2020-21 Academic Year: District’s Phased Plan Calls For All Students To Be in Public Schools in Early-October

 

If health data supports it, New Canaan Public Schools will aim to allow students to attend all classes in-person in early October, district officials said Monday. School will look different at that time, officials said during a regular meeting of the Board of Education, held via videoconference. For example, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Bryan Luizzi said, those in school will be wearing masks and observing physical distancing, hallways will be marked one-way, classrooms will be assigned designated bathrooms, visitors will be prohibited and all assemblies will be held virtually. Though Fairfield County has what health officials are calling “low community spread” of COVID-19 virus—meaning the state is allowing local districts to fully reopen with in-person learning—the first several weeks of the upcoming academic year will be spent re-acclimating students and parents, as well as teachers and faculty, to the changed environment, officials said. Available here in a continuously updated operations guide, the four-phase plan is geared toward the school community’s “on-boarding and reengagement,” Luizzi said.

Board of Ed Debates Adoption of Proposed Goals on ‘Equity, Diversity and Inclusion’

The New Canaan Board of Education last week debated whether to adopt formal goals for the upcoming school year designed to address issues of race through staff training, changes to curriculum and parent education, among other areas. 

Draft goals discussed at the Board’s July 13 meeting (they can be found here, under Goal 4-2, and embedded below as a PDF) include creation of what would be the districts’ first “statement on equity, diversity and inclusion,” as well as an update on Social Studies curriculum and identification of “additional opportunities in other content areas to increase content on diversity and inclusion K-12.”

Some Board members voiced support for adopting the goals, while others said they were concerned about introducing the changes during an academic year that likely will include some form of distance learning amid the COVID-19 pandemic that strains the “bandwidth” of educators and where spending on schools is tight. Sheri West said she strongly supported the new goals and that it’s “crucial that at this moment in history, that we as a Board, as educational leaders in our district that we communicate the importance of these values and really truly that they are at the cornerstone of what we do—our values and our belief system and our actions.”

“I especially like the addition of the professional development and of the parent education,” West said during the 3.5-hour meeting, held via videoconference. “One thing I would like added is I believe in order for us to execute on these goals, we are going to need budget dollars to bring in an expert consultant. I don’t think this is work that we can do alone. I think many districts have already or are hiring DEI [diversity, equity and inclusion] leaders for their districts.

School District Sees Rise in Enrollment for Second Straight Year

With another increase expected this year, enrollment in New Canaan Public Schools is bucking recent projections that it would flatten, officials said Monday. The district now has 4,194 students enrolled for the upcoming academic year—28 more than last year and 29 more than projected, according to NCPS Director of Human Resources Darlene Pianka. (The figures do not include preschools.)

During an enrollment update to the Board of Education on Monday night, Pianka said New Canaan’s elementary schools now have 1,491 students enrolled—14 more than at the end of June—and that the district will add a kindergarten section at East School and fourth-grade section at South School to maintain acceptable class-size levels. Responding to Board member Dionna Carlson’s observation that recent projections showing a flattening in enrollment are not bearing out, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Bryan Luizzi said, “It’s not bearing out and it’s not bearing out in the region.”

“We are hearing from the towns around us that where it was bearing out, they are seeing a turnaround,” he said during the meeting, held via videoconference. “We are a little concerned about a labor shortage, so we are aggressively going into the market to shore up those long-term subs that are certified positions.

New Canaan Public Schools Alumni Call for More Diverse Faculty, Expanded Curriculum To Address Racial Injustice

Saying they represent more than 650 present and past students and parents, New Canaan Public Schools alumni last week called for the district to hire more people of color, expand curriculum to address systemic racism and inequity, and hold twice-yearly events to educate both students and faculty on racial justice. Addressing the Board of Education during the public comment period at the elected body’s June 15 meeting, the alumni also called for the public schools to interview at least one candidate of color for every faculty and administrative position available. 

Valentina Zamora, a rising senior at New Canaan High School, said those who signed a June 7 letter to the district—it now has more than 700 signatories—also are calling for the hiring of a new director of diversity and inclusion for the district “to oversee the development of diverse curriculum and programming” as well as a restorative justice counselor “who will be responsible for re-framing the settlement of conflicts and discipline within the New Canaan Public Schools community.”

“Looking back at the 2019-2020 school year, where 417 white teachers and 20 nonwhite teachers were employed, we hope to see 25% faculty of color employed in academic disciplines by 2025,” Valentina Zamora said during the meeting, held via videoconference. “Along with this, we recommend that New Canaan Public Schools reports and publishes demographics of all faculty hired each fiscal year to show progress toward this goal.”

The comments came on the heels of a peaceful protest in New Canaan that drew thousands of participants, calling for an end to police brutality and racism in the wake of the May 25 killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Local police and government officials joined in the protest here, and nationally Floyd’s death has galvanized advocates for change in law enforcement and beyond. Fatou Niang, who organized the New Canaan protest together with her sons, told Board members that in talking to them about what’s happening “the first thing that they told me was it was impossible to go through the public [school] system, and not come out racist.”

“And that shocked me, that kids going through the New Canaan system can think like that,” said Niang, who addressed the Board on the same topic as the alumni group though not as part of the same presentation.