Q&A with Redding’s Board of Education

BOE Chairman Melinda Irwin shares information about the new school year

1 — Tell us about Natalie Hammond, the new Redding Elementary School principal and what her vision is for RES.

We are so excited that Natalie Hammond is the new RES Principal. She has the energy, passion and expertise to take RES from an excellent to exceptional elementary school. Natalie is an educator who understands the power of personal relationships. She has quickly immersed herself into learning all about RES and our wonderful Redding community, and will continue to meet with members of the learning community. Some topics she will focus on include a review of how we deliver our Gifted and Talented program, vertical alignment of Special Education with John Read Middle School and Joel Barlow High School, and our world language program.

2 — Who are the other new hires, who did they replace, and what is their role within the school?

At RES, Melissa Null, who led our Enrichment Program for the year, will be the Math Specialist, replacing Laura Coates, who recently retired. Matthew Farina will be moving from the classroom to teach the Gifted and Talented Math Program, replacing Francine LaMonica, who also retired. Christina Pimentel will also be moving from the classroom to teach the Enrichment Program.  

There are seven new faces among the JRMS faculty, who are replacing retirements or resignations. RES will be welcoming five new classroom teachers and a new librarian, also in response to retirements or resignations. The only new position is in kindergarten; due to increased enrollment over the spring and summer, the Board of Education created an additional kindergarten section.  

3 — How will the budget affect the schools? In what ways does it impact the individual students?

Redding has seen substantial budget savings because of declining enrollment. The current school budget is less than it was in 2011. Also, there were unspent funds at the end of the school year due primarily to a loss of some teachers, re-negotiating the bus contract and a reduction in the expenditures for substitute teachers. Any budget is an estimate, and while we try to estimate as accurately as possible, we are happy to have realized these savings for the town. Further, after a line-by-line review of the budget, we came down to cutting the Gifted and Talented program or not hiring back a custodian. As much as we would have liked to have filled the custodian position, we decided instead to keep the Gifted and Talented program.

Thinking ahead, now that enrollment has stabilized (last year and this year, for example, kindergarten enrollment has been larger than projected), the BOE has to focus on maintaining and enhancing the strength of our schools. Redding has to continue to implement proven educational strategies that enable our children to excel not just today, but in 15 or 20 years when they will be entering society as adults. The Town and the Board need to move the discussion in this area, and away from enrollment-driven cuts.

4 — Are there any new programs or requirements in any grade? 

Students will continue to be able to experience the acquisition of a second language from grades 1 to 5, and then at middle school they will be able to choose between Spanish, French and Latin. Teachers will continue to use PowerSchool’s gradebook feature, and there are plans to open an analytic function that will help teachers better understand their students’ performance. With the Next Generation Science Standards coming online, the faculty will continue the work of aligning our programming with those expectations. The emphasis on coordinating our math instruction will receive much attention.

5 — What are the ways parents can get involved in their children’s school?

The Redding BOE strongly encourages parents to attend the monthly BOE meetings, which are always held on the first Tuesday of the Month at JRMS at 7:30 p.m. There is always time set aside for public comment at the beginning and end of the meeting for parents and community members. We often have a motion for additional public comment before the BOE votes on critical issues. The role of the PTA cannot be overstated; information about monthly meetings and other initiatives can be viewed in the weekly RES “Tuesday Newsday” email and in the “The PTA Peek” from JRMS.

6 — What are the goals of the school district for this year? Is this year going to be substantially different in any way from prior years?

The Redding BOE will continue to examine vertical alignment, which is the process of making sure the curriculum at RES leads to what is taught at JRMS and then at JBHS, and that all three schools are on the same page. In particular, there will be a comprehensive review of the math program at JRMS so that students are better prepared for JBHS. The Board will also be looking into additional means of projecting demographics and enrollments.

7 — What are key challenges facing Redding schools? What measures will the BOE take to help resolve these challenges?

Almost all of the discussion over the past five or 10 years has been about declining enrollment and how it can be used to cut budgets. That is behind us now. The Board of Education, the Board of Finance and the Town of Redding as a whole need to now address the long-term needs of our students in a rapidly changing world. We need to work with the administration to develop a long-term plan that examines the knowledge and skills young adults will need and identifies ways Redding can meet those needs within our practice of responsible budgeting. Such planning will ensure the long-term strength of our schools and our town, and will keep Redding special.  


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