School Library Changes Sadden Norwalk Children

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A sign hangs on the library door at Norwalk's West Rocks Middle School. Middle school librarians are are a six-day rotating schedule, labeled A-F, Principal Lynne Moore said.
A sign hangs on the library door at Norwalk's West Rocks Middle School. Middle school librarians are are a six-day rotating schedule, labeled A-F, Principal Lynne Moore said. Photo Credit: Contributed

NORWALK, Conn. – Aidan DeVingo doesn't mince words: Life at Norwalk's Brookside Elementary School is not the same.

"It was a waste of time," the third-grader said of his first visit to the school's library this year. "We didn't get any books, we just sat there."

The school's library aide works at both Brookside and Marvin Elementary schools, alternating weeks. It's a common arrangement at Norwalk Public Schools following this summer's Board of Education budget battle, in which $5.9 million was cut from the budget proposed by then-Superintendent Susan Marks.

Norwalk's middle schools are on a six-day rotating schedule in which they are open every other day, West Rocks Principal Lynne Moore said. Rowayton Elementary shares a librarian with Columbus Magnet School, said Jimi Napoli, co-president of the Columbus Parent Teacher Association.

Napoli said the new library aide is not familiar with Columbus or its programs. "I assume there is a learning curve for anyone new, but I must question how does one get to that place when only working every other week in a new, strange environment," she said in an email. "We greatly miss our Mrs. Pearce, who was so much more than just the librarian. She was our media specialist, kept our PC lab in top working order and documented the year with photographs and video."

The Rowayton library is open every day, and teachers help students in the aide's absence, Jody Sattler, president of Rowayton's Parent Teacher Organization, said in an email. She added, "We are starting a parent volunteer rotation to help out when the librarian is at the other school."

Two Brookside fathers said the library closure isn't an issue for their children, who go to the Norwalk Public Library. But other parents said most Brookside children don't have that option. 

The children say they miss Paula Madden, the school's former librarian, now a secretary in the Norwalk High School special education department. "I wish she could come back, I feel so sad," said Caroline Petropoulos, a fifth-grader.

"I really like her, we didn't even have a book fair," said Amber Gaoseffi, a fifth-grader and Caroline's friend.

Parents said the annual September book fair, which funds books for the library and the classrooms, was Madden's project. Madden was "the community of the school," said Audra Good, a parent.

On Sept. 25, the kids said they had only been to the library once. Good said, "As a parent, I want to see my son have access to a regular library time where they're read to and they check out a book, and he has not had that opportunity."

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paul.passarelli: How dare you call teachers bleeding hearts? And what a shame you are actually in office. From what I hear from your absurd comments is that it is okay that the Board of Ed screwed up who cares. But Paul have you ever stepped into a classroom or asked a local teacher what there day is like? No you sit behind a desk thinking and not helping. Those children are our future and future voters. There are anywhere from 25 - 30 students per classroom with one adult. I would like to see you in that room for a full day dealing with all of the issues they deal with and see how you come out of it in the end. I bet you cry. I am not a teacher but I am a mother of 2 wonderful children and let me tell you Ms. Madden is missed more then you know. You think parents can take on the job as a volunteer basis I ask how when 90% of parents need to work. Are we suppose to expect the other 10% to do all the work?

Unfortunately - as those of you that have been part of this from the beginning know the real mess that's going on...what's more of a shame is that the situation was allowed to get this bad in the first place - by hiring a person to do the accounting that simply was not qualified to to do so....for years...when a qualified person found the mistake that was being made (and missed by the boe)...there was a lot of finger pointing and no one taking responsibility. As a result...here we are not only without librarians, but curricular activities, no sports...nothing. EVEN WORSE - is there'll have to be more cuts THIS year to continue to "pay back". Sad situation indeed.

I felt the need to respond to comments regarding the school librarians. If I were the librarian reading these comments, it would not help my attitude. That is not a welcoming atmosphere. If you have been following the whole situation, you would have realized that their hours have been reduced and they need to go between two schools. This is not making anyone happy, and it is certainly not their choice. By attacking them you add to the problem. Instead let the mayor, board of education know how you feel. Not the librarians who can do nothing about a bad situation.

I

As far as the librarians, you have alot of them that arent to thrilled about these changes working between 2 schools. Mrs. Madden, was the best ever. She just didnt zap a book and send the kids about their way. she made the library fun and exciting. This woman worked on computers, projectors, smart boards you name it, she did it all. she also had a special touch with special need children. Some of the children can not understand why would they take a wonderful person like her away from her family that she cared for, for years, to replace her with someone that doesnt smile, doesnt greet the kids with open arms when they walk in, no.... more reading to the ...kids..just pick a book, and ill zap it ..and then you can ...sit down to wait for teacher to line their kids up. what in the world is that. I hope and pray for changes to be made, so that these kids can have Mrs Madden back. Passing the library with the lights off and the doors locked. It just looks like one big bad dream that you cant wake up from.

Im trying to make some sense out of this. why should teachers agree to freeze their raises, when especially this problem started down at the BOE. If we had smart well educated people that had the right college degrees under their belts, and not just high school graduates, this wouldve never happened. Why touch the schools staffs employees. They shouldve looked at their neighbors that works right next to each other drinking coffee and laughing and discussion their next vacations or happy hour for that coming friday. all 19 schools cant run smoothly without the help of BOE. Some schools just received their math books this week. school started alittle over a month, why werent the books ready for the students to use for the first week of school. Isnt because the book company was scared that their check from BOE wasnt going to clear???????what was the real reason. The state can not blame the teachers or the staff, that the kids didnt score to well on their cmts. As far as teachers buying supplies for the kids, not one teacher should reach in their pockets for anything, thats not their job, their job is to teach the children, and to get them to where they need to be. certain schools are pushing close to 30 kids in certain classrooms. My god, how in the world can a teacher teach without school supplies, and no textbooks, and certain people are upset that they wouldnt take a freeze. Yeah right, the teachers were smart with this vote. Until you have been on both sides ( parenting and working for the BOE.) people should keep their mouth shut. Last but not least, the BOE needs to hire more ESL AND ELL teachers because

there are sooooo many students that cant speak a word of english. So the BOE, will be requesting all staff members to take up a language, so that they wouldnt have to hire more staffing in that department. this is such a bad situation.

It's really not that difficult to figure out Tim. Every few years, the BOE and the teachers get together and work out a contract listing their expectations and responsibilities for the next few years. They each sign the contract, a legal document, listing all the details of their agreement, including raises and benefits. Both parties try to project the future of te economy over the life of the contract, hoping that they made the better deal. Sometimes inflation rates outpace the raises, and the BOE wins and saves money. Sometimes raises outpace inflation or the economy. In this case the union wins and their members get ahead a little bit. At the end of the contract, they get to do it all over again, using their wins or losses in the devious contract as a bargaining point. It is pretty much an accepted fact that honorable people honor their agreement with others. They don't try to back out when they learn that things don't go their way in the agreement. Do what is right and do what you agreed to do.

Truly honorable people don't need contracts, it's a definition.{sorry}

It's been said the definition of "insanity" is doing the same thing over and over while anticipating different results. That certainly fits the teachers contracts. The trend has been declining performance and increasing costs. Yet we repeat the process hoping for either better performance and or decreased costs; neither of which are called for in the contracts! That's is INSANE.

So police and firemen are not "truly honorable people"? Do they not havecontracts/unions as well? Wow! And you are someone that was ELECTED? No offense sir, but those remarks are absurd! The scores in NPS have gone up, slow and steady but they have improved. Things have changed-curriculum has changed (2nd new math program in the Elementary schools in the past 7 years!), staff has changed and personnel has changed. Yet they all go on, doing what they LOVE to do. They do not complain about class sizes (many which are over sized according to their contract), they do not make excuses or point fingers. They do their jobs, day in and day out. They focus on what the heart of the matter truly is- teaching these children. Yes cuts needed to be made. Unfortunately there were budget errors in years past that caught up to us, as well as a need to cut money because of the economic hard times. And yes, we are not the only district that was impacted. Other districts found more reasonable solutions (pay electives/intramurals instead of offering them for free for instance, stop paying out absurd expenses- such as gas reimbursement, cut strings in elementary and make it an afterschool 'course', and if there are freezes making them fair across board-administrators, teachers, all BOE personnel and secretarial positions). Pointing fingers has not gotten us anywhere, and it won't. Let's go back to that definition of "insanity". Can't we start to change things so these budget issues are not repetitive year after year? Are there not ways to raise funds throughout the year (maybe more of the camps/enrichment that BOE offers in the summer?)

I fail to understand how anyone can argue that it's reasonable to make low-income kids pay to play team sports or pay to play in the band so that there's enough money to fund teacher raises.

It truly is ashame that a city would not invest more into education. This would not only better service our children, it would help bring more families INTO Norwalk. At a time when violence is at an all time high in Norwalk and families are leaving as fast as they can, maybe we should be looking into how to make our city better long term. Are we really blaming teachers for not taking a pay cut? Would you pay more taxes? If it should come out of anyone's pockets it should be everyone's. It's not just one group's fault. I know that the teachers that my children have had over the years are worth every cent. They have gone above and beyond, and spend hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars on supplies for their classrooms. Supplies that they should not have to buy themselves (mostly leveled books for their students to read!). We really should be looking into every option so that this situation does not get worse next year.

Governments do not *invest*; governments *spend*. I have a question: Why are teachers spending thousands of dollars of *unreimbursed* funds for their classrooms?

Wait; it's unclear if the spends are "out-of pocket" i.e. unreimbursed or *budgeted*, via expense report in which case it's just part of the job. That LITTLE detail is rather important IMHO, read on...

If the teachers are spending out-of-pocket, then the Union is doing an incredible disservice to its members... Does that sound like union tactics?

If the spending is budgeted into the operations of the class, then the BOE has done a terrible job of categorizing expenses and providing adequate tools for its employees... That does sound like government strategy.

Either way, a lot of people have dropped the ball. Perhaps it's time to *SCRAP* the whole system and start from scratch! Could amateurs really do that much worse?

In answer to your question "Would you pay more taxes?", the answer is that I am ALREADY paying more taxes this year, and I wasn't given any choice in the matter.

The cuts that occurred this year are happening in spite of my higher tax bill, which is funding salary increases for existing City employees as well as pension benefits for retired employees. The budget is on the City web site, I encourage you to take a look and see for yourself.

I respect and appreciate the work that teachers do. Many of my public school teachers had a profound effect on my life. But in a difficult economy where many taxpayers consider themselves lucky to have a job, much less a contract with a guaranteed yearly pay hike, it's entirely reasonable to ask teachers to postpone a raise so that kids can have school libraries.

Witherspoon,

I invite you to come into my classroom any day you'd like to switch jobs with me. But when you do, please first make sure that you're prepared. You'll have to run to the grocery store to buy snacks for students whose families cannot provide it for them. Please also pick up hair brushes, toothbrushes, and plenty of wipes as well, because many students will need that too. After the grocery store, stop off at Staples to buy pencils, art supplies, and ink cartridges. We don't have them. Remember to go to Barnes & Noble to pick up enough books for students that are reading at a Kindergarten level, second grade level, and fifth grade level...even though you'll be teaching third grade. The kids need books to read. We don't have enough. Then head over to a clothing store, where you'll need to pick up a couple pairs of sneakers, a few coats, and some shirts and pants for those students who come to school in the same outfit each day, or wear clothes way too big, or shoes way too small because they can't afford to buy proper sizes, or the shelter ran out of those sizes that the kids actually need. Yes, it may be reasonable to ask us to freeze our salaries, but keep in mind that not only do we pay for our own households, but also our 23 "other" kids that we see each and every day. If we don't pay for all this, who will? That's what our salaries do - help our students. So while you sit here and pass judgement, I dare you to come into the classroom to see what we actually do with our money. You'll be surprised to see how much we actually spend so that our students can have a fair shot in keeping up with the surrounding towns. Instead of criticizing, step up and make a difference. After all, we're only talking about Norwalk's future here.

You are exactly right YEHatem, at the beginning of the school year, teachers are given a budget to buy material, and this cash outlay comes from the head office.

if in the event that a teacher finds they need more teaching aides, or they are in a position where they must assume financial responsiblity in order to keep order in their classrooms (ie, clothing, food, etc) then it's coming out of their own pocket.

I've seen first hand, I've witnessed the frustrating, what people here do not get, is that in the pursuit of focusing children on learned a lesson plan, a teacher must also remove any distraction, tangent, environmental influence in order to make that lesson (stick)

They call this "charity" it is not, it is a tool to keep kids focused,

I've noticed that the "adults" have a lot to say, and do influence the students, i would argue they might want to review their own behaviour, before they comment on the behavior of kids.

After all, he who learned, brung em

Regards
NL

Thanks for your comment. I'm glad we agree that it's reasonable to ask teachers to freeze their salaries so that students can have libraries and other essentials.

Thank you also for your charitable efforts towards students. Most people I know engage in charitable acts and charitable giving, myself included. We already are making a difference, but we may choose to do it in a different way than you. Neither of us should attempt to claim moral superiority based on those choices. As for the issue of who is being judgmental, I suggest you re-read your own comment, as it's loaded with judgmental statements.

The difference between you and me is that I don't use my charitable acts as an excuse for why I should be immune from the real economic constraints of taxpayers and the public budgets which taxpayers fund. I'm sure that many of the hardships you describe reflect the fact that the economy is in bad shape. Is it your position that we should raise taxes MORE on those same households that are already struggling to feed and clothe their children?

When did the role of teacher become replaced with the 'bleeding heart"? Look,I'm sorry you've been given a difficult task of teaching. Note that sentence contains several faulty premises. You chose, to teach, you applied to the school system, and (hopefully) you out-competed the other applicants for your classroom based on your teaching abilities (or potential).

Now if in fact you were forces into the Peace Corps, indentured to the City, and received your class by affirmative action, then we have something to discuss.

In 3rd grade, you should be drilling in vocabulary, math, spelling, and handwriting. You can try *TEACHING* reading, grammar, comprehension etc., to students that succeed in the drills. And after a little winnowing, you could round out your scholar's minds by introducing science, money, culture, history, etc.

Good-old-fashioned teaching doesn't cost that much, and it is little influenced by a child's wardrobe. A 3rd grader can handle a pencil, and it should last for a long time with a little discipline. The proper answer to the ubiquitous plea in the middle of an activity: "Can I sharpen my pencil?" is "No."

If you have 3rd graders that can only perform at a kindergarten level, then you need to make it known that NPS classrooms are not one-room schoolhouses -- unless that is what you desire. But then you must cease using it as an excuse.

BTW: I am the Libertarian candidate of US Senate in CT and yes my responses are *uncharacteristically* blunt (harsh even) for a political candidate. But I'm only saying what *needs* to be said, even if it is not what voters *want* to hear. Regards.

You are unaware of the facts, wardrobe does indeed influence the environment, just ask any parochial school official.

Drilling? surely you jest, drilling does not develop minds, it merely fills in a mark in an excel spread sheet.

You are running as the libertarian? and you talk down to people?

Good luck with your campaign, but I would argue, it will not be a successful one

Regards
NL

What a shame. These painful cuts would not have been necessary if the Teachers Union had agreed to postpone teacher raises for one year.

The harsh realities of the budget are all coming to fruition everyday by our kids. But who is going to step forward and start thinking outside the box to find long term solutions for these issues that will certainly continue?

AMEN!

We knew this would happen, we all raised our voices at each and every Norwalk BOE meeting and they still followed through with the plan. This outcome was predicted when the idea was mentioned and was frowned upon by MANY NPS students.. My mom spent 18 years at Kendall Elementary, most of which, she was their librarian(including the years I attended) .. She is now an Instructional Aide at Colombus... Poor kids need their libraries like they've always been. Does the BOE regret their decision? I frickin hope so. We can all say "WE TOLD YOU SO"

We miss Mrs. Kozma very much! My son is in Kindergarden now and was really looking foward to going to library.This Monday was the 1st time he got to go take out a book.

We've not only lost our very loved Librarians (we too are working out how to work the book fair - thanks to the people in our awesome PTO we'll have one), we've lost all our Sports programs and ALL after school activities. It's a very tough road - but how to solve the problem - that is the question. And it's only going to get worse going forward as there is a lot of financial ground to overcome for the next 4 years...

It is a complete and utter disgrace that the Norwalk BOE even considered cutting library hours and aides, but to have it happen is just downright insane.

Shame on the Norwalk BOE for letting this happen. Our children are and will suffer as a result of the budget cuts, I already see it happening and we are a little over a month into the school year.

Catholic schools have large class sizes and don't always have certified teachers.It is no answer. As for test scores they don't have to comply with tests like the CMT. That's not the answer.Norwalk was wrong about the library aides!!

It's a complete shame - we intend to move to one of the surrounding towns that don't have these kinds of problems and (no surprise here) better standardized test scores. The local catholic schools should write thank you letters to the city - we know a number of families that pulled their kids from Norwalk public schools.

And your attitudfe towards this, is a self fulfilling prophecy

If you cannot change, move, I wish you well

Regards
NL