Milford schools

On first day back, schools in New Milford hope for a more ‘normal’ school year

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NEW MILFORD – More than 3,700 children rolled out of bed Wednesday morning, brushed their teeth and slung backpacks on their shoulders for their first day of school. Masks in hand, New Milford students returned to schools that looked and felt much more “normal” than last year.

“Each new school year is filled with emotions, and this year in particular is extraordinarily special,” said school board chair Wendy Faulenbach. “Our staff and our district have worked so hard to prepare for this day and the school year ahead – to try to get back to educating and promoting our school district.”

Superintendent Alisha DiCorpo said in an email that Wednesday was “very special” because it was her “first, first day” as superintendent.

DiCorpo took over as superintendent in February after serving as acting superintendent since October 2020.

“When I visited the schools this morning, I was able to greet and check in with so many teachers who told me they had no sleep last night due to anticipation and… first day excitement, but arrived with big eyes and lots of energy!” DiCorpo wrote.

The three children of New Milford mother Tammy McInerney – a senior and sophomore at New Milford High and a sixth-grader at Schaghticoke – were excited to return to school and see their friends, classmates and teachers in person.

“I feel like we’re back to a more typical school year than last year,” said McInerney, who sits on the school board. “I am delighted to speak to [my kids] when they come home, to find out how their days were, how their classes were.

She said her sophomore, Aine, was especially excited to have a more authentic high school experience this year — one filled with orchestra and theater rehearsals, marching band and classes with her friends.

Although the arrival of Tropical Storm Henri threatened to derail New Milford’s schedule this week, the storm’s minimal impact allowed day one to continue as planned. However, Wednesday and Thursday have early layoffs due to expected high temperatures and humidity.

As of Tuesday, 3,719 students were enrolled in schools across the district. It will also be the first day of school for 36 new teachers, as well as some new district administrators.

Newly hired principal Raymond Manka takes the place of former principal Greg Shugrue, welcoming New Milford high school students on Wednesday. Holly Hollander will settle into her position as assistant superintendent, and facilities manager Matthew Cunningham will ensure that all campus buildings and classrooms are prepared for a safe influx of eager young scholars.

After a year of pandemic learning, the district is moving forward

With a full school year of pandemic learning under its belt, the school has updated some of its directions for the new year.

“I am filled with anticipation and hope for a strong and supportive academic and social-emotional environment for our students, especially as we emerge from a year where students were isolated from their peers and accessing their education on a remote learning platform and/or attending school to learn in person only a few days a week,” Superintendent Alisha DiCorpo wrote in a welcoming email to families Aug. 18.

She added that the school is committed to keeping pupils in-person five days a week, but acknowledged guidance could change throughout the year. Masks are mandatory inside and on buses for all students and staff this fall, as mandated by the state government.

Now, vaccinated teachers and students don’t have to self-quarantine when exposed, and students sitting three feet or more from an infected student won’t have to self-quarantine as long as they wear a mask and remain asymptomatic. The district asks parents to provide proof of vaccination for their children whenever possible.

The district also plans to use federal emergency relief funds for elementary and secondary schools to establish physical and mental health clinics in their schools with help from the Connecticut Institute For Communities, Inc.

These school health centers will eventually be installed in all five district schools, but the elementary school centers in Northville and Schaghticoke will be completed in the first phase before work expands to the other three schools.

The implementation of these centers will be a two-phase implementation and construction plan over two years, according to the Education Council agenda papers.

The new school year will also bring some changes to the physical campus.

The high school’s roof is being replaced – a project that saw an unexpected budget increase this summer. The school is also redoing its tennis courts, replacing an LED sign and repairing its sports scoreboard.

This year, the school district will use a new school management software system, migrating from Rediker Software to PowerSchool. The massive data migration has caused some problems in getting schedules to parents before the first day of school.

Yet even with the changes, construction, and an ongoing pandemic, the general essence of day one has remained. Teachers, administrators and students envisioned a fresh start and the year ahead.

“It’s an exciting time,” Faulenbach said. “We are ready for this and we will give 500% to be there for our city.”

DiCorpo wrote that she left the schools with a smile, “knowing that all the children are in good hands and are going to have a wonderful school year.”

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