NEWTOWN — The Board of Education, meeting Tuesday, January 5, received several reports and approved a new master schedule for 2021-22 at Newtown Middle School.

Principal Thomas R. Einhorn presented the new schedule, which was designed with input from stakeholders such as teachers, parents and administrators, who gathered input from area schools and surveyed staff.

More than 17 schedules were created before the stakeholders selected the one that was considered to meet the most needs.

The new schedule increases minutes spent on instruction from 314 to 329 per day with increased opportunities for math and reading support. Special education teacher support will shift from only two clusters to every cluster.

A world language teacher would be added to each cluster to double the opportunities for students to learn another language.

Mr. Einhorn said the change also provides flexibility in light of declining enrollment, predicting the longevity of the schedule.

A dedicated period within a tiered intervention model will help students find the intervention they need and, once every 12 days, students will be able to meet with their peers in an ensemble music environment, dedicated time for social emotional learning and common time for grade level meetings.

The family and consumer science class will be retired with new course opportunities and a cooking club.

In her report to the board, Superintendent Dr. Lorrie Rodrigue commented that, as of January 5, Newtown’s Covid-19 cases are 30.6 per 100,000 with a positivity rate of 4 percent, noting that the data is posted on the district’s website at www.newtown.k12.ct.us.

The data includes the counts of staff and students in quarantine as they either test positive for Covid-19 or were exposed to the coronavirus.

Fifteen members of the community have stepped up to act as substitutes to help with the shortage of personnel that has resulted from the need for quarantine practices.

While that practice is taken seriously, the superintendent said there is no overuse of quarantining and pointed to a new online process for applying as a substitute.

“I feel really good about where we are,” she responded to board member Dan R. Delia’s question of how the district stands with the new substitute teachers.

Dr. Rodrigue continues to meet virtually with members of the state Department of Health on a weekly basis and planning for staff vaccinations has begun.

She is waiting to learn how teachers will be prioritized by the department, perhaps as essential workers.

Board member Daniel Cruson, Jr,. said the communications he’s heard refer to “teachers” and he wanted to confirm that other staff working with the children, such as bus drivers and paraprofessionals, are considered when making decisions about vaccines.

“That’s a great question,” Dr. Rodrigue said, promising to follow up on that as she conducted discussions with health officials.

Messages from the district emphasize the health safety guidelines to avoid spreading the virus.

The board also received an update on special education from Deborah Mailloux-Petersen, director of pupil services.

She described staff updates, evaluations and how delivery of special education services has changed due to the pandemic.

Assessments of students, during the period of March to June, indicated that the most significant struggle was to access education, such as logging onto computers.

Those students were brought into the buildings sooner and for more days per week for the new school year.

When the school district went remote in November, drop-in services were offered.

During the meeting, Frank Purcaro, director of teaching and learning, presented the most recent assessment data for NWEA and PSAT/SAT results, starting with a reference to possible learning loss due to Covid-19. “We do have reason to be optimistic.”

Approximately 10 to 20 percent of NWEA testing was conducted remotely. The scores measure student achievement and growth in math and reading.

Mr. Purcaro said the decreases in scores, as compared to last year, were nominal and that reading scores were up across all grades.

The district will work with math and reading specialists as well as teachers to identify skills that need to be addressed and support as needed.

Mr. Purcaro also showed an increase in the number of students with one or more failing grades in the first marking period, commenting that although students have done well on the large-scale assessments, they are struggling day to day, especially in higher grades.

Parents receive these results and Assistant Superintendent Anne Uberti explained she will provide additional information to help them understand the information.

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