Quick recap of Monday's meeting
This week's Board of Education meeting was both good and bad. Once again, the Board failed to take any real action to solve this problem and refused to commit to any timeline (even, absurdly, a timeline for a consultant to create a work product). The good news is that a handful of the Board members are clearly interested in changing the process and in having the Board take a more active role in developing a project plan, with deliverables and a timeline. We hope that one of them will bring a charter for a BOE School Start Times Decision Planning Subcommittee to a vote at the next meeting. We drafted a sample Subcommittee Charter to define the tasks, roles, responsibilities and deliverables that could be achieved by a BOE subcommittee. We've also created our own timeline that would get us to a Later Start for next year.
The current process is NOT WORKING and could take years to even get to a final list of bus options. The BOE needs to be more involved and work with the Administration to define and develop the information they need to come to a decision. The Administration seems to want to research potential issues until they think they are done, rather than define the problem and look for solutions. That is not how they would approach any other problem, so why this one?
Please get involved and ask that the BOE set a timeline for developing a list of tasks to complete and a timeline for completing them. (We know, that seems like the first step they would have taken 18 months ago). Click here for a VERY quick and easy way to email the BOE today.
Below we have included a full summary of the BOE meeting as well as Action Items. Please get involved!
Discussions behind closed doors
During Dr. Luizzi's presentation to the Board, he told them about five separate discussions that he and Dr. Correnty had over the past week with staff at the five schools: East, West, South, Saxe, and the High School. The teachers raised many important questions and had some of their own interesting suggestions, including:
Lastly, before opening it up to Board member questions, Dr. Luizzi mentioned a few things that he and his inner group of administrators have been researching:
- Younger children do better in the morning, they are not good after 3pm.
- Don't separate the 3 elementary schools any further with start times.
- Could Saxe go in one tier?
- Could all elementary schools go in one tier?
- How can we make sure that students use the extra hour for sleep?
- 7:30am is too early for elementary schools students who would have to walk or wait outside in the dark.
- South School has the ideal start time for teachers and students.
- He has asked the transportation consultant, Mark Walsh, to do a traffic study.
- They are looking into a 2-tier solution whereby all elementary schools would be on one tier, and Saxe and the High School would be on another.
- They are looking at scheduling solutions that could better meet student wellness.
- They are going to send out a student survey to ask how they are spending their time after school until the morning.
- Next week, some folks will be invited for a follow-up conversation. This will include parents.
- He did not mention putting together any project plan or timeline for completing this work.
The Board has questions
The first comment came from Board member Sheri West. She encouraged the Board to create a timeline. Dr. Luizzi replied that it's hard to make a timeline since they don't know the magnitude of the change. Brendan Hayes, BOE Chair, stated that the change will not happen for 2019-20 school year. Again, Ms. West asked to put a timeline around key next steps. Board member Penny Rashin suggested that a decision by the Board on whether or not they want to do something should be made by the end of January. Mr. Hayes decided that instead of picking an arbitrary date, Dr. Luizzi will update the Board once a month.
Board member Maria Naughton suggested forming a subcommittee, something that has been talked about by the Board since the summer of 2017. Ms. Naughton felt as if the Board was not getting timely information, and that parents have suggestions. She made a motion to form a subcommittee, and it was seconded by Board member Tom Cronin. At that point, Ms. Rashin stated that no useful information would come from a subcommittee. Board member, and former Chair, Dionna Carlson added that subcommittees are not formed this way at Board meetings. There are procedures that must be followed, and a form to fill out. Mr. Hayes stated that a subcommittee would slow things down. (We have drafted our own Subcommittee Charter using the BOE's template.)
Board member Jennifer Richardson said that she hears from parents who say that the Board isn't doing anything. She said that nobody on the Board knows enough, and called for a timeline and more transparency. Ms. Richardson asked Dr. Liuzzi if there is a current committee now, other than himself and Assistant Superintendent, Jill Correnty. Dr. Luizzi responded that the administrative team has been gathering information to share with the Board. He felt that a subcommittee would be a change in process and there are pros and cons to that. Ms. Richardson then reiterated that she would like to see parent involvement, have public forums, and keep things very transparent.
Towards the end of the meeting, the discussion circled back to the open motion on the floor from Ms. Naughton to form a subcommittee. She posed the question, hadn't the Board talked about a subcommittee in September? Ms. Rashin suggested that they take a vote on the concept of a subcommittee since they needed to follow the rules they had about forming subcommittees. Ms. Carlson suggested withdrawing the motion, stating again that Ms. Naughton needed to fill out a form. Mr. Cronin suggested amending the motion. Mr. Hayes said that they need to first discuss what exactly the subcommittee would be doing before they would consider forming it. Ms. Carlson thought things should stay the way they are.
There was clear frustration from some Board members who were feeling as if things were happening behind the scenes and they just weren't well informed enough to have an open discussion at the Board meetings. Dr. Luizzi and Ms. Carlson both like the way things are going now, which is that Dr. Luizzi has meetings behind closed doors with teachers, staff, and administration, then he reports back to the Board, without the Board discussing or seeing any documentation beforehand. They both agreed that the public could watch the meetings on TV and be up to date and as informed as the Board. This is what we consider to be a problem - the Board is not working on this any more than anyone from the general public is working on this. They simply attend the Monday meetings and ask questions. At this rate, we will never get to any decisions.
Ultimately, Ms. Naughton was led to withdraw her motion.
Good news, bad news
On the one hand, it was reassuring to see that some Board members were advocating for including the public, for forming a subcommittee (something we've been asking for and have been promised for 2 years), for more transparency, and for a concrete timeline. We learned that Dr. Luizzi is doing most of the heavy lifting by continuing to gather information and write reports with the help of his internal group.
But on the other hand, it is clear that the way things normally work at the Board of Education will not work in this case. Usually, the Superintendent does all the legwork and then reports back to the Board, who then votes yes or no. However, Later Start Times is a complex issue that requires not just educating the Board, but also educating the public. There are so many factors that go into making this decision, and the current slow drip of information to the Board in meetings that are often months apart is as frustrating to them as it is to us.
It is unclear what happens next. Dr. Luizzi seems committed to working without a timeline and to collecting data indefinitely. He doesn't seem to mind that this means ignoring the demonstrated research that no matter what other changes you might want to make to enhance wellness, a start time change must be part of the solution if you want teens to get enough sleep. If we know a start time change has to happen in order to keep kids healthy, why are we moving so slowly?
Here's where we need your help
We need to demonstrate to the Board, especially those members who seem reluctant to the Board taking an active role, that this is a priority for a large number of families in New Canaan.
Choose one thing to do today:
- Write a short (max 350 word) letter to the editor for the Advertiser or New Canaanite.
- Write to the Board and Superintendent. We have made it SUPER easy for you. Just scroll to the pink box below or click here. You can write to them with one click!
- Come to any BOE meetings that you can between now and the end of January. The next one is December 17. We know it's challenging to get out on a Monday night at 7pm. But even bring your kids and we can take turns watching them out in the hallway. Your voice is important!
- Talk to your children about sleep and why it's important. Dr. Luizzi said that a survey is coming their way, so it's best that they are well informed.
- Read Why We Sleep and pass it on to local friends.
- Ask friends if they have signed the petition. If they haven't, lend them a copy of Why We Sleep.