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West Hartford Board of Education Gets Back to Business

After a three-month hiatus, the Board of Education began the 2012-2013 school year with an address by a parent about the handling of concerns about Duffy Elementary School, followed by 'Opening of School' briefings from administrators.

The West Hartford Board of Education held its first regularly scheduled meeting since early June on Tuesday night, with reports on the reopening of schools as the major topic of discussion.

Before the board addressed the main part of its agenda, however, parent Anna Shusterman used the public comment session to express her opinion regarding the handling of .

"My main concerns are transparency and due process in town education and government," Shusterman said. She pointed out that that parents had been expressing concerns and engaging in dialogue with board members and school officials for many years before the petition signed by 90 people expressing a vote of no confidence was filed this summer.

"I frankly believe that there were many opportunities that the district and Board of Education did not take to find adequate solutions to problems that were reported to you year after year," said Shusterman.

Shusterman expressed disappointment with the handling of the matter by the town and the administration, and said she and other parents had hoped the process of dealing with their concerns "would be fair and transparent to all parties, regardless of the ultimate outcome."

She stated that there have been serious allegations of bullying, harrassment, and misconduct. "When a family finds cause to call the police because of how an educator has physically handled their child, and the town claims to have no record of this case and the many meetings that went along with it, that is an egregious failure of management," Shusterman said.

Shusterman said that it is not suprising that so many families have chosen to remain quiet and "fly under the radar" since there has been a "focus on damage control rather than due process." She said that she and others hope the district and board will address the "enormous gaps" in the process.

The main focus of Tuesday night's meeting was a briefing by administrators on the opening of schools and summer activities.

Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment Dr. Eileen Howley said that professional development will be a major focus of this academic year, as teachers and administrators work to incorporate curriculum changes necessitated by the transition to Common Core State Standards as well as future changes to student assessment and teacher evaluation.

Assistant Superintendent for Administration Tom Moore reported that although some work remains to be done on the replacement of a portion of roof, the majority of the capital improvement projects being undertaken this summer have now been completed. Moore publicly thanked Director of Plant and Facilities Bob Palmer and Community Services Director Rob Rowlson for their assistance in ensuring the completion of work in accordance with the town's high standards.

, who began work Tuesday as the head of Information Technology for the town and the schools, will be overseeing the installation of wireless technology at all schools. Work on that project also began Tuesday and is scheduled to be completed at all schools by the end of the first semester.

"Google Apps for Education" have also been made available to all middle and high school students. To enable use of that technology, all Gmail addresses for all middle and high school students "will be rolled out on class by class basis," Moore said.

This year residency has enrolled 1038 new students, including 555 new kindergartners, Moore reported.

Executive Director of Human Resource Rick Ledwith reported that 44 new contracted teachers and 28 interim teachers have been hired for the 2012-2013 school year, as well as four new administrators.

The district is seeking to increase the diversity of its staff to more closely align with the population's diversity, and Ledwith said that approximately 14 percent of new staff members are minorities, up from 9 percent in last year's recruitment results.

Director of Pupil Services Glenn McGrath reported that his department is beginning the school year fully staffed, including para-professional and teaching assistant positions, which is "not always the case."

McGrath reported on other successes, including a six-week extended school year program for 233 pre-K through 12th grade students held this summer, which provided the opportunity to "maintain and expand their skills and learning."

Although a final report on enrollment will not be made to the Board of Education until late October, Director of Finance and Planning Chip Ward said that preliminary enrollment appears to be "close to projections," with an initial enrollment of 50 students less than anticipated. All elementary school sections are within class size guidelines, he said.

Complete reports from all administrators are included as links to the agenda for Tuesday's Board of Education meeting on the West Hartford Public Schools website.

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