PLYMOUTH - Come Monday some students at Eli Terry Jr. Middle School and Fisher Elementary School will be seeing new faces at the head of the classroom.
As the goal of getting a state budget together continues to be out of sight, the school district has had to be proactive and look for ways to cut costs, said Superintendent Martin Semmel.
So as of Oct. 13, five staff members will be laid off and three literacy coaches with seniority will be moved into their positions.
“These are hardworking folks who are getting caught up in this budget process,” he told the Board of Education recently. “The board has had to make some very tough decisions to try to proactively stay ahead of a situation that’s hard to figure out. So some of our students at the middle school and Fisher will have new teachers starting Monday.”
“The principals are making sure parents are well aware of the change, so they can speak to their children prior to the change happening,” he said.
The five being laid off are: Nicole Putnam, sixth-grade math teacher at Eli Terry; Melissa Colman, special education teacher at Fisher; Stacey Alemany, interventionist at Eli Terry; Lynn Leavenworth, in school suspension officer at Eli Terry; and Marty Sandshaw, district energy conservation specialist.
Putnam will be replaced by Stephanie Colella, literacy coach at Eli Terry who is certified to teach math. Colman will be replaced by Mary Connolly, literacy coach at Plymouth Center Elementary School who is certified to teach special education. Alemany will be replaced by Gail Duffy, the literacy coach at Terryville High School.
Leavenworth will not be replaced, Semmel explained. “We are going to have the high school in school suspension monitor work at the middle school for two days a week. We actually went all of last year here at the high school without an ISS monitor at all. That didn’t work well, so we brought back a full-time ISS monitor.”
Sharing the ISS monitor between two schools is not the best practice, he said. “But when you’re stuck with budgetary decisions like this you have to do what you have to do. We’re trying to impact our classrooms the least. We’re not making larger class sizes, but we are losing services.”
Semmel explained that Sandshaw has been the part-time conservation specialist for several years now, and also does some substitute teaching and works after school with special needs students who participate in sports.
“What’s great about Marty is he said he understands the budget situation the town is in and he wants to continue as a volunteer in the position,” Semmel said. “The small amount of money we were paying him paid off well with our energy conservation and he wants to carry on. That’s dedication.”
With the future of the state and local budgets unpredictable, it’s possible all five staff members could be brought back as paid staff in the future but it’s also possible the district could have to lay off even more staff, Semmel said.
“We’re trying to balance a very difficult situation right now,” he said.
During the recent board meeting, Amy Radke, former THS assistant principal who retired last February after more than 30 years with the district, protested the elimination of the high school literacy coach position.
“I was surprised that the position would even be cut considering the needs of our students,” said Radke, who now lives in Florida and commented via Facebook Live. “There are many students who would have fallen through the cracks and many who would not have graduated had that position not been intact. I would certainly hope that once the state gets their heads out of the sand that would be the first one reinstated.”
Board member Gerard Bourbonniere agreed.
“By the time a kid gets to high school if they’re not reading at their grade point level, and if there isn’t a literacy coach to help them, it’s really tough to get them to graduate,” he said. “So hopefully when Hartford gets their so-called act together, and decides how they’re going to fund education in the state, we can bring back these literacy coaches.”
Semmel said he fully supports the need for the literacy coaches, “but when push comes to shove you need a teacher in front of the kids first.”
Susan Corica can be reached at 860-973-1802 or firstname.lastname@example.org.