Monroe’s elementary school principals support budget requests

Elementary school principals, from left, Ashley Furnari of Stepney, Kelly Svendsen of Monroe Elementary, and Leigh Metcalf Ances of Fawn Hollow, present their budget requests to the Monroe Board of Education during its meeting last Tuesday.

MONROE, CT — A new assistant principal at Fawn Hollow Elementary School could help Principal Leigh Metcalf Ances properly manage a building of just over 700 students, while freeing her up to be the dynamic instructional leader needed to improve academic performances at her school, according to administrators speaking at last week’s Board of Education meeting.

A 10-month-per-year assistant principal position is included in Superintendent Joseph Kobza’s $72.5 million budget request.

“I think the numbers alone justify the position,” Ances said of the student population at Fawn Hollow.

During last Tuesday’s meeting, Ances, Stepney Elementary School Principal Ashley Furnari and Monroe Elementary School Principal Kelly Svendsen sat together, while presenting their requests to the school board.

“I was an assistant principal in a building that had a little over 400 students at the elementary level, Kelly as well,” Furnari said.

Further, Svendsen said an assistant principal at Fawn Hollow would free up administrative support for all three elementary schools.

Currently, other staff members pitch in to assist Ances, but she said, “on any given day we can get pulled in a direction that disproportionally leaves those other buckets unfilled, whether it’s the parent concern bucket or a student support bucket or student safety.”

Maxed out

Staffing proposals also include a 0.4 counselor position at Stepney, which currently has a 0.6 counselor, bringing it to the equivalent of one full-time counselor.

Furnari told board members the American School Counselor Association says the ideal ratio of counselors to students is 250 to 1. For a comparison, that equates to a ratio of 875 to 1 at Stepney, which has 521 students, according to Furnari.

She said her school counselor’s schedule is so booked up, she had told Furnari she could only break away to talk to her for 15 minutes in an emergency.

“The other day I had a bullying investigation,” Furnari said. “I really needed her support. I see her as a right hand person in the building.”

She said her counselor runs all of Stepney’s 504s, which are formal plans schools develop to give kids with disabilities the support they need, all Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, and the school emotional support team.

“Only being there three days a week, parents will call. It’s a Monday, I’ll say, ‘oh she’ll be back on Wednesday,'” Furnari said. “That’s why we asked for a 0.4 increase.”

Alan Vaglivelo, a board member, asked if there was a backup plan if a parent calls on a Monday when the counselor is out.

“Either myself, our school psychologist … we all wear multiple hats and we support each other,” Furnari said of others filling the void. “That’s why we meet weekly, to be able to talk about kids. We all have our eyes on all kids who are in need.”

Greg Beno, another board member, asked what the student to counselors ratio would be if the 0.4 position is approved. Furnari said 521 to 1.

“That still doesn’t meet that ideal guideline, but it would definitely help having someone in the building every day,” she said.

Furnari said her counselor teaches lessons to classes, works with parents on giving outside support, makes recommendations, and runs the Scientific Research-Based Interventions meetings, adding, “the list is endless.”

“She’s spread thin and I think it’s the same across the three buildings,” Furnari said of school counselors.

“They try to be as responsive as possible,” Ances said. “We will work with students. We will do restorative conversations, restorative practices and all of that takes time. They’re doing that, but they’re maxed out.”

More supervision

The three principals expressed support for an armed security officer at Masuk, an officer  who could be a floater, filling in at their schools when their school resource officers are out; a half-time speech and language pathologist for Stepney, a 0.3 special education teacher at Stepney and a 0.4 at Monroe Elementary.

The special education hours, which would be paid for through an IDEA grant, would increase two existing teachers to full-time positions. But Kobza noted the district cannot depend on the grant every year.

A non-certified staff request includes five lunch/recess paraeducators, two at Fawn Hollow, two at Stepney and one at Monroe Elementary School, each working for 15 hours a week.

Dennis Condon, a board member, asked if the schools could get volunteers to monitor lunch and recess, rather than hiring paraeducators, who are paid and could more suitably be used to assist teachers in the classroom.

Ances said, “we tried that, but they’re volunteers. If they have something and can’t be there, we still have school.”

Atomic Math

Svendsen presented a portion of the budget that only consists of money the three elementary school principals have access to spend on things like instructional supplies and conferences for teachers to expand their knowledge and skills in different subject areas.

That is a combined budget of $165,000, a $9,000 increase from the current year.

Among the instructional supplies are “consumables” such as notebooks, chart papers and sticky notes that have to be replenished.

Svendsen said teacher conferences normally cost around $250 per person to attend. Currently, the elementary school budgets could cover $35 per certified staff member. They’re asking for this to be increased to $50, so more could attend and share what they learned with other staff members.

“Atomic Math is something a lot of teachers go to every year,” she said, giving one example. “It’s a fancy math professional development.”

“Not everybody goes,” she said. “Only a few teachers will reach out and say, ‘hey, can I go to this?’ And it depends on what time of year they ask and whether we have the money. I may say, ‘you went last year. Let someone else go this year.'”

Svendsen said it’s hard to say no to teachers when they don’t have the money.

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