The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT)

BOE: Spike in staff retirement­s won’t affect learning

- By Adam Hushin

MIDDLETOWN — Public school officials say they are ready for the 2021-22 academic year despite a recent surge in staff retirement­s due in part to the pandemic.

Since the start of the 2020-21 school year, there have been a total of 41 retirement­s of Middletown Board of Education employees, according to documents. This is nearly double the 22 that took place last school year. There were 23 retirement­s in 2018-19, 21 in 201718, and just 15 in 2016-17.

Further, 14 paraprofes­sionals retired since the start of the 2020-21 school year, more than the two previous years combined. Classified staff, which includes secretarie­s, budget analysts, nurses, cafe workers, custodians, maintenanc­e and similar positions, saw 16 retirement­s since the start of the school year. In the previous four years combined, there were only 11, the data shows.

The state is experienci­ng a statewide shortage of paraprofes­sional staff, according to Jessica B. Lavorgna, newly appointed director of communicat­ions for the district.

One administra­tor, Amy Clarke, has left her position as director of special education.

Lavorgna said the reasons

for personnel vacating their positions were personal. “The retirement­s are voluntary and for a myriad of reasons,” she said.

She said that some came as a result of the consolidat­ion of Keigwin and Woodrow Wilson middle schools into Beman Middle School, which will open to student for the first time Sept. 9, the first day back.

She cited COVID-19 as another reason, adding the trend is not exclusive to Middletown. “I think that that’s the case country wide,” Lavorgna said.

Janice Pawlak is president of the Middletown Federation of Teachers, a union that serves teachers and other staff at Middletown schools. She agreed that stress from the pandemic is definitely a factor. “It’s really due to the stress. Being in the COVID environmen­t is tough.”

Higher expectatio­ns, difference­s in teaching practices and curriculum, and a less familiar environmen­t all added to the stress many educators were already dealing with, she said.

“Even though we were teaching in that environmen­t, we had the same expectatio­ns,” said Pawlak, adding that the lack of a hybrid learning model this year should ease some of that anxiety.

Lavorgna confirmed that the current mood of school staff was one of excitement, not stress. On Thursday, 40 newly hired teachers showed up at the high school for an all-day orientatio­n session.

“Our media center was filled with excited people,” she said.

She said the process of replacing all the retired staff has gone well, and that all positions are either filled, or in the final stages of hiring. “We don’t have any concerns.”

School staff are “absolutely” ready for the academic year to begin, Lavorgna added.

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