Peter Bernstein Re-Elected BOE Chair for 4th Term; Says Despite Rumors, Schools are Remaining Open

The annual election of Board of Education officers took place at Wednesday night’s meeting, held via Zoom.

Peter Bernstein was re-elected as chairman of the board for his fourth 1-year term. The vote was 6-0-2 with Karen Kowalski and Peter Sherr declining to vote. (He is completing his second 4-year term as a board member.)

Kathleen Stowe was voted for another term as vice chair, 6-0-2 with Karen Kowalski and Peter Sherr not voting; and Karen Hirsh was re-elected secretary for another year in a vote of 8-0-0.

Bernstein’s re-election was notable for the stability it reflects. In recent memory, no BOE chair has served more than two years.

Prior to Bernstein’s leadership, in 2016, the Board of Selectmen had to step in to appoint a chair after the BOE failed to reach a consensus on their own. Despite three attempts, no candidate received the required minimum of 5 votes out of the 8 person board. (Tie votes, or, for example a vote of 4 to 3 with 1 abstention, failed to satisfy the requirement.) The Selectmen voted to appoint Peter Sherr.

Prior to Mr. Sherr’s one year as chair, Laura Erickson served as chair for a year. Prior to that, Barbara O’Neill served as chair for two years.

In a debrief of Wednesday’s BOE meeting on WGCH Thursday morning, Mr. Bernstein likened the vote on officers to the running of the bulls in Pamplona. “It’s always kind of odd and strange,” he said.

Bernstein said the agenda featured an update on the district’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Math program.

The curriculum for math and science was last updated in 2018. He said work had begun on setting next generation science standards. Also a review is under way for a new math text book for kindergarten to eighth grade.

He said a goal is for all 8th graders to take Algebra. “We’ve got some who do and some who don’t, but we’d like that to be the standard,” he said.

Capital projects, including Cardinal Stadium, were on the agenda.

“If you’re driving by the high school in the next couple weeks you’ll probably see the old bleachers starting to come down.”

BOE Chair Peter Bernstein

Bernstein said if all goes well, by the time in June when GHS normally holds graduation in Cardinal Stadium, the new bleachers should be completed.

The board also took up the educational specifications for Julian Curtiss School and Old Greenwich School, both of which were identified as part of the district’s masters facilities plan as needing the most work.

Old Greenwich School dates back to 1902 and Julian Curtiss dates back to 1949.

“When we were looking at things like accessibility, these are buildings that are not ADA accessible,” he said.

However, he said the board was not ready to vote on the ed specs for Julian Curtiss, and that there was a discussion about adding a science room, as well as an external corridor that would provide an alternate path to traverse the building.

The education specifications, or “ed specs,” are the list of requirements of for a building that gets handed over to a building committee.

“In Old Greenwich, we are closing in on the ed specs as well,” he said. “They just need to reformulate the work into the proper document form and we’ll take it up in a future meeting.”

“We need to make capital investments and keep our buildings up to date,” he said. “ADA is certainly something important – 30 years on (from the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990) – we need to address those issues.”

Covid and Greenwich Public Schools

Bernstein talked about the impact of Covid-19 on Greenwich Schools, noting that as Covid cases rise in the community, the district is seeing positive cases among students.

However, he pointed out that that while there have been positive cases among students, only one reflected a transmission from within school.

“A lot of what we’re seeing is coming from outside activities including sporting activities and social gatherings,” he said.

“The districts that have gone hybrid actually seem to have higher Covid rates than we have, and the models we have going.”

Peter Bernstein, Chairman of the Greenwich Board of Education

Despite rumors to the contrary, Bernstein said schools are remaining open.

He said quarantining is a valuable safety measure and the superintendent meets regularly with the Dept of Health and State epidemiologist.

“There is nothing that comes close to students being the classroom with teachers,” he said. “We would like to keep our buildings open. It’s very important to remember to wear a mask and social distance. There are no shortcuts here.”

Bernstein explained the various learning models students have to choose from.

In elementary and middle school there is a 5-day a week in-person model.

In elementary school, there is also a “remote school” with a dedicated elementary school teacher for each of the grade level classes.

In middle school, students can dial live into the classroom.

At GHS there is a true hybrid model, where half the live student body come Mon/Tues and the other half coming Thurs/Fri, and everyone learning remotely on Wednesdays.

The students choosing “all-remote,” dial in every day of the week.

“We’re paying attention,” Bernstein said. “And if we need to shift models based on the health information we’re getting, we certainly will do it.”