$52K Grant Awarded, Food Allergy Survey and SBAC Testing Discussions at the BoE Meeting

Sherman, Conn. (Citizen News) – The three-hour session at the monthly Board of Education (BoE) Meeting last week had an agenda that was action-packed and filled with plenty of discussions about an awarded grant and two hot, in-depth topics.

Additional highlights included a special presentation, staff announcements, and the continued discussion of the “Proposed Additional Purchases” list. Several updates on new and recurring business topics were also covered.

VIDEO TECHNOLOGY INFRASTRUCTURE GRANT

Mr. Fiftal, Superintendent, formally recognized and commended Jim Luchsinger, Director of Technology, for his efforts, with the BoE’s pre-approval, to submit an application to the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA) for a non-matching Public, Educational, and Governmental Programming and Education Technology Investment Account (PEGPETIA) Grant.

In summation, Mr. Luchsinger said this grant “essentially will give us a local Channel 13 for the school to use alone. …It would be internet-based so that we can keep things local.” He also mentioned some application possibilities such as how the school can livestream and tape graduations, plays, and variety shows. Another idea was a student-driven morning news show.

The BoE unanimously voted to accept this Grant for $52,477.60. 

FOOD ALLERGY MANAGEMENT TEAM SURVEY

Mr. Fiftal discussed the survey results from the Food Allergy Management Team Survey, which recently took place over a 6-week period. The original reason for the survey was because the policy was undergoing an annual review. As a result, it became clear to Mr. Fiftal there was confusion about the policy and it needed to be cleaner. The survey’s findings…

The School’s Wellness Guidelines, now the School Wellness Policy as of the last BoE meeting, was sometimes confused with the school’s Food Allergy Management Policy. Also, the Food Allergy Management Policy was part of the back-to-school package that went out in the mail in late August of last year and it was information overload. Regarding communications, the policy did not go out again at another time.

As a result, the Food Allergy Management Team recommends that before the end of June, both the Food Allergy Management Policy / Guidelines and the Wellness Policy / Guidelines go out in the mail with a cover letter that explains them. Then, before school opens in late August, the principal’s office should resend this communication, which should be separate from the back-to-school packet. All of this information should also be available on the School’s website, in the principal’s newsletter, and in the SPTO communications.

Both Marie Hatcher and Bernadette Schopfer, who are on the Allergy Management Team, shared with the BoE a recent example that happened with the International Food Project and how it never happened this year because of the confusion that parents and teachers still have about whether or not food celebrations related to curriculum are allowed.

In response, Rowland Hanley, Chairman, made it clear that “the health and safety of the children in the school” is the first priority and it “trumps everything.” He also conveyed that the allergy guidelines are the “rule of the law” and that’s what the BoE agreed to and approved. In other words, the Allergy Management Policy dictates the Wellness Policy and its guidelines. He further stated that he believes “if a teacher doesn’t want food in the classroom then there should be no food in the classroom.”

In summation, these are guidelines only and are not regulations. If there is a food allergy in a classroom then restrictions will be in place. This year, there were none, but that can change at any time. The health and safety of the children is the overreaching standard.

COMMON CORE & SBAC ASSESSMENT

Themis Enright, Board Member, initiated the discussion about the controversial Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) exam within the Sherman School community, and she read paragraphs from Mr. Fiftal’s recent memo to the BoE members aloud. In summation, Mr. Fiftal recapped the low 52% participation rate situation (students who took the exam) at the Sherman School for students in Grades 3 through 8.

In response, Mr. Fiftal is organizing a Special Board of Education Public Meeting that will take place in the fall, tentatively on September 23rd or 24th. He would like for the panel to include representatives from the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education, the Connecticut State Department of Education, and the Education Connection. From the Sherman School, he would like to have an administrator and a school teacher be panelists as well. He would also like a legal expert well-versed in this subject to be present.

Mr. Fiftal intends to use the Sherman School’s videography team to video-record the presentation and then post it to the school website for easy access by anyone.

In addition, Mr. Fiftal shared another memo he recently wrote to the BoE entitled, Unofficial Sampling of SBAC Participation Rates. He informally collected a sampling of data from several other school districts in Connecticut to see what their unofficial participation rates are like in order to compare them with the Sherman School. Based on this sampling, the Sherman School is the only school with an elementary and middle school participation rate that is under 90%.

As for Sherman High School students attending different area high schools, their collective participation rate percentage is unknown, to-date. However, the high school participation rates are, overall, lower for many of the towns in this sampling. According to the State of Connecticut, the final SBAC exam data should be available near the end of July.

The list of towns in this sample include Avon, Brookfield, Darien, Greenwich, Madison, New Canaan, New Fairfield, New Milford, Newtown, Easton, Redding, Ridgefield, Simsbury, Weston, Westport, and Wilton.

SBAC Testing, Public Comments / Discussion:

Amy Smith, a parent, recommended the BoE should send out an SBAC Test Refusal Survey to find out definitively what the specific reasons are for why 48% of the parents, with children in Grades 3 through 8, refused the exam for their children.

Ms. Smith also brought up the topic of children’s private data and stated how there is “a bill in Hartford right now about sharing this information and that’s a concern.” Regarding protecting children’s private information, Mr. Hanley said “we passed a policy just recently, here, as it relates to data privacy, and testing, and assessment, and informed parental consent; so I feel comfortable with our policy.” Mr. Hanley also said there is no personal information that’s collected.

Mr. Fiftal also asked the Connecticut State IT Director to provide him with all of the SBAC data collected and said it was no different than the CMT. He also said that only a unique separate ID number is on the test along with a child’s first name, so only the school system and State can connect it back. Mr. Fiftal added “the SBAC program would have no way of making any connections whatsoever.” In other words, he looked into how the data is being used and tracked in Connecticut right now, and there is no threat that he sees at the moment.

Susan Zeitler, a parent and anti-Common Core and SBAC Testing local activist, read her letter to the BoE addressing some of the concerns that she has as well.

A SPECIAL PRESENTATION

Project Based Learning: Mr. Luchsinger, who is in charge of both Instructional Technology and IT; and Erika Carlson, Library Media Services Specialist this year and Social Studies Teacher and Gifted and Talented teacher in prior years, presented what this “hot topic in most schools” is all about and how it will be initially rolled out at the Sherman School for Grades 6, 7 and 8.

Mrs. Carlson began by discussing this project based learning method of teaching and learning in which “students are engaging and driving through their own learning process.” In other words, students pick topics of interest, within some structure, and they drive their own learning by using “21st century skills” and are “thinking for meaning” by simulating something in real life.

The students will have the opportunity to rotate between the Computer Lab and Library Media Classroom to get guidance and input from both the Technology Teacher and the Library Media Specialist.

Mr. Luchsinger elaborated on how this 6-week class (6 sessions) would work and how students can build a website or learn code with him then switch back-and-forth between his classroom and the library media services classroom where they can collectively learn, similar to the social media experience of sharing new and experienced knowledge.

Dr. Michael Pascento, Principal, added how there is “scheduling potential” for Grades 4 and 5 as well.

Both Mr. Fiftal and Dr. Pascento thanked Mrs. Carlson for her years of teaching at the Sherman School and for her help with the Project Based Learning initiative. She and her family are relocating.

NEW BUSINESS HIGHLIGHTS

Staff: The BoE unanimously approved a 2.95% salary increase for office staff. For three employees, the amount totals $3,135.59. The BoE also unanimously approved a staffing adjustment, reduced to .45 for the music program.

Dr. Pascento announced some staff changes for Grades 4 and 5. Mrs. Anita Miller will be teaching Language Arts, Mrs. Kim Jansen will be teaching Math, Mrs. Bernadette Linero will be teaching Social Studies and Writing, and Mr. Stephen Rianhard will be teaching Science and Writing.

The Kindergarten through Grade 6 Interventionist positions will be in the areas of Math and Reading. Mrs. Jennifer Rianhard will be the Math Interventionist and Mrs. Helen Scholl will be the Reading Interventionist.

Mr. Fiftal gave the BoE the heads up how there are three non-resident requests by staff for their children to attend the Sherman School in the fall. One request is for a first-grade student who is already in the school system. This teacher pays half tuition and the contract is undergoing annual review. The other two requests would be for the preschool program that has limited space and the staff members would need to pay full tuition for their children to participate. The cutoff date for the preschool program is July 15th and Sherman children have first priority. The BoE will need to authorize Mr. Fiftal to go under contract “if” there is space availability.

MORE HIGHLIGHTS

Curriculum: Mary Boylan, Director of Curriculum and Instruction, debriefed the BoE regarding the continued assessment of some possible new elementary math programs for Kindergarten through Grade 2. She said that both Stepping Stones and Bridges are good possibilities and the cost would be in the $8K to $14K range. As for the Eureka program that was another option, she said it teaches to the whole class and “we want those workstations and we want the workshop model…” instead.

SPTO: Ashleigh Blake, SPTO President, said they recently approved the following requests: Grade 3 Long Island Field Trip (activity only) – $900; Grade 8 Graduation Gifts and Celebration Supplies – $1,000; Spelling Bee Awards – $250.

She thanked the Sherman Art Show volunteers for their efforts. The recent Clothing Drive, organized by Joanna Ribisl, raised $522. As for the first Family Science Night, she said it was a big hit and it will be bigger with longer hours next year.

Dorinda Lenihan, Board Member, along with the rest of the BoE, congratulated Mrs. Blake for her service and dedication during her term as SPTO President.

UNFINISHED BUSINESS

Proposed Additional Purchases List: The BoE approved the following additional purchases that carried over from the last meeting: New Kiln for the Art Program – $3,340; Musical Instruments – $9,055; CABE Online Policy Service – $2,700; Additional Radio Communication for School Security – $2,467.89.

As for these remaining items on this list: a full upgrade of audio / video in the multipurpose room, video cameras for security, wall-mounted classroom projectors, and a gym audio upgrade; the BoE will revisit these requests later.

As for the Kindergarten Wing (K-Wing) Remediation line item for Architectural Services should no longer be on the list and the BoE agreed to take it off. The reason being, they are not yet ready to engage an architectural firm.

Closed Kindergarten Wing: Mr. Hanley recently provided the Board of Selectmen (BoS) with a K-Wing update. He also provided a letter updating parents and teachers via a link in the weekly SPTO eBulletin / eNewsletter.

Frank Spaziani, Facilities Manager, provided the BoE with a payment update. To-date, the K-Wing bills total $11,801.87.

Greenleaf Energy Solutions Proposal: The BoE unanimously approved Mr. Fiftal to sign the contract for new energy efficient lighting that offers a cost-saving incentive program. Mr. Spaziani spearheaded this initiative to replace all of the existing lightbulbs with more energy efficient lightbulbs. The first three years of the savings will go to Eversource, the company who is doing the install. Thereafter, it’s money back into the Town’s pocket. The savings should be huge for fewer kilowatt hours because of these energy efficiency lights.

PUBLIC INTEREST GROUP

Al Zeisler spoke on behalf of the group, Residents for Reliable Cell Service in Sherman (RRCSS). He is looking for the BoE to be aware of and support the group’s on-going efforts to try to get reliable cell service in all of Sherman. He pointed out that if there is an emergency then there may not be sufficient cell service for parents to contact their children at the Sherman School.

Article and Photo by Alicia Sakal, Citizen News Journalist.

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