Naugy BOE leaves February break intact

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NAUGATUCK – February break is safe, at least for this year.

After much debate over whether to make up snows days during the break, the Board of Education decided to leave the upcoming vacation intact despite concerns that students wouldn’t have adequate time to prepare for state and national tests.

Only three days were up for discussion as Feb. 21 and 22 are federal holidays.

Several high school seniors addressed the board during its Feb. 10 meeting to request class during the break. The seniors wanted more time to prepare for their Advance Placement (AP) tests in early May.

“It could help substantially with keeping the educational flow going because this is our first full week back in the 2011 school year,” said Michael Decerbo, 17, a senior at Naugatuck High School.

Decerbo said that classes are getting crammed and teachers are cutting back on their curriculum.

“It’s tough on students, it’s tough on grades, and hopefully, it won’t have an effect on the final grades for everyone when it comes down to testing time. … It would help if we had a couple extra school days and hopefully you guys could maybe consider that for the next coming weeks,” Decerbo said.

High school senior Ashley Perssico echoed Decerbo’s sentiments. She’s currently taking two AP classes and said they take a lot of preparation. If students score high enough on the tests, they receive credit for college classes.

“This is very serious to us, especially since we’re paying for the tests and everything, and we want to make sure that we’re fully prepared,” Perssico said. “Even my math teacher said we took two steps forward and 20 steps back with each week. If we had the three days, it would help so much, just with catching up, making sure we have enough time to prepare.”

Perssico said that tacking extra days on at the end of the school year would be wasted time since they would not help students prepare for important tests.

Mayor Bob Mezzo, who is also on the Board of Education, advocated for adding three days of class during February break. He cited concerns that the whole town would be judged on students’ performance on state-mandated tests, which can have an impact on future funding for the school.

High school sophomores will take the state-mandated Connecticut Academic Performance Test (CAPT) in March. Naugatuck performed at about average levels for the state last year, but could be at a disadvantage this year with more snow days than other schools across the state.

Similarly, with the Connecticut Mastery Test (CMT), which is used to measure student achievement at the elementary and middle school level, takes place in March.

Scores on the CMT and CAPT are used to measure student achievement for the federal No Child Left Behind act.

Larrissa Bernier, a parent of a third-grader, said teachers are already trying to cram as much material in as they can to prepare students for the CMT.

“Any little bit of gain that we’ve made, I feel is going to be a setback for all of these children and it’s not going to do them any justice by giving a vacation at this point. … Any new concepts you can’t possibly introduce while these kids are being prepared for these CMTs,” she said.

Superintendent John Tindall-Gibson said the schools’ administrators favored doing away with the February break.

Although everyone was worried about test scores, some people were concerned about families and teachers who had already made vacation plans for the break.

About 50 teachers in the district already had plans for February break, according to George Macary, president of the Naugatuck Teachers League.

He said he realized it was a tough decision, but teachers, who made plans in good faith, shouldn’t be penalized for planning a vacation.

According to the district’s original plan, snow days were to be tacked on to the end of the school year until June 30, after which the district would start taking days away from April break, starting on Friday and working backwards.

Marsha Puc, a parent whose family had already planned a February vacation, asked the school board to encourage teachers not to introduce new material if they decided to have class during the break.

Frederick Carter Jr., another high school senior, said he’d appreciate the time off. He said he plans to study for his AP tests while taking a trip to Costa Rica with other students.

“We do work very hard throughout the school year. We do the best that we can do every day, and it doesn’t stop at two o’clock. … I don’t feel they should be penalized for, as somebody had said, planning a vacation on a vacation,” Carter said.

In the end, it all came down to logistics.

With the break set to start in just over a week, the district wouldn’t have much time to plan how to compensate teachers and support staff, much less find at least 50 substitute teachers in such a short time.

Board member Rocky Vitale worried that students who went on vacation anyways would miss out on important instructional time. He hoped that state tests would be pushed back since schools across the state are facing similar problems.

Tindall-Gibson said, despite administrator’s requests, he didn’t think there was sufficient justification to change the date, considering the logistical headache it would create.

Board Secretary David Heller pointed out that the district already has a plan to deal with the issue. Although the district has already had 11 snow days, in the past 17 years, they never had more than three snow days after this date.

“My gut reaction is to follow the policy,” he said.

Borough and district controller Wayne McAllister questioned whether instruction during break would be meaningful with so many substitutes.

Carter objected to the idea that students don’t work when teachers are absent.

“The teachers, because they are dedicated, make plans. Education doesn’t stop because teachers don’t work,” he said.

In the face of opposition from the rest of the board, Mezzo withdrew a motion he had made earlier to cancel the break.
However, the board agreed to discuss the possibility of canceling April vacation so students wouldn’t have to work so long into the hot summer in un-air-conditioned buildings.

Although this would cause many of the same problems as canceling February break, the district would have more time to prepare for it.

Several people discussed canceling February break in the future or combining it with April vacation sometime in March.

Puc said other parents agreed that the February break isn’t necessary since they already have Christmas break, federal holidays, and snow days.

“I don’t think the kids need the break anyway,” she said.