As the warm days of summer begin to wind down, more than 4,000 New Canaan students are preparing to go back to school.
This year, a possible record-high number of students will find a new superintendent, three new principals, new programs and safety initiatives as they return from vacation Wednesday, Aug. 27.
"As the summer begins to wane and opening day approaches, I hope you share our eager anticipation of another year full of exciting opportunities and limitless possibilities," Bryan Luizzi, interim superintendent of schools, said in a letter to students and parents this week.
Changes in leadership
Luizzi replaces Mary Kolek, who retired this summer after two years on the job. The interim superintendent will lead a district where enrollment continues to rise and will oversee a nearly $81 million operating budget. The district also is undergoing a series of major projects, including a window replacement at South Elementary School, an auditorium renovation at Saxe Middle School and a wireless infrastructure upgrade at Saxe and the high school.
At East Elementary School, Kristine Woleck is the new principal following the retirement of Alexandra "Bunny" Potts, who worked in the district for 25 years. Woleck previously worked as assistant principal at East and West elementary schools.
Director of Human Resources Gary Kass said the district still needs to hire a part-time music teacher for the elementary schools. According to the district's website, there also are vacancies for substitute teachers, special education and general education instructional assistants, among other jobs.
Besides new principals, the elementary schools will see the biggest changes in the 2014-15 school year when it comes to enrollment.
Although the number was steady in July, the first few weeks of August brought enrollment to a possible all-time high. The district's latest enrollment report shows an increase of 64 students overall. As of Aug. 18, there were 4,245 students enrolled in the district, up from last year's 4,181. The number also is above the New England School Development Council projection of 4,185.
At the elementary level, 1,674 students are enrolled. The number was estimated to increase by 28, but it has already gone up by 72.
Kass said he's following the numbers closely in case the district needs to make staff adjustments so that it complies with the Board of Education's class-size guidelines. According to those guidelines, class sizes should be 16 to 20 students in pre-kindergarten to grade three, 20 to 24 students in grades four through eight and 14 to 25 students in high school.
The average class size for all elementary school grades are at or above the guidelines. Second-grade class sizes at East and South elementary schools are 21.5 and 21, respectively. The average second-grade class size at West is 20.5.
Despite the increase, the total number of elementary school sessions has gone from 81 to 82 so far, but it could change depending on the enrollment levels in the next few weeks, Kass said.
Saxe is actually seeing a decrease of 18 students, which is in line with the NESDEC projections. Enrollment at the high school is steady, with an increase of 10 students so far.
Another change at Saxe is a full-time school resource officer. The school is the second in the district, along with the high school, to have a police officer working on site every day during school hours.
As part of another safety initiative, police said it would intensify their efforts to target drivers violating traffic laws near New Canaan schools. Through Operation Drive Safe Near School, officers will be assigned to both marked and unmarked vehicles and will target drivers who exceed the speed limit, pass stopped school buses, use hand-held cellular phones while driving and violate other traffic laws that compromise safety near the schools.
Police Sgt. Carol Ogrinc asked commuters to leave their house early and be patient while waiting behind a school bus.
Other changes in the district include the expansion into the middle school of the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math program, or STEM -- which has been successful at the high school.
In addition, throughout the 2014-15 school year, Director of Digital Learning Robert Miller will be working on a new technology initiative. The "X:1" program, which is expected to kick off in fall 2015, seeks to increase mobile device use in all schools to a level where each student would have access to at least one device throughout the day and at home.
"As we continue to look forward to the challenges and opportunities in store for our students, we gladly accept the awesome responsibility of preparing every child to succeed, and excel, in the dynamic and complex world ahead," Luizzi said in the letter. "This year, as superintendent, I look forward to learning even more about the entire district, K-12, and to working with all stakeholders as we continue the tradition of excellence that has come to define the New Canaan Public School system."
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