Year in Review / Resignations, redistricing and renovations highlight 2017 in school news
Published 3:38 pm, Friday, December 29, 2017
FAIRFIELD — Resignations, redistricting and renovations made headlines in Fairfield education in 2017.
The long-awaited Holland Hill renovation got its final approval, the district’s racial imbalance plan, and the future of diverse McKinley Elementary School, was of major concern to the Board of Education, as was the legality of a town employee’s position on the board. Sacred Heart and Fairfield universities saw extensive expansions, while the latter celebrated a birthday and a change in leadership.
State officials told the Fairfield Board of Education in January that the district would have to find ways to combat racial imbalance in its schools in order to comply with state law that states no school should be more than 25 percent more diverse than the other schools in the district.
McKinley Elementary School, which is more than 50 percent minority students, was flagged as racially imbalanced by state standards in 2007.
In order to rectify the problem, the district opened a preschool at Greenfield Hill and started an opt-in program for neighboring Bridgeport students. Neither has fixed the problem. Still, in September, the state Board of Education approved a multiyear plan that includes expanding schools, making McKinley a magnet school and redistricting students.
Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) found at Fairfield Ludlowe High School during a window replacement project this summer were deemed not a risk to the health of students, according to town and health officials.
Environmental consulting firm Woodard & Curran tested PCB levels at the school and found none were above Environmental Protection Agency standards set for schools. The window project continued without interruption, though Woodard & Curran said continued seasonal testing would be required.
The Town Plan and Zoning Commission approved in December the renovation project that will add five classrooms, a music room, special education resource rooms, an expanded kitchen area and a new performance platform/instrumental music class space. Lockers will also be replaced in the school.
The project is expected to be complete for the 2019-20 school year.
Anthony Calabrese, director of Parks and Recreation, sparked a debate in April among the Board of Education members, who believed his role of interim director of Parks and Recreation at the time conflicted with his role on the board and defied the town’s charter.
At the April 6 meeting of the board, three members — Eileen Liu-McCormack, Donna Karnal and John Llewellyn — walked out on a vote to approve an amendment to the town’s racial imbalance plan in an effort to force Calabrese’s resignation.
Calabrese ultimately did resign from his position on the Board of Education when he began work in the role of Parks and Recreation director full time.
New Board of
November’s election brought four new faces to the nine-member Board of Education. Newcomers Jennifer Jacobsen, Jennifer Leeper, Jeff Peterson and Christine Vitale were selected from a pool of eight onto the board for the first time, while incumbent Nick Aysseh was elected to a second term. The new board, which also includes Chairman Philip Dwyer, secretary Jessica Gerber, Jennifer Maxon-Kennelly and Trisha Pytko, met for the first time Nov. 28.
In March, Fairfield University celebrated its storied past in town with a series of events marking its 75th anniversary.
In June, the university ushered in its new future by welcoming Mark Nemec, the school’s new president. Nemec worked formerly as an academic dean at the University of Chicago. He is the author of “Ivory Towers and Nationalist Minds: Universities, Leadership, and the Development of the American State” and was a contributor to “The Educational Legacy of Woodrow Wilson.”
Solar panels were installed in the parking lots of Fairfield Warde and Ludlowe high schools this summer, doubling each school’s solar capabilities at no cost to the town and could save an estimated $1 million in clean energy spending.
The panels were approved in May and were ready for the start of the school year.
Fairfield and Sacred Heart get homes for nursing programs
Both Fairfield colleges built new spaces to house their respective nursing programs in September. Sacred Heart University unveiled a new 120,000- square-foot building shared by the College of Nursing and College of Health Professions. Fairfield University, meanwhile, debuted the Marion Peckham Egan School of Nursing, a 70,000-square-foot structure.