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March 30, 2007

This Just in About the Super Search

D'Agostino. File photo

Also, school uniform idea going back to committee

Board of Education Chair Michael D'Agostino sent this e-mail today to the Hamden Daily News, the New Haven Register, the Hamden Chronicle and the Hamden Journal:

Members of the Press and Online Journals:
Attached please find a list of the new Hamden Board of Education Committee assignments and school liaison assignments.  Please post for public review.

You will note that the Board has created a new Personnel Search Committee to which all Board members belong.  This is the committee charged with searching for and filling the Superintendent position and addressing any related matters.  Per state law, meetings of a “personnel search committee” for filling executive level positions are excluded from the definition of a public “meeting” under the FOIA.  Conn. Gen. Stat. § 1-200(2).  Such personnel search committees are thus exempt from the posting and public access requirements that normally apply to public agencies.

The Search Committee held an organizational meeting last night.  While that particular meeting was closed, we do expect to meet in the next two weeks to interview search firms and that meeting will be open to the public.  The Board also intends to consider as much public input as possible during the search, including conducting focus groups and similar meetings with parents, teachers, students and others to determine the qualities we all want in the next Hamden Superintendent.  There will be times, however, when Search Committee meetings will not be open to the public, especially during the first stages of the interview process.  This is because most, if not all potential candidates have jobs in other towns and will expect a degree of confidentiality, at least until finalists are selected.  We hope you and the public will appreciate the need for such confidentiality at times during the process, so that we can attract the best possible candidates from the broadest possible pool.

Thank you.

PS -- The Board Secretary, John Keegan, will also have a press release regarding our approach to the school uniform issue by early next week.   That issue will not be on the April Meeting agenda and will be heading back to committees for future and further discussion and public input.  Please contact Board Secretary John Keegan for further information.

Michael C. D'Agostino
Bingham McCutchen
One State Street
Hartford, Connecticut 06103
Phone: (860) 240-2731
Fax:    (860) 240-2818
E-Mail:  michael.dagostino@bingham.com

March 28, 2007

Lone Voice Against Uniforms

Uniform committee discusses Hamden’s dress code in near-perfect unity

By Sharon Bass

Bear Path parent Mike Alissi sat alone inside 60 Putnam Ave. He’s one of 21 members of the new school uniform committee and one of just eight who showed up for the second meeting last night.

But Alissi was alone in that he was the only member who expressed any objections to a uniform policy for the Hamden public schools, which has turned into a volatile issue.

At the onset of the nearly two-hour meeting, he asked Assistant Superintendent Portia Bonner, who’s leading the mandatory uniform effort, what the mission of the committee is. Alissi said he thought it was to discuss whether there should be a uniform policy, yet the other parent and teacher members were already talking about what the uniform should look like.

“If you’re uncomfortable, you can leave the committee,” said Bonner. “I do have other Bear Path parents interested” in serving.

“The task of this committee is to come up with the possible options. We bring our recommendation to the Board. I want to be clear on that,” she continued. “You need to look at the [teacher and parent] survey results. The majority want uniforms. The current [dress code] policy apparently is not working. We need to be more strict. I also know we have this issue of research not supporting this. But the research doesn’t not support it.”

Bonner and other advocates say uniforms would improve test scores, reduce friction between children over clothing, increase attendance, decrease tardiness, encourage children to focus more on academics, cut down on the amount of time teachers deal with clothing problems and create a better spirit inside the school that can spill over into the general community.

Those opposed to having all children dress alike say there’s no research that proves any of the above. They feel uniforms would somewhat strap students of their individuality and creativity. And would create an extra expense, since parents would still have to buy regular/play clothes for their children. Some also feel a public school should not mandate dress.

“Uniforms create better school environments,” said Bonner. “You can’t tell me there aren’t issues about school climate. The kids are out of control. It’s not just a random thing.”

She apologized to committee members who said they have been contacted by parents opposed to uniforms. “We are not the ones who decide,” Bonner said. The Board of Education is.

Middle school teacher/committee member Diane Marinaro said a friend told her school uniforms was a topic on the (ultra-conservative) WELI morning show the other day. “Most of the people calling in were in favor,” she said.

However, according to WELI's Web poll, 58.82 percent said Hamden students shouldn't wear uniforms while 41.18 percent favored the idea, as of early this morning. (The numbers have since changed.)

Marinaro, also president of the teachers’ local, said she felt the parents at last Wednesday’s forum -- the vast majority of whom spoke out against uniforms -- didn’t understand the focus of the meeting. “Some of them were very rude. We have something that’s not working. Why fix it if it is?” she said.

Parents were given less than 30 minutes to speak at the April 21 public forum. For the first 90 minutes, a panel -- of which just one member, Alissi, was anti-uniforms -- spoke of the alleged benefits of uniforms. Many parents were angry they didn’t get a chance to air their views.

“Today was a beautiful day,” continued Marinaro. “I can’t tell you how many girls were wearing flip-flops.” She said flip-flops are not safe. Toes can be stepped on; a child could trip and fall down the stairs; a book could drop on a flip-flipped foot. “These are things we deal with all the time.”

“Flip-flops are against the dress code?” Alissi asked.

“Yes,” said Marinaro.

He asked the teacher how the flip-flop-wearing students were disciplined. She said she “can’t send every kid to the office.”

Middle school teacher Donna Mae Cangiano was also at the meeting. The parents, with the exception of Alissi, who attended did not want their names printed. “I don’t want to get e-mails and phone calls,” said one.

“I wish everybody could spend a day with us,” said Marinaro of the clothing violations teachers deal with. "Some of you have never been in the middle school. And it’s not just [in] the middle school. Elementary schools, too.”

“I probably spend 15 to 20 minutes a day talking to kids about clothes,” said Cangiano. “That’s about 33 hours of my teaching time.”

State law allows school districts to dictate how students should dress, from head to ankle. Shoes are not on the table. Bonner said there are three options the committee can recommend to the BOE: no change; revise the current dress code; or uniforms. There was little discussion, as Alissi had hope for, about the pros and cons of uniforms. Instead, the committee worked on option two. They used uniform policies from New London and Ansonia to help rewrite Hamden’s dress code. At the next meeting in April, Bonner said option three would be hashed out.

The group agreed the current school dress policy should more specific.

Jeans with writing on them should not be allowed.

“What’s the reason for not allowing writing?” Alissi asked.

He was told some jeans bear sexually explicit phrases and others have words written across the buttocks, which draws attention to that part of the anatomy.

“When we say uniforms, we’re not saying girls in a plaid jumper and boys in ties,” Marinaro said to the Bear Path dad. “I think you’re getting hung up on the word ‘uniform.’ I think you don’t like the word ‘uniform.’” Then she was reminded the committee was doing option two.

“What I heard from a lot of community members is they don’t want a committee to impose [uniforms] on them,” said a parent. “You can’t tell a parent, who says don’t tell me how to dress my kids, how their kids should be dressed.”

“The Board can do that,” said Marinaro. “The Board can do that.”

“I was in a district and there was a uniform policy,” said Bonner. “And it was strict. Collared shirts. No jeans. No T-shirts.” And test scores and attendance went up.

Alissi asked if data exist to back up those claims. Bonner said no.

“Originally, we were doing K through eight,” the assistant super said of uniforms in Hamden. “But some [parent and/or teacher] surveys said high school. We can do that.”

Alissi pointed out that the committee was working on option two, the dress code revision, which applies to all Hamden schools.

More option two ideas were thrown around: pants, shorts, skorts, skirts and jeans must be worn at the waist; shorts, skirts, skorts, jumpers and dresses no higher than the bottom of a child’s fingertips when standing and arms at side; undergarments worn inside clothing; no pajamas; no T-shirts with drug, tobacco or alcohol emblems or logos; no gang-related attire; no hooded tops; shirts must be tucked in; only V-neck, collared and crew neck allowed; long or short sleeves, nothing sleeveless.

“I like solid colors,” someone said.

A parent said, “That sounds like uniforms.”

There was much discussion about sweat suits. They are needed for gym but would be outlawed in the new dress code to be worn anywhere else in school.

“What’s the problem with sweatpants? They are acceptable everywhere,” said Alissi.

“I think they look unprofessional,” said Bonner. “You come prepared to learn.”

“Some people work very hard in sweatpants,” he responded.

“Personally, I don’t think kids in sweats look the same as in pants and a shirt,” said Marinaro.

“In this environment, it’s not what’s professional it’s what won’t be disruptive,” Alissi said.

Bonner said the BOE plans to discuss uniforms at its May 8 meeting, and the committee recommendation would go to the Board before its anticipated vote in June.
March 27, 2007

Man, They're Stellar!

The Hamden debate team won the state finals in '06 and last Saturday made a dramatic repeat performance at Stamford High School. Twelve Hamden students qualified for the '07 finals by having earned trophies in past debates. Seniors Eric Kirchner and Khalid Lum (pictured above) took first place at the Connecticut Debate Association State Finals. Their resolution, which they argued both pro and con in four debates, was, "The U.S. government should give slavery reparations to its African-American citizens." Said debate coach/English teacher Valerie Canalori, "They were stellar. In the 31 years I've been coaching debating, the best was Saturday." -- Sharon Bass

March 26, 2007

Great Idea
Horrendous Idea

Views contrast a fiery 180 degrees when it comes to school uniforms

By Sharon Bass

Middle school PTA president Jackie Downing has a problem with the way the recent uniform surveys were handled at her school.

“A good response to a survey distributed to students was an unrealistic expectation, not because of parent apathy, but administrators, teachers and parents all know full well that middle school students often do not give fliers and school communications to the parents,” she said. “That’s why important communications like report cards are sent via first-class mail.”

Indeed, Assistant Superintendent Portia Bonner -- who’s spearheading the fight for uniforms -- said many middle school students filled out the surveys instead of bringing them home. As a result, just 194 out of 971 middle school surveys were included in Bonner’s study, compared to one-third to nearly 100 percent of parent surveys from the elementary schools. (Results from a subsequent questionaire, to reportedly fix the middle school problem, were not available last week.) (Bear Path, 282 of 369 parents filled out the survey; Church Street, 113 of 301; Dunbar Hill, 129 of 276; Helen Street, 162 of 257; Ridge Hill, 236 to 269; Shepherd Glen, 144 of 240; Spring Glen, 142 of 240; and West Woods, 308 of 381.)

At the March 21 uniform forum, Bonner released the findings of the first survey sent to parents/guardians, teachers and administrators. They were asked if they support a uniform policy, if yes what should the outfit look like, and if no, why?

According to Bonner’s “preliminary data” dated March 15, the tally shows 1,031 parents give uniforms the high-five, 648 say no way and 31 are undecided. Of the 146 teachers and administrators who filled out the forms, 111 like the idea, 32 don’t like it and three aren’t sure.

Though parents opposed to having kids dress alike were in the minority in Bonner’s data, they logged far more written comments than their pro-counterparts -- 301-49 -- and were clearly in the majority at last Wednesday’s forum that was cut short. Many lamented they weren’t given an opportunity to voice their opinions.

Some 110 remarks from administrators and teachers were in favor of the policy; those against came in at 31.

Here are sample responses from Bonner’s survey:

Parent/Guardians [sic] Supporting Comments:

“Wearing uniforms would make them look smart and disciplined.”

“Best idea ever!”

“Children will never be late for school because they can’t find something to wear! Parents will save money and reduce the early morning headaches.”

“Easy to identify who doesn’t belong.”

“My child is made fun of the clothes she wear.”

“I really support the idea of uniforms. It promotes unity among the children no competition. My children will be more focused on school work.”

“Casual Fridays with students paying fee to do so [not wear uniform] to go to PTA for enrichment.”

Parent/Guardian Non-supporting Comments:

“Uniforms are not necessary and the expense would be a hardship.”

“This will add no value to my kid’s education.”

“I cannot believe this is even being asked. I am sending my children to public school, not a private boarding school. If this passes I will not send my child to school in a uniform. I will send them to school in neat, appropriate ‘normal’ clothing and I will sue the school if they get sent home. I could not feel more strongly about this and I would fight this all the way to the highest court.”

“I pick out clothes with my son and use this as a bonding experience.”

“No research that supports benefits of uniforms.”

“One-size fits all approach to education, quick fix to a deeper problem.”

“Poor supervision in lunchroom and playground more important.”

“Increases laundry; white shirt for young girl is terrible.”

“When children wear their own clothes they maintain a sense of individuality and comfort.”

“Sound too much like Catholic/private school.”

“Doesn’t like the look of ‘cookie cutter’ children.”

“Difficulty in getting ready for school.”

“It would be an added expense.”

Administrators & Teacher [sic] Supporting Comments:

“Easier on the parents.”

“Restores the seriousness to education.”

“It will make clothes shopping easy on parents. There will be no question about inappropriate dressing.”

“No competition between kids.”

“I do not want students to be teased or humiliated for what they wear to school. Also, kids are dressing too racy these days and that needs to be controlled better. If parents aren’t expected to pay for the uniforms, then I support the movement.”

“Students are often in class with clothes that are stained or ripped. Hand me downs are common attire.”

“Colors should be easy to find.”

“Eliminates competition between name brands; students concentrate on schoolwork instead of who has same brand items.”

“Make the uniforms simple for parents to purchase at any store.”

“Choices should be given.”


“Everybody will look the same.”

“Less of a financial burden on parents.”

“Creates a natural learning environment.”

“Children can earn a dress down day.”

Administrators [sic] & Teachers [sic] Non-supporting Comments:

“Students should be able to express themselves through the colors/clothing they wear.”

“Parents should not be told what to buy for their children.”

“Clothing not the issue with discipline.”

“Not the answer to higher CMT scores.”

“Last time I checked, clothes didn’t increase anyone’s IQ. Look at our President.”

“Too much regimentation!”

“Right or wrong, in my mind children in uniforms conjure up militarism, conformity at the cost of creativity and exclusion. I believe this is a wrong-headed cosmetic approach to encouraging appropriate behaviors which need to be taught, not ‘outfitted.’”

High School Uniforms

Please e-mail these unidentified models' names to the HDN.

Seniors put on a very cool fashion show to raise bucks for “safe” party

Words and visuals by Sharon Bass

The Hamden High class of ’07 threw a third zero in the middle of its graduation year and turned what could have been a typical fashion runway into hot, choreographed entertainment last Friday. Playing the James Bond ’007 theme music while flashing Bond video clips on the wall, kids struck the secret agent’s signature poses as they modeled casual and formal teen threads (is that term still used?). It was to bring in money for the school’s after-prom party. And to get a chance to strut about the stage.

Student/models Katie Santomasso and Gabrielle Reyes.

The models and audience -- parents, siblings and pals -- had a definite communication going on with each other inside the high school auditorium. The almost nonstop clapping and happy, loud cheers of approval were perhaps the most poignant part of the evening. Children giving each other the high thumbs up..

There were more cameras than threads at Friday's high school fashion show.

HH senior Justin Scalzo did an amazingly professional and slick job as the emcee. His natural broadcaster’s voice coupled with a quick sense of humor (think “Chandler” of the TV show “Friends”) wonderfully framed the show.

Amanda Bauer and Emily Ball strike '007 "attitude" poses.

The post-prom party will be held inside the high school. There will be stuff like laser tag and hypnosis. The fashion event raised $1,773 to help provide this safe and fun place for kids to hang after the prom.

Jamie Callan and Amanda Bauer

Emcee Justin Scalzo with mic.

There were also constant, intermittent sales pitches for the retailers that loaned the models’ frocks: Yuppy Boutique and Harold’s of New Haven, and Bon Ton and Jimmy’s, both of Hamden. The North Haven Academy/Paul Mitchell Partner did the hair and makeup.

Lauren Alpert and Hannah Grimes

Tom Fitzsimons

Jenna DeNicola

Divya Krishna and Leslie Hurd

March 22, 2007

Frock Flak

Principal Janet Brown Clayton makes an impassioned case for uniforms at Wednesday's forum.

Story and visuals by Sharon Bass

The proposal to mandate school uniforms for K-8 had a quiet start. Some say a sneaky start. In early February, the idea passed in committee and was sent to the full Board of Education. That’s when the bomb exploded.

The item appeared on that meeting’s consent agenda, ready to be voted on. Yet, few knew about it. The parents, the teachers, the PTA presidents, the students were not asked for their input. And they weren’t pleased.

“I saw the item on the Curriculum Committee agenda. Very shortly afterwards it showed up on the BOE consent agenda and the alarm went off,” PTA Council president Tim Nottoli said to this reporter at Wednesday’s public forum about making kids dress the same in Hamden public schools.

BOE member Lynn Campo had said she was “blindsided” by the agenda item. She was also at last evening’s packed meeting in room C-107 at the high school, which went from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Many parents have said they were not only blindsided but also opposed to uniforms. About 100 parents, mostly against the proposal, came out to speak out. Unfortunately, few got permission. Assistant Superintendent Portia Bonner, who orchestrated the event, gave parents under 30 minutes to comment. First they had to listen to her panel of seven teachers and/or parents. Five spoke strongly in favor of uniforms. One said he was undecided although other remarks put him more on the uniform side of the fence. And one said he was against mandatory uniforms.

Some of those seven plus others are on a committee Bonner assembled to create a uniform proposal to present to the Board for a vote. One parent asked her several times who is on that committee before Bonner would answer. She said those names will soon be listed on the school’s Web site.

At the end of the evening, the lingering question was, “Who are uniforms for? The kids or the teachers and administrators?”

Panelist Richard Avery, coordinator for special ed, was the first to sing the accolades of uniforms.

“Much of the debate is striking a balance between the school’s need to and the child’s right to freedom of expression,” he said. “As incidents of school violence have increased …”

Bonner, an ardent advocate of school uniforms, has repeatedly said they could decrease school violence.

Avery said students dressing alike could also improve academic ratings, reduce negative behavior and increase student attendance. He said children across the country are killed for their jewelry, brand-name sneakers and expensive jackets. “Schools in 21 states and the District of Columbia have some form of uniform policy,” he said. “School uniforms can instill a sense of school pride.”

Panelist/committee member Diane Marinaro, middle school teacher and president of the teachers’ local, was up next. Uniforms, she said, would create a “safe academic environment, decrease violence and erase cultural and economic differences between all students. The manner of dress I observe daily is not appropriate.”

The question of whether teachers would have to wear uniforms has recently arisen. In response, Marinaro said, “That is not an easy one for me to address tonight and I cannot address it tonight.” She also cited statistics from other school districts that indicate uniforms increased attendance and led to other improvements.

“Statistics are misleading,” a parent called out.

“This is not a cure-all by any means, but it does address one area,” said panelist/committee member Bob Riccitelli, a Bear Path teacher. He recited the same benefits of uniforms and added less gang activity and more self-esteem.

Parent Michael Alissi said he knew nothing about the uniform issue until he read about it in the local media.

“Uniforms are the wrong way to go,” he said receiving a loud burst of applause.

“There is no scientific evidence that uniforms do any of the things” proponents speak of, said Alissi, a panelist/committee member.

They don’t reduce violence. They don’t reduce social pressure. They don’t save money. They don’t improve attendance or test scores. But they are good for teachers and administrators because they don’t have to spend time with students whose clothing doesn’t conform to the dress code, he said.

“Teach our kids to embrace diversity,” Alissi said. “To be independent. To question conformity. To take interest in people’s differences. A policy that mandates uniforms is not going to take these problems away.”

Middle school art teacher David Hubbard said he sometimes spends 10 minutes out of his 44-minute class time “trying to talk to students about low-cut shirts. I have not picked sides yet. I believe a dress code needs to be enforced.”

Hubbard is the panelist/committee member on the fence. He said his students want a “simple” uniform. “I think if we keep it simple and enforce it from day one” uniforms will work. He also said uniforms would help raise the CMT scores because there would be less distraction over who’s wearing what during testing.

Karen Butler, Ridge Hill principal and panelist, said inappropriate dress “takes away from the real issues,” which are teaching and learning. “I do support a uniform policy,” she said.

By far the most passionate and engaging speaker was Janet Brown Clayton, principal of Dunbar Hill. Those on both sides of the uniform aisle laughed with her and also seemed more forgiving of her pro-uniform stance than of those who preceded her to the podium.

“I think I bring a very unique perspective to this issue,” Clayton began, loudly and animatedly. “I’m not going to talk to you about data or statistics.” As a child she said she went to schools that did and didn’t mandate uniforms.

“The thing I remember about going from wearing what my parents allowed to uniforms was the feeling of exhale. I looked like everyone else,” said Clayton. “We had the opportunity to go beyond what we looked like and had meaningful conversations. Uniforms simply take away distractions. Uniformity levels the playing field. It teaches how to dress for success.”

While the audience was dying to jump in after Clayton, the last speaker, finished, Bonner said not yet. She wanted to ask the panel a few questions.

First question: Why do Hamden Public Schools need to have a uniform dress code?

“So students dress appropriately,” said undecided Hubbard.

Second: Would enforcement of a strict uniform dress code address issues of school improvement?

No responses.

Third: Does a lack of empirical evidence mean that uniforms do not work in school systems?

“Yes,” said Alissi. “The burden is on anyone who wants to enforce this.”

Parents Get Their 30

Parent Frank Santoro seemed to be in the majority last night when he spoke against uniforms.

“I counted six times you said how much easier it would be on teachers and administrators,” Spring Glen parent Michelle Humble said to Bonner. “What about the kids?”

Humble called the first uniform survey that was given to just elementary-school parents “fake for fake reasons.” A subsequent survey was conducted of elementary and middle school parents because of criticism that the first one was inadequate. Bonner said results of the second questionnaire have not yet been tabulated.

But the teachers’ uniform votes are in. Bonner said 40 percent responded to the survey of which 78 percent were in support, 20 percent against and 2 percent undecided. It’s unknown, then, how 60 percent of teachers feel or why they didn’t do their homework.

A single mother with four children said she buys clothes in consignment stores and at tag sales. She said she could not afford to buy uniforms, which Bonner said might cost about $25 apiece.

“I’m a one-income family. I don’t pay top dollar for anything and I’m not ashamed of that,” the mother said to Bonner. “You’re just upping the ante. The taxes are going up.”

Monalisa Genece was one of the seemingly few pro-uniform parents. She has three children in Ridge Hill.

“I’m from Africa and we wore uniforms. There was no choice,” she said. “Let them wear uniforms. It’s not going to hurt.”

“What statistical evidence is there that uniforms improve test scores?” asked Rebecca Muolo, a Dunbar Hill sixth-grader who’s undecided about uniforms.

“There is not a lot of statistics,” said principal Clayton.

Echoing most of the audience, Spring Glen parent Lisa Morrison said she was against uniforms but for enforcing the dress code. “I understand the purpose of public schools is to promote independent thinkers. We continue to ask more and more of our little kids,” she said. Morrison, daughter of Hamden Town Clerk Vera Morrison, said the inappropriate clothing problem is in the middle and high schools, not in the lower grades.

“I really think this is a backdoor to the high school students,” she said.

Bonner then ended the meeting with many begging to be heard.

“I was disappointed a lot of parents didn’t get to speak. Many more are opposed,” said Rissa Webb, who has children at Ridge Hill and at the middle and high schools. “How do I know my opposed opinion [filled-out survey] was counted and not disregarded and thrown into the garbage?”

Austin Cesare, chair of the school Curriculum Committee, said he still supports uniforms after hearing the opposition. “They can only enhance the quality of our schools,” he said.

BOE member Myron Hul said, “I have no opinion. There are four things and a bottom line.” What issues do uniforms address? How will they address them? What are the expected outcomes and definition of success? How can the expected outcomes be measured?

Hul’s bottom line: “Whatever it is it has to be enforced whether it’s a uniform or a dress code.”

“I’m still on the fence,” said Board member Ed Sullivan. “I have to digest some of the information. Part of me likes uniforms; obviously our current dress code is not working.”

Should Be Heard

Like their parents, children wanted to voice their thoughts. They did so after the meeting.

Noura Nasser advocates being different.

“I don’t really like it,” said Noura Nasser, a fifth-grader at Spring Glen. “It’s not what the Board of Ed thinks we should wear. It’s what we think of ourselves. Our teacher has a poster in our room that says, ‘Think different, be different.’ And that’s not happening if we wear uniforms.”

Her twin, Omar Nasser, agreed. “We shouldn’t wear uniforms because everybody has a different style of their own,” he said. Furthermore, Omar said if everyone looks the same the wrong student could be accused for doing something wrong.

Colette Kroop said classroom spats are not often over clothing. “The problem is not what people wear. It’s about their race, religion, ethnicity,” the Spring Glen fifth-grader said.

“I personally don’t like the idea but I understand why they’re proposing the idea because people have inappropriate clothing,” said Spring Glen fifth-grader Griffin Gere. “But there are probably better solutions than uniforms.”

PTA Council prez Nottoli, who has publicly spoken against uniforms, said it’s still not clear what problems they would solve.

Charlie Grills Sullivan

Fifth-grade Spring Glenner Charlie Chamberlain asks Board of Education member Ed Sullivan some tough questions about school uniforms, after last night's public forum on the hotly divided issue. Charlie's last Q&A go-around with Sullivan is a must-see. Click arrow above and enjoy. -- Sharon Bass

March 14, 2007

Unanimously Political

Town Clerk Vera Morrison swears in new BOE member Adam Sendroff. Photo/Sharon Bass

By Sharon Bass

Rose Mentone waited in a crowded boardroom last night at 60 Putnam Ave.  Less than a week ago, she had been publicly interviewed there along with Adam Sendroff. Both were vying for the vacancy on the Board of Education.

Though Tuesday’s meeting was to begin at 7 p.m., Chair Michael D’Agostino was caucusing with the other four Democrats on the Board until just after 7:30 p.m. Then he caucused with the three Republicans for a few minutes. At 7:37 p.m., the show began.

D’Agostino, who had heavily lobbied for Sendroff along with other high-profile Hamden Democrats, asked for nominations. Board member Michael Dolan nominated Sendroff. Valarie Stone seconded it. Last month, the town committee had chosen Sendroff over Mentone to replace Jennifer McGrady-Heath.

“Any other nominations,” the chair asked.

There were none.

There was also no discussion. All eight members voted for Sendroff.

“He’s going to bring tremendous passion and dedication to the Board and voice his own beliefs in serving the children,” said D’Agostino.

Mentone and her husband, Tony Mentone, left right after the vote.

"I am glad I kept my name in for Board consideration to allow them to have a choice of candidates,” said Rose. “I normally would have supported the decision of the HDTC, but I felt in this case the HDTC and the Board of Education were injecting politics into the process, and the Board of Ed should not be politicized. They were more concerned with the control of the BOE instead of what was the best for Hamden students.”

Tony said he thought it was “a shame they’re politicizing the Board of Education. It’s highly unusual that the Democratic chairman of the Board of Ed met with the three Republicans.”

Mayor Craig Henrici showed up around 7 p.m. but left a half-hour later, just minutes before the meeting began. He said he was there to make a “three-minute” pitch on the school administration’s move to Government Center. He stood in the hall as Board members walked by him as they went in and out of the room where they were caucusing. In the case of a tie vote, the mayor is the tie-breaker. Assistant Superintendent Hamlet Hernandez delivered the mayor's presentation.

During the 37-minute wait, a few people from the public said aloud, “Michael [D’Agostino] must be twisting arms.” They were referring to the upcoming vote between Sendroff and Mentone.

Ed Sullivan said he voted for Sendroff because he was the Democrats’ nominee. “I think he was a good candidate. I spoke to other people who recommended him coming onto the Board. He’s also on a commission in town and is currently involved with the town. I believe he’s with the PTA,” the Republican Board member said.

Myron Hul, a Democrat who’s been on the BOE since the mid-’90s, said the Board has become too political over the last year or two.

“I’m disappointed in the lack of public interest to participate on the Board. We only had two [candidates]. This is a significant change from prior years where we had a great deal of interest and it may have something to do with the politicizing of Board business,” he said.

Although he voted for Sendroff, Hul said both candidates were qualified.

March 13, 2007
What to Wear

Assistant Super Bonner. Photo/Sharon Bass

By Sharon Bass

The controversy over whether to require children in grades K-8 to wear uniforms will move one step further this Thursday when a special committee formed to look at the issue plans to meet.

The Parent/Teacher Uniform Study Committee was created over the last couple of weeks, said Assistant Superintendent Portia Bonner, a uniform advocate. The meeting will commence at 6:30 p.m. at 60 Putnam Ave. On March 21 at 6:30 p.m., a district-wide forum will be held in the high school (C-107), to share results of a second survey sent to all K-8 parents. The first survey was deemed inadequate by some because many parents didn’t get one, hence the subsequent questionnaire.

“We actually sent [the second one] home with the students as opposed to having it done at the parent conferences. We were hoping to reach more parents [that way],” said Bonner. Parents were asked three questions:

  1. Do you support implementing a uniform policy in Hamden for grades K-8?
  2. If yes, what do you envision the uniforms should look like?
  3. If no, why?

Bonner said she hasn’t yet tabulated the results, which were due March 9. “I have folders worth. I couldn’t even give you a count now,” she said.

On March 1, middle school kids were handed the surveys to bring to their parents or guardians “but the students were filling them out,” said Bonner with a few chuckles. The girls wrote they wanted v-neck shirts and little plaid mini skirts, she said. So the forms were put in the middle school report cards to ensure parental destination.

Teachers and administrators were also surveyed with the same questions plus one more: “Do you have any concerns about the implementation?”

“And that’s key because they’re going to be the ones who are going to have to enforce it,” said Bonner.

Diane Marinaro, president of the teachers union and a middle school teacher, said she has not talked with one teacher or parent who opposes kids dressing alike. She, too, said she is in favor of uniforms.

“I think that the students would have more respect for themselves and others. And they’d be dressed appropriately. And I don’t think it would take away from their individuality because that comes from within,” Marinaro said. “I think the kids worry too much about what they look like. The girls are especially very self-conscious.” Uniforms, she maintained, would take that pressure away.

However, at the Board of Education’s Feb. 13 meeting, some parents voiced opposition to the uniforms. So did PTA Council president Tim Nottoli, who has a daughter in seventh grade. However, he chose to withhold comment about his reasoning until the March 21 forum.

“I have heard from various people [parents] why they don’t like uniforms ranging from, ‘I just don’t like the idea of kids losing their individuality or being able to express their creativity.’ Or it’s a distraction from greater issues,” he said. The majority of the dozen-plus e-mails he said he’s received about the dress-alike proposal, which the school’s Curriculum Committee passed, have been against it, he said.

Bonner recited two survey responses at random:

In support: “Positive appearance leads to greater self-worth and self-discipline.”

Against: “Uniforms are not comfortable and kids should be able to wear what they want as long as it’s appropriate.”

“The biggest concern is what if a family can’t afford it?” Bonner said. Waterbury and New London have a uniform mandate, and Hartford just passed such a policy.

She said in Waterbury, it costs about $100 for four sets of uniforms -- pants or skirt (for either gender), a white button-down shirt and sweater. She said outside organizations would be asked to pitch in financial aid for those who can’t pay. No tax dollars would be used, she said.

“The biggest reason [for uniforms] is students become more academically focused. They become serious. They remember why they’re at school,” the assistant super said. “The other thing is there’s some kind of an equity issue.”

Some 47 percent of Hamden students are from a minority group and about 23 percent of all students get free or reduced lunch. “So you look at our poverty levels and look at the disparity of those who have and don’t have. You want to even the playing field [with uniforms] where students feel comfortable and accepted in the environment with which they’re learning,” said Bonner.

“For the older grades, some of the outfits that students are wearing are so inappropriate that it becomes distracting. Some of the girls come in half-dressed and you have 12-year-old boys whose hormones are racing,” she said in defense of uniforms.

Communism on the Table

Eric Kirchner (at podium) defends communism as he kicks off yesterday's debate. His partner, Khalid Lum, sits to his left; the opposition team of Jason Jolles (immediate right) and Walter Morton prepare their rebuttals.

The high school’s stellar debate team is off to the finals -- again

Story and visuals by Sharon Bass

In 2006, the Hamden High debate team won the state finals.

The kids plan a repeat performance this year on March 24, when they will argue their well-researched opinions inside Amity High School.

“I have a contentious nature and this is where I feel most comfortable,” said debate captain Khalid Lum, a senior. He said he likes arguing international policies, such as the Iraq War and the so-called war on terror.

Eric Kirchner, also a senior, is the other captain. “I’ve always been talkative and debating gives me a place for my loquaciousness,” he said.

“It’s fodder for my college resume,” said team member Ross Hochberg, a sophomore.

Yesterday, Lum and Kirchner teamed up against Jason Jolles, a junior, and sophomore Walter Morton for a practice debate to ready for the finals. About 20 are on the team, which meets Mondays and Wednesdays from 2 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. English teacher Valerie Canalori is the coach.

They meet in room B-204. The back of the classroom is lined with trophies they’ve earned. On March 3, the team placed first at a meet in Darien High School. That was one of six competitions the Hamden debaters entered this year. Kirchner said they won first place three times. “They don’t rank the schools, but if they did, we’d be No. 1,” he said.

Communism versus Capitalism

Monday’s debate topic: “The USA should adopt communist policies.”

The Lum/Kirchner duo defended adopting aspects of communism in the United States (although both students later said they are Libertarians and don’t believe much of what they argued). Jolles/Morton defended capitalism.

Kirchner took the podium first. Team members not debating yesterday observed and then critiqued the foursome’s performance.

“Communist policies could be used very effectively,” said Kirchner. It would help “hoards of people who cannot meet their ends.” The U.S. government could do things like fight global warming instead of catering to corporate interests, he said.

“Countries have used communism effectively,” he said.

Jolles countered. “Communism has never been successful on a large scale,” he said. “We have fought against Russia politically. We have stood against communism in the last half-century.” Capitalism is the strength of a society, he said.

Besides, Jolles said, the United States already has socialized programs, such as public education, Medicare and Social Security. “Communism undermines human ambition. Communism makes sure everyone gets food. So why should I work?” he said. “I’d take vacations.”

Lum asked, “Do you believe that’s wealth distribution?”

Kirchner backed up his partner: “CEOs earn 260 times more than the average person.”

Lum was up next.

“Our opponent has not really addressed the heart of the debate,” he said of the capitalistic team. Lum said he isn’t endorsing 100 percent communism but some of the policies. “We might call this socialism with American characteristics,” he said. “The fact is we allow people to make exorbitant funds” and don’t do things that are good for people and the Earth such as crack down on emissions, because of big business ties to the government.

“Would CEOs bother building up a company if their salary is capped?” Jolles asked Lum.

“I think capping the amount of money he makes would make him a better business person and be more cautious [with his money],” Lum responded.

“Would it help the average worker?” said Jolles.

“Yes,” said Lum. Health care for all.

Morton finished off the argument. “What the world has learned from America’s Cold War is that we don’t like communists. We’ve tried to topple communism regimes in Vietnam and Russia. All realistic social policies have been implemented in the United States. There’s no more reason to adopt more communistic policies.”

As far as capping salaries, Morton decried there would be no impetus to go for the American dream. “It takes away the goal,” he said.

“Do you believe every person in the United States who has a dream will make it to the top?” asked Kirchner.

“Not really,” said Morton. “But the American dream gives people meaning to life. Personally, I wouldn’t bother going to school if I didn’t have goals.”

“Would you stay in school if your dream is to be a rock star?” asked Lum.

“Not as much,” Morton replied.

Click the videos below to hear the students’ contentions.

Eric Kirchner argues for communism as the rest of the debate team listens and later critiques.

Jason Jolles counters Kirchner's argument for communism.

Khalid Lum strengthens the rationale for communism.

And Walter Morton talks in favor of the capitalistic American dream.

March 9, 2007

Getting Very Real

From 60 Putnam to Government Center. File photos

By Sharon Bass

Town and school officials met this afternoon to get things moving for central office administrators to call Government Center home. Both sides seemed to be on the same page, said Purchasing Agent Judi Kozak. Both sides apparently agree that the town’s largest department is best off with the others.

“We all walked out with something to do and we are in synch,” said Kozak. “Everyone seemed agreeable to the move. Everything was total agreement.”

Mayor Craig Henrici said the transition should be completed by this summer, if all goes along schedule. The Board of Education has to approve the move and is expected to vote on it April 10.

“Everything is going full speed ahead,” he said. Asked how the maintenance and utility costs would be divvied up, Henrici said that’s “minutia. The important thing is that they’re going to be here and there will be more transparency.”

McCabe Office Furniture is being paid $1,300 to give estimates on designing the space, said Kozak. The Whitney Avenue firm was chosen from a state bid list, she said. On Monday, McCabe is expected to do a walkthrough of the space, which is behind the Legislative Council and Parks & Rec offices.

“It’s going to need tweaking, not rebuilding,” Kozak said, adding that the area is equipped with plenty of phone and computer drops and lots of outlets. She was unsure of the total square footage.

According to Kozak, special ed administrators and some directors will stay at 60 Putnam, where the STEPS & REACHES program will continue and may expand.

New furniture will be needed, said Kozak. The stuff at 60 Putnam is pretty ragged. “We saw three-legged desks. Desks held up on books and egg crates because they don’t have legs at the same level,” she said.

Assistant Superintendent Hamlet Hernandez, school instructional technology director Bob Callahan, school facilities director Mark Albanese, town technology guru Dave Richards, Chief Administrative Officer Scott Jackson and Kozak attended today ’s meeting held at Government Center.

School Drill
Mentone examined. Sendroff examined.

Story and photos by Sharon Bass

The Board of Ed conducted two public Q&A sessions last night in its process to fill the vacancy left by Jennifer McGrady-Heath. Rose Mentone and Adam Sendroff, the Democratic Town Committee-chosen, are the only ones vying for her seat, which expires this November.

A handful of Democrats came to 60 Putnam Ave. to watch: 8th District town committee member John DeRosa; 7th District Councilman Mike Colaiacovo; 7th District committee member Mike Crocco Sr. and his son Mike Crocco Jr.; former Councilman Paul Jacques; and 8th District committee member Tony Mentone (and Rose's husband). PTA Council president Tim Nottoli was also there..

Rose Mentone is a longtime educator and past DTC chair and only female to be elected to that position. Sendroff is the marketing and sales director for a textbook company and PTA Council rep for Ridge Hill School. They were grilled separately -- Mentone at 6:30 p.m., Sendroff at 7 p.m. BOE members Lynn Campo, John Keegan, Ed Sullivan, Myron Hul and Austin Cesare shot the questions. Sendroff brought notes with him. Mentone did not.

Keegan: Why do you want to be on the Board of Education?
Mentone: I have a love for education. You won’t have to do any on-the-job training with me. I’ve been an educator in the New Haven school system for 33 years. My two sons went through the Hamden schools. I was a PTA president.
Sendroff: The main reason is because I love Hamden public schools. I want to make well-reasoned decisions for the common good.

Cesare: What is the biggest problem facing Hamden schools?
Mentone: Finances and the new superintendent search.
Sendroff: Academic achievement.

Cesare: What qualities would you look for in a new superintendent?
Mentone: I’d want the person to spend time in the schools. I also think they should live in Hamden so they can pay the taxes.
Sendroff: I’m in favor of a wide search. We should look for somebody with a diverse background. I do like the idea of having that person reside in Hamden and I agree it should not be political.

Hul: Which standing committees do you see yourself on?
Mentone: Curriculum. Whatever committee you put me on, I would do my best job.
Sendroff: Finances, curriculum, operation. One of the things that bothered me about the budget is the 38 percent increase in electricity.

Sullivan: There are lots of meetings. How do you see yourself juggling all that?
Sendroff: I go to a lot of meetings now. I do travel for work but I don’t think it would get in the way much.

Hul: Any issues with being able to get to meetings?
Mentone: I walk with a cane but I will be here.

Keegan: Will you be able to attend the meetings?
Mentone: Yes. I can walk. I’ll be here whenever I’m needed.

Keegan: I would like you to identify two or three initiatives that you’re passionate about.
Mentone: High school independent studies. I guess my passions are education in general. I really loved teaching. I love going to the games, baseball, football, basketball. I just like to be around kids.
Sendroff: Alternative energy at the high school. I’m also very interested in looking into getting a grants writer … in this era of stressed budgets. And more parental outreach.

Hul: What do you see as the strengths and weaknesses of [central office administrators] moving into Government Center?
Mentone: Convenience of being under one roof. Better communication. The public has just one place to go [for school and municipal business]. The minuses? I’m not sure. I don’t really see too many minuses.
Sendroff: I like the concept of that. I haven’t actually walked the space. I’m not sure if there’s enough parking. I would be concerned about what would happen to this building.

Hul: Do you think there’d be a hindrance [serving together] because we primaried each other [in 1993 for BOE]?
Mentone: Not at all. That’s politics and there’s no place for politics on this board.”
Hul: I agree.

Sullivan: If you are voted onto the Board of Education, what would you do [when the term expires this year]?
Mentone: Try in November.
Sendroff: I can’t guarantee it but I’d be likely to run, in consultation with my wife.

Ending statements?

“I would represent a portion of the population that is not represented [on the BOE] -- the retired,” said Mentone. “Thank you very much for your time.”

“This is something I’m interested in,” said Sendroff.


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