As Labor Leaders Gather on Friday in Hartford, Faculty and Administrators Debate Consolidation of Community Colleges Across Connecticut

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In the hopes of improving student outcomes and reducing costs for state taxpayers, Connecticut’s twelve community colleges are expected to be consolidated into a single accredited institution in 2023. “Students First will help improve the success rate of our community college students which is not good at all right now, the lowest in New England actually,” said Mark Ojakian, president of the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities system. “It will address the equity gap that exists and thirdly put our community colleges on a sustainable financial path for the future.” According to Leigh Appleby, director of communications for the school

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Area Schools Show Jump in English Language Learner Enrollment

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Between 2015 and 2019 the number of English Language Learners in Westbrook Schools increased from 5.9 to 11.9 percent of the student body. As of October, that’s 89 students spread across grades kindergarten through 12 entering school without fluency in English. “We expected this population to rise, but it appears to have happened sooner than we thought,” said Patricia Ciccone, superintendent of schools in Westbrook. Although Westbrook has seen the greatest increase of English Language Learners by percent in the region, a broader trend is evident. Old Saybrook’s population of English Language Learners increased from 2.6 to 4.8 percent and

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Experts Debate State Approach to School Safety

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“Initiating emergency lockdown,” an electronic voice announced from a speaker on the desk phone. A small red button on any phone in all four of the Lyme-Old Lyme school buildings can activate a “critical incident response,” a school safety procedure drilled twice each month.  “The state requires you to do at least one drill each month, at least eight fire drills and two lockdown drills,” explained School Superintendent Ian Neviaser. “We do two per month — sometimes lockdowns, fire drills, critical incident drills.”   That’s 20 drills each school year, in addition to class time devoted to safety training. As of

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Eligibility for Free & Reduced School Lunch Jumps in Semi-Rural and Suburban Towns Under New Formula

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In the last three years, Old Saybrook Public Schools has seen a 11.1 percent increase in students receiving free or reduced school lunch. Putting aside the issue of declining enrollments in the district, 227 students qualified for subsidized lunch in 2018-19, compared to just 100 students in 2015-16. “The reasons for the increase are hard to assess because the information is so highly confidential. I do not know the names of the students on free and reduced lunch, so [I] rarely become aware of who is receiving this benefit,” said Superintendent Jan Perruccio. “I will say that there seems to

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Old Saybrook Board of Education to Phase-in Universal Pre-School

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OLD SAYBROOK — The Board of Education voted unanimously to authorize the superintendent to proceed with a phased-in approach to adding universal preschool for 4-year-olds in the Old Saybrook. “We move very deliberately in this district,” said Jan Perruccio, superintendent of Old Saybrook schools. “It is a safe way to pilot this that allows us to expand this without stretching it so far that it runs the risk of failing.” The phase-in will begin next school year, reducing preschool tuition from $4,300 to $3,450  for non-special education students, and increasing non-special education enrollment of 4-year-olds from 35 to 45 students.

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$26.8 Million to Fund Reorganization, Scholarships in Early Childhood Education

On Thursday, the Office of Early Childhood received a $26.8 million federal grant targeted toward supporting and expanding the workforce by easing the burden of childcare. “How do we support the workforce, that is the essential problem,” said Beth Bye, the commissioner for the Office of Early Childhood. “Childcare and workforce go hand in hand. That’s why we are coordinating with the workforce efforts led by Governor Lamont.” Without reliable childcare, it is more difficult for parents to work outside the home and join the workforce — a priority for the governor, said Bye. “The strength of our state is

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Department of Education Balances Work and College Prep for Connecticut High School Graduates

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In 2017, 70.9 percent of new Connecticut high school graduates enrolled in a college or university, according to the State Department of Education. Nearly 30 percent of Connecticut students joined the workforce with a high school diploma. In a statement this October, the State Department of Education underscored the need to provide public education that directly meets the needs of both career paths. “We strongly believe that Connecticut’s K-12 public education system must not only emphasize rigorous, well-rounded academics and citizenship, but also evolve to meet the needs of the state’s economy. In addition to providing pathways to college through

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Letter: Portland Superintendent Responds to Open Choice Reporting

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I recently read the December 12th article published in the CT Examiner entitled, Few Rules, Little Oversight for 11 Million Open Choice Program.  I was astonished by two assertions raised in this article: First, the suggestion that funding used to supplement limited resources that support teaching and learning is a “slush fund” and not subjected to rigorous accounting procedures and oversight is entirely inaccurate. Second, the suggestion that a program designed to reduce the racial, ethnic, and economic isolation in Connecticut Public Schools is not having a positive influence on student learning is misguided and does not reflect the reality that I know.   The perceptions

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Few Rules, Little Oversight For $11 Million Open Choice Program

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Each year the state writes a check for more than $11 million that is shared among 13 school districts as compensation for accepting 2,242 students from Hartford into their schools. That money – called the Open Choice grant – arrives after local school budgets are finalized and comes with no specific guidelines for its use, according to the State Department of Education. “Open choice is essentially an entitlement grant. We don’t track the district’s expenditures,” said Peter Yazbak, the director of communications for the State Department of Education. “Open choice grants go to districts in the form of revenue like

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More than $3 million on athletic facilities could be spent in Lyme-Old Lyme

LYME – OLD LYME New tennis courts, a pending turf field installation and the coming renovation of the elementary and middle schools are planned for Lyme-Old Lyme schools in the next five years. The needed high school tennis court renovations with bleachers and a windscreen will cost the school district $571,360, according to the latest design. “We are going out to bid the beginning of January and will hopefully be bringing bids to the February meeting,” said John Rhodes, facilities director for Lyme-Old Lyme. Rhodes, who is retiring at the end of the school year, said, “I hope to be

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Advocates Consider Changes to Connecticut’s Special Education Burden of Proof and Funding

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In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that parents, not school districts, are required to prove that an Individualized Education Plan is unsatisfactory to a child’s needs. This federal ruling does not overturn state statutes where they exist, however, and Connecticut is currently one of just five states to place the burden of proof on the school district during an appeals process of a special education determination. In 2005, twice as many states and the District of Columbia had similar regulations. “A bill to change that is submitted every year, but it hardly ever makes it out of committee,” said

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Nonprofit Guides Board of Education Policy Across Connecticut

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Bob Rader has spent almost 25 years as executive director of the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education (or CABE) encouraging elected board of education members across the state to follow a common set of best practices when working with fellow board members, the public and media. “We have no authority to police or regulate our districts,” Rader said. “Instead, we rely on them learning best practices and working with their superintendent to effectively lead.” This fall, hundreds of newly-elected board of education members will attend a full-day conference led by the registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit, drawing from about 150 member

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High Costs, Diverse Outcomes for Educational Special Needs in Connecticut

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Sarah Tyszka’s son is in sixth grade, but reads at a preschool level. He has dyslexia, a condition that typically requires one-on-one reading instruction to learn to read and write, according to the Dyslexia Society of Connecticut. Last year Tyszka’s son received one-on-one instruction, but this year his school does not have a teacher certified for that instruction. “He clearly needs intense intervention to be successful, yet they lie and say he’s getting small-group instruction, when in reality that means he sits at a table of four in a classroom of thirteen,” Tyszka said. “He’s not learning to read in

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Attorneys Offer Timeline, But Few Answers on Region 4 Land Purchase

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DEEP RIVER — Residents and elected officials from Chester, Essex, and Deep River asked questions and offered criticism of the Board of Education for Region 4 schools, and its attorneys, at a special Monday night workshop devoted to a controversial 2017 land purchase for $380,000 that board members later discovered had not been budgeted. “You don’t have much of an answer to anything,” Charlie Barton, a Chester resident, told the board and their attorneys. “That’s one of the problems here. I want to know who said to go ahead with this. That should be forthcoming — either the regional superintendent, the

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Courtney Boosts Job Training to Old Saybrook Rotary

OLD SAYBROOK — Congressman Joe Courtney said Wednesday that Electric Boat is expected to add jobs in the coming years but that schools and governments will need to support workforce training programs to ensure that there are enough workers with the technical skills. Courtney took questions and had lunch with the Rotary Club of Old Saybrook at Luigi’s Restaurant that afternoon. EB and the U.S. Navy are currently working on a contract — which Courtney said was worth roughly $20 billion — that would have the Groton-based manufacturer building at least nine Virginia-class submarines between fiscal years 2019 and 2023.

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Letter: Candidate Steven Wilson Makes the Case for Moderation and Change in Old Lyme

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I know this is very last minute but after speaking to so many Old Lyme residents who are still “undecided,” I felt compelled to speak. I was asked to run for the Lyme-Old Lyme Board of Education over the summer. As a 15-year weekend/summer resident and a new full-time resident, I eagerly accepted the opportunity to serve the community that has served my family and me for so long. With two children enrolled in the Lyme-Old Lyme High School, I have a vested interest in participating in the decisions that affect us all. That said, I am still a relatively

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Letter: Mounting Legal Fees, Blurred Lines in Region 4 Schools

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This Monday, November 4, at 6 p.m. in the John Winthrop Middle School library in Deep River, three lawyers from a Hartford law firm will explain the nuances of the property purchase next to the high school over 2 years ago. Hopefully they will explain why they charged fifteen thousand dollars to close a three-hundred-fifty-thousand-dollar cash deal — with no bank work. Since the closing — again over 2 years ago — we have spent at least another fourteen thousand plus on this same purchase and same firm to clean up title problems, and fight with Deep River over the

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Board of Education Candidates Debate Lyme – Old Lyme Schools

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OLD LYME — “Why are you running for the Board of Education?” was Tuesday night’s opening question to four candidates who gathered on the middle school stage to answer questions and state their positions on topics which included Region 18’s strengths and weaknesses, declining enrollment and regionalization, among others.  Republicans Suzanne Thompson and Steve Wilson and Democrats Sarah Bowman and Jason Kemp participated in “Meet the Candidates for Board of Education,” hosted by Lymes’ Youth Service Bureau (LYSB) and the Lyme-Old Lyme Chamber of Commerce and sponsored by LymeLine.com. Two candidates, Democrat Lorianne Panzara-Griswold and Republican Jennifer Miller, were unable

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East Lyme School Board Candidates Explain Ideas for Budgeting in Tough Times

EAST LYME — Leading up to Election Day on November 5, seven candidates are vying for five contested seats on the Board of Education, in which all but one of the incumbents are Republicans and all of the newcomers are Democrats. Longtime school board chair Timothy Hagen is running for re-election for a two-year term in an uncontested race. The Democratic candidates are all seeking four-year terms and their party did not nominate a challenger to Hagen. The candidates consistently identified budgetary challenges as the most important issue facing East Lyme Public Schools in the years to come, noting cuts

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Letter: After Legal Fight Without Clear Cause, Region 4 Shows Better Judgment

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Two concerns about Region 4 are raised in Julia Werth’s article about recruiting fee-paying Chinese students through SPIRAL. One will likely prove to be unwarranted; the other seems to require a more fulsome explanation. We should not be too worried that Asst. Superintendent Kristina Martineau was reimbursed to house summer campers once the district was contractually obliged to accept them. Region 4’s contract with SPIRAL set a modest reimbursement rate that was available to anyone willing to provide a similar service. Thus far, based on publicly available records, Dr. Martineau doesn’t appear to have received special treatment, nor does she

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Shoreline Schools Look to Foreign Students to Meet Enrollment, Diversity Goals

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IN THE REGION — For the past five years, East Lyme High School has welcomed between six and ten international students from China into their community. The students are recruited by SPIRAL International, a Vermont-based student exchange program, which pays East Lyme High School $19,000 per student. This year, however, just one student is participating in the program. “Due to the big political climate between the two countries, a lot of students are afraid of coming to the U.S. this year,” said Jia Shi, the program director at SPIRAL International. “For this year, yes it is becoming harder to recruit

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Mediation, Non-disclosure Agreements Challenge Educational Opportunity in Connecticut

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This year Elizabeth’s son started at a special school for children with dyslexia after years of fighting to have his disability acknowledged by the local education agency. The local school district, however, is not helping to pay his outplacement tuition.  “The school district denied all of our requests for appropriate practice, trained expertise and service time in August and then in the same meeting denied our resulting outplacement request. They denied the outplacement and then denied our request for mediation,” said Elizabeth, who asked to remain anonymous due to the ongoing discussions regarding her son’s individualized education plan (IEP). “The

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Southeast Connecticut Turns to Co-ops for High School Sports

As of the 2018-19 school year, Valley Regional High School and Lyme-Old Lyme High School share five co-op sports teams:  football, cheerleading, swimming, fencing and ice hockey. Three of the five teams were formed in the last three years. “Co-ops just give us more of an opportunity to allow athletes to experience sports on the high school level that they wouldn’t be able to play otherwise,” said Gregg Simon, the associate executive director for the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference (CIAC). “If a few schools do not have enough athletes to field teams, it’s great when they can come together to

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Region 4 Essex-Chester-Deep River Schools Omitted Boys Activities, Costs from Title IX Compliance

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ESSEX – CHESTER – DEEP RIVER — Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 was passed to prevent discrimination in any education program or activity, including sports, based on sex. The idea is that boys and girls are given equal opportunity to participate in all federally-funded activities. To be in compliance with Title IX, districts not only need to keep track of expenses, they also need to monitor use of practice fields, gymnasiums, locker rooms, team rooms and timing of games. The district needs to show that they are making an effort to provide equal opportunities in sports

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Navigating Local Education for Students with Special Needs in Connecticut

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There are 77,000 students in the state of Connecticut with an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), nearly 15% of the total student population of about 530,000 in 2018-19, according to the State Department of Education. For students with various disabilities that can impact their learning in a traditional school environment, an IEP is a written agreement between a school district and a family that provides a modified plan of education, services and resources. “It is supposed to be everyone looking at the information and making a decision about what is appropriate for the child together,” said John Flanders, the executive director

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After Spending $23,771.50 to Challenge FOI Request, Region 4 Drops Appeal, Institutes Reforms

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ESSEX – CHESTER – DEEP RIVER — On Thursday, the Region 4 Board of Education voted to drop an appeal of a two-year-old freedom of information (FOI) request by an Essex resident. The litigation had cost the district $23,771.50. The request was originally made of the Region 4 board of education and superintendent on September 12, 2017 by James Carey. According to the Freedom Of Information Commission which was handling the appeal, Carey requested “all external and internal communications regarding the district’s plans to, and subsequent engagement of, SPIRAL International to provide foreign student services to the District, including, but

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As Details of Land Deal Come to Light, Region 4 Schools Look to Move Forward

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ESSEX – CHESTER – DEEP RIVER — In August 2017, Regional School District 4 purchased the 13-acre Mislick property without an independent appraisal. The district relied instead on a seven-month-old appraisal completed for the seller, Essex Savings Bank. That appraisal was labeled “for Estate Planning Purposes and, the only intended users are Rogin Nassau LLC and Essex Savings Bank and/or designated affiliates.”  The appraised value was for the full 38-acre property, including the buildings, of which only 13 undeveloped acres were purchased by the school district. And because the purchase was a cash transaction with funds thought to be set

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Opinion: Board of Regents Lacks Accountability, Siphons Funds from Students

This year marks my second decade as a college faculty member. I know I’m getting older now because students don’t recognize many, if not most, of the cultural references I offer in class. When it comes to cartoons I don’t even try. For example, Mr. J. Wellington Wimpy was a secondary character in the comic Popeye. He was famously ravenous when it came to hamburgers, even when he didn’t have the funds to pay for them. His catch phrase was “I will gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.” While my students might not recognize J. Wellington Wimpy, I think they and everyone

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Region 4 Board of Education Flouts Law, Runs $379K Debt in Error

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In August of 2017, the Region 4 Board of Education, representing the towns of Chester, Deep River and Essex, spent $379,916 to purchase the Mislick Property adjacent to Valley Regional High School. The idea was that someday in the future the land could be used for additional sports fields. In a July 5 email, then-Superintendent Ruth Levy announced that the district’s offer was accepted and the purchase would likely be finalized within the month. “We are very appreciative of the entire negotiation process and your support in this ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity,” she wrote in the email to the

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Essex Second in the State on Improved Scores; New London Beats Average; High Needs Scores Jump

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On average, just 45 percent of third- through eighth-grade students met individual growth targets on the state’s Smarter Balanced standardized tests during the spring of 2019. In other words less than half of the students are making adequate strides in education this year, explained Ajit Gopalakrishnan, the chief performance officer for the State Department of Education. In Essex, however, the picture is very different. Although the district — which ranks 12th in the state in English Language Arts testing, and 26th in math — may not be the top performing school in the state or region, almost 90 percent of

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