Little Rebound from Dramatic COVID Declines for Eastern Connecticut Schools

Public school enrollments along the eastern shoreline of Connecticut aren’t showing the rebounding numbers some expected after dramatic declines during the pandemic. In a review of preliminary enrollment data for districts stretching between Guilford and New London, school officials reported generally disappointing numbers. Last year, Guilford schools lost 154 students — nearly as many as the district lost over the previous five years combined — but gained back just 11 students this year. Old Saybrook similarly reported a gain this year of 14 students, after losing 121 students last year during the pandemic. Waterford, which lost 102 students last year,

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‘Equity Analysis’ Draws Praise of East Lyme School Officials

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EAST LYME — Superintendent of East Lyme Public Schools Jeffrey Newton praised the results of a district-wide audit by the not-for-profit Equity Institute that solicited feedback from students, parents and staff. The Rhode-Island-based group was hired by the district in April 2021 to perform an “equity analysis” on the district, and presented its results to the town’s Board of Education on Monday. Newton said the district chose the group, which asked $15,000 for their work, based on positive experiences with two other districts in the neighboring state. “We liked what they had to offer and what they were sharing for

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Slate Opposing Critical Race Theory Sweeps Guilford Primary in Heavy Turnout

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GUILFORD — Candidates running in opposition to Critical Race Theory once again swept the Republican slate in a primary on Tuesday night. As of 7:30 p.m. — thirty minutes before polls closed — 47 percent of 3,511 registered Republicans had come out to vote. Republican Registrar of Voters Gloria Nemczuk called the turnout “incredible.” Four years ago, she said, the turnout for the primary for first selectman was 29 percent. Danielle Scarpellino, Tim Chamberlain, Nick Cusano, Bill Maisano and Aly Passarelli – who formed a campaign called “5 Reasons Why”. – received between 1,275 and 1,265 votes each.  Their opponents

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Newly-Appointed Commissioner of Education Charlene Russell-Tucker is on the Record

CT Examiner sat down with newly-appointed commissioner of education Charlene Russell-Tucker, to talk about how schools will address the challenge of COVID-19 this school year, the efforts to hire a sizable and diverse body of teachers and staff, and the use federal money to support students with academic learning loss. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.  What are some of your goals for your tenure as commissioner?  My big audacious goal is making sure that every school building in Connecticut has the resources necessary to support the behavioral health needs of our students and staff, because studies

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Madison Students Buck Statewide Trend, Show Gains in Learning Last Year

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New standardized test data for students enrolled at public schools in Madison buck widespread declines by school districts across the state, when compared to 2018-19 test scores. According to state data from the Smarter Balanced Assessment, 69 percent of students in grades 3 to 8 in Madison performed at grade level in English in the year 2018-19. Remarkably, that number rose to 73.2 percent for students learning fully in-person for 2019-20. The number of students learning at grade level in math rose as well, from 66.8 percent to 69.2 percent last year.  Craig Cooke, superintendent of schools in Madison, said

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Test Scores Show Clear Advantage of Classroom Learning over Remote Models

According to data released on Tuesday by the state’s Department of Education, primary and secondary students studying remotely and in hybrid models last year lagged significantly in standardized test scores measuring achievement in math and English compared to students who learned in a classroom setting. Data drawn from Smarter Balanced Assessments, Connecticut’s standardized test for students in grades 3 to 8, showed that remote learners in Connecticut at these grade levels showed a 15.6 percent decrease in English proficiency and a 25.7 percent decrease in math proficiency last year compared to their peers in 2018-19. Students enrolled in hybrid learning

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A Shortage of Bus Drivers Stymies Return of School Across Connecticut

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On the first day of school in Hamden, 300 students were left without a school bus route, and were told instead to take public transit or have a parent drive them to school. “We were just informed by the bus company that they do not have coverage for 7 bus routes affecting Hamden Public Schools, St. Rita’s and Sacred Heart Academy. There is a nationwide bus shortage which has impacted many school districts across the country,” read a notice posted by Hamden Middle School’s Parent Teacher Association on Saturday afternoon. According to First Student, the bus company that works with

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Old Lyme Candidates for Board of Education Speak to the Issues

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As Lyme-Old Lyme’s Board of Education prepares for a sizable turnover in November, slates endorsed by the Democrats and Republicans took questions from CT Examiner about their spending priorities, about communicating with the public, the teaching of History and measures needed to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Four incumbent members of the Board — Richard Goulding (D), Stacey Leonardo (R), Jean Wilczynski (D) and chair Diane Linderman (D) — are not seeking re-election. The Old Lyme Democrats have endorsed incumbent Martha Shoemaker (D) and newcomers Alexander Lowry (D), Marisa Calvi-Rogers (D) and Jason Kemp (D). The Old Lyme Republicans have

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Taking Stock of the Learning Losses as Schools Reopen for the Fall Semester

In two weeks, Megan Szczesny’s 8-year-old daughter will be starting third grade in Madison public schools. She hasn’t attended traditional all-day, five-day-a-week classes without wearing a mask since she was in first grade and being diagnosed with dyslexia and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). “When COVID first hit in March 2020 the schools closed and we panicked,” remembered Szczesny. “Our services were cut by 85 percent, so we had to seek outside help.”  Even in a normal classroom setting, with one-on-one support and special education, Szczesny’s daughter struggled.  But without most of that support, at-home remote education was a disaster. 

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Local Schools Finalize COVID Rules, Wait for State Guidance on Masks

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As local school officials wait for critical guidance from Gov. Ned Lamont about whether masks will be required for students and staff, district by district school officials are finalizing plans for what other health and safety measures — like cohorting, distancing and cleaning — will stay in place when the schools open in the fall.  One significant change is that the state will not count remote learning days toward the minimum required instructional days, which means that districts will no longer offer remote learning as an instructional option. Last year, the Governor’s emergency orders allowed the use of remote learning

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Independent Party Steps in to Oppose Truth in Education Candidates in Guilford

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GUILFORD — The Independent Party of Connecticut has endorsed five candidates, including two Democrats, for the Board of Education, in an effort to sidestep rules that would guarantee at least some members of a slate of Republican candidates affiliated with Truth in Education would be seated after the November elections.  The group, which says it is opposed to the teaching of Critical Race Theory, ousted incumbent Republican board members in local party caucuses held last month. Bill Bloss, a lawyer who has represented Connecticut’s Independent Party and a 20-year Democratic member of the Board of Education, told CT Examiner that

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The Candidates: Haddam-Killingworth Board of Education

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Mask mandates, alternative pathways to college and curriculum diversity are all up for debate as candidates for the Haddam-Killingworth Region 17 Board of Education make their cases for election in the fall.  The regional Board of Education has eleven seats — five from Killingworth and six from Haddam. In November, three of the six Haddam representatives are running for re-election: Democrat Brenda Buzzi and unaffiliated members Prem Aithal and Joanne Nesti. Two board members from Killingworth, Republican Eileen Blewett and Democrat Kathleen Zandi, are also running for another term.  The elections come at a critical time for local schools, with

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‘Truth in Education’ Candidates Sweep Guilford GOP Board of Ed Endorsements

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GUILFORD — Republicans voted Thursday evening to place five candidates on the ballot for Board of Education who were endorsed by the organization Truth in Education, a local group that has focused its opposition on Critical Race Theory. Several candidates endorsed by the group said they felt there was a lack of transparency from the current board and that their concerns were not being heard.  The five candidates were chosen out of eight nominees and beat out the three incumbent members on the Board of Education who were up for re-election: Joseph Golino, Ted Sands and Amy Sullivan. Truth in

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Previewing the Black and Latino Studies Elective in Connecticut Public Schools

An ancient African king who made a religious pilgrimage accompanied by caravans of gold. An FBI operation spying on members of a movement for Puerto Rican Independence. A Black female cowboy from the 19th century who “broke more noses than any other person in central Montana.” These are a few of the histories and stories included in the state’s new Black and Latino Studies curriculum. In 2019, Connecticut became the first state in the nation to require every public high school to offer an elective in Black and Latino history. The new curriculum, which was completed on July 1, will

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Clinton Schools Invest in Vocational Classes For Middle and High School Students

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CLINTON — Jessica Flanagan is looking forward to her senior year at The Morgan School where she’ll be working on a catapult that can shoot melons across the river behind the school.  Flanagan said the catapult was inherited from former engineering classes, but still needs design modifications before it’s ready to launch the fleshy projectiles.  And that’s not the only project in the works by engineering students at Clinton’s public high school. In the lab on the bottom floor of the school, students are programming robots, engraving blocks of wood with lasers, and welding together the metal frame of a

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Lyme Academy of Fine Arts Gets Back to its Roots, Offers New Classes

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OLD LYME — With a $1.657 million budget for FY21-22, about 120 students enrolled in summer classes, and a small full-time core program that will start in the fall, Lyme Academy of Fine Arts is rebounding after two rough years.  “People are so enthusiastic to be able to finally come and receive classes in person and meet other peers, so it’s a really positive atmosphere,” said Amaya Gurpide, director of drawing, who was hired in February along with her husband, Jordan Sokol, who is artistic director for the school.  Sokol said a range of summer classes, landscape workshops and youth

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UConn Awarded $40 Million Grant to Develop Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Data Network

It can probe the inner workings of a Lithium ion battery, it can shed light on genetic diseases, and it’s even been used to develop cancer treatments — it’s a technique called Nuclear Magnetic Resonance.  Nuclear Magnetic Resonance is similar to magnetic resonance, most commonly known for its use in MRI machines, and both techniques use magnetic fields to gather information on a molecular level. Nuclear Magnetic Resonance causes the electric charges in the atoms of a given molecule to emit frequencies, which give scientists information about the size, structure and movement of molecules.   “They act as little atomic spies,

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UConn and UConn Health Use Multiple Strategies to Balance 2022 Budgets

The Board of Trustees was able to approve balanced budgets for the University of Connecticut and UConn Health for the 2022 fiscal year because of a generous amount of federal and state aid and an anticipated return to near-pre-pandemic levels of student residential life.  “It’s actually kind of a low-drama result from a high-drama year,” Scott Jordan, the university’s Executive Vice President for Administration & Chief Financial Officer, said at a Board of Trustees meeting on Wednesday.  In 2021, the university faced a $75.5 million deficit mainly from a loss in revenue from housing and dining during the coronavirus pandemic.

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Connecticut Plans Statewide Online School For K-12

Virtual classrooms may become a permanent fixture in the state of Connecticut.  New legislation tasks the state’s Department of Education to develop plans for a K-12 statewide remote learning school that would use the same curriculum and have the same school year length as a traditional school, but would be under the jurisdiction of the State Board of Education. Peter Yazbak, director of communications for the Department of Education, said that state officials still need to work out the specifics of how the school would be funded and which students would be eligible.  A proposal should be sent to legislators

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A Minor Tweak that Doubles Funding for Some Regional Schools

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A minor tweak in Connecticut’s funding formula for school districts will more than double the amount that Lyme-Old Lyme schools receive from the state over the next two years.  In 2021, Lyme received $60,216 and Old Lyme received $238,583. According to projections from the School and State Finance Project, Old Lyme’s state funding will increase to $370,531 in 2022 and $502,478 in 2023. Lyme’s will increase to $89,603 in 2022 and $118,989 in 2023.  The increase is a result of a “regional bonus” that gives regional school districts $100 for every student enrolled in a regional school. A previous bonus

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Wave of Teaching Hires Challenges Connecticut’s Job Market

Madison is hiring two new teachers for the fall. East Lyme needs two kindergarten teachers, two second grade teachers, a social worker and six paraeducators. Stonington plans to hire at least 20 teachers, tutors and interventionists. Region 4 and Guilford are hiring permanent substitutes. Old Saybrook is hiring temporary therapists, social workers and psychologists through outside agencies. Norwich schools are hiring 15 specialists, 35 summer school teachers and 14 paraeducators. But there’s a catch — many of these positions may last just one or two years.  The federal government has sent a wave of funding to local schools across the

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Westbrook Schools Field Ideas for Federal Funding, Electives, ‘Wellness Rooms’

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WESTBROOK — How should local schools spend $700,000 of federal grant money? Local residents have plenty of ideas, starting with air conditioning. According to school Superintendent Kristina Martineau, many of the 100 people responding to her request for feedback on spending the federal aid asked whether the money could be spent on air conditioning installation and HVAC improvements in the three school buildings. Martineau spoke to the Board of Education on Tuesday. While that was the most common request, Martineau said it certainly wasn’t the only one. Outdoor classrooms were also a popular suggestion. Others wanted to fund specific activities,

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Clinton Schools Await State Guidance on Masks, Request Local Feedback on Spending

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Clinton schools are looking for public feedback on its reopening plan for the fall and how to use $1.7 million of federal dollars the town is expected to receive under the American Rescue Plan Act. Every school district in Connecticut must create a “safe return to in-person instruction” plan to access federal funding. The town’s current plan is to drop the remote learning option, but continue with masks and social distancing, in accordance with current state guidelines.  At a Board of Education meeting on Monday, superintendent of schools Maryann O’Donnell said that the plan is still dependent on state guidance.

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Heat, Humidity, Masks Spur School Closures Across Connecticut

High temperatures and humidity led multiple Connecticut school districts, including Madison and Guilford, to call an early dismissal today. Superintendent Craig Cooke of Madison Public Schools said the decision to dismiss early in Madison probably would not have happened if the students did not have to wear masks.  “I think it’s more difficult certainly with the heat for students and staff in schools,” said Cooke. Currently, Madison has air conditioning at Daniel Hand High School, Brown Intermediate School and part of Polson Middle School. Neither of the two elementary school buildings are air conditioned. Cooke said they decided to dismiss

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Lyme-Old Lyme Schools Plan a Busy Summer of Upgrades, Future Sportsfield Lighting

LYME-OLD LYME — The local schools are planning a busy summer of upgrades to school buildings, with around a dozen projects slated for construction through the summer and early fall.  The projects include upgrades to sound systems, the construction of two outdoor classrooms, renovations to the playgrounds, a bonded study for future building upgrades and beginning construction on the new synthetic turf field, which is scheduled to be finished in September.   “These are a lot of great improvements for the district,” said Lyme-Old Lyme district Superintendent Ian Neviaser at a board of education meeting on Wednesday.  Lights on the turf

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Lyme-Old Lyme Schools Drop Masks for the Fall

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LYME-OLD LYME –The Lyme-Old Lyme School District has decided that it will not be requiring students to wear masks in the fall.  Superintendent Ian Neviaser said at a Board of Education meeting on Wednesday that this was part of a plan for in-person re-opening that the district would submit to the state by the end of the month. The plan is a requirement for districts in order to receive funds from the American Rescue Plan, the most recent — and largest —  grant allocations from the federal government.  Neviaser said that the district’s intention was to create a school year

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Students Urge Committee to End Resource Officer Program in Middletown Schools

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MIDDLETOWN — On Tuesday night, current students and recent graduates of Middletown High School voiced support for ending a program that places police officers in district schools. The public comment was part of a meeting of the Middletown School Resource Officer Exploratory Committee, which was formed in March to evaluate the role of officers in Middletown schools. The committee will advise the Board of Education on how to address the issue moving forward. The committee includes two board of education members, three school principals, two teachers, a social and emotional learning coordinator, four community members, three students, the youth service coordinator,

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Lamont and Legislators Negotiate over Millions of Dollars of Educational Funding

Connecticut’s poorest school districts are anticipating millions of dollars of additional state funding directed toward creating a more equitable school system. It’s unclear how long they will have to wait. But the answer in part depends on the outcome of budget negotiations between the governor and the legislature over the next ten days. Gov. Ned Lamont has said that he would like to freeze funding increases to distressed school districts for two years — funding that was already negotiated — and use the money to balance the state budget. But legislative leaders say they want to continue to fund the

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Legislature Delays Decision on Education Funding, Millions for Norwich and New London

HARTFORD — A proposal that would have sent millions of dollars to some public schools beginning next year through a change in state funding meant to further equity between Connecticut school districts has been postponed for further study.  It’s a proposal that would have given $6.2 million to Middletown, $9.4 million to New London and $9.7 million to Norwich next year alone according to the nonprofit School and State Finance Project. Proponents argued in a public hearing in March that this would bring needed dollars to the districts sooner rather than later.  “More than ever, communities require greater resources to

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Madison Debates Four-part $85 Million School Project

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MADISON — School Superintendent Craig Cooke presented plans for an $85 million building project for the school district that will go to the town in a referendum in late 2021 or early 2022.  The project includes four parts: constructing a new pre-kindergarten to fifth grade elementary school, closing Jeffrey and Ryerson Elementary Schools and the Town Campus Learning Center, converting Brown Intermediate School into a kindergarten to fifth grade school and renovating Polson Middle School. Completion of the project is aimed for 2025.  Cooke said in a presentation to the Board of Education on Tuesday night that the disctrict expected

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