The Board of Education on Monday unanimously re-elected Katrina Parkhill as its chair. The school board also voted 9-0 to re-elect Brendan Hayes as vice chair and Julie Mackle Reeves as secretary. In nominating Parkhill to a second term, Hayes noted that “it’s been quite a year, to say the least.”
“In a typical year the board chair has a ton of responsibilities,” Hayes said during the meeting, which had members attend in person in the Wagner Room at New Canaan High School as well as remotely. “Many hours spent with the administration, the Board and various committees to work through things on behalf of the Board and really be the leader of the Board. Really what was that means is a ton of hours.
New Canaan Public Schools needs $1.5 million to $2 million beyond what’s budgeted for the current fiscal year to cover expenses related to COVID-19 virus, as well as funds for additional staffing needed to meet a rise in enrollment, district officials said Monday. The district already has spent about $600,000 in areas such as technology (primarily), supplies, signage, barriers and sanitation stations—half again as much as a $400,000 “non-lapsing” account built into the spending plan for fiscal year 2021, according to NCPS Director of Finance and Operations Dr. Jo-Ann Keating. “Moving forward, the big items that we have are staffing—and we can’t really nail that down right now, because it’s going to depend on a number of different things that we just experience annually, like turnover savings,” Keating told members of the Board of Education at their regular meeting, held via videoconference. “And we have added staff but we may have additional turnover savings based on the number of retirements that we have had.”
The district will have a better handle on staffing numbers come September, when it’s more clear just how many kids are attending public schools, Keating said. Major COVID-related technology expenses include WiFi and a classroom livestream learning system with improved audio and visual elements, she said.
“So we are thinking anywhere between $2 million [and] $1.5 million,” she said.
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.
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.
After suspending the practice for one meeting, members of the Board of Education said last week that they’re hoping to find a secure way for the public to offer comment before the elected body during remote meetings in the future. Receiving people’s emails isn’t an adequate substitute for the live public comment period that’s part of regular meeting agendas, according to Board member Dionna Carlson.
“I wouldn’t want to see this going to the emails that just come to the Board, because that’s not public,” Carlson said during the Board’s March 30 meeting, held via videoconference.
“There is a lot going on right now and I do think we need to find a way for the public to be able to address us through the digital platform,” Carlson said. She added, “I think it is is important for us to see and hear the public and for the remainder of the public to see what is being addressed to the Board. So I would not want to see this go to emails and things like that. We just need to figure out how to work with [New Canaan Public Schools Technology Services] to keep these random things off the Zoom platform or go to a different platform that is more secure.”
She referred to inappropriate material that appeared during recent public meetings held by other municipal bodies in New Canaan on Zoom videoconferencing software—a practice known as “Zoom-bombing.”
Board member Bob Naughton suggested the district look into webinar platforms that require advance registration.
Board Vice Chair Brendan Hayes said it was a good idea to “pre-clear those who are going to speak.”
“It is a bit difficult, I think, but my guess is we are not going to have a huge number of people during this period of time,” he said.