City’s budget decision derails district’s 5 recovery initiatives

Norwalk Public Schools forced to use 90% of Rescue Plan funds to balance budget, superintendent says.
By: | May 5, 2021

Norwalk Public Schools Superintendent Alexandra Estrella had big ideas for leading her Connecticut district’s COVID recovery.

She expected the programs she and her team had in mind would get substantial support from American Rescue Plan stimulus funds.

But this spring, her plans were derailed when officials in the city about an hour’s drive from New York kept her district’s budget flat, Estrella says.

“We had a lot of exciting plans,” Estrella says. “We will have to utilize resources provided through the relief act to balance our budget so we don’t lose any essential staff.”

About 90% of Norwalk schools’ American Rescue Plan funds will go toward balancing the district’s budget.

Estrella now says she will now seek grants, philanthropic assistance and other sources to accomplish the following COVID initiatives:

1. Social-emotional support: Estrella says she had hoped to expand student social-emotional support by bringing additional guidance counselors and social workers

2. Launching a welcome center: The district was in the midst of creating a family welcome center to unify the services offered to new arrivals to the district.

The center is envisioned as a place for new families to register, and to serve as a headquarters for parent liaisons who would work in each of the district’s schools.

The liaisons would help families understand the resources available to them as students pursue their educations.

3. Adding content specialists: Norwalk leaders want to bring in content specialists in various subjects to help students who either needed to catch up or accelerate their learning.

4. Credit recovery: Estella and her team had also begun designing alternative programs for students to accumulate credits that may have been disrupted by the pandemic.

A number of students lost time because, for instance, because they had to work to help support families and care for younger siblings.

5. Summer school goals: The district is now seeking a grant to fund summer school programs that include partnerships with two Connecticut aquariums. Estrella hopes third graders can spend half their week this summer participating in hands0-on learning at the Norwalk Maritime Aquarium.

She wants to send middle schools farther afield, on field trips to Mystic Seaport Museum on the far side of the state.

“Our kids have been restricted and not able to go out and explore,” Estrella says. “We want to make sure we start developing opportunities for students to have problem-based learning experiences that allow them to be outdoors and engage with nature.”

Ultimately, however, the city’s budget decisions have thrown the district into uncertainty and even raised the prospect of substantial cuts in the future, she says.

“Right now, we don’t know, if we will be able to offer some of these initiatives that we were hoping to bring to life,” Estrella says. “Our biggest challenge is not creating an enormous financial cliff for the district if we are not careful in how we utilize the funds.”