Norwich acting superintendent focusing on students, academics
Norwich ― During her first two weeks as acting school superintendent, Susan Lessard has met with staff, Norwich Free Academy and city leaders, talked with the architect designing new schools and found time Monday morning to meet with students.
Lessard, principal at the John B. Stanton elementary school, has had a full agenda since she was named acting superintendent Sept. 18 by the Board of Education. That night, the board placed Superintendent Kristen Stringfellow on paid leave pending an investigation into allegations she and Assistant Superintendent Tamara Gloster fostered a work climate of fear and intimidation.
Lessard placed Gloster on paid leave Sept. 25 following a meeting with her. Two days later, the board affirmed Lessard’s choice of retired Student Services Director Jamie Bender as acting assistant superintendent.
The board has hired Hartford attorney Kyle McClain to conduct the investigation into the personnel complaints against Stringfellow and Gloster.
Lessard said Monday she is not involved in the investigation and has not been contacted by the attorney.
“The plans are to move forward and to keep kids at the forefront of all our decisions,” Lessard said.
On Friday, Lessard met with new NFA Head of School Nathan Quesnel to discuss partnerships between the academy and the school district, also focusing on students, she said.
NFA students in the Project Outreach student service program will tutor Norwich students in reading and math in one ongoing partnership.
The Norwich school district received a new 21st Century Community Learning Center grant to create an eight-week paid internship program, hiring 10 high school students from NFA, Norwich Regional Technical High School and Three Rivers Middle College to tutor elementary school students. The students will be paid $22 per hour and work two hours per day, three days a week, Norwich school district spokeswoman Zakkyya Williams said.
A second eight-week session will be held in spring.
The Norwich school district implemented a new reading curriculum by Savvas Learning Co. this year per state directive. Lessard said she will work with school administrators and teachers in each school to make sure they have support to implement it.
At the Oct. 10 Board of Education meeting, Lessard will present data from last spring’s statewide achievement tests. Lessard will emphasize student growth through the school year, aiming at 100% growth from last year’s scores to the end of this school year.
Several issues have arisen already in the new school year, including a dramatic jump in immigrant student enrollment. Norwich saw an increase of about 200 students in the multilingual learners program over last year, while 107 students have become English proficient and left the program over the past three years, Williams said.
The district started the school year with 709 MLL students and now has 767, with more anticipated during the school year, Williams said. Adult education English classes also are full, she said.
Lessard said she will work with Norwich Adult Education Director John Glover to discuss ways to engage community groups to assist families moving into the city.
“They make our schools richer,” Lessard said of immigrant families. “We welcome them and their families. They enrich our community. They enrich our schools.”
Lessard’s appointment came as the city is designing the first two new elementary schools in a voter-approved $385 million school construction project to build four new elementary schools. Architectural plans are being designed for a new Greeneville school and a new Stanton school.
Lessard said it is critical that school staff give input before the architectural drawings are finalized. She has scheduled an online meeting with a several school staff and the architect Oct 12 to discuss placement of classrooms, offices and support services in each building. She said school psychologists, social workers and counselors must have a say in where they are placed in each school.
Lessard on Friday met with City Manager John Salomone to discuss how the new schools will serve the public, proposing that gymnasiums, libraries and classrooms to be used for public programs have easy access to parking lots.
Lessard has served as principal at Stanton since 2017 and is familiar with that school and with central office staff. She wants to visit all city schools to meet teachers and families. She will ask principals if they would like her to hold office hours in their buildings.
She suggested the visits take place either at student arrival or dismissal times, so she could meet parents dropping off or picking up students.
“I went to dismissal time at Stanton to meet families,” Lessard said. “Those are good times to have feedback and talk to parents.”
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