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.

After One-Time Suspension, Board of Ed To Reinstate Public Comments Monday

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.

Board of Ed Backs $92.8 Million Spending Plan; Final Recommended School Start Time Schedule Still To Come

The Board of Education on Tuesday night voted 6-1 to recommend an approximately $92.8 million spending plan for next fiscal year. The budget brought forward by Superintendent of Schools Dr. Bryan Luizzi and endorsed by the school board during its regular meeting represents a 1.47% increase over current spending—within Board of Finance guidelines. 

It includes about $950,000 needed for new transportation costs that would come with a revised school start times schedule, though it is unclear which of two equally expensive start time scenarios the Board of Ed ultimately will recommend. 

The first scenario, studied and discussed extensively for months, would see the three elementary schools start together at 7:45 a.m., followed by the seventh and eighth grades at Saxe Middle School and all of New Canaan High School at 8:30 a.m. with the fifth and sixth grades at Saxe starting together at 9:15 a.m.

Major advantages of that schedule include starting school late enough that adolescents get sufficient sleep, district officials have said, citing established medical data and recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics. It also would see all three elementary schools get onto the same start and end time schedule and avoid having those young kids in school late into the afternoon, when anecdotal evidence says they tire out, officials have said. Yet based on strong feedback from the community, including families with kids in elementary school, Board of Ed Chair Katrina Parkhill said the elected body may consider another scenario that “flips” the first and last “tiers.” In other words, the fifth and sixth grades would start at 7:45 a.m. while the elementary schools would all start at 9:15 a.m., she said. “This scenario may more appropriately balance schedules, in response to family and community needs,” Parkhill said during the meeting, held in the Wagner Room at NCHS.