Dionna Carlson

Recent Articles

Board of Ed Moves Toward Allowing K-9 Searches for Drugs in Schools

The Board of Education on Monday took formal steps toward allowing police K-9 dogs to search school property for drugs. 

During the first read of a draft policy during the board’s regular meeting, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Bryan Luizzi said “the idea is that the superintendent would be empowered to authorize a search of the schools, any one of the schools, with police and police dogs.”

“The policy from the Board of Ed really speaks to a belief in the importance of having substance-free schools,” Luizzi said at the meeting, held in the Wagner Room at New Canaan High School. “I have been in schools that had searches. It can be difficult, complex to put in place, but certainly worthwhile.”

Under the draft policy— based on a template supplied by the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education—the Board of Ed would “permit the administration to invite law enforcement agencies or other qualified agencies or individuals to search school property with dogs trained for the purpose of detecting the presence of illegal substances, when necessary to protect the health and safety of students, employees or property and to detect the presence of illegal substances or contraband, including alcohol and/or drugs.”

Luizzi said he has met with Police Chief Leon Krolikowski and that the draft policy had been reviewed by the chief. It’s similar to what’s been adopted by school districts in towns such as Wilton, Greenwich, Monroe, Shelton and Brookfield, Luizzi said. The school board’s action follows strongly worded comments in April from both police officials and residents urging the district to allow the K-9 searches. Continue Reading →

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‘A Concern That I Have’: New Canaan High School Sees Drop in Teacher-Coaches

Just 37 percent of the total athletics coaching positions at New Canaan High School are filled by Board of Education staff—a figure that has dropped off in recent years though it would benefit the district to see it higher, officials say. Out of 106 coaching positions, 39 are filled by district staff, a number that represents 29 unique coaches, as some of them coach multiple sports, according to NCHS Athletic Director Jay Egan. A closer look at the numbers shows that just 21 of those unique coaches are teachers, Egan told Board of Ed members at their most recent meeting. “So that means almost 20 percent of the coaches are teachers,” Egan said at the June 18 meeting, held in the Wagner Room at NCHS. “Now, 15 years ago that was a much different model. Continue Reading →

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District Officials Release School Start Times Survey Results; Public-Facing Committee To Convene in the Fall

An internal district working group has found that New Canaan should continue researching “slightly later start and end times” for the middle and high school and “slightly earlier” times for elementary schools, according to research that the superintendent of schools made public Monday night. As it considers whether to make changes so that high schoolers aren’t starting so early, New Canaan Public Schools “should prioritize student sleep and time for homework in making scheduling decisions,” according to a presentation that Dr. Bryan Luizzi shared during a meeting of the Board of Education. The Board of Ed remains far from reaching a decision—its members talked about convening a public-facing committee in September and reiterated that nothing will happen until the 2019-20 academic year, in part for budgeting reasons. While Luizzi reviewed much of the scientific evidence surrounding adolescent sleep and health (“The research has shown me that this is an important consideration for schools,” he said, adding that “the science of it certainly seems to be pointing to a need for schedules to be developed that facilitate student sleep”), an April survey from Hanover Research—of 1,312 middle and high school students, 1,126 parents and guardians, 379 school staff members and seven people from the wider community—found that respondents perceive starting school later would have a negative effect on homework (as well as activities outside of school). Yet the survey also found that respondents believe starting earlier complicates parents’ work schedules and before-school care, and has a negative impact on participation in school publications and performing arts programs.

“Ultimately, I don’t know what the answer is going to be,” Luizzi said at the meeting, held in the Wagner Room at New Canaan High School and attended by more than 50 parents. Continue Reading →

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‘Lightened My Mood for the Day’: Popular ‘Goat Yoga’ Classes Come To New Canaan Library

The dolphin, the eagle, the downward-facing dog, the extended puppy—yoga poses are full of animal references. On Wednesday afternoon, dozens of locals gathered on the lush green lawn of “Christine’s Garden”—the New Canaan Library property at the corner of South Avenue and Maple Street—to practice the popular discipline with baby goats. Organized through the library, “Goat Yoga”—led by a Hamden-based livestock rescue farm—sold out three sessions on a hot, sunny day in downtown New Canaan, two for teens and one for adults. “It’s an hourlong class with little goats running around, jumping on you, being obnoxious, eating your clothes or trying to, peeing on your mat, pooping on you,” Leah Hilton, co-owner of Nadeau Farm, said from outside a corral at Christine’s Garden while Tanya Sage led a class of smiling, laughing, photo-taking women practiced a “gentle” version of Eastern breathing and posing techniques inside it. Asked what the appeal of goat yoga is, Hilton said with a laugh, “That is the appeal.”

The working livestock farm has been in her husband’s family since 1939, Hilton said. Continue Reading →

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‘The District Is Always Looking for Ways To Rationalize Costs’: Board of Ed Spotlights Money-Saving Efforts

Through contract negotiations, competitive bidding, new carrier agreements and shifting retirees to a state health plan, New Canaan Public Schools has saved nearly $1.6 million annually in the area of employee benefits, district officials said last week. About 80 percent of the district’s operating budget is devoted to staff salaries or benefits and that is an area “we can be creative in and have some good thoughtful conversations is around the type of health benefits that we offer our employees,” Dr. Jo-Ann Keating, NCPS director of finance and operations, told members of the Board of Education at their regular meeting May 21. Public schools officials looks especially at plan design changes, such as those in other districts, and cost-sharing options, Keating said at the meeting, held in the Wagner Room at New Canaan High School. Together those components “do generate quite a bit of savings for the school district.”

“And it is really the one thing that we are able to use to offset our salaries, because salaries grow at a much lower rate than health insurance does,” Keating said. “You have close to double-digit increases with trends in some years whereas salaries lower percentages.”

Specifically, she said, the district is saving $747,000 per year through contract negotiations (by replacing a PPO with a high-deductible plan for both certified and non-certified staff, and a 1 percent savings through cost-sharing), $326,000 through competitive bidding (stop loss insurance changes that significantly increased the threshold, creating risk, but saved money as fewer claims came in, and life and long-term disability), and $506,000 through carrier agreements such as pharmacy rebates and performance guarantees, as well as transitioning retirees from Cigna to the state Teachers’ Retirement Board or ‘TRB’ plan. Continue Reading →

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