SEYMOUR — A new school year brings updates to Seymour High School including the appointment of a new athletic director, the launch of a unified cheerleading team and the hiring of a new school security officer.

In January, Tara Yusko, former SHS athletic director, resigned after receiving criticism from coaches, parents and athletes for coaching vacancies and persistent problems with the football, girls’ soccer and indoor track teams.

Cathy Federowicz, the high school girls’ volleyball coach, took over as interim A.D. for the remainder of the year.

This year, Superintendent Michael Wilson appointed Assistant Principal Ernie DeStasi as A.D. and Ms. Federowicz as part-time assistant A.D. to help Mr. DeStasi’s with his transition.

Mr. DeStasi gave an update on fall sports and his plans for the year at the Board of Education meeting on Monday, September 9.

More than 200 student-athletes, he said, will compete this fall on the greatest number of teams of any season. Cross country, boys’ and girls’ soccer, volleyball and football kicked off last week.

Mr. DeStasi addressed questions posed by board members at the August 5 meeting regarding his certification, specific job duties and administrative workload.

He told Chairman Jennifer Magri that the state received all his necessary certifications; he assured board member Jay Hatfield that he and Ms. Federowicz both have a clear understanding of their roles; and he told board member Ed Strumello that he, Assistant Principal Paul Lucke and Principal Jim Freund were working as a team to keep his workload balanced.

This year, the department will introduce a unified cheerleading team at SHS, a project that’s been developing since before Mr. DeStasi’s appointment.

Mr. DeStasi said he and the rest of the athletic department made significant progress over the last week and that hold-ups were due to a turnover of the CIAC personnel who oversee the program.

Mr. DeStasi said the program is his and Ms. Federowicz’s number-one priority and they established a fast-moving timeline to get the program running as soon as possible.

He then handed out admission passes to each of the board members for entry into games, noting he had reached out to the entire district hoping to establish a larger fan base.

“Sports in this community is huge; we want it to be a community effort,” said Mr. DeStasi, “and I like the direction we’re moving in this year.”

The board passed a resolution to honor the six Class of 2019 SHS Sports Hall of Fame inductees: Debbie Kelo, Jim Hummel, Dan Heffernan, Jr., Joe Perrucci, Robbie Moir and Christa Gottschalk Ventura.

The board announced another new hire, school security officer Kevin Pimpinelli. Mr. Pimpinelli said everything was going well so far and that the students and staff were very welcoming.

Mr. Wilson said the district still needs one more school security officer. He said he received several applications and will review them and begin the interview process immediately.

Security was further discussed in an executive session with Director of Security Richard Kearns, Mr. Pimpinelli and Mr. Wilson. The board moved to direct Mr. Wilson to use the school security officer and director of security to cover school events and board meetings as directed and allow Mr. Wilson, in collaboration with Seymour Police Chief Paul Satkowski, to authorize Mr. Kearns to carry a firearm on school grounds to the end of the school year.

Other staff needed in the district are two paraprofessionals, two monitor paraprofessionals, one high school Spanish Club advisor, one long-term elementary music substitute teacher and one long-term elementary art substitute teacher.

In terms of academics, Mr. Freund gave a report of high school students’ 2019 AP exam performance, and the board discussed how to acknowledge students’ success.

Mr. Freund reported that 74 percent of students who took AP exams scored a 3 or higher on one or more exams, the highest percentage to-date.

Fewer students took AP classes last year than in the previous two years, which Mr. Freund attributed to the implementation of an AP contract that states a student must take the AP exam at the end of an AP class. But the number of students scoring 3 or higher on at least one exam stayed about the same, increasing the percentage. 

Of the 140 students who took AP exams in the spring, 36 of them received special AP Scholar awards, which Mr. Strumello said should be recognized just as the school’s athletes are.

To that, Assistant Principal Paul Lucke said he and his administrative intern thought of implementing an Academic Hall of Fame akin to the Sports Hall of Fame, which Ms. Magri said would be a great idea.

“I think we need to have that balance,” said Ms. Magri. Adding a personal note, she said, “I love athletics, but I didn’t have athletes. I had academic children for the most part, and it would be great to see us celebrate that a little bit more.”

One noteworthy aspect of the report was that 100 percent of students who took the AP U.S. Government and Politics exam scored a 3 or higher. For comparison, only 51 percent of students nationwide who take the exam will earn a 3 or higher.

David Willadsen, the course’s instructor, chalked up improved scores to, in part, the CLOSEUP Program and his past two years as an AP exam reader.

The CLOSEUP Program field trip, which the board agreed to once again approve at the recommendation of the superintendent, is a weeklong excursion to Washington, D.C., for 10th, 11th and 12th grade AP U.S. Government and Politics students. Next year’s trip will take place April 5 through 10.

The trip, said Mr. Willadsen, is an invaluable experience to the 10 or so passionate students who attend; the roughly $1,600 tuition deters many of their peers.

Finance Director Sherry Holmes reported the budget was balanced as of June 30 and there was a clear trail for the auditors to follow.

Ms. Magri, who will be leaving her position as chair at the end of the scholastic year, reported that she created a spreadsheet for the board to follow when the next legislative session comes around. She said each session brings changes that the board must implement, often on short notice.

Increased minimum wage, suggested curriculum (like computer science, which the district does not currently offer), new school security measures and required professional development will all affect the board’s activity.

With that, Ms. Magri said she had a good time at convocation on August 26, where she gave a speech highlighting teachers’ impact on students.

Mr. Wilson also spoke highly of the convocation, where he and administration “took to the grills” and made lunch for the entire staff. He shared a few positive notes he received from satisfied staff members.

Mr. Wilson announced the winners of the Caught Being Awesome prize he implemented last year: Nicole Hiscock and Theresa Hannon both won a touchscreen Chromebook after their names were drawn from a raffle. The student representative, Ashley Sirowich, said the Student Council will hold schoolwide elections this year—in the past, only members of the club could vote; mentioned the car show that will take place Saturday, September 28, at the high school. The performing arts club will provide entertainment. All proceeds will benefit the Car Club at SHS.

The board held a moment of silence to honor former superintendent Dr. Philip M. Fallon who passed away on August 7 at age 82.

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