Norwich Free Academy corporators celebrate student achievement at annual meeting

Norwich — For his ninth and final Norwich Free Academy corporators annual meeting, Head of School David Klein showcased how the work of the NFA governing body translates on campus.

Klein, who will leave NFA at the end of the school year to head St. Joseph High School in Trumbull, called to the front of the Sidney Frank Center a parade of teacher and student award recipients, from the school’s teacher of the year to record-breaking student scholars and athletes.

NFA's mission statement was projected on a large screen at the front of the room. “This defines what we do, and as I thought about the past eight meetings, something’s been missing," Klein said. "We’ve never had a student come. Not one time. So just look over your shoulder to your right. We have some.”

The recognition started with 17-year science teacher Seth Yarish, named the 2019-20 NFA Teacher of the Year. Yarish recalled cards, letters and notes he has received over the years from former students. Invariably, he said, they thanked him for how he taught, rather than what subjects he taught.

“It mattered to them how I related to them, mentored them, encouraged them,” Yarish said, “and sometimes how I just told them straight what they needed to do. And in some cases, how I parented them. Some of the students needed that. It really made me realize why I do this job.”

Three NFA seniors, Zeb Carty and Alexander Dufort, both of Norwich, and Jacob Ewen of Franklin, scored in the top 3 percent nationwide on their PSAT tests last year, denoting them as national merit commended students.

Two other seniors, Veronica Lopez and Litzianna Ruiz, both of Norwich, scored in the top 1.2 percent among Hispanic students nationwide, designating them as National Hispanic Scholars.

NFA also had a record five senior recipients of the Martin Luther King Scholarship, each receiving a $20,000 scholarship. Laika Bertrand, twin brothers Allen and Alexander Dufort, Krishna Patel and Errien Williams read portions of their essays to the corporators.

The students told corporators they plan to study political science, engineering, accounting, art history and medical fields and will apply to Ivy League schools, the University of Connecticut and other colleges.

Athletic Director Roy Wentworth said he was frustrated that NFA athletes have been overlooked in Eastern Connecticut Conference awards, so he will honor one male and female student athlete each month.

Marc Josaphat, a sophomore soccer player, has scored three hat tricks — three goals in one game — in October. Gloria Ng, an 11th-grade swimmer, not only broke the NFA breast stroke record, she broke her own record six times, slashing 5 seconds off her previous best score.

Connecticut history teacher of the year, Karen Cook, also was honored. Cook's history lessons have included an analysis of how Abraham Lincoln’s views of slavery changed over the years through a study of just the speeches he gave in Connecticut. Cook chairs the NFA History Department and last year brought the Connecticut History Day celebration to NFA.

The celebration of student achievement concluded with a live performance by the NFA Ambassadors, the school’s elite choral singing group.

The corporators’ meeting did feature the more traditional governing board's emphasis on guarding the school's governing independence, stressed by departing NFA board of trustees President Sarette Williams.

The corporators meeting fell short of a quorum, so the body had to postpone action on a proposed amendment to the bylaws to include a conflict of interest provision to exclude representatives of NFA partner district school boards or school administration from the corporators and the board of trustees.

The proposed amendment would run contrary to failed attempts in the state legislature to require representation from NFA’s partner districts on the board. NFA officials warned that would threaten NFA’s 165 years of independent governance and could threaten the nonprofit NFA Foundation’s fundraising.

With only one reference by Williams to “a rough three years,” Thursday’s meeting avoided recent controversies at NFA, including criminal charges against former coach Anthony Facchini, accused of alleged sexual relations with two students, and against former Campus Safety Director Kevin Rodino, charged with tampering with evidence during the police investigation of Facchini.

One civil lawsuit filed this week by former Curriculum Director Denise Grant challenges a 10-day suspension and reassignment also connected with the school’s investigation of Facchini.

No mention was made of the pending search for a new head of school to succeed Klein.

After the meeting, incoming trustees President DeVol Joyner said the search process will be discussed at the board of trustees' Nov. 19 meeting.

c.bessette@theday.com

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