This article is the fourth in a series of stories from the Monroe Board of Education’s budget workshops. Board members are reviewing Superintendent of Schools Joseph Kobza’s $62.1 million proposal for fiscal year 2021-22
MONROE, CT — Stepney Elementary School does not have a library media specialist to teach children “digital citizenship” and how to do research online and there is no math and science coordinator for Stepney, Fawn Hollow and Monroe elementary schools.
“They’re not in this budget and that’s going to be an issue in the next year or two,” Board of Education Chairman Donna Lane said at a budget workshop on Dec. 14. “By not having coordinators, we will start to feel those effects.”
Stepney Principal Bruce Lazar, who did a presentation on budget requests for the town’s three elementary schools, said those positions will be requested for the 2022-23 budget.
New requests in Superintendent of Schools Joseph Kobza’s $62.1 million budget proposal for 2021-22 includes an increase in instructional supplies, including math workbooks for kindergarteners, lunch para-educators and a $1,500 stipend for each school to pay a teacher to be the administrator in charge when the principal is not in the building.
“Our budget’s do not change a heck of a lot from year to year,” Lazar said. “We’re gonna need textbooks and we’re gonna need paper. We’re gonna need those things that cost more every year. Our bottom lines basically stay the same.”
Normally, Lazar said the three elementary schools manage to spend 50 percent of their instructional supply budgets before the district freezes spending amid difficult budget years.
He said bringing back the para-educators is not a big ticket item, but helps the schools a lot. Currently, he said Fawn Hollow and Stepney are using teachers for some of the lunch waves and recess duty.
“We thought it was important to put that back in there for each one of our three schools,” Lazar said.
Nick Kapoor asked fellow board members for their support in bringing back the summer reading program, which was cut this year, at a cost of $15,000.
“Listen, you don’t need an advance degree in education to know we are not sure how the kids are gonna come back after COVID,” he said of all the time students are spending outside of their schools with hybrid and remote learning.
Kapoor said students in grades K to five should benefit most by having the program restored over the summer, should the district return to full in-person learning next fall.
In the program, Lazar said children struggling in reading are identified during the school year and invited to join the summer reading program to catch up with their classmates. Two groups meet mornings in July, twice a week for four weeks.
The X factor
Lazar said all three schools have concerns over growing enrollment and maintaining smaller class sizes. Fawn Hollow added 53 students over the summer, Stepney added 47 and Monroe Elementary School added 14.
“Those numbers are twice what we bring in over a typical summer,” he said.
He said educators have yet to see what the impact will be when families who kept their children home in the primary grades during the pandemic decide to send them to school.
“I currently have 60 kindergarteners. Three classes of 20,” Lazar said. “I don’t want them to be any larger, obviously. Do I have to budget for another kindergarten teacher? Does Fawn Hollow? Does Monroe? We don’t know. That’s kind of the X factor here when it comes to our enrollment numbers.”
The larger classes are working their way through the system. Lazar said Stepney’s fifth grade has three classes with 22 to 25 students, who will be going to Jockey Hollow Middle School next fall.
What library media specialists do
Lazar said Stepney Elementary School’s library media specialist position was transferred out at the end of the year, then the position was never filled. He said Stepney now has a librarian, while Fawn Hollow and Monroe have library media specialists.
“A library media specialist does some things a librarian can’t do, especially in primary grades,” Lazar said.
Aside from that position, he said the elementary schools want to bring back money for professional development.
Dr. Alan Vaglivelo, a board member, asked what a library media specialist does.
“For the upper grades they teach digital citizenship,” Lazar said of grades three through five, “basically how to handle a computer. What you should be doing online.”
The specialist teaches children about internet safety and how to use credible sources to do proper research, preparing students for middle school.
“For the primary grades, the library media specialist will teach how to use technology. What’s the proper way to go about it. What they will use it for,” Lazar said.
He said the library media specialist instructs kids in grades K-5, often taking over a classroom and working with students on their Chromebooks.
Sheila Casinelli, the English language arts coordinator for K-5 and director of instruction and professional development for the district, said the classes dovetail with Common Core State Standards, English language arts lessons, and sometimes into Next Generation Science lessons.
Projects are related to school curriculum, so it is not an add on, Casinelli said.
Children learn to do presentations on applications like Google Slides or create a blog post. “They try to expose them to different technology tools to able to present the curriculum they’re learning,” Casinelli said.
Jerry Stevens, a board member, said Jockey Hollow Middle School used to have a dedication computer teacher, so the library media specialists fill a void. Lazar said he believes that’s why former superintendent, James Augustine, had pressed so hard to have specialists in all the schools.
Cassinelli said library media specialists incorporate the International Society for Technology in Education standards of empowered learner, digital citizen, knowledge constructor, innovative designer, computational thinker, creative communicator and global collaborator.
Kobza asked her to tell board members what their schedules are like.
“It’s pretty jam packed,” she said, because library media specialists deliver instruction in the classrooms, while still working with children on projects. “They don’t have any down time,” she added. “They’re busy.”
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