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.

CELEBRATION

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.”

INTRODUCTIONS

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.

PRESENTATIONS

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.

PROJECTS

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.

PUBLIC COMMENTS

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.

SAVE THE DATE

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.

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