New Canaan’s school district is seeing a shift, demographically, where its 52 students in English as a Second Language programs have increasingly intense needs, the superintendent said Monday night.
Run well for years by a world language coordinator who relies on tutors to “meet with students to push in with them in classes or during periods or at other times to provide them with some instructional support,” the New Canaan Public Schools’ “English Learner” services have reached a tipping point where they require a dedicated person, Dr. Bryan Luizzi said during a meeting of the Board of Education.
“As we have seen the needs intensify with the student population, what we are finding is that we have a need for a more centralized management of these students in order to be sure they are getting the resources and support that they need to be mainstreamed if possible into the general ed classrooms,” Luizzi said during the meeting, held in the Wagner Room at New Canaan High School.
“The request tonight is for a certified teacher of ESL to join us throughout the district to provide direct support to some students, to provide training and best practices for our staff and work with the tutors to be sure they are up-to-date on best practices, to work with the town and the social services of the town to help connect these families because a student with significant needs often comes from a family with significant needs. The families are offered social services that are available through the town, and [those services] help with the transition and acclimate them to New Canaan to be successful as well … It is something I feel strongly is a need that we have here in the district. By servicing these students well early and quickly as they come into our district, we are able to acclimate them quicker to our whole school program.”
Luizzi’s comments came as he unveiled a proposed operating budget of $89,529,530 for next fiscal year—a 3.8 percent increase over current spending.
During a first read before the school board, Luizzi proposed a fiscal year 2018 budget that included the equivalent of six new full-time positions, two of which are to be entirely funded by grants.
Those positions are a mathematics instructional specialist at Saxe Middle School, five-subject teacher at New Canaan High School to accommodate a 40-student increase in the freshman class, district-wide K-12 ESL teacher and case manager, custodian at Saxe and two special education paraprofessionals at a West School preschool (both grant-funded). The estimated cost for the proposed new staff members is $232,907.
The budget is to get a second read and vote within the Board of Ed in two weeks, before it goes to the selectmen and then town funding bodies for a final vote on April 5.
Regarding the request for the ESL teacher and case manager, Vice Chair Sheri West asked Luizzi at the meeting whether other comparable school districts have the position, and also whether by taking up some teaching duties, the would-be hire could lower the overall number and attendant cost of tutors.
Luizzi responded that “some of the tutors if they had more hours available to them would spend it with other students still in need of support.”
Though working with a cadre of tutors provides some types of flexibility, it is “not the go-to [model] for many districts because of its complexity,” he said.
“Having a well articulated program is very important,” Luizzi said. “There are some districts that have a teacher who may be in each of its buildings, and who is working to support the students in those buildings.”
School board members also asked the superintendent whether the town had explained an increase in providing wireless area network services (yes, it’s tied to infrastructure costs), whether it’s possible to push back on a change in how transportation costs are paid that effectively loses the district more than $31,000 (yes), whether a figure showing some 70 percent of NCPS salaries belong to teachers is consistent with other districts (probably) and whether a class of assessments for elementary school students are done online or with paper-and-pencil (online).
Luizzi during his presentation—it will be presented by the superintendent to the schools’ parent groups (see the calendar here) and likely will be added to the district’s website here—thanked the school board, staff and faculty, community members and others for their help in creating the budget proposal.
He provided a high-level view of the areas that drive the budget—including shifts in enrollment and demographics, sustainability, high-quality instruction, technology, facilities and safety—and spotlighted some areas of excellence in students. They include high performance on state assessments and in rankings—for example, Forbes magazine ranked New Canaan Public Schools number two nation-wide for the “America’s Best School Districts for Your Housing Buck” category—award-winning visual and performing arts programs and a 75 percent athletics participation rate and six state championship-winning teams at the high school.
Here’s a look at some performance benchmarks at NCHS over time:
New Canaan High School Benchmarks
|4-Year College Attendance Rate||94%||94%||95%|
|% Accepted into Top-3 Choices of College**||NA||NA||87.5%|
|% Accepted into 1st Choice of College||66%||65%||NA|
|% Attending "Most Competitive" Schools||28%||34%||27%|
|Average SAT Score Combined||1,771||1,785||1,799|
|Number of Advanced Placement (AP) Courses||22||23||26|
|% AP Tests Scoring 3+||92.4%||92%||92%|
|Average ACT Score||25.9||26.3||27.2|
|% Students Participating in Athletics or Clubs||85%||88%||90%|
** Question about college re-phrased this year to capture more pertinent information
About 64 percent of the budget represents salaries in the district, with an additional 17 percent tied to employee benefits, according to Luizzi.
That is as it should be, he said. While the district finds ways to save money—such as through its heating fuel and electricity costs—“the resources should go to our core work and our core work is the work that happens in the classrooms and happens in support of our students.”
“That is why education is a people business,” he said. “The majority of the resources go to our staffing costs.”