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.

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.

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.