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.
As has been done successfully at the elementary level, district officials said Wednesday that they plan to bring Saxe Middle School students back to full in-person learning in phases starting next week. Under a plan discussed at a meeting of the Board of Education Reopen Committee and backed by its members, all fifth-graders would return to Saxe on Tuesday, with the sixth grade starting full in-person learning the following Monday, Oct. 5. The approach will help faculty and staff “work through some complexity of that with the arrival, with dismissal, with lunches, with outdoors spaces, with all of what it takes, and even furniture arrangements, things like that,” Superintendent of Schools Dr. Bryan Luizzi said the meeting, held via videoconference.
“And our custodial crew has to work even harder when all the students are back in, because there’s more students in the space, more things to clean and disinfect each night and all of that. So look at fifth grade on Tuesday and then following Monday bring back in the sixth grade.
New Canaan’s elementary schoolchildren have been using outdoor spaces for independent learning, though a lack of WiFi has pre-empted the ability to live-stream classes, district officials say. The kids are going outside for “mask breaks’ and “the teacher might have given directions to the classroom saying, ‘Screens down, we’re going to go outside and do our independent reading and we would like you guys to finish your independent reading at home,’ ” Dr. Jill Correnty, the New Canaan Public Schools assistant superintendent of curriculum, instruction and assessment, told members of a Board of Education committee last week. “And then they have been using timers on the smart board for the young kids, so that the timer actually goes off and that’s the 20 minutes, and that’s the signal for coming back together as a class,” Correnty told the school board’s Reopen Committee during a Sept. 15 meeting, held via videoconference. “And so I have seen a lot of those countdowns happening in the classrooms. And they are using beyond the courtyards.
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.
Though enrollment for New Canaan Public Schools next academic year remains largely in line with projections, district officials say they’re in communication with local real estate professionals who are anticipating a high number of move-ins from New York City amid the COVID-19 public health emergency.
What initially had been a discussion about high demand in the local rental market now appears to be true for prospective homebuyers, according to NCPS Director of Human Resources Darlene Pianka. “I think the general consensus is that the spring market is just starting to happen right now,” Pianka told members of the Board of Education during their regular meeting, held Monday night via videoconference. “So houses are coming onto the market in a delayed manner. Where we would have been starting the housing market in March, things slowed down for those three months and are just beginning to pick back up. Anything can happen and we are certainly watching it every day.”
The comments, made in response to a question from Board of Ed member Sheri West, came as Pianka reviewed the district’s own enrollment numbers, based largely on data verification with public school families, and compared those figures against projections from the Marlboro, Mass.-based New England School Development Council, known as NESDEC.