Darlene Pianka

Recent Articles

Schools Superintendent: District Needs Alternative Program ‘With an Identity’ to Keep Students in New Canaan

When Superintendent of Schools Dr. Bryan Luizzi presented a subcommittee of New Canaan’s legislative body with details of a proposal to create an “alternative high school” program for students with specific health challenges in New Canaan last week, a significant portion of the discussion focused on whether the former Outback building behind Town Hall would be a suitable location for the program. Other factors deemed equally—if not more—important were also addressed, including the short- and long-term effects of the program on the educational and emotional wellbeing of New Canaan’s students. Luizzi and Assistant Superintendent of Pupil and Family Services Darlene Pianka outlined their vision for a program that would replace New Canaan High School’s current Afternoon Instruction Program, or ‘AIP,’ which is held in the school’s media center. AIP is currently only available to four to 10 upperclassmen at a time, while Luizzi’s proposal will potentially provide flexible academic instruction for six to 12 students in grades 8-12 based on their educational and therapeutic needs. Over the past year, Luizzi and Pianka have been visiting both public and private alternative programs for teens throughout Fairfield County—some of which have accepted New Canaan students into its programs— and they shared a few of their observations with the subcommittee. Continue Reading →

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Town Council Members Mull Using ‘Outback’ Building To House Alternative High School Program

The superintendent of schools on Wednesday night presented a subcommittee of New Canaan’s legislative body with details of a proposal to create an “alternative high school” program for students with specific health challenges in New Canaan to be housed at the former Outback Teen Center behind Town Hall. Dr. Bryan Luizzi and Assistant Superintendent of Pupil and Family Services Darlene Pianka outlined their vision for a program to replace New Canaan High School’s current Afternoon Instructional Program, or ‘AIP,’ which is held in the school’s media center. AIP is currently only available to four to 10 upperclassmen at a time, while Luizzi’s proposal will potentially provide full- or half-day instruction for six to 12 students in grades 8-12 based on their educational and therapeutic needs, they told members of the Town Council’s Education Committee. The idea of locating the alternative high school at Outback had been broached with a town committee in November and the program itself was presented to the Board of Education on Monday as part of the approximately $90.7 million proposed budget for New Canaan Public Schools next year. Throughout Luizzi and Pianka’s presentation, Education Committee members Tom Butterworth, Rich Townsend, Joe Paladino and Christa Kenin raised questions about the potential costs of the program and the suitability of the Outback as the program’s physical site. Continue Reading →

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Schools: Out-of-District Tuition Costs To Exceed Budget

District officials say they’re projected to spend nearly $600,000 more than budgeted this fiscal year on out-of-district tuition—a line item that can refer, in part, to when public schools pay for the education elsewhere of kids with disabilities. New Canaan Public Schools regularly sees 14 to 18 students “out-placed” each year, Assistant Superintendent of Pupil and Family Services Darlene Pianka said at Monday night’s Board of Education meeting. This year, four additional students around whom the district “had issues of concern around safety” have been “placed in therapeutic settings,” Pianka said. “And in addition to those four students, there have been a number of students in the late summer and in the early fall that the district has been in mediation with over unilateral placements that students’ parents have made—some for other than educational purposes, and others just in their requests for placement that the district disagreed with,” Pianka said at the meeting, held in the Wagner Room at New Canaan High School. According to data supplied by the district at the meeting, $2.7 million had been budgeted for out-of-district tuition this year, and that’s about $579,851 short of what the schools now are expecting to spend. Continue Reading →

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New Canaan Police: Investigations into Anonymous Cyberbullying on the Rise

New Canaan police actively are investigating one case of cyberbullying each at Saxe Middle School and New Canaan High School, and kids found to have perpetrated crimes using social media may face charges that range from harassment to disseminating child pornography, according to the police chief. Though he could not comment specifically on the active investigations, Police Chief Leon Krolikowski said the department receives a handful of complaints each year from families where kids are the victims of cyberbullying, and that the incidence of those cases is on the rise. “We are seeing an increase with the anonymous cyberbullying, with apps like Streetchat and Yik Yak, which allow kids to anonymously bully each other, and they may be a little bit more intolerant and aggressive in some respects,” Krolikowski told NewCanaanite.com. “Any time we see threats and references to weapons, we are pretty aggressive in trying to uncover who is responsible.”

The comments come as the community, including the school district, grapple with the continuous emergence of free, downloadable, and anonymous social media applications used by tweens and teens. Yik Yak, which is text-based, has given way this academic year to Streetchat, which allows users to upload photos, post comments and vote submissions up or down. Continue Reading →

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Concerns Arise as Enrollment Drives up Projected Class Sizes at Elementary Schools

The district will see a steep increase in the number of kids in New Canaan’s elementary schools this coming year, preliminary data show, prompting concerns from some education officials about average class sizes. Projections call for 1,674 elementary-level students in New Canaan Public Schools. Though that figure may be higher than the number of kids who actually show up next Wednesday for the first day of school, it represents a net increase of 72 kids over the last academic year. District officials said during Monday night’s Board of Education meeting that East, South and West schools plan to absorb the additional students with a net increase of just one more class/section. (Tables with average classroom size projections for each school are interspersed throughout this article.)

School board Secretary Dionna Carlson said she’s concerned that six out of the 15 grades (kindergarten through fourth, in each of the three elementary schools) are either at or slightly above class size guidelines. Continue Reading →

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