School board working to open the lines of communication

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The Naugatuck Board of Education has been working to improve communications with the public. –RA ARCHIVE

NAUGATUCK — When a new Board of Education was elected in May, newly minted members promised to improve communications with the community.

Many felt that the previous board had failed to communicate when the school budget was in crisis. The board voted to close Salem School at a special meeting with no time allotted for public comment.

“We have been coming to meetings, we have been trying to communicate with you how we feel about our children’s education. … The closure and reconfiguration we feel we’ve had no input on. We’ve come to these meetings; we’ve talked. Have you listened to us?” said Anne Ciacciarella, chair of the Citizen’s Audit Committee at a school board meeting in April 2010.

During the same meeting, current Board of Education member Glenn Connan, then a member of the citizens group, said, “I really have to say that I feel like everything’s been pushed down our throats, and we’re the ones who are paying for it.”

As candidates, four of the current Board of Education members listed transparency and communication between the school board, faculty, parents, and community as one of their main goals if elected.

Eight months later, the board has made several strides towards that goal.

“I think we’re on the right track. I think we’ve made some progress in terms of more open communications,” said school board member and Communications Subcomittee Chair Deby Brackett.

The school board has started using the Code Ed system to alert parents of emergencies. In the beginning of the school year, administrators did not seem to have a clear idea of when to use Code Ed versus Notify Me. Every family with students in the district is automatically signed up for Code Ed whereas parents can sign up for Notify Me. Both systems can call, text, or e-mail parents with messages from the board or individual schools. Brackett said Code Ed will be used in emergency or unusual circumstances where as Notify Me will be used for everyday announcements and events.

She said she is encouraging the superintendent to use Notify Me more often. Currently, only 50 to 60 people use the district-wide Notify Me

“I think if we use it, word may spread about the benefit of being signed up for it,” Brackett said.

She said it can be used to announce a meeting change, the educational fair, and the meet and greet.

“I think it would be a nice tool for those pieces,” Brackett said.

The board has also started posting monthly meeting packet materials on the district website so that those that attend school board meetings can follow discussions and look at upcoming issues ahead of time. The board now posts subcommittee meeting times on the district website and in the front window of the Tuttle Building on Church Street, the district administration’s headquarters.

The district website also now features a bus complaint form, which Bracket said parents have been using. Last year, parents complained that busses were over an hour late and parents weren’t notified of any problems. Brackett said the board now gets a monthly report from the bus company with any issues listed.

In October, the school board put out its first newsletter, with information about the high school renovation, educational reform, and the school budget. According to Brackett, the board is planning another newsletter in March or April.

Also in the next couple of months, Brackett said the board is planning a meet-and-greet where the public can sit down with board members in an informal setting, discuss issues, and give feedback.

Brackett acknowledged that some initiatives are moving slowly, but pointed out that the board is made up of volunteers.

“We’re working very hard in our spare time to move things forward. I think we’re making very good progress,” Brackett said.

Board of Education Chair David Heller said the board has been working hard to communicate better. He said when people ask questions, the board tries to respond in a timely manor.

“I think we did a good job getting the word out on the referendum for the high school renovation project,” Heller said. “We try to be as transparent and proactive in terms of our communication.”

Philip Zembruski, a Naugatuck parent who regularly attends Board of Education meetings, said he has seen an improvement.

“I think the new board is definitely conscientious of communication with the community,” Zembruski said.

However, he said the board still has some work to do.

Zembruski said the board has tried to have a regular schedule for subcommittee meetings, but often times those dates are moved. Zembruski said the board should try harder to stick to those dates and do a better job of informing the public when they are changed.

Zembruski said that the board is doing a better job tracking transportation issues, but still doesn’t have a clear policy of when to use Code Ed and Notify Me. When two schools were in lockdown recently, Zembruski said parents had no notification.

Zembruski said he didn’t know about all the new information that is now on the district’s website or how to find it. He felt the school board should notify parents when that information is available, perhaps in the next newsletter.

“They’re working hard to achieve those goals that they saw there were problems with. There’s always room for improvement, but I think they’re doing a pretty good job,” Zembruski said.

Where do I find…

Meeting Materials: Go to www.naugy.net. Click on “Board of Education” on the left-hand side. Click on “Documents,” in the menu that appears under “Board of Education.” Click on the folder titled “Meeting Materials.” Find the date of the meeting you want.

Subcommittee meeting schedule: Go to www.naugy.net. Click on the red “Calendar” tab at the top of the page.

Sign up for Notify Me: Go to www.naugy.net. The button is in the bottom left-hand corner.

Log a bus complaint: Go to www.naugy.net. Click on “Transportation” on the left-hand side. Click on “Forms” in the sub-menu that pops up.