East Lyme students return to school upgrades, new cellphone rules
East Lyme ― Students returned to class Monday to and found new cellphone rules at the high school, new teachers, fewer teacher’s aides, and numerous improved – or improving – facilities.
Superintendent of Schools Jeff Newton said the district last week was still in the process of filling more than 20 paraprofessional positions. In the meantime, it is moving existing paraeducators around to fill in gaps such as in special education.
There are 17 new employees across the district including an additional third grade teacher at Flanders and an additional fourth grade teacher at Lillie B. Haynes due to increased enrollment.
The most high-profile administrative transition this year was at Lillie B. Haynes, where Brian Kalkreuth greeted students as principal for the first time. He took over for former principal Melissa DeLoreto, who retired. Kalkreuth previously served as assistant principal in Sherman.
High school students were greeted with revised cellphone “expectations” laid out in a newsletter sent to the school community last week by Principal Deb Roselli Kelly. Students now are limited to using their cellphones, smart watches and earbuds only during lunch, passing time between classes, and flexible study hall.
The message reiterated photographing or recording any high school community member with a cellphone or other device without permission is strictly prohibited.
“While cellphones have proven to be indispensable 21st-century tools, the unauthorized use of cellphones in the academic setting has proven to be a distraction to student engagement and learning,” Kelly wrote.
Phones must be turned off or silenced during instructional time and stored in backpacks or pockets provided by the teacher, according to the newsletter.
The electronics are not allowed in the locker room or bathrooms at any time, according to the newsletter.
Bathrooms last year were the scene of unrest on numerous occasions at the school. It started as vandalism related to a social media phenomenon encouraging property destruction. The situation in the lavatories became more serious when it rose to the level of physical assault caught on video amid allegations that racism in the school wasn’t being addressed by the administration.
Newton said none of the other schools in the district have changed their rules about cellphone usage.
“This adjustment was done to support our staff in reducing cellphone disruptions within classrooms and throughout the school day,” he said.
A multiyear project at the middle school has resulted so far in several improvements to the 20-year-old building.
District facilities director Christian Lund said students will find a refinished gymnasium floor that cost $24,350.
Not as apparent to those on the ground is the $162,000 resealing project on the middle school roof. Lund said the liquid sealant product is guaranteed by Garland Corporation to extend the life of the roof another 20 years.
Contractors in a couple weeks will begin masonry work – including repointing and replacement of some bricks – on the exterior of the middle school building with the ultimate goal of putting a waterproof sealant over the whole structure, according to Lund. He put a $125,000 price tag on the project.
At the high school, seniors who want to paint their own parking spot will have to wait for their turn at the tradition. Lund said that section of the lot will be repaved later in the fall over a two-to-three week span, with completion anticipated by Thanksgiving.
Because the new budget did not take effect until July 1, he said it was difficult to get the paving done over the summer.
“So the issue is it’s really hard to do any contracting before you have the money available,” he said. “And also with the vendors being as busy as they are right now, it’s hard to get anything done that quickly.”
Meanwhile, the $230,000 rehabilitation of the high school baseball field has been ongoing since the fall.
The field has been plagued for years by worsening drainage issues. For the past two seasons the team had to play its home games at Bridebrook Park, which is about five miles away from the high school and doesn't have lights like the high school field does.
Lund said progress has been delayed because the district is currently unable to irrigate the field due to municipal restrictions on watering.
“As soon as the drought restrictions are lifted, we’ll finish up and get some grass planted and we’ll plan on being on the field in the spring,” he said.
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