicated that test professionals and psychometricians, and a lot of Connecticut educators participated as well.

The final question Mr. Fiftal asked the State panelists had to do with providing more details on their recent decision that the SAT will soon substitute for the SBAC in Grade 11.

Ms. Wentzell said the SAT recently went through a redesign and it is now “in alignment with the Common Core State Standards.” Connecticut is one of the first states to “test the water” and Connecticut got an approved waiver for the next three years to use this commercial product, providing the State Board approves it in October, to “use the SAT for our high school accountability assessment.” The terms… The test must be “on a school day” for the score to be counted as the accountability assessment score. The State will pay for it, which also eliminates the cost of transportation. The “school day” test will also have safeguards in place to protect private data. Whereas, if students take the exam on Saturday, then the score will not count for the accountability score, the cost is out of pocket, and there will be no safeguards to protect private information.

Public Comments

The first Sherman School parent to speak was Jason McKinnon. He thanked the Board and the Committee. He also shared his own background as a teacher and an administrator. He is now Assistant Superintendent in New Fairfield Public Schools. He provided testimony as to how much local control there is regarding creating curriculum and designing learning experiences. He also encouraged people to read the standards to see for themselves what they involve. Mr. McKinnon said “the standards are what we teach. I would like to focus on how we teach.”

The next person to speak was a New Milford High School student. She shared her negative experiences with curriculum changes in her school such as with group participation and flipped classroom strategies. Related to this, Ms. Wentzell commended her for public speaking and for taking a stance, and said that her grievances are local choices and are not Common Core requirements. Mr. Hanley then said how they want to know what’s going on in the high schools that have Sherman students attending, like New Milford High School, because it’s important to know about the curriculum the students are learning. Mr. Costa added how the flipped classroom strategy outcome at her school is the opposite of what it was intended to do.

Kate Frey, a Sherman School parent and teacher in Greenwich, thanked the Board for the special meeting and said the information was helpful to her both as a parent and as a teacher. She shared her positive experience. The school she works for has a staff developer for the next three years, thanks to Title 1 Funds. She was hoping to see the Sherman School get this kind of support. Her message to the community was to concentrate on supporting the school and teachers more to teach the standards rather than focusing on the test.

Susan Zeitler, a Sherman School parent who opposes Common Core and SBAC Testing, questioned the privacy of data in the State of Connecticut and stressed how the SBAC is supposed to be an academic exam. Siting her sources, she then asked why the State let 22 private companies and subcontractors of American Institutes for Research (AIR), mostly job placement, career, and recruiting companies, have access to confidential student information, and why parents were not informed. Ms. Wentzell replied and said this Freedom of Information (FOI) request is incorrect and “there are not any 22 private companies that we give any student data to.” Ms. Zeitler also sent to the BoE a white paper and other documents regarding the validity of the SBAC Test.

Katie Berlandi, a Sherman School parent, wanted to know if the SAT, based on the Common Core, will be the same in the private schools like it is for the public schools, and the answer is “yes”. Ms. Berlandi also asked about who supports the SAT. Mr. Costa said “the SAT and all the APs are administered by College Board, which is a privately held, non-profit organization.” She also wanted to know about any influences. Mr. Costa stated “the SAT competes with other national and international tests to be a benchmark of college readiness predictability…. The College Board, as an organization, is concerned about its own future, and wanted to make sure that its test aligned with internationally benchmarked standards so that it could be seen as an increasingly competitive test against all of the other tests it competes with in that space.” In other words, College Board made the decision to align their test with Common Core so they could keep up with these standards. As for the ACT test, Ms. Wentzell said they change a little each year and their alignment is evolving.

Near the end of the meeting, Ms. Boylan recapped some of the investments made at the Sherman School to support the teachers and students. They have invested in literacy and math specialists, teacher training, intervention teachers, tutors, and paraprofessionals.

Link to the Presentation:

Resources: and

Article and Photo by Alicia Sakal, Citizen News Journalist, October 7th Edition.

Part 1: State of Connecticut Educators and Attorney Address Low SBAC Test Participation with Sherman School BoE


Sherman, Conn. (Citizen News) –  The Sherman Board of Education (BoE) recently held a special meeting with state and local education experts to address the low 53% participation rate for students in Grades 3 through 8 who recently took the Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) exam this past spring.

Over 40 educators and parents were in attendance. The BoE presented questions and concerns to the panel. Near the end of the two hour meeting, the floor opened up for public comments. Proponents and opponents then spoke about their points or concerns and asked the panel questions as well.

The panelists from the State were Connecticut Department of Education Commissioner Dianna Wentzell, Connecticut Association of Boards of Education (CABE) Deputy Director and Chief Counsel Patrice McCarthy, and Education Connection Director of School Programs and Services Jonathan Costa. From the Sherman School was Interim Principal Andrew Schoefer, Director of Curriculum and Instruction Mary Boylan, and Language Arts Teacher Mary McEvoy.

The Moderator was Superintendent Don Fiftal. The intent of the meeting was for the BoE to bring together experts on the frontline about the Connecticut Common Core Standards and the SBAC Assessments.

Mr. Fiftal’s opening comments began with sharing from his own career how he started out as a high school English teacher in 1968. After 14 years of teaching, he then served in administrative roles and is now a part-time superintendent. Through the years, Mr. Fiftal said he can relate and attest to what the central issue is regarding standards and assessments. “What is it that students need to know and do, and how will we know the level at which they can do it and know it?”

Mr. Fiftal explained how the Connecticut State Department of Education (CSDE) have been pioneers in addressing this question. Generations ago CSDE developed the Connecticut Mastery Test (CMT) and this was when the evolution of standards and testing began. The goal was to make sure that children could “perform at optimal levels for themselves and compete with students anywhere in this country or in this world.” He believes the State now has the highest level of standards with the Common Core Standards that are now in alignment with the SBAC, which helps to measure what students learn and know.

Mr. Fiftal added that up until this past year the Sherman School always had a high level of testing participation. Now, this has changed because the community and parents found themselves torn. As a result, only 53% of the Sherman School students took the test compared to approximately 96% who took the test in the State of Connecticut.

The first question Mr. Fiftal asked the panel concerned the origin of the Connecticut Common Core Standards and whether or not non-educators are pushing a social agenda.

Ms. Wentzell stated how Connecticut, since 1998, has a proud tradition in developing content standards / framework. She also said how most of the content standards underwent a revision in 2005 and she was a participant in the English Language Arts (ELA) revision for Grade 6. In retrospect, she said two things could have been done differently. First, they should have talked to the Grade 5 and Grade 7 teacher committees to see how rigorous their standards were because they were different. Secondly, she saw the consequence of the States individually developing their own standards because “they did not translate across state lines…”

In 2009 and 2010 the voluntary Common Core State Standards for ELA and Math were adopted. She said the testing component helps to compare Connecticut children to children in other states and beyond. Ms. Wentzell added how Connecticut has content standards in all subject areas; not just ELA and Math. Since February, Social Studies is the newest standard added.

Regarding the possibility of a social agenda, Mr. Costa commented that Common Core is really just an evolution of standards and it is not what some call a revolution in standards. He said that 91% of ELA and 83% of Math are already in alignment with Common Core and “it’s a unique American challenge to graduate every child with the skills they need to be successful in life, learning, and work beyond school.” He added “we are unique in the Western world, in fact, the industrialized world, that we have accepted this challenge for all students… Our European counterparts have a great sorting out that happens in middle school…” He then elaborated on how we are different because, in America, children get to choose their own futures.

As for Connecticut’s participation in the SBAC consortium, Chairman Rowland Hanley asked Ms. Wentzell to explain this in more detail. She said that “ultimately, state standards are a promise, as a state, of what kids will get to learn while they’re in our schools… Checking on that promise is a state assessment program.”

Ms. Wentzell then stated that Connecticut chose the SBAC consortium that is aligned with Common Core instead of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) consortium because it was very similar to the CMT approach. “There were much more open ended questions, ways for kids to apply their learning, things we really cared about.”

Ms. Wentzell also said the two lead developers on the team for the SBAC ELA and Math are Connecticut State Department of Education staffers and they are the same professionals that wrote the test questions for the CMT and the Connecticut Academic Performance Test (CAPT) so that’s why they are similar.

Ms. Wentzell answered the next question about whether or not the standards are age appropriate. She said there was already a lot of alignment between the new standards and the former Connecticut standards and “where they are better is that they’re more specific on foundations of reading…” However, she said they assumed that the children could learn to decode. As with anything new, she stated there’s the risk of “doing it in a less than artful way” and that “it takes time for the teachers to incorporate the new standards into their repertoire.”

Mr. Costa added how “the standards are just goals for performance” and if a local district adopts a new instructional program or teaching strategy then it could be developmentally inappropriate if it is applied incorrectly. In other words, the local curriculum and instructional practices are not dictated by the standards. “There is no such dictation,” he stated firmly.

Mr. Fiftal then asked a straightforward question “can local districts choose not to participate in SBAC”? Ms. McCarthy replied “there is no legal requirement that school districts implement Common Core standards. The vast majority of educators and school boards in Connecticut have found those standards are appropriate and, in fact, are utilizing them.” Regarding the testing requirements, she said there is a Federal requirement for testing. Plus, in Connecticut, “there is preexisting state law that requires each child shall take a statewide mastery examination approved by the State Board of Education; and at this point, SBAC is the approved exam.” She stressed how the testing requirement remains in place in Connecticut.

Ms. Wentzell elaborated on the difference between the standards and the assessment. “The standards [a set of skills] are the guidance that our State Board provides to all of the local districts around what promises we’ve made to all of our kids and their families, ‘we’ as a State. Communities decide how they’ll meet that promise.” She also said there is no state curriculum in Connecticut. In other words, curriculum is determined locally by the districts. However, the State Board tries “to support districts with examples of curriculum and units…” In terms of the assessment, she said “it’s entirely a different story… Universal participation is the law, both State and Federal law, and it’s for a really good reason. Because without universal participation we really don’t know if we are equally good at making good on our promise everywhere and for all kids.” She continued to say how education is a huge civil rights issue and they want to be sure that every child in Connecticut has an equal chance to learn. The assessment helps to tell them that.

Board Member Dorinda Lenihan then asked the panel if they are going to improve accommodations for children with IEPs [Individualized Education Programs] because her child is visually impaired and she found the exam unacceptable for him. She also thinks that less computer savvy children may have difficulty with the computerized exam.

Ms. Wentzell replied by saying they field tested and surveyed this very concern and found that the younger the children are, the more positive they were about taking tests on the computer. Plus, the youngest students outperformed the older students on the assessment itself.

Regarding SBAC test accommodations for children with IEPs, Ms. Wentzell said Connecticut does accommodate and, if requested, the test comes in brail or large print and the visually impaired children can access it online. As for other accommodations, the test is available in many different languages and American Sign Language is available on the screen. Connecticut also provides live signing whereas some states do not.

Mr. Costa added how the most requested accommodation was more time to take the test. He said all children can now take as long as they need to finish because the SBAC is untimed. He finds this to be a better approach to testing.

Ms. McEvoy offered her testimonial as a Grade 6 teacher and shared how in the beginning the children were apprehensive about learning new technology, like with the Chromebooks. She said the technology and staff support was fantastic, and when it was time for the children to take the test, the transformation was amazing. She also said not one student complained about how to use the tools or the test.

Mr. Schoefer answered the next question about instructional impact. From a local perspective, he said there are now more rigorous and challenging, yet attainable, standards and he is pleased with the change.

As for “teaching to the test” that has drawn some criticism, Mr. Costa said that “as long as the test matters to somebody, people will always teach to the test…” He stressed how the focus should be whether or not it is a good test. If it’s a good test of skill then teaching to the test is a positive. He emphasized “the better the test, the better the alignment of instruction is with goal and outcome.” Ms. Boylan related well to what Mr. Costa said and added “the test is one small part of that.”

From a legal standpoint, Mr. Fiftal wanted to know what the panelists had to say about whether or not the Federal government is intruding on Connecticut and local control when it comes to standards and testing. Ms. McCarthy was the first to answer and reiterated that our State has local control. “There is still so much local choice about choosing curriculum, about choosing instructional methodology that it is not a top-down system. Certainly there are areas where the Federal government provides grants to states and to individual school districts. It expects certain things in return. They expect there to be a legitimate testing program in place. But in terms of day-to-day, unit-to-unit instruction you’ve heard how that plays out in Sherman and that’s true in the other 165 districts in the State.”

Ms. Wentzell agreed with Ms. McCarthy and elaborated on how local control and choice is a great strength in Connecticut. She also pointed out how some states do not give the opportunity to make community decisions. She said that her department is only available for guidance and support and they don’t check what’s going on in local districts like inspecting curriculum and units. This is the reason why they need an indicator, like a test.

As for what’s going on at the Federal level, Mr. Costa pointed out how the true change happened in 2001 with No Child Left Behind. He recapped how, for over 20 years, every administration has had “a desire at every Federal level to connect money with results for evidence” and “this is a common Federal funding practice” so this is nothing new.

Board Member Kasey Diotte wanted to know what the Connecticut interventions are if they are not making local decisions like choosing curriculum and textbooks. Ms. Wentzell said that, in the 30 alliance districts, support can include additional funding that’s contingent upon a plan and part of this has to do with assessment outcomes. She said the plans are local, but they help with goals and agree on improvement strategies, if needed, then funding happens. Both Ms. Enright and Ms. McEvoy then shared detailed examples with the State panelists regarding how local control works at the Sherman School.

Article and Photo by Alicia Sakal, Citizen News Journalist, September 30th Edition.

First BoE Meeting of the New School Year Kicks Off


Accomplishments, Teacher of the Year and Interim Administration Appearances, Test Results, Curriculum Presentations, and More…

Sherman, Conn. (Citizen News) – Turnout for the first monthly Board of Education (BoE) Meeting of the new school year was impressive. Over 60 educators, parents, board members, and community leaders attended this three-hour session last week.

Chairman of the Board of Education, Rowland Hanley, started the meeting by summarizing all of the recent accomplishments that happened within a six-month period. The highlights: the building boiler project is going well, the multipurpose room floors were re-carpeted, and the divider was repaired. All of the lights in the building now have energy-efficient LED bulbs. There were 18 classroom moves, the gym floor was refinished, and there are improvements in security.

Regarding some of the purchases recently approved by the BoE with surplus money, Mr. Hanley mentioned how it was nice for him to see the art department receive a much needed kiln. The new music room instruments are in, and the practice rooms were also re-carpeted. There is a new sound system in the gym as well.

Regarding school offerings, there is now more time allocation for ensemble time for both the chorus and the band. Spanish is an elective this year for Grade 4 and Grade 5 students. There is now block scheduling for Grade 4 and 5 students, which is good for the interventionists. The new Individualized Education Program (IEP) software is in use, there is excitement about the new Bridges curriculum tools, and the summer curriculum development sessions were successful.

The BoE also approved fulltime funding for media and library support. Also, all of the school policies will be online shortly, the free SAT prep course is complete, and the administrative model changes will help with the instructional model.

Last but not least, Mr. Hanley stated “we returned to the Town $133,000 at the end of the year.” Selectman Bob Ostrosky also publicly thanked the BoE for doing so.


Next on the agenda was to introduce the Guest of Honor, Mr. Steven Trinchillo, who is the new Teacher of the Year. Interim Principal, Andrew Schoefer, shared with everyone why this talented music teacher was chosen by his peers on the last day of the school year this past June. “He is extremely dedicated, willing to go the extra mile at all times, very flexible, always there to help out, never says ‘no’ or ‘I can’t fit that in’ and impacts all of the students from Kindergarten through Eighth Grade in a positive way.”

Mr. Schoefer also read some of his list of accomplishments that include Song to Symphony, concerts, working with students to perform at town meetings, directing the musical Annie, running the variety show, coaching the baseball team, taking the middle school chorus to Concerts in the Park and winning second place, and earning a master’s degree.

After a grand applause, Mr. Trinchillo said that he still can’t believe it’s happening and feels honored. He reminisced about how much the music program has grown through the years and why it is successful today. He especially thanked the BoE for supporting the music program through the years with instruments and said it has come a long way “from collecting cans the first year I was here from the lunch ladies,” which he used for makeshift drums.

Superintendent Don Fiftal also emphasized how special the recognition is because “in a small staff that one person really represents the professionalism of all the members of the staff” and “it’s also a way of saying thank you to the profession and to the professionals that make up the school.” Mr. Hanley said it best “instruments don’t make the program… the instruction, the talent, and the passion makes the program.”


Since Dr. Michael Pascento accepted a new position as Dean of Students at Litchfield High School, now there is a principal vacancy. In the meantime, the BoE and Mr. Fiftal formally announced the appointment of an Interim Administrative Team.

At the meeting, Mr. Fiftal introduced Mr. Schoefer as a “Career Educator in Sherman” who is now the Interim Principal. He said that Mr. Schoefer has taught Grade 5 and 6 through the years and he is a teacher with tremendous skill. His Sherman School track record includes… President of the Sherman Teacher’s Association; Best Mentor in Education; Member of Health, Safety, Fine Arts, Social, and Read Across America Committees; Middle School Boys Soccer Coach; Co-Director of the academic support program called The Knights Program and the Summer Academy; Master of Ceremonies; Social Studies Curriculum Participant; and Member of the Mission Statement Development Committee. As of last year, he served as Academic Dean / Assistant Principal with teaching responsibilities as well.

Mr. Fiftal also expressed how impressed he was with Mr. Schoefer’s answer when he asked him if he would be interested in the interim principal position. “You bet. I’ll do it,” was his immediate reply. He then said with confidence, “I can do this job.” With humor, Mr. Fiftal added how he didn’t even ask his wife first before accepting the offer.

Next, Mr. Schoefer introduced the Interim Academic Deans that will be filling in for Mr. Schoefer while he is the Interim Principal. Both of these men will share the administrative-teaching role and have a reputation in the community for being “great educators.”

Dan Murphy offers 35 years of experience. He shared how his professional life is full circle because his career with the Sherman School began in 1971. He was a Grade 5 through Grade 8 teacher, and then he went on to become an Assistant Principal and Principal. Ever since he left the Sherman School in 2006 he has worked in nine interim positions and brings to the table a more broadened experience that he said makes him a better administrator. Mr. Murphy is excited to be here, and unlike Mr. Schoefer, he asked his wife before accepting the position! He will be working at the school Monday through Thursday.

The second Interim Academic Dean Mr. Schoefer introduced was Adam Carley. He taught at the Sherman School for eight years, then he became an Assistant Principal for a school in Darien for seven years. Currently, he runs a non-profit program in Newtown. He will be working at the school on Fridays.

Regarding the fulltime principal vacancy, there will be an assessment team comprised of parents, staff, and board members and a search firm will be used. They will move as fast as possible to get this process going.

Mr. Schoefer also introduced Lindsey Stilwell as the new fulltime Library Media Specialist. She said “I am really excited to be here. It’s been a great couple of weeks starting to get to know some of the students. The faculty seems to be enthusiastic and close-knit, so that’s been really great. It’s a beautiful town, and I am just really excited to be here.”

Mr. Schoefer also welcomed back the Director of Curriculum and Instruction, Mary Boylan, and Director of Special Education, Lynn Fichtel, who are part of the Administration.


Next on the agenda were several presentations given to the Board by many educators that concerned test results, curriculum development, and family survey results…

Science, Connecticut Mastery Test (CMT) Results: For Grade 5 and Grade 8 students, test percentage scores comparing Sherman with the State and area towns are in. 71.1% of the Sherman School Grade 5 students are at or above goal compared to the State average of 55.4% and 85.7% of the Grade 8 students are at or above goal compared to the State average of 61.1%

Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) Test Results: For Grades 3 through 8, the test percentage scores in the English Language Arts (ELA) and Math are in as well. However, the individual student reports that will be helpful to the teachers are not in yet. (Please review the Citizen News SBAC Test Results Chart on the front page for more details.)

Related to this, Ms. Boylan presented a detailed calendar showing how many assessments the Sherman School students are required to take this school year. Mary’s recommendation to the BoE is to buy Track My Progress software. The Curriculum Committee will review this request.

Summer Curriculum Development Projects: Several educators shared with the BoE what they worked on over the summertime.

Math Specialist, Treva King, discussed how she and the math teachers worked on learning the new standards and reviewed resources to use. The team is also excited to use the Bridges math tool and she thanked the BoE for approving the purchase. They also received training from the Math Learning Center towards the end of the summer.

Literacy Specialist, Catherine Flynn, said how it was great to work with the teachers to learn the new standards and to make revisions to the existing curriculum. The teachers worked on updating their writing curriculums and she also made progress on the overviews.

Health Teacher, Laura Chateauneuf, assessed what’s in place for Sherman Health, outlined a sequence for what would fit the part-time health program, and looked at national standards and what’s in place in the State of Connecticut. She is working on how to accomplish all of these standards and on the working curriculum document. Plus, she reviewed resources.

Science / Social Studies Teacher, Stephen Rianhard, recently changed positions. He searched for and found “current and forward-thinking” resources. He is looking at what the next generation science standards are and wants to make the science program more hands-on.

School Psychologist, Dr. Belinda Badger, and School Counselor, Anita Brown, co-chair the Positive Behavior Intervention and Support (PBIS) Committee. Overall, they find the program to be very successful. The School “Shield” is all about core values and the elementary students are especially enthusiastic about the program. As for the middle school students, there will be some adjustments to the program in order to get the students more involved. Dr. Badger also discussed Dylan’s Wings of Change and the Wingman Project, which is an awareness and acceptance initiative about Autism, and students will be participating.

Professional Development and Sherman School Goals: Ms. Boylan said the teachers met at the beginning of school and discussed how they can meet their goals and the school’s goals, and discussed how they will focus on instruction and student achievement. The teachers will also continue to write their own goals, learn about the workshop model, ramp up on new programs, and get more technology and professional development training.

Five Year Curriculum Plan, 2015 – 2020: Ms. Boylan met with teachers to see what they need in the coming years and presented the plan. She will present the final document to the BoE on or before January.

Family Survey Results – Spring 2015: Overall, the survey with 21 questions had really good scores, most of the questions received improved satisfaction rates when compared to the prior year. Mr. Schoefer said that he is “very impressed with where we are at.” For the 83 parents who took the survey, “my child’s teacher(s) treat me with respect” received the highest satisfaction score of 100% and “my child is challenged to meet high expectations at school” received the lowest satisfaction score of 70%. As for the four questions that had a decline of more than 5% in satisfaction they are… My child is safe at school – 94% satisfaction, the school environment supports learning – 90% satisfaction, the school facilities are clean and well-maintained – 90% satisfaction, and I am satisfied with the response I get when I contact my child’s school with questions or concerns – 79% satisfaction.


For updates about the boiler replacement project, K-Wing remediation progress, and the school drinking water situation, please read the Board of Selectman Meeting article in the September 2nd issue of the Citizen News by Veronica Scheer.


School-wide ban on all peanut / tree nut foods: This ban was the #1 concern parents had who attended the meeting that spoke up when it was time for public comments. Several parents are requesting to have this new policy revisited and added to the agenda for the next monthly BoE meeting because they find it harsh, extreme, and unrealistic.

In response, Mr. Fiftal referenced the Section 504 Federal Statute that dates back to 1973 because it is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities. In this case, there is a Sherman School student with a severe allergy to peanut / tree nuts and Section 504 ensures that this child with a disability has equal access to an education. Under this law, the child may also receive accommodations and modifications. In other words, Mr. Fiftal and Mr. Hanley said this peanut / tree nut ban goes beyond school rules and guidelines because evolving federal and state case law are involved and it’s not just about changing school policy.

One parent asked what the liability is if there is an unintentional misstep and the child gets exposed. Mr. Fiftal said that liability is hard to gauge because each case is unique. Mr. Hanley doesn’t think it’s a real issue but said he will follow up with the attorney to confirm.

Some parents also shared their grievances such as excessive hand sanitizer and wipes usage and limited food options for their children who have other dietary restrictions. Others had questions like, is it okay for children to bring in homemade food, such as banana bread, instead of packaged food that states if the product is peanut / tree nut-free on the label? The answer: Yes, homemade food is okay because it is the honor system.

Common Core / SBAC Testing: Another topic brought up is the upcoming BoE Special Meeting about Common Core and SBAC Testing. One parent who refused to have her child take the SBAC exam commended the BoE for putting the panel together to show the other perspective and for providing a forum to have questions answered and concerns addressed. Another parent who is against Common Core and SBAC shared her disappointment that the panel is one-sided. She was hoping this special meeting would show both sides to parents and not just the supporter side. Mr. Hanley said the intent of the special meeting is not to make it an informational session for parents. Instead, “it is an opportunity for this Board to interact with our State’s accountable educational folks to ask our concerns as a district.”

K-Wing: Another parent questioned the ventilation system and doesn’t think the doors to the wing should be open especially because the section is currently under remediation. As it turns out, Mr. Hanley said they found out that leaving the doors shut through the years is actually a fire code violation. He also said that in order to deal with the problem once and for all it will be an expensive remediation with a minimum cost between $200,000 and $400,000. Plus, they can’t do anything while school is in session. He also said they will follow up with the fire marshal about closing the doors.


Common Core and SBAC Assessment Special Board of Education Public Meeting: September 24th at 7 p.m. in the Sherman School Multipurpose Room.

The Next Monthly BoE Meeting: October 7th at 7 p.m. in the Sherman School Library Media Center.

Sherman School Open House: The Grades 6 through 8 Open House will now take place on September 15th at 6 p.m. The Kindergarten through Grade 5 Open House is on September 16th at 6 p.m.

Upcoming SPTO Sponsored Sherman School Events…

Book Fair: October 12th – 16th; PJs and Popcorn: October 15th; Harvest Fair: October 17th from Noon to 4 p.m.

Article and Photo by Alicia Sakal, Citizen News Journalist, September 9th Edition.