Q.  Some parents are getting concerned about what Hillsdale College coming to town means for our schools.  Are they planning on getting involved in our curriculum?  As you know, lots of people move to Somers for the great school system and do not wish it changed. 

A.  The Somers Public Schools has developed curricula based on state and national standards as well as research-based best practices.  We will continue to develop and modify our instructional programming to best support student success.  To that end, there are no plans for Hillsdale to become involved in our educational programming. 

Special Recognition

It is with great pleasure that I announce Somers Elementary School Principal, Dina Senecal, has been named the Connecticut Association of Schools' Outstanding First-Year Principal.   To say that Dina has transformed Somers Elementary School in her short tenure as principal would be an understatement.  We are very fortunate to have a dynamic leader who fosters relationships, understands human dynamics, sets high learning expectations, provides all the necessary support to ensure success, and is an effective advocate for students, parents, and staff.  

Regionalization Update

There was incredible statewide opposition to the regionalization proposals.  In early March, there was a lengthy public hearing.  Hundreds spoke, and more than one-thousand written testimonies were submitted (I was not able to attend but provided written testimony).  Additionally, state legislators were overwhelmed with communications from their constituents.  I have been in contact with Representative Vail and Senator Kissel, and both are in opposition to the regionalization proposals.

It seems the legislature and the governor heard their constituents and revised their proposals.  The regionalization bills introduced by various Senators are now either dead (because they missed the March 15 draft deadline) or have been modified to mirror the Governor's revised proposal.

The Governor’s revised proposal abandons regionalization in favor of studying shared resources and collaboration opportunities.  It proposes establishing a commission to make recommendations.
I believe this is very positive for Somers (and all small school districts).  It is an approach that is responsible and respectful to students, parents, and the school systems.  

I am pleased with the revisions but still have some concerns.  There is a provision that calls for “incentives” to enter into collaborative relationships.  I will closely monitor how they define incentives.  Shared resources and collaborations can be beneficial, but we will continue to make decisions that are in the best interests of our children in Somers.

I want to thank everybody who reached out to the legislators and me.  Your voices were heard.

School Regionalization Bills

There are currently two bills in the State Senate (S.B. 454 and S.B. 457) proposing the consolidation/regionalization of small school districts.  If either bill passes, Somers Public Schools would be forced to regionalize with surrounding towns.  The underlying assumptions are there are too many Superintendents, Central Office Administrators, and Principals managing smaller school districts.  Additionally, in the face of declining enrollment, schools should consolidate.

I am strongly opposed to these bills as they are short-sighted, a one-size fits all approach, uninformed, focused on head counts, and ignore other glaring data and unintended consequences.  Below are some of the key points these bills ignore as well as effects if enacted.

Local Control – These bills impose the will of the state on local towns.  Local control of our school district will diminish.

Student Enrollment – It is a fact student enrollment is declining (a critical argument of this bill).   What is not considered are the national, historical enrollment trends.

Since 1955, enrollment trends have changed every 15-17 years. For example:
    1955-1972 student enrollment increased
    1973-1989 student enrollment decreased
    1990-2005 student enrollment increased
    2006-2019 student enrollment has decreased

The cause of these fluctuations are the Baby Boomers.  In the 1950s and 1960s, Baby Boomers were entering schools (enrollment increased).  They graduated from school from 1973-1989 (decreased enrollment).  From 1990-2005, the children of the Baby Boomers entered school (enrollment increased).  From 2006-present, the children of the boomers were graduating (decreased enrollment).  We are currently nearing the end of a cycle and are preparing for the grandchildren of the Baby Boomers to enter school (enrollment increase).  In fact, enrollment projections for Somers Elementary School show an increase of 9% by school year 2022-23.

Efficiency - Small school districts are often more efficient than large ones because administrative overhead is typically less.  The recent Connecticut State Department of Education Per Pupil Expenditure Data (the cost to educate one child in a town) verifies that Somers is an efficient school district.  Somers Per Pupil Expenditure is $15,855 compared to the State of Connecticut average of $18,762.

Community Focus – A regional Board of Education would be comprised of members from other communities.  The focus and commitment to the students of Somers of a reconstituted Board of Education could be diminished.  Often regionalized Boards may have agendas favoring their hometown and it could be challenging to sustain and/or implement essential initiatives for Somers students.

Varying Philosophies and Needs – Each town establishes their vision, mission, and programs based on what the community believes is in the best interest of its students.  Consolidating school districts would force Somers to adopt other programming we feel is inappropriate or just not needed.  This could result in added costs to the Somers taxpayers.

Systems Realignment – Each school system has a wide variety of educational and administrative systems (e.g., student information, financial, human resources, communications, curriculum development, professional development, literacy and math programs.)  Regionalization would force Somers to abandon some of these systems in favor of new ones.  This would result in significant costs in the purchase, set-up, data transfer, and training of all staff.  Changing an instruction system we have dedicated time and effort implementing could have short-term negative impacts on student learning during the transition.

Collective Bargaining Agreements – Each district has negotiated bargaining agreements with various groups (e.g., teachers, custodians, secretaries, etc.)   Contracts could conflict with bargaining agreements from other towns.  This would require costly legal expenses to align all agreements.  

Capital Improvement Projects – A regionalized school district often has its own capital improvement projects.   This could significantly increase taxes to Somers residents.  For example, if Town A needed to renovate their high school, the new Board of Education could approve this project for Town A, and Somers students would not benefit.  The costs of these projects could be distributed to each town, regardless of its impact.

Human Resources Department – Larger school districts often have a necessity for human resource departments.  The Business Manager and the Superintendent handle Somers’ human resources.  Regionalization might require the establishment of a human resources department which could negate any costs savings by eliminating administrators.

Health Care – Somers, like all districts, provides employees with health insurance.  The costs of health care increase each year.  Somers minimizes this increase because it has a low Medical/RX Ratio (78%).  If Somers were pooled with other districts who do not have a low Medical/Rx Ratio, premiums would increase substantially more.  This increase would be passed on to both staff and taxpayers.

Track Information

The Board of Education Long-Range Facilities Plan has the replacement of the current track as one of its priorities.  Below is some information about the track replacement.

Track Facts:

  • The current track is in serious disrepair.
  • The track has been deemed unsafe to host track and field events.
  • There has been no home track meets for the past three years.
  • Physical education and other classes have limited use of the track due to safety concerns.
  • The current track is not regulation size (regulation size = ¼ mile).

Why the increase in costs from the original Long-Range Facilities Plan?

  • Tecton Architects provided the original quote to replace the existing track with a new ¼ mile track.  The original quote assumed the current track is a ¼ mile.  It is not. 
  • As the School District started refining budget figures for the bond referendum, we engaged the services of SMRT Architects and Engineers.  SMRT has experience in developing school athletic facilities.  The engagement of SMRT was done to have a more realistic budget figure for a new ¼ mile track.
  • SMRT looked at the fields, made suggestions as to possible locations of a new ¼ mile track, and provided the school district with an “opinion of probable costs.”  The opinion of probable costs is an estimate based on observations of athletic fields and comparison to other similar projects.
  • The cost increase is due to the following factors:
    • Increase in track size necessitates a reorientation or relocation.
    • Natural grass multi-purpose interior field (soccer, lacrosse, field hockey).
    • Preparation of new location or reorientation (not yet determined).
    • General site work, preparation, improvements (e.g., bleachers, scoreboard, etc.).
    • Site utilities (e.g., drainage, irrigation, electrical, lighting).

Miscellaneous Information

  • No location or configuration has been finalized. 
  • Final track location will be based on the most qualified and responsible proposal submitted through the mandatory Request for Proposal process.
  • The Board of Education will approve the final awarding of the contract and site location.

Welcome Back

I hope that everyone had an enjoyable and restful summer.  We are looking forward to another great school year.  You will notice some security improvements this year when you come to the buildings. 

The most obvious security improvements are at our main entrances.  We now have Entrance Monitors and security stations at each school.  When you come to the school, you will be asked questions about who you are and what is the purpose of your visit.  You will also need to have a government-issued identification (e.g drivers license) that will be scanned into our visitor registration system.  Please be patient with staff as this process is new and we need to become accustomed to it and tweak protocols along the way.

Thank you
Brian P. Czapla

Graduation Walk

A great tradition for the seniors.  
Walking the campus and visiting with former teachers.  
Congrats Class of 2018!!

Security Update

We recently finished security audits with the Department of Homeland Security as well as an independent school security consultant.   Both validated our current security protocols provide a safe and secure environment.  They also made recommendations which will enhance our security.  Below are some of the additional security provisions that will be implemented before the start of the 2018-19 school year.

Entrance Monitors.  We will be stationing monitors at the main entrance of each school.  The Entrance Monitors will be responsible for "buzzing" visitors in, verifying their identity, signing them in/out, directing visitors to their appointments, calling down students who will be dismissed early, as well as other tasks.  This will help make our schools more secure as visitors will not gain entrance to the school interior unless there is a legitimate reason or previously arranged appointment. 

Visitor Management System.  We will be using a new system called Lobby Guard to register visitors.  All visitors must have their government-issued identification (typically a driver's license) scanned into the system when they enter the school as part of the identity verification process.   We will be developing our protocols over the summer and communicating them at a later time.

Video Surveillance.  We are adding video cameras around campus (internal and external) to increase our coverage areas.

Reunification Plans.  We are finishing the development of parent and student reunification plans in the event we have to evacuate a school or the entire campus.  These are comprehensive plans to ensure students are safely reunified with parents or guardians if we have an emergency.  The plans are based on the national Standard Reunification Method.

We believe these new security measures along with those currently in place will enhance the safety and security of our students and staff.  While some of these may be inconvenient or cumbersome, we hope you will agree that the safer learning environment they will create is worth it.  Thank you in advance for your patience as we implement these new systems.

Fake Nationwide Social Media Threat

There is currently a social media threat spreading across the country.  This message made a threat to schools that use “SHS” as their school names.  We have been in touch with the Somers Police Department as well as the Connecticut State Police.  The IP address in which this threatening message was sent is not from Connecticut.  Additionally, we were told that there is no threat to Somers.

We applaud the students at Somers High School who brought this to the attention of administrators.  All classes remain in session

Recent Parkland, Florida Tragedy

The recent tragic events in Parkland, Florida have created a sense of anxiety in all of us.  Our condolences and thoughts go out to the Parkland community.  This senseless act of violence makes us pause and examine our own schools.  Many have asked me, “what are we doing to prevent this from happening in Somers?”  My answer is we have a comprehensive and coordinated system of protocols, student supports and security provisions to help us assure the safety of all.  Teachers and Administrators always strive to establish personal relationships with their students.  This is the key to preventing incidents like this.  We (educators, parents and community members) must be proactive in listening, looking, and establishing these relationships with our youth and communicating with each other when there are concerns.  That being said, the school system is also proactive in providing supports and interventions.   Below are security provisions and student support programs that facilitate the emotional well being of our students and maintain a high level of security.

Security Provisions:

In 2013, Somers Public Schools partnered with the Connecticut Department of Corrections Special Operations Group to conduct a vulnerability assessment of all the facilities.  Numerous recommendations were made to enhance our security.  In 2015, the district utilized a $300,000 state grant to implement these recommendations.  Last fall, the school district worked with law enforcement to further identify other security concerns.  In response to this assessment, the Board of Education included these recommendations in their Long Range Facilities Plan and assigned a priority one status to them. 

District lockdown drills are conducted at least three times a year.  We coordinate these drills with State and local first responders. 

We participate in monthly emergency management meetings with other town officials where we discuss response scenarios, readiness provisions, and protocols.  All officials engage in active discussions and planning to assure we have a coordinated and unified response to various situations.

We convened a district task force last fall to look at all of our security provisions.  This task force meets frequently to discuss current best practices, response to crisis scenarios, and re-unification protocols.  Additionally, members of this task force actively participate in the Capital Region Emergency Planning Committee.

Recently we have switched our School Resource Officer model from a State Trooper to a Somers Police Officer.  This new model has enhanced the coordination between local law enforcement and school officials.  Additionally, it has facilitated an increased police presence on a daily basis in our schools.

Student Support Systems

Somers Elementary School
·       Second Step social skills program teaches children how to interact positively with other students and how to respond in social situations.
·       Teachers hold class meetings on a weekly basis. During these meetings, teachers facilitate conversations around social, emotional issues as well as any problems that may arise during a student's day.
·       Students are consistently reminded through daily conversations and curricular activities to be sure to tell adults if they see or hear anything that could be dangerous.
·       The formalize Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports program (PBIS) emphasizes Safety, Respect, and Responsibility. Students and staff are encouraged to give "Shout Outs" that are read on the announcements in the morning when they see others being safe, respectful, responsible or going above and beyond to make the school a better place.

Mabelle B. Avery Middle School
·       All students are in advisory groups that meet during extended homeroom periods.  This time is utilized to talk about safeguarding the school, safety procedures in place and give students opportunities to discuss concerns. 
·       Frequent reinforcement of "If You See Something, Say Something."   
·       Student Intervention Teams are comprised of teachers, administrators, guidance counselors, school psychologists, social worker, school resource officer and others to develop support systems for students identified in need.
·       The  Crisis Team meets regularly to review emergency plans and responses. 

Somers High School
·       Students Supporting Students (SSS). Students have been trained to identify what social isolation looks like.
·       Start With Hello is a social worker supported program that focuses on helping students feel less isolated.
·       Helping Hands.  High school students helping freshman coming into a new school situation.
·       Multi-tiered System of Support Program (MTSS).  Social-emotional supports for students who are referred through the intervention process. The social worker and/or school psychologist facilitate these groups.
·       Morning Meeting.  Students have a check in with a teacher in the morning.  These are students identified through the MTSS process.
·       Safe School Climate Committee.  Events focus on inclusion and acceptance at SHS.
·       Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD).
·       Numerous clubs that promote social acceptance.
·       Student Intervention Teams are comprised of teachers, administrators, guidance counselors, school psychologists, social worker, school resource officer and others to develop support systems for students identified in need.
·       ASPIRE Program.  An alternative educational setting for students with difficulties in a mainstream environment.
·       Somers Comes Together.  A community and school partnership to develop prevention strategies.
·       Circles.  A powerful student and staff conversation activity that facilitates open dialogue to address concerns of students.
·       Advisory.  Teacher and student activities to help foster the development of teacher/student relationships.  Advisories meet twice a month.

Parent Resources

If your child is having any difficulty in the aftermath of this or any other traumatic event, please feel free to contact the school counseling and support staff.  The links below are also good parent resources.

The safety and security of all our students and staff is the first priority of the school system.  We will continue to implement our current programs while looking to improve.  We hope you will also be proactive through your relationships with students by listening, looking, and communicating.

Thank you