December 12, 2019

Public Hearing on Region 4 Education Budget Put Off to April 14

REGION 4— The public hearing on a proposed $17.1 million Region 4 education budget for 2011-2012 has been rescheduled for April 14. The budget hearing had initially been set for Monday night.

Superintendent of Schools Ruth Levy said Friday the hearing was postponed because of a delay in the required publication of a newspaper legal notice about the hearing. The hearing will convene on Thursday April 14 at 7 p.m. in the library/media center at John Winthrop Middle School in Deep River.

The proposed $17,112,557 budget represents a net increase of about $332,000, or 1.98 percent, over the current Region 4 appropriation. The budget, which funds the operation of Valley Regional High School and the middle school, was approved on a 7-1 vote at a March 3 meeting, with board member Richard Strauss of Chester opposed. The net budget is divided between the member towns of Chester, Deep River, and Essex based on the number of students from each town attending the two secondary schools.

Levy said the Region 4 board would hold a special meeting after the hearing on April 14 to make any adjustments to the spending plan based on input received from residents at the hearing. At the special meeting, the board would vote on a final proposed budget for 2011-2012 that would go to the voters on the three towns for approval in a May 3 referendum. The Region 4 budget referendum is conducted from 12 noon to 8 p.m. at the regular election polling places in Chester, Deep River, and Essex.

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Region 4 School Board Approves Contracts for Secretaries and School Nurses

REGION 4— The Region 4 Board of Education has approved a new three-year contract for secretaries and school nurses working at Valley Regional High School and John Winthrop Middle School.

The contract with Local 13030-419 of the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 4 is retroactive to July 1, 2010. It covers eight secretaries and two nurses working at the two schools. The agreement provides a one percent wage increase in the current year that is retroactive to last July, a 1.5 percent pay increase in 2011-2012, and a 2.5 percent wage increase in 2012-2013.

The agreement also calls for a small increase in the employee share of annual health insurance premium costs. Employees currently pay 13 percent of annual premium costs, and amount that will increase to 14 percent in July, and 15 percent in July 2012.

In a related development, the Supervision District Board of Education, comprised of elected members of the Region 4 and Chester, Deep River, and Essex school boards, has approved a new three year contract for cafeteria workers at the high school, middle school, and the three elementary schools in each town. The 19 cafeteria personnel are represented by AFSCME Council 4 Local 13-3-098.

The contract includes a 0.5 percent wage increase that is retroactive to July 1, 2010, a one percent wage increase for 2011-2012, and a 1.5 percent wage increase for 2012-2013. As with the agreement with school secretaries and nurses, the employee share of annual health insurance premium costs will increase from the current 13 percent to 14 percent in July, and 15 percent on July 1, 2012.

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John Winthrop Middle School Receives New England Recognition Award

John Winthrop Middle School has again been recognized by The New England League of Middle Schools as a “NELMS Spotlight School”.  John Winthrop is one of 41 middle schools in the 6 New England States to receive this prestigious award. 11 middle schools in Connecticut have obtained this award.

The Spotlight School Award validates that JWMS provides an exceptional educational program anchored in the following best practices:

  • Rigorous curriculum that is appropriate to the concerns of adolescents.
  • Instructional practices planned to meet the needs of students.
  • Supportive educators who are skilled at teaching young adolescents.
  • A caring climate that supports a shared educational purpose and intellectual development.
  • Parents and communities that support student learning and healthy development.
  • Safe and Healthy environment developing caring and ethical citizens.

A visiting committee of middle school educators visited the school in December to observe and validate the NELMS standards demonstrated at the school. They reviewed curriculum, procedures, practices, met with parents and students and observed classrooms.

This is the second time John Winthrop Middle School has received the Spotlight School Award. In her letter of congratulations, NELMS Executive Director Barbara Needham stated “John Winthrop Middle School Continues to exemplify an excellent learning community for young adolescents and uphold the best practices for middle level education.”

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Region 4 to Hire New Valley Regional High School Principal by Mid-April

REGION 4— Superintendent of Schools Ruth Levy has announced a process that is expected to lead to the hiring of a new principal for Valley Regional High School by mid-April.

Levy said Monday the process would have a “different structure” than many previous principal search efforts in the district, with a “much more extensive interview process,” that will conclude with a presentation of two finalists to a public meeting on April 5 at 7:30 p.m. in the high school auditorium. Residents of the district towns of Chester, Deep River, and Essex would have an opportunity to ask questions of the finalists at the meeting.

Levy said “feedback forms” and input received at the meeting would lead to the recommendation of a single candidate for an interview with the Region 4 Board of Education at an April 12 meeting. She said a hiring decision would be made at the April 12 meeting or soon afterwards. The new principal is expected to be on the job by July.

The search effort, which is being aided by a facilitator from the Project Learn regional education consortium, comes in the wake of a controversy in the district over the abrupt departure of Eric Rice from the principal job last fall. Rice, a Chester resident, who was hired last summer, resigned in October after only weeks on the job amid reports that he had been given a resign-or-be-fired ultimatum from Levy.

The situation involving Rice, which has never been fully explained by Levy or school board members, led to a support rally for Rice by some residents and students in September and questions from residents at several heavily-attended board meetings during the fall. Kristina Martineau, who had served as assistant principal for about three years, has been serving as acting principal at the high school since mid-October.

Levy said the position was advertised over the past month with the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents, the Hartford Courant, and an in-state education website called CT. REAP. She said more than a dozen applications were received by the March 18 deadline. She said applicants would be “telephone screened,” by a group comprised of herself, the Project Learn consultant, Assistant Superintendent of Schools Ian Neviaser, and Board of Education Chairwoman Linda Hall. Neviaser had preceded Rice as principal, holding the job from 2008-2010.

Levy said an undetermined number of candidates would then proceed to a series of interviews with groups of district residents, parents, students, and teachers and other district staff, other administrators, and school board members. She said about 30 people would be involved in this interview process that would lead to the recommendation of two finalists for the April 5 public meeting.

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St. John School, Old Saybrook Enrollment

St. John School in Old Saybrook is currently holding registration for their fall 2011 Pre-K and Kindergarten Program.  Pre-K 3 year old and 4 year old programs offer options of 2, 3, and 5 days, including a full day option too.  Kindergarten is full day with a structured, nurturing program including academics, creativity, and religion. 

St. John School at 42 Maynard Road, houses students from Pre-K up to eighth grade.  Tours and a shadow program can be arranged by personal appointment through the office all year long.  The school is fully accredited with certified teachers, has a tournament winning sports program, and many clubs and activities for all ages. 

Information can be obtained by calling the office at 860-388-0849.

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Region 4 School Board Approves $17.1 Million Budget for 2011-2012

REGION 4— The Region 4 Board of education has approved a proposed $17.1 million budget for 2011-2012 that will be presented to residents of Chester, Deep River, and Essex for discussion at an April 4 public hearing.

The board approved the $17,112,557 budget at it’s regular meeting Thursday after making a final reduction of $11,453 by eliminating a part-time hall monitor position at Valley Regional High School. The budget, which funds the operation of the high school and John Winthrop Middle School, represents a $332,000, or 1.98 percent, over the current Region 4 appropriation.

The budget was approved on a 7-1 vote of the board at its regular meeting on March 3, with board member Richard Strauss of Chester opposed and board member Laurie Tomlinson of Deep River absent from the meeting. Strauss said he declined to endorse the budget because of several outstanding questions where he was unable to obtain requested information from the school administration.

Strauss said he wanted specific information on class sizes for each course offered at the high school, but received only average class size numbers for high school courses. Strauss said he also requested additional information about $70,000 in miscellaneous revenue, and health insurance costs. But Strauss added that he believes the board and school administration “worked very hard,” to hold the spending increase below two percent.

Health insurance benefits for district staff represented one of the larger cost increases in the budget, rising by about $126,000. The budget includes $68,639 to fund three new positions recommended by Superintendent of Schools Ruth Levy, including $66,561 in salary and benefits for two new special education teaching assistants, and $3,078 for an assistant baseball coach and an assistant softball coach.

Board Chairwoman Linda Hall of Deep River said Monday she believes the board has prepared “a responsible budget” for presentation at the public hearing.”We looked at every line item over the course of four budget workshops,” Hall said, adding the board had honored a suggestion by some town officials that increased spending be held under two percent.

The net $17.1 million budget is assessed the towns of Chester, Deep River, and Essex based on the number of students from each town attending the high school and middle school. Essex, with an average daily membership of 425 students for a 43.28 percent share of the budget, would have a 2011-2012 assessment of $7,411,276. Deep River, with an average daily membership of 286 students for a 29.12 percent share of the budget, would have an assessment of $4,986,515. Chester, with an average daily membership of 271 students for a 27.6 percent share of the budget, would have an assessment of $4,726,229

The Essex assessment is up by $272,839, or 3.82 percent, from the assessment in the current budget, while the Chester assessment is up by $109,905, or 2.38 percent, from the current amount. With a drop of nine students, the Deep River assessment is down by $39,254, or .78 percent.

After considering any input received from residents at the April 4 public hearing, the Region 4 board will adopt a final proposed spending plan for 2011-2012 that will go to the voters of Chester, Deep River, and Essex for approval in a May 3 referendum.

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Region 4 Board Approves Statement Supporting Superintendent of Schools Ruth Levy

Dr. Ruth Levy, Superintendent of Schools, Region 4

REGION 4– Superintendent of Schools Ruth Levy has the full support of the Region 4 Board of Education as she approaches her third year in the top job for the Chester-Deep River-Essex school district.

That was the message from Thursday night’s board meeting, where a nearly unanimous board approved a statement formally acknowledging Levy’s “ongoing leadership and professionalism” during the current school year. The vote comes amid lingering local controversy over the abrupt departure last October of former Valley Regional High School Principal Eric Rice after barely two months on the job, and an ongoing U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights investigation of a 10-day suspension that was imposed on an Essex high school student of Laotian descent for distributing information on a rally supporting Rice that was held by some students and district residents on Sept. 23, 2010. The statement endorsed by the board refers to “the many challenges and distractions” faced by Levy during the current school year.

Board Chairwoman Linda Hall of Deep River said the idea of adopting a formal statement supporting Levy emerged during recent closed door evaluations of her performance by the board. The superintendent’s job performance is also being reviewed and evaluated by the local school boards of Chester, Deep River, and Essex that supervise the elementary schools in each town. Levy assumed the district’s top job in June 2009 after two years as assistant superintendent.

The statement was drafted by board member Christopher Riley of Essex. Riley said the statement was “completely appropriate and a nice way to say we appreciate what you do.” The statement concludes that Levy has “proven herself to be a very strong administrator, educator, and leader” who “continues to work tirelessly to make Region 4 an even stronger district.”

The board approved the statement after a brief discussion. Board member Richard Strauss of Chester, a long-time member who serves as board treasurer, recused himself from the discussion and left the meeting room. Strauss, who also did not vote on approval of the statement, is the father-in-law of former Principal Rice, a Chester resident. Neither Levy nor Rice has commented on the reasons for the former principal’s October resignation, a move that included a $62,150 severance payment and extended health insurance coverage for Rice.

Strauss said Friday he did not participate in the discussion and vote because he had not attended the board’s evaluation sessions with Levy. Strauss said he recused himself from the sessions because he believed much of the discussion would focus on “how she handled all of the issues last fall,”  including the departure of Rice and the Sept. 23 rally. Strauss declined to comment on his own evaluation of how Levy handled the events last fall.

Board member Laurie Tomlinson of Deep River was absent from Thursday’s meeting. No parents or residents attended the meeting to comment on the statement supporting Levy.

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Region 4 School Board to Consider Statement Supporting Superintendent of Schools Ruth Levy

Dr. Ruth Levy, Superintendent of Schools, Region 4

REGION 4— The Region 4 Board of education will consider a statement supporting the performance of Superintendent of Schools Dr. Ruth Levy at its regular meeting Thursday at 7 p.m. at the library/media center at John Winthrop Middle School.

Levy, who assumed the district’s top job in June 2009 after two years as assistant superintendent, has been a focus of some controversy over the past six months following the abrupt departure in October of Eric Rice from the principal job at Valley Regional High School. Rice, a Chester resident who was hired for the principal job last summer, resigned amid reports he had been given a resign-or-be-fired ultimatum from Levy in September, less than three weeks after the start of the current school year. Neither Levy or Rice has commented on the reasons for the departure.

The situation involving Rice sparked a suppot rally by some students and district residents that was followed by claims that school administrators had imposed a “gag order” that threatened students with discipline if they attempted to discuss or ask questions about the situation involving the principal. The school board in November retained Madison lawyer Stacey Lafferty to investigate the reports of a gag order.

Lafferty’s investigation that was completed in about a week concluded there was no evidence to support the claims that a gag order was issued or sanctioned by district Central Office sadministrators, and no evidence that “faculty or students’ First Amendment rights were suppressed or violated.” But the investigation report confirmed that one high school senior, a student of Laotian descent form Essex, had received a ten-day suspension for printing information about the Sept. 23 rally on a school computer, and distributing the printed material to other students at the school.

The suspension led the student’s parents and Essex resident Susan Magaziner to file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s office of Civil Rights requesting an investigation of alleged discrimination. Department officials confirmed in late January that an investigation of the complaint against Levy and other district officials, including acting high school Principal Kristina Martineau, would be conducted in the coming weeks.

The resolution on the board’s meeting agenda declares “the Region 4 Board of Education formally and publicly acknowledges the ongoing leadership and professionalism displayed by Superintendent Ruth Levy during the 2010-2011 academic year. Given the many challenges and distrations that have emerged during this school year, Dr. Levy has remained steadfast in her commitment to the education and well being of the students of Region 4.”

“Dr. Ruth Levy has proven herself to be a very strong administrator, educator, and leader and continues to work tirelessly to make Region 4 an even stronger district,” the statement concludes. The proposed statement of support followes a closed session evaluation of Levy’s performance that was conducted in recent weeks by the Region 4 board and the local school boards of the district towns of Chester, Deep River, and Essex.

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VRHS Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Tickets On Sale

Tickets are now on sale for the Valley Regional High School’s production of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, which will be preformed in the High School auditorium on March 25-27.

Tickets can be purchased at VHRS, Gather Celebrations, The Wheatmarket and Toys Ahoy!  All seats are $10 except Saturday matinee which are $8.

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Region 4 School Calendar Changes

REGION 4— Region 4 school officials have announced changes to the school calendar in response to the six snow days that have cancelled class so far this winter.

A professional development day that had been scheduled for Friday April 1, with no school for students and professional development activities for teachers, will be a regular school day. The district has also added an additional snow/emergency day for Friday June 24 that would be added to the calendar if there is an additional snow day this winter. If there is more than one additional snow day, the days would be made up during the school vacation that is set for April 18-22.

At the present time, the last day of school is Thursday June 23, with graduation for the 2011 senior class scheduled for June 20.

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Region 4 sets Thursday Hearing on Proposed Supervision District Budget

REGION 4— Region 4 school boards will hold a public hearing Thursday on a proposed $6,043,050 supervision district budget for 2011-2012. The hearing begins at 7 p.m. at John Winthrop Middle School in Deep River.

The supervision district funds shared services for all five schools in the district towns of Chester, Deep River and Essex. After approval by the supervision district board of education that includes all elected members of the Region 4 Board of Education and the local school boards of the three district towns, the budget is divided into the proposed Region 4 budget and the budgets for the three elementary schools based on the number of students from each town attending district schools. The supervision district budget does not go to a direct vote of district residents for approval as does the Region 4 budget and the elementary school budgets.

Superintendent of Schools Ruth Levy announced several proposed changes to programs in the new budget in advance of the hearing. Levy said the supervision district budget for the past two years had used $180,000 in federal stimulus program funds to pay for five special education para-educators and one special education teacher to enhance district special education services and avoid the need for costly out-of-district placements of special education students.

With the federal funds no longer available for these programs in 2011-2012, school officials have proposed reductions to cover the costs of the lost stimulus funds. The proposed budget calls for a reduction of one teaching position in the foreign language instruction program for the three elementary schools, from 3.5 teaching positions to 2.5 positions.

The proposed budget also calls for eliminating an elementary schools talented and gifted programs teacher. Levy said “recent curriculum changes, integrated enrichment activities, and additional professional development for all teachers in differentiating instruction for all students” had reduced the need for a full-time staff position for the elementary school talented and gifted programs.

The supervision district school board is expected to vote on a final supervision district budget for 2011-2012 at a Feb. 28 meeting. The Region 4 Board of Education is expected to vote in March on a proposed Region 4 education budget that will go to a public hearing in April and a May 3 referendum vote in the three district towns. The proposed elementary school budgets, which are subject to review by the town finance boards, go to the voters in May at the annual budget meetings for the three towns.

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Region 4 Using Facilitator in Search Process for New Principal at Valley Regional High School, Community Forum is Tuesday

REGION 4—    The Region 4 Board of Education is using a facilitator from Project Learn in the search process for a new principal at Valley Regional High School.

The board has begun working with a facilitator from Project Learn, a regional education consortium, as it begins the process of selecting a new principal for the high school. The facilitator will hold a public forum for parents and community members Tuesday at 6 p.m. at the Valley Regional High School auditorium in Deep River.

The facilitator is scheduled to meet with faculty and other staff at the high school Thursday, and with students, including members of the student council, on Friday. Members of the Region 4 community, including parents, residents, and students, may also complete a leadership survey on the principal job. The survey link is on-line at the Region 4 schools website.

After compiling the input received this month, the facilitator will submit a written document to the school board that will be used in the screening and interview process of the search for a new principal.

This is the second search for a principal at Valley Regional High School in the past year. Eric Rice, a Chester resident who was hired last summer as principal after the previous principal, Ian Neviaser, was named assistant superintendent of schools, resigned last October after only weeks on the job. Superintendent of Schools Ruth Levy and school board members have declined to elaborate on the reasons for Rice’s departure.

The board has not yet established a search committee for the principal position, but is expected to hire a new principal before the start of the 2011-2012 school year in September. Kristina Martineau, who was associate principal at the time of Rice’s departure, is serving as acting principal through the end of the current academic year in June.

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Region 4 Boards to Consider Changes to School Calendar at Feb. 17 Meeting

REGION 4— Region 4 officials will consider results of an on-line survey before making any final decisions on changes to the school calendar resulting from snow days this winter.

Superintendent of Schools Ruth Levy said Thursday the supervision district board of education, comprised of members of the district’s four school boards, would decide at a Feb. 17 meeting on any possible changes to the school calendar as a result of the six snow days so far this winter that have led to cancellation of the school day. The February school vacation will be held as scheduled from Feb. 21-25.

Levy said the boards would consider results from an on-line survey conducted over the past two weeks that allowed parents, staff and students to offer opinions and suggestions on how to address lost school days during the current harsh winter while still meeting the state requirement for a 180-day school year. Levy said the survey attracted an unusually strong response of about 1,100 replies offering opinions and suggestions.

The current 2010-2011 school calendar allowed for up to five snow days, with the sixth day to be made up on Thursday April 21 during the April 18-22 spring break. But Levy said there are other options for making up the sixth day, such as making a staff professional development day set for Friday April 1 a regular school day. The calendar with the make up snow days currently calls for the last day of school on June 23, though the graduation date for high school seniors remains June 20.

Levy also announced Thursday that Sarah Smalley, a special education teacher at Valley Regional High School, has been named by the Region 4 Board of Education as acting associate principal at the high school through the end of the current school year. The previous associate principal, Kristina Martineau, became acting principal in mid-October after the departure of former principal Eric Rice.

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Middletown Adult Education offers External Diploma Program

Are you looking for a better job, more pay, a new career or looking to advance in your current job?  Middletown Adult Education’s External Diploma Program offers an opportunity.

Adult Education can help you accomplish your goals. Applicants are being enrolled now in the National External Diploma Program. The NEDP is an experience-based program for mature adults who have been away from the classroom for a while.  It incorporates a person’s life experiences, from family to work, into activity-oriented tasks designed to meet certain basic competencies.  It is a complete system that enables adults to demonstrate skills for which a high school diploma is awarded. 

The External Diploma Program was created to provide competent adults with an alternative method of receiving recognition for the skills they already possess and use.  The need for an alternative process arose when it became clear that traditional methods of testing were not always appropriate or adequate for adults with testing anxiety or those who had been out of school for many years.

Some of the ways the EDP differs from more traditional high school programs include:

  • Recognizing and rewarding the success achieved through practical life experiences
  • Awarding credit for what adults already know while allowing them to learn what they do not know 
  • Ensuring confidentiality
  • Classes are free and offered day and evening
  • Flexible scheduling – work at home and attend class as little as once a week
  • Satisfying requirements in as little as one semester
  • Awarding a traditional high school diploma

This nationally accredited program is staffed by experienced, certified teachers.  Diplomas are issued by the Middletown Board of Education, and approved by the Connecticut State Board of Education.  Many clients continue on to college or a vocational training program upon graduation.

Middletown Adult Education is open days and evenings and they are located at 210 Main Street, Old Saybrook.  Call 860-343-6048 for more information or visit our website at www.maect.org.

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U.S. Department of Education opens civil rights investigation of complaint involving Valley Regional High School student

REGION 4— The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights has opened an investigation of a discrimination complaint involving disciplinary actions taken against an Asian American student at Valley Regional High School last fall.

Jim Bradshaw, a spokesman for the Department of Education, Friday confirmed the Boston, Mass. office of the department’s Office of Civil Rights has begun a formal investigation of a Dec. 15 complaint filed by Bounthanh Outama, father of Aaron Outama of Essex, a senior at Valley Regional High School. Outama, a Loatian immigrant, is questioning a 10-day suspension imposed on his son in September for using a school computer to download and print information about a September 23 rally supporting high school Principal Eric Rice, who resigned in October from a job he had held for less than three months.

Outama’s complaint contends that other “non-Asian” students involved in distributing information about the rally received much milder punishment. The complaint contends Aaron Outama “received harsh sanctions with threat of greater sanctions due to his Asian heritage.”

The complaint names Superintendent of Schools Ruth Levy, Assistant Superintendent of Schools Ian Neviaser, acting high school Principal Kristina Martineau, and Stacey Lafferty, a Madison lawyer who was hired by the Region 4 Board of Education in November to investigate claims that school officials imposed a “gag order” on students and staff in the wake of Rice’s departure from the principal job.

Neviaser had been principal at the high school before Rice was hired last summer, and Martineau had been the assistant principal. Levy and school board members have declined to comment on the reasons for Rice’s departure, which included a $62,150 severance payment and extended health insurance coverage. Rice, a Chester resident, has never commented on the reasons for his resignation from the principal job.

The complaint also contends Aaron Outama was forced to write a letter of apology to Levy for distributing information about the rally. It also contends that language barriers prevented the Outamas from advocating for their son at the time of the discipline. Lafferty was named in the complaint because the Outamas contend her Nov. 30 report to the Region 4 Board of Education omitted details of Aaron Outama’s account of what happened at the time of the suspension, including claims that senior class officers asked him to print out the information about the Sept. 23 rally. Lafferty’s report, which was accepted by the Region 4 school board, concluded that student’s free speech rights had not been violated during the events surrounding Rice’s departure from the principal job.

Levy said Friday she was notified of the federal OCR investigation in a telephone call from the office on Jan. 25. In a written statement, Levy said the school district “takes its non-discrimination obligations seriously,” and would “cooperate fully with federal officials to investigate and resolve any complaints or concerns about discrimination.”  The statement concludes that “district administrators, employees, and members of the board of education are committed to providing an equal educational opportunity for all members of the school district community, regardless of race, national origin or any other protected classification.”

Bradshaw said the OCR investigation would focus on whether the school district subjected the student to different treatment on the basis of race, color or national origin, and whether the district “adequately communicated with the complainant in a language the complainant could understand with regard to important educational notices or other information.” He said that opening an investigation “in no way implies that OCR had made a determination on the merits of the case.”

Bradshaw said most OCR investigations are completed in about six months. The investigation could include a site visit, review of documentary evidence submitted by the parties, and interviews with the complainant, school district personnel, and any other witnesses. At the conclusion of the investigation, the office would issue a report that would either conclude there is insufficient evidence to support the complaint, or that a “preponderance of evidence” supports a conclusion that the school district violated federal anti-discrimination laws.

Bradshaw said “most complaints against public school districts are resolved through negotiation of a ‘voluntary resolution agreement’ that would be subject to monitoring by OCR. In nearly every case that is sufficient and we’re able to work with the school districts to help them meet their responsibilities under the civil rights laws,” Bradshaw said, adding  “but enforcement is an option if a district utterly refuses to work with us on a compliance issue.”

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Region 4 hosting spelling bee

The Region 4 Education Foundation will be hosting its annual spelling bee on Friday, April 1, 2011.  The event will take place in the auditorium of Valley Regional High School located on Kelsey Hill Road in Deep River.

The fun will begin at 7:00 pm.  Teams will consist of 3 people.  There is a $300 donation per team benefitting programs at Valley Regional High School and John Winthrop Middle Schools.  Rules and guidelines will be sent to each team one week prior to the bee. 

The deadline for registering is March 15, 2011.  For more information contact Taffy Glowac at 767-0650 or tafyc@aol.com.

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Bingo Fundraiser for Deep River Elementary School PTO

Deep River Elementary School PTO will be hosting a fundraising Bingo night on Friday Feb. 4  from 7 – 9 p.m. at the John Winthrop Middle School.  

Guest MC will be the Deep River Elementary School Principal, Dr. Pietrick.  There will be refreshments and raffle prizes, and all are welcome.

Doors will at 6.30 p.m.  For further information, contact Jimmy Delano, the Bingo Chairperson of the DRES PTO at (860) 227-1159.

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Off-Broadway’s Ryan Driscoll and Business as Usual Benefit at Valley Regional

Off-Broadway musical theater star and home-town boy Ryan Driscoll performs at benefit for Valley Regional High School’s 2011 musical production, joining forces with professional a cappella group Business As Usual, and the student cast of the upcoming production of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Saturday Feb. 12 at 7 p.m.

Tickets for the show, priced at $10 for adults and $5 for students, can be purchased at Valley Regional High School, at 256 Kelsey Hill Road in Deep River.

Driscoll, who created the starring role of Hermie in the musical Summer of ’42 at the Goodspeed Opera and Off-Broadway, is one of VRMP’s director Ingrid Walsh’s  favorite alumni.  He has returned to conduct their spring production.  Joined with Female acapella singer from  BAU, who is the Music Director for the spring musical, the evening promises great music, laughter, and surprises, with all proceeds going to support Valley Regional’s 2011 student production of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, running Marth 25 -27.

Local businesses have found a great way to support VRMP while gaining terrific exposure for their products and services is through an ad in the musical’s program. Prices are amazingly low, starting at just $10, with prime display ad space available for very reasonable rates. Please contact director Ingrid Walsh, at ingpilot@gmail.com for rates and information.

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Region 4 returns small surplus to Chester, Deep River and Essex

REGION 4— The  Region 4 Board of Education has returned a small surplus from the 2009-2010 education budget to the district towns of Chester, Deep River and Essex.

A total of $33,690 was left unexpended from the $16.7 million education budget at the close of the fiscal year on June 30. Each town received a share of the surplus based on the town’s average daily membership of students attending Valley Regional High School and John Winthrop Middle School.

The same ADM figure is used to determine each town’s share of the education budget. Essex, with the most students, received a surplus payment of $14,113. Deep River received $10,471. The payment for Chester was $9,106.

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Essex Elementary School Foundation Announces New Board Members – Launches Annual Appeal

Essex Elementary School Foundation Directors gathered to launch its annual direct mail fundraising appeal on Dec. 1. Pictured from left to right are Stephen Brinkman, Joanne O’Neil, Bill Jacaruso, Chet Kitchings, Deborah O’Donnell, Mary Beth Harrigan, Robin Millen, Kathleen Maher, Linda Reamer, and Sarah Whitney.

Centerbrook, CT — The Essex Elementary School Foundation, a not-for-profit, volunteer organization that provides independent financial resources for worthy educational projects, enrichment programs, and other initiatives at Essex Elementary School, has kicked off its annual fundraising appeal following the recent election of four new members to its Board of Directors.  

Essex residents Sarah Whitney, Phil Reynolds, and Sabele Foster and Essex Elementary School teacher Robin Millen have joined the 16-  member Board.  Bill Jacaruso, formerly Vice President, was also elected President while Phil Reynolds was approved as Vice President. 

On Wednesday, Dec. 1, EESF directors met at the school’s media center to launch the Foundation’s annual direct mail campaign to Essex area residents and businesses.   Last year’s campaign netted over $35,000 with increased participation from the community at large. 

Continued growth in financial support will allow the Foundation to expand the enrichment programs and projects now underwritten by the organization. In October, the Foundation announced grant awards totaling $13,300 for the development and implementation of several programs during the 2010-2011 school year.  $5,000 was approved to fund the Justus W. Paul World Cultures Program, $2300 to fund the Historian-in-Residence Program, $2,000 to fund the Artist-in-Residence Program, and $4000 to underwrite the purchase of one SMART Board.  Additional grant requests will be considered when the Board convenes again in April 2011.    

Since its inception in 1996, the Essex Elementary School Foundation’s primary goal has been to create a significant endowment that can support the school’s strategic vision to be a world-class educational institution.  Each year, 5% of the EESF endowment is allocated for programs and projects proposed by Essex Elementary School administration and staff. 

Past grants have also funded a Scientist-in-Residence program, literacy support materials, equipment for musical and physical education, playground improvements, logical thinking games, and audio/visual equipment. 

For more information about the Essex Elementary School Foundation or to make a tax-deductible donation, go to www.essexelementaryschoolfoundation.org or make checks payable to “Essex Elementary School Foundation” and mail to Essex Elementary School Foundation, PO Box 882, Essex, CT 06426.

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Region 4 School Board to Receive Report on High School Investigation

REGION 4— The Region 4 Board of Education has scheduled a special meeting Tuesday to receive a report on the investigation in to an alleged gag order that suppressed students freedom of speech at Valley Regional High School before and after the departure of the school principal last month.

The meeting, to be held at the district central office in Deep River, is to begin at 6 p.m. with a closed door session with the district lawyer, followed by “discussion and possible action concerning an investigative report regarding alleged suppression of student’s First Amendment rights” at the high school.

The board on Nov. 19 hired Madison lawyer Stacey Lafferty to investigate claims by some students and parents that students at the high school were prevented from discussing the Oct. 12 resignation of former Principal Eric Rice under threat of sanctions. The alleged gag order was also part of various complaints with state and federal agencies that were filed earlier this month by Essex resident Susan Magaziner.

Claims there was a gag order at the high school surfaced in late September amid reports that Rice, who was hired as principal over the summer, had been given a resign-or-be-fired ultimatum by Superintendent of Schools Ruth Levy.
Lafferty; who had worked previously for the Region 4 school board as a hearing officer at student expulsion hearings, began the investigation on Nov. 21, and was at the high school last week during the three days leading up to the school’s Thanksgiving holiday break.

Levy had said on Nov. 22 she was uncertain how much time would be needed to complete the investigation. She said after the investigation was complete a report would be presented to the Region 4 board and made available to the public.

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Contract Agreements Reached for Region 4 Teachers and Administrators

REGION 4— Negotiators for Regional School District 4 and the unions representing district teachers and school administrators have reached contract agreements without the need for binding arbitration.

Superintendent of Schools Ruth Levy said negotiators for the district school boards and the Region 4 Education Association and Region 4 Administrators Association reached tentative contract agreements earlier this month, with professional mediators provided by the state Department of Education assisting in the final stage of the negotiations. If no agreements were reached this month, the school district would have been forced in to binding arbitration, where a three-member arbitration panel picks that last and best offer from one party or the other.

Levy said the contracts have been approved by members of both union bargaining units, and need final approval from each of the district’s four school boards. Levy said details of the contracts would be released after the proposed agreements are presented to the school boards at a joint meeting scheduled for Dec. 1.

Region 4 negotiators have usually reached agreements through mediation in the years since the state’s binding arbitration law for teacher contract negotiations became effective in 1979. District administrators are in the final year of a four-year contract that expires June 30. The district’s 213 teachers agreed in 2009 to a one-year salary reopener in a contract that expires June 30.

Garth Sawyer, district finance director, said the salary reopener provided a one percent increase for teachers at the top step of the district’s teacher salary schedule, with teachers at lower steps on the salary schedule receiving a slightly larger pay increase in the current school year

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Region 4 School Board to Investigate Alleged Gag Order at Valley Regional High School

REGION 4— The Region 4 Board of Education voted Wednesday to hire an independent party to investigate reports that a gag order was imposed on students and staff at Valley Regional High School in the wake of last month’s departure of the former high school principal.

The board decided at a special meeting to retain an outside attorney to investigate the alleged gag order and report back to the board. The five members present at the meeting, including board treasurer Richard Strauss of Chester, who is Rice’s father-in-law, voted unanimously to begin the investigation as soon as possible.

Reports that students were ordered not to discuss the situation involving the principal under threat of sanctions by school officials surfaced before and after Rice’s Oct. 12 resignation from the principal job he held for less than two months. There were reports that Rice, a Chester resident, had been given a resign-or-be-fired ultimatum from Superintendent of Schools Ruth Levy, who has declined to discuss the circumstances of Rice’s departure. There have been claims by students and some parents that students, including members of school athletic teams, had been ordered not to attend a Sept. 23 rally supporting Rice, and not to discuss the situation on school grounds. Kristina Martineau, who had been assistant principal at the high school for about three years, has been named as acting principal for the remainder of the current academic year.

The alleged gag order had been included in a complaint to the Connecticut Department of Education against Levy and the Region 4 board that was filed by Essex resident Susan Magaziner. State Commissioner of Education Mark McQuillan dismissed the complaint last week, but Magaziner has also submitted the complaint to the U.S. Department of Education’s regional office in Boston, Mass.

Board Chairwoman Linda Hall of Deep River said an independent investigation of the alleged gag order was not required for the dismissal of the state complaint, though she acknowledged the school district’s lawyer, Ann Littlefield, had recommended the board investigate the allegations.

Levy who has denied the claims of a gag order on students or staff, said she wants the investigation. “If there was a gag order I want the truth to come out and quite honestly I deserve the truth to come out,” she said, adding “I want my name cleared.”

Assistant Superintendent of Schools Ian Neviaser, who had been principal at the high school before Rice was hired, said the state Department of Education would not conduct the investigation, though it had suggested the names of individuals qualified to conduct such an investigation. Hiring a lawyer for the investigation would cost the school district about $175 per hour.

District officials are expected to announce the person retained to conduct the investigation next week. The private attorney would interview students and staff at the high school. The individual would be asked to complete the investigation and present a report to the school board as soon as possible, though there is no deadline for completion of the investigation.

Charles Stannard is a lifelong resident of Essex, and has covered various Middlesex County towns for two daily newspapers over the past 30 years.  He worked for the Middletown Press from 1979 to 1995 and the Hartford Courant from 1997 through last summer, and covered Chester, Deep River, Essex and Killingworth for the past decade.  Charlie lives in the Ivoryton section of Essex.

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Essex Elementary School Foundation Announces 2010-2011 Grant Awards

Centerbrook, CT — The Essex Elementary School Foundation, a not-for-profit, volunteer organization that provides independent financial resources for worthy educational projects, enrichment programs, and other initiatives at Essex Elementary School, has granted $13,300 for the development and implementation of several programs during the 2010-2011 school year.  The Foundation’s Board of Directors met on Wednesday, October 27, 2010 and approved $5,000 to fund the Justus W. Paul World Cultures Program, $2300 to fund the Historian-in-Residence Program, $2,000 to fund the Artist-in-Residence Program, and $4000 to underwrite the purchase of one SMART Board.  Additional grant requests will be considered when the Board convenes again in April 2011.

Designed to expose students to countries, languages and customs outside the United States, the Justus W. Paul World Cultures Program was launched in 2010 with enrichment activities for third grade students.  Curriculum for the study of India and China as well as cultural days featuring music, dance, art, folktales, language, and food tasting were developed and implemented via a collaborative effort between school administrators, teachers, and LEARN, a third party educational program consultancy,.  This year’s $5,000 grant allocation will fund implementation costs for India and China cultural days as well as underwrite the costs to develop curriculum for an additional country, Haiti.  The Essex Elementary School Foundation established the World Cultures Program in memory of the late Justus “Jud” Paul, a founding member of the Foundation.

The Historian-in-Residence Program, now in its third year, provides hands-on study of the cultural heritage of Essex, Centerbrook, and Ivoryton for all students in grades 4-6.  The $2300 grant will fund the cost of village walking tours and special educational trips to the Connecticut River Museum and Bushnell Farm in Old Saybrook.  The $2,000 Artist-in-Residence Grant will provide funding for the development of permanent student artwork with themes based on children’s literature. 

Essex Elementary School Art Teacher Gary Stevens will create the criteria and oversee the student work.  The $4,000 Technology Grant will pay for the cost of one SMART Board, a large screen, interactive white board with computer connectivity, to be installed in a third grade level classroom.  

Since its inception in 1996, the Essex Elementary School Foundation’s primary goal has been to create a significant endowment that can support the school’s strategic vision to be a world-class educational institution.  Each year, 5% of the EESF endowment is allocated for programs and projects proposed by Essex Elementary School administration and staff.  Past grants have also funded a Scientist-in-Residence program, literacy support materials, equipment for musical and physical education, playground improvements, logical thinking games, and audio/visual equipment. 

For more information about the Essex Elementary School Foundation or to make a tax-deductible donation, go to www.essexelementaryschoolfoundation.org or make checks payable to “Essex Elementary School Foundation” and mail to Essex Elementary School Foundation, PO Box 882, Essex, CT 06426.

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Dr. Levy Issues a Statement

The following statement was issued Oct. 22 by Dr. Levy, Superintendent of Region 4 Public Schools, in response to the Public Hearing held the previous evening regarding personnel issues in the district.

“On behalf of the Region #4 Board of Education and the Administration, I would like to thank you for your comments and questions at the Region 4 Public Hearing last evening.   We always appreciate community involvement as we continually review and revise policies and practices within our district.  Responses to questions received thus far are currently being researched and will be posted on our website (www.reg4.k12.ct.us) by the end of the day on Wednesday, October 27, 2010. If you were unable to attend the meeting last evening, please remember that the board always welcomes public input which can be submitted via the Superintendent’s office or at a regularly scheduled board meeting.”

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Crowd Challenges Region 4 Board on Handling of Personnel Matters

REGION 4— More than 100 residents turned out for a special meeting Wednesday night to challenge the Region 4 Board of Education over the handling of personnel in the school district, particularly the abrupt departure earlier this month of newly hired Valley Regional High School Principal Eric Rice.

Residents packed the library/media center at John Winthrop Middle School for the meeting that had been forced by a petition signed by more than 180 residents of the district towns of Chester, Deep River, and Essex. Most of the concern was prompted by the departure of Rice, a Chester resident who resigned from the principal position effective Oct. 12. Speculation about Rice’s departure began in mid September, barely three weeks after the start of the school year, with reports that he had been given a resign-or-be-fired ultimatum from Superintendent of Schools Ruth Levy for unspecified reasons.

The crowd wanted to talk about Rice’s departure, but rules established by the board for the meeting directed the crowd to “refrain from discussing specific personnel situations, or specific former or current staff members.” The meeting was run by Anne Littlefield, a lawyer for the school district.

But the ground rules did not stop residents from questioning the circumstances of Rice’s departure, along with the departure last May of a former assistant superintendent. Diane Dugas resigned as assistant superintendent of schools in mid-May without completing her first academic year with Region 4. She had been hired over the summer of 2009, replacing Levy as assistant superintendent after Levy had assumed the district’s top job in June 2009.

While most of the comment from the crowd during the 75-minuite session was limited to questions that were not immediately answered by the board, there were also claims the Rice and Dugas exits included costly severance packages, and that students at the high school are under a “gag order” not to discuss Rice’s departure.

Zack Sanders, a senior from Chester, declared that rumors of a “gag order” at the high school are true and that students were prevented from raising the subject of the principal’s exit during discussion at the Current Issues class that is required for all seniors.

Eileen Steinfeldt, a Chester resident who organized a Sept. 23 protest rally outside the district’s administrative offices after reports about Rice ‘situation surfaced, said she wants to know more about the severance packages received by Rice and Dugas. Steinfeldt said after the meeting she has heard the severances totaled more than $100,000 for Rice and more than $200,000 for Dugas.

During the meeting Steinfeldt noted the severance payments could have helped pay salaries for teachers, or purchased books and supplies for students. Levy and Board Chairwoman Linda Hall of Deep River declined to comment on a possible severance package when announcing Rice’s departure on Oct. 12.

Allison Liggett of Chester said she is concerned about a “lack of continuity” among district administrators. As Littlefield attempted to curtail her comments, Liggett declared the “coerced resignation” of Rice had set a poor example for students, tarnished the district’s reputation, and made it more difficult to recruit qualified educators for Region 4. “Two weeks is not enough time to evaluate anyone,” she said.

Jeffrey Liggett, her husband, told the board, Levy, and Assistant Superintendent Ian Nevaiser that he has lost confidence ‘in everybody that is sitting at that table right now.”

Michael Sanders, Zack’s father, said he son had schooled under four principals during his years at VRHS. “That’s not a lot of continuity as far as an example of leadership.” he said.

Several residents questioned whether the board was fully exercising its role in personnel issues, or giving Levy and Nevaiser too much authority to act independently. “It centralizes too much power outside of the board,” said Leonard Wyeth of Ivoryton.

Hall told residents the board would discuss the concerns raised at the meeting, and attempt to answer some of the questions from residents, at its next regular meeting on Nov. 4.

Charles Stannard is a lifelong resident of Essex, and has covered various Middlesex County towns for two daily newspapers over the past 30 years.  He worked for the Middletown Press from 1979 to 1995 and the Hartford Courant from 1997 through last summer, and covered Chester, Deep River, Essex and Killingworth for the past decade.  Charlie lives in the Ivoryton section of Essex.

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Region 4 School Board Accepts Resignation of High School Principal Eric Rice

REGION 4— In a brief statement issued Wednesday, the Region 4 Board of Education announced that it has accepted the resignation of  recently hired Valley Regional High School Principal Eric Rice.

The statement said the board accepted a resignation from Rice at a special meeting held Tuesday evening. Friday was the last day with the district for Rice, a Chester resident who was hired for the principal position over the summer.

The board announced that Associate Principal Kristina Martineau would serve as acting principal for the remainder of the 2010-2011 school year, with current assistant superintendent and former principal Ian Neviaser acting on a “supporting role.” Martineau has served as associate principal at the high school for about three years.

Board Chairwoman Linda Hall of Deep River said Wednesday there would be no further information released on Rice’s departure. “The statement says what we would like to present to the public,” she said.

Hall declined to comment on whether Rice’s departure was voluntary, or whether he would receive a severance package or any financial settlement from the school district. Hall also declined to comment on whether she anticipates any legal action against the school district over the circumstances of Rice’s departure.

Hall  confirmed the board would hold an Oct. 21 special meeting on district personnel policies that was requested in an official petition signed by more than 180 registered voters from the district towns of Chester, Deep River, and Essex. State law requires regional school districts to hold a special district meeting in response to a petition signed by at least 50 registered voters from each member town. The Oct. 21 meeting is set for 7 p.m. at John Winthrop Middle School in Deep River.

The situation involving Rice, who arrived in Region 4 after serving as principal at a science and technology magnet school in Hartford, went public on Sept. 23 when about 50 residents, including several high school students, held a rally supporting Rice outside the district’s administrative offices. There were reports that Levy, who is in her second year as superintendent of schools for Region 4, had given Rice a resign or be fired ultimatum.

Levy has refused any further comment on what she describes as a “personnel matter.” Rice, who could not be reached for comment Wednesday, had continued working as principal until Friday.

Rice’s departure makes him the shortest serving principal in the history of the regional high school that opened in 1952. Nevaiser had served as principal for the 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 school years. Donald Gates, the retired long-time principal at Portland High School, had served as interim principal for the 2006-2007 and 2007-2008 academic years.

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Essex Elementary Harvest Festival Sunday

Libby and Ashley Cap help get the word out on the annual Essex Elementary Harvest Festival taking place this year on Sunday, October 3 from 12 noon to 4 pm, rain or shine.

On Sunday, October 3 from 12 noon to 4 pm, the Essex Elementary School Parents and Teachers Organization will hold its annual Harvest Festival.  All are invited to this fun-filled afternoon of food, games, and activities.  The crowd-pleasing Cakewalk, Adrenaline Rush obstacle course, Jousting competitions, cookie decorating, crafts, silent auction, and great food will be back on school grounds located at 108 Main Street in the Centerbrook section of Essex.  New this year is the Harvest & Bake Sale which will include local vegetables, flowers, and canned goods donated by parents.  Harvest Festival takes place rain or shine.  Admission is free with tickets sold for activities and food.  All Harvest Festival proceeds help fund the school’s community cultural arts program, educational field trips, enhancements to the school grounds and other onsite programs.  The Essex Elementary Parents And Teachers Organization is a 501(c) non-profit organization.

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Valley Regional High School Principal Remains on Job as School Board Awaits Next Step

REGION 4— Eric Rice remained on the job as principal at Valley Regional High School Friday as members of the Region 4 Board of Education await the next step in the event he is dismissed from the position by Superintendent of Schools Ruth Levy.

Unconfirmed accounts through the week had indicated Rice, a Chester resident who was hired over the summer, had been given an ultimatum by Levy to resign by Friday or face dismissal.  Levy, Region 4 superintendent since June 2009, had refused any comment on the situation Thursday.

But Eileen Steinfeldt, a friend of Rice’s family who organized a support rally outside the district’s administrative offices Thursday, said she had been told that Rice went to work Friday, a scheduled professional development day with students not scheduled to attend classes.

Steinfeldt added that she has been told that Rice has retained an attorney who has been in contact with attorneys for the school district. She did not know the name of the lawyer.

Rice, who left a job as principal of a Hartford magnet school to take the position at Valley Regional High School, had been on the job working with students and teachers for about three weeks when reports surfaced of his possible dismissal. Rice is the son-in-law of Region 4 board member Richard Strauss of Chester.

Strauss said late Thursday he could not comment on the situation, and was not sure if Rice had retained a lawyer. Strauss had recused himself from votes on Rice’s hiring in July, and would not participate in any possible future proceedings involving Rice.

Region 4 board Chairwoman Linda Hall of Deep River said Friday the possibility that Rice could seek a formal public hearing on any move by Levy for his dismissal would prevent her and other board members from obtaining detailed information on any possible reasons for a dismissal action.

Hall said if Levy acts to dismiss Rice “the board must be prepared to act as an impartial jury” for any possible dismissal hearing. “I have to make sure the board is not tainted and can provide fairness and due process for all parties concerned,” she said.

Hall said around mid-day Friday she has no immediate plans to call a special board meeting on the principal controversy. “As of right now no action has been taken,” she said. The Region 4 board’s next regular meeting is on Oct. 7.

Hall added that if or when the superintendent moves to dismiss Rice, the district would issue a news release announcing appointment of an interim principal for the high school. 

Rice is the third principal for the high school since September 2006, succeeding Ian Nevaiser, an Essex resident who held the job for two years before he was named as the district’s assistant superintendent in June. Donald Gates, the retired long-time principal at Portland High School, had served as interim principal at VRHS for the 2006-2007 and 2007-2008 academic years.

Related Stories:

Parents and Students Protest Move to Dismiss Valley Regional High School Principal

Protest Planned Against VRHS Principal’s Dismissal

Region 4 Hires New Principal, Two Other Positions

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Parents and Students Protest Move to Dismiss Valley Regional High School Principal

Eileen Steinfeldt talks to Channel 3 News

REGION 4— About 50 parents, students, and residents gathered outside the school district’s administrative offices in Deep River Thursday to protest a move by Superintendent of Schools Ruth Levy to dismiss the newly hired principal at Valley Regional High School.

The rally was organized on short notice by Chester resident Eileen Steinfeldt after she learned earlier this week that Levy had reportedly given Principal Eric Rice until Friday to resign or face dismissal. Rice, a Chester resident, was hired as principal over the summer. Steinfeldt said she does not have children attending the high school, but knows Rice, a father of three, and his family.

Levy, who has served as superintendent since June 2009 and previously served as Region 4 assistant superintendent for two years, Thursday declined to comment on the reasons she is seeking to remove Rice only three weeks after the opening of the new school year on Sept. 1. “I can’t talk about personnel issues,” Levy said, adding only that she believes there have been “a lot of inaccuracies and rumors.”

About 50 parents, students, and residents gathered outside the school district's administrative offices in Deep River Thursday

Students at the rally said they had a positive impression of Rice from the last three weeks, and also commented on what they have heard were the reasons for Levy’s action.

Zack Sanders, a senior from Chester, said he was told Levy objected to Rice “high-fiving” a special education student and believed that he had behaved inappropriately at a recent open house for parents. Sanders said he was present at the open house and witnessed nothing inappropriate about’s Rice’s behavior that evening.

There have also been reports Levy objected to Rice bringing a Blackberry computer with a recording device to a meeting of administrators. “If those are the reasons they don’t warrant having his job taken away,” Sanders said.

Sanders said Rice had been a welcoming presence at the school over the past three weeks, greeting students on arrival and reaching out to talk to them individually. “We thought he was doing a great job,” he said.

The gathering was monitored by Deep River police constable Raymond Sypher

Steven Klinck, another senior from Chester, said students and teachers are wondering what Rice had done to warrant an abrupt dismissal. “We don’t get it” he said.

Susan Wyeth, an Ivoryton resident whose daughter is a student at the high school, said she is troubled by the superintendent’s move. “It seems precipitous and it’s an unnecessary upheaval,” Wyeth said. “I don’t think Eric Rice knows what is happening and I wonder what this means for hiring good people in the future.”

Students said Rice was absent Tuesday, but was seen at the school Thursday. There are reports Rice was advised of Levy’s concerns at a meeting on Sept. 16, and was given the reported leave or face dismissal ultimatum the next day.

The rally lasted about 40 minutes as students and parents talked to various media reporters about the situation. The gathering was monitored by Deep River police constable Raymond Sypher.

Region 4 board members, including Chairwoman Linda Hall of Deep River and vice-chair Mary Beth Harrigan of Essex, could not be reached Thursday for comment. The nine-member elected board held its last regular meeting on Sept. 2, with Rice and other administrators present at the meeting.

Channel 3 News Present at Protest Meeting

Duane Gates, a board member from Deep River who drove past the gathering, declined comment. But Gates said he does not know the details of the situation involving Rice, and is not certain when the board would meet to discuss the situation and the future of the principal position at the high school.

Rice, who worked previously as principal of a science and technology magnet school in the Hartford school system, is the son-in-law of Richard and Leslie Strauss of Chester. Richard Strauss is a member and current treasurer of the Region 4 board. He could not be reached for comment Thursday.

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Todd Ellison and Friends – Bringing Broadway to Connecticut Tonight

Todd Ellison, Broadway Musical Director

Todd Ellison, Broadway Musical Director,Lyme resident, and Essex native son, will be joined by friends from New York City to provide an exciting evening of entertainment on Monday, Oct. 4 at 7 p.m. at the Valley Regional High School Theater in Deep River, CT.  After spending several years as the Musical Director and Vocal Arranger for Spamalot, Todd is currently Musical Director/Conductor for the ward winning musical La Cage Aux Folles.

Scheduled to appear with him are Jonathan Freeman who was the voice of Jafar in the Disney movie Aladdin and is now in Mary Poppins, Chester native Peter Lockyer who is currently in South Pacific and played Marius in Les Miserables, Mary Testa who was in On the Town and 42nd Street, and Dominique Plaisant of Broadway’s The Wild Party and Lestat. Also joining will be Deep River native, Ryan Driscoll –The Summer of ’42.

These outstanding Broadway performers are generously donating their talents to benefit three of Todd’s favorite causes: the Region 4 Education Foundation, the Lyme Public Hall Assn. Inc. (in honor of the late Elizabeth
Putnam), and Literacy Volunteers Valley Shore.

General admission tickets are $30 presale and $35 at the door. Tickets can be obtained at H.L Reynolds (Jane’s) Store in Lyme, the Bowerbird in Old Lyme, Grillo’s Package Store in Centerbrook, Literacy Volunteers Valley Shore, 25 Middlesex Tpke in Essex, and Valley Regional High School in Deep River. For information call 860 767-1202. The show is sure to sell out so get your tickets now.

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Valley Regional Music Productions Needs a Flying Car!

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, the movie-turned-stage-hit will be next spring’s musical production by Valley Regional Music Productions.  “I’d seen the show and was thrilled when the rights became available”, says Ingrid Walsh, Valley Regional Music Production’s Producer/Director. “I could see it being exactly the kind of family-friendly musical that’s always been a great hit for us at Valley”, Walsh says.

But there’s just one hitch; how to build that flying car. And that’s why Ingrid Walsh is putting out a call for help to the community. “There’s got to someone with engineering  or design skills, or a set design background, that can help us out. We’re looking for ideas, old parts, hydraulic lifts – just any way to make this car appear to fly. Hobbyists, amateur mechanics – whoever would like to help, we’d love to hear from. We can’t use a real car, because that wouldn’t work on stage. It’s got to be a smaller, model version, which five people can fit into. And we need to be able to raise it, tilt it left or right, and point it up and down.”

The show, which will run the weekend of March 25-27th, is Ms. Walsh’s 14th production at the high school. Anyone who’d like to help make Valley Regional’s car fly is urged to contact Ingrid Walsh via Valley Regional High School, at 860-526-5328, or via email at ingpilot@comcast.net.  Companies or individuals who contribute their efforts will get credit in the program, along with the satisfaction of being a part of making this “fantasmagorical” show happen for the kids and the community.

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Region 4 Goes Back to School Today

REGION 4— Region 4 schools open today for the 2010-2011 academic year with a new principal at Valley Regional High School and 21 new teachers (most replacing retiring teachers) for the five schools in Chester, Deep River, and Essex.

Superintendent of Schools Ruth Levy Thursday praised the efforts of district custodians in preparing the school buildings for opening day. “All of our buildings are ready for children to walk in to and they look absolutely spectacular,” she said. “Our staff is ready and we’re excited about the new school year.”

The principal job at the high school opened up after Ian Neviaser, an Essex resident who had served as principal since 2008, was selected as the district’s new assistant superintendent. Eric Rice, a Chester resident who worked previously as principal of a science and engineering magnet school in Hartford, was selected for the principal job in July.

Peter Foxen, a Rocky Hill resident who has worked for the past decade in the Portland school system, is the new associate principal at John Winthrop Middle School. Thomas Peterlik of Deep River is the new director of food services for the school district.

An early retirement incentive program offered last winter to generate savings in the education budget led to the retirement in June of 17 veteran teachers. Nearly all of those positions have been filled, along with a handful of new positions that were created to meet shifts in student enrollment.

New teachers at the high school include John Harris-social studies, Maryann Donagher-art, Christopher Allegretti-math, and Deborah Montenegro-chemistry. New hires for the middle school include John Woitovich-special education, Matthew Mesite-math, Kathryn Ryan-math, and Cara Rothman as the new director of the school’s library/media center.

Diana Mirante is a new second grade teacher at Essex Elementary School. New teachers at Chester Elementary School include Nicole Larson-grade 4, Kelsey Parente-grade 3, Brian Klasner-teacher’s assistant, and Lori Lenz-art. The new teachers at Deep River Elementary School are Brian Drinkard-physical education, Jennifer Raney-grade 6, Rachel Anderson-grade 5, Jill Shakun-grade 1, and Catherine Miller- remedial reading and language.

Kristin Menard is the new reading and language consultant at Deep River Elementary School.

Three new teachers were hired for the supervision district, providing services for more than one school, including Gary Stevens-art, Dina Monaco-special education, and Angela Fachini-foreign language. There are also six new para-educators, including Jodi Azzinaro, Jill Joes, Kristie Scanlon, and Allison Quagan at Deep River Elementary School, and Lynn Fishkind and Suzanne deJongh at Essex Elementary School.

Levy said the new television station will be in full operation at the high school this year, providing video coverage of athletic events and other school programs. Work is also expected to begin during this school year on a solar photovoltaic unit to be located on the roof at the middle school. The project, which will be paid for by grant funds, is expected to reduce energy costs for the school.

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Carolyn Greenleaf Fund Now Accepting Applications for Fall Music Scholarship

The Carolyn Greenleaf Fund is accepting applications for a music scholarship for talented high school students. The scholarship was established at Middlesex County Community Foundation in 2007 to honor the memory of Carolyn Greenleaf, a resident of Essex who was passionate about music education and who worked tirelessly to promote music in our communities. The award is made twice each school year for a 17 week session of 30 minute private lessons at an institution of the recipient’s choice. The scholarship is not renewable, and can only be won once by an individual. The scholarship is based on merit, not financial need, and is open to residents of Middlesex County and to students residing in Old Lyme and East Lyme.

The deadline for application for the Fall 2010 semester is 4:00 p.m. on Friday, August 27, 2010 . Applications may be obtained by visiting Middlesex County Community Foundation’s website at www.MiddlesexCountyCF.org Completed applications should be sent to: The Carolyn Greenleaf Fund c/o Patricia Hurley 15 Main Street, Ivoryton, CT 06442 Questions may be directed to Ms. Hurley at 860-767-9725.

The Middlesex County Community Foundation is a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the quality of life in Middlesex County. Its two-fold mission is: (1) to work with charitably-minded individuals and organizations to build permanent endowments and other charitable funds and (2) to support local nonprofit organizations through effective grant making to address community needs. Since its founding in 1997, the Community Foundation has provided more than $1.5 million in grants to more than 200 organizations for the arts, cultural and heritage programs, educational activities, environmental improvements, and for health and human services. For more information call 860-347-0025, email info@MiddlesexCountyCF.org or visit the website: www.MiddlesexCountyCF.org.

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College Prep Series is Back at the Essex Library with “Off To College: A Workshop for Students and Parents”

From a press release:

Karen Goldfinger

Young Adults and their Parents are invited to the Essex Library on Tuesday, July 27 at 6:30pm for a “Off to College: A Workshop for Students and Parents” Presented by Karen Goldfinger, Ph.D. and her daughter Jessie Tijl. The workshop will feature Tips for choosing a major, getting good grades, and having a great time.

Dr. Goldfinger is a psychologist in Essex with an interest in helping young adults succeed. She conducts career and educational assessments for teenagers and young adults, and she is a parent and former Essex School Board member. She is also the lead author of a textbook, Psychological Assessment and Report Writing (Sage, 2010).

Jessie Tijl is entering her senior year at Occidental College in Los Angeles. She is a pre-med student majoring in Biology and minoring in Urban and Environmental Policy. She recently returned from a study abroad semester in Costa Rica and a brief stint as a volunteer at a medical clinic in Peru. She has learned how to succeed in college while having a great time, and she is ready to offer some tips to incoming freshman.

Please contact the Essex Library at 767-1560 or jmccann@essexlib.org to register for this important informational evening.

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Region 4 Hires New Principal, Two Other Positions

REGION 4— The Region 4 Board of Education has selected Eric Rice of Chester as the new principal for Valley Regional High School while also approving new hires for associate principal at John Winthrop Middle School and director of food services for the full Chester-Deep River-Essex school district.

Rice currently serves as principal for the University High School of Science and Engineering, a magnet school for the Hartford public school system. Rice replaces Ian Neviaser, who has served as principal at the high school for the past two years. Nevaiser was selected last mionth as the new assistant superiuntendent for Region 4.

Rice has a Bachelor of Science in civil engineering from the University of Connecticut, along with a Master of Arts degree in middle school education from Southern Connecticut State University, a sixth year certificate in educational leadership from Sacred Heart University in Bridgeport, and certification as a physics teacher.He has worked as a physics and engineering teacher, a science department coordinator, and as an adjunct professor at the Central Connecticut State University School of Engineering and Technology Education.

Superintendent of Schools Ruth Levy said Rice has “an outstanding backround in science, mathematics, and technology,” as well as “a commitment to our school community.” Rice lives in Chester with his wife and children. He is expected start at Region 4 in August, working closely with Neviaser for a smooth transition as the new school year begins in September

The school board also selected Peter Foxen as the new associate principal at John Winthrop Middle School. A Rocky Hill resident who is married with three children, Foxen has worked in the Portland school system for the past decade, teaching social studies and language arts at the middle school. He has also served as a team leader, and director of Portland’s after school and summer school programs.

Foxen, who worked as a banker before transferring to education, holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree in history from Hartwick College, a Masters degree in education from St. Joseph’s College, and an administrators certificate from Sacred Heart University. He also begins working at Region 4 next month.

Thomas Peterlik of Deep River has been selected as the new director of food services for the school district. A native of Austria, Peterlik holds a degree in culinary arts from the Culinary Institute of Austria and a degree in food and beverage management from Cornell University in New York. He has worked as general manager of food services at Yale University for the past decade, and has prior experience as a chef for hotels and cruise ships.

Levy said Peterlik has experience in management and budgeting, and “has a strong interest in working with the local farming community to provide healthy, nutritious, and exciting meals for students in our district.” Peterlik will direct food services at the high school and middle school, along with the elementary schools of Chester, Deep River, and Essex.

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Valley Regional High School Graduates 137 Seniors

DEEP RIVER— Valley Regional High School awarded diplomas to 137 seniors in the Class of 2010 under picture perfect skies Friday at the school’s 59th annual commencement ceremony.

A crowd of hundreds of family and friends gathered on the southeast side of the school grounds to watch the graduates from Chester, Deep River and Essex, along with the school faculty, march down the aisle to the strains of “Pomp and Circumstance.” There was some of the best graduation weather in years, sunny skies and warm temperatures with low humidity.

Principal Ian Nevaiser welcomed the crowd by noting the 21 Region 4 school employees, both certified educators and non-certified staff, who are retiring this year. Nevaiser, who has served as principal at the high school for the past two years, is moving up to the position of assistant superintendent of schools for the district this summer. The high school will have a new principal in place when the 2010-2011 school year begins in early September.

Superintendent of Schools Ruth Levy, giving her second graduation remarks as the district’s top leader, urged the graduates to look beyond themselves “to think about what is next for us, for us as a people, for our environment, and for our world.” She called on the graduates to “leave your own footprint by doing something meaningful for you and someone else,” noting “there is so much to do and we need each and every one of you to help make our world a better place.”

Valedictorian Erin Elizabeth Thomas of Chester also called on her classmates to look to the greater good. Thomas recalled many of the changes and events since students in the class of 2010 were born in 1992, from the invention of the Internet, to the September 11 attacks and the current gulf oil spill. “Reflect on our past and our accomplishments- but there is more great work ahead,” she said, adding “in this class and in this audience I see the potential for each and every individual regardless of age or career path to change the world for the better.”

Salutatorian Chelsey Paholski of Essex noted the graduates had learned persistence and teamwork from their four years at Valley Regional High School. “Our school is unique in that it shows how three towns can coalesce to form one whole, one team,” she said. Paholski suggested the high school’s student body is a team that “works to give back to its community through service projects” such as blood drives, relay for life, and collections for community soup kitchens.

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Valley Regional Principal Ian Nevaiser Selected As Assistant Superintendent For Region 4

REGION 4– Ian Neviaser, principal at Valley Regional High School for the past two years, has been named as the new assistant superintendent for Region 4 schools.

Nevaiser, 37, was formally appointed to the position on a vote of the Supervision District Committee at a meeting Thursday. He assumes the new job on Aug. 1. Neviaser replaces Diane Dugas, who resigned in May after about nine months in the job.

Nevaiser becomes the third assistant superintendent for Region 4, a position that was created in 2006 during the tenure of former Superintendent of Schools Kim Caron. The district’s first assistant superintendent, Ruth Levy, replaced Caron as superintendent of schools last June.

Levy said the position was posted internally after Dugas’s departure, and Neviaser was the only candidate interviewed by a search committee. Levy declined to comment on the circumstances of Dugas’s departure. Dugas had been hired last August after working previously as director of curriculum and instruction for the East Windsor school system.

“Ian Neviaser has been an outstanding principal at the high school,” Levy said. “We look forward to Ian bringing his enthusiams, ideas, and leadership to the five schools of Region 4.”

Nevaiser, an Essex resident, received his bachelor of arts degree from Wesleyan University in Middletown, and earned his master’s degree and sixth year certificate at Southern Connecticut State University. He worked previously as a social studies teacher, department chairman, and assistant principal at Guilford High School. He assumed the principal job at Valley Regional High School in the summer of 2008.

Levy said a search committee comprised of administrators, teachers, parents, and school board members would begin reviewing applications this summer for the now open principal job at Valley Regional High School. She said a new principal would be selected before the start of the 2010-2011 school year in early September.

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Valley Regional Principal Ian Nevaiser Selected As Assistant Superintendent For Region 4

REGION 4– Ian Neviaser, principal at Valley Regional High School for the past two years, has been named as the new assistant superintendent for Region 4 schools.

Nevaiser, 37, was formally appointed to the position on a vote of the Supervision District Committee at a meeting Thursday. He assumes the new job on Aug. 1. Neviaser replaces Diane Dugas, who resigned in May after about nine months in the job.

Nevaiser becomes the third assistant superintendent for Region 4, a position that was created in 2006 during the tenure of former Superintendent of Schools Kim Caron. The district’s first assistant superintendent, Ruth Levy, replaced Caron as superintendent of schools last June.

Levy said the position was posted internally after Dugas’s departure, and Neviaser was the only candidate interviewed by a search committee. Levy declined to comment on the circumstances of Dugas’s departure. Dugas had been hired last August after working previously as director of curriculum and instruction for the East Windsor school system.

“Ian Neviaser has been an outstanding principal at the high school,” Levy said. “We look forward to Ian bringing his enthusiams, ideas, and leadership to the five schools of Region 4.”

Nevaiser, an Essex resident, received his bachelor of arts degree from Wesleyan University in Middletown, and earned his master’s degree and sixth year certificate at Southern Connecticut State University. He worked previously as a social studies teacher, department chairman, and assistant principal at Guilford High School. He assumed the principal job at Valley Regional High School in the summer of 2008.

Levy said a search committee comprised of administrators, teachers, parents, and school board members would begin reviewing applications this summer for the now open principal job at Valley Regional High School. She said a new principal would be selected before the start of the 2010-2011 school year in early September.

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Voters Approve $16.99 Million Region 4 Budget

REGION 4— The $16.99 million Region 4 education budget won easy approval Tuesday in a referendum that generated a sparse voter turnout.

The $16,992,527 spending plan was approved 520-312 after eight hours of voting in the district towns of Chester, Deep River, and Essex. The budget carried in Deep River, 146-63, and Essex, 292-111, while voters in Chester opposed the budget on a 138-82 vote.

Chester First Selectman Tom Marsh had called for a reduction in the spending plan at the April 8 budget hearing that attracted only a handful of residents, but the Region 4 Board of Education decided to make no changes to the budget it adopted in March.

The total turnout of voters in the three towns, 832, was down sharply from the 1,054 referendum turnout last year, where voters of the three towns approved the budget on a 974-680 vote. A total of 403 voters turned out in Essex, compared to 733 last year. The turnout of 209 in Deep River was down from 319 in 2009. The Chester turnout of 220 was down from 602 last year, when Chester voters also opposed the budget.

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17 Teachers Accept Region 4 Early Retirement Offer

REGION 4— A total of 17 teachers have accepted the early retirement incentive offer from the district’s school boards.

Superintendent of Schools Ruth Levy said early retirement was accepted by three teachers at Chester Elementary School, five teachers at Deep river Elementary School, three teachers at Essex Elementary School, three teachers at John Winthrop Middle School, and one teacher at Valley Regional High School.
There were 1.7 early retirements from teachers funded under the Supervision District budget, which covers shared services. Both are art teachers who rotated between schools.

To be eligible for the offer, teachers had to meet state requirements for early retirement. The teachers had to be at least 50 years old with 20 years of service as a public school teacher, or any age with at least 25 years of service as a public school teacher.

The Region 4 offer had two options, a cash payout of $10,000 per year for five years, or an option that had no cash payment but five years of health insurance coverage for an individual or four years of health insurance coverage for an individual with family or spouse. Levy said seven teachers took the cash payout and 10 teachers accepted the extended health insurance coverage.

Levy said the 17 retirements was slightly more than she anticipated. Levy said the early retirements would generate savings in the 2010-2011 education budgets because salaries for new and younger replacements would be lower. She said the early retirements had averted the need for any consideration of teacher layoffs, at least under the budget plans for 2010-2011 now being prepared by the district’s school boards.

Levy projected that at least 15 of the 17 positions would have to be replaced, though some positions could be eliminated through attrition depending on student enrollment for 2010-2011.

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