Saturday, February 28, 2009

Softball in Middletown

Women's softball in Middletown: Anyone interested in playing adult women's slow-pitch softball in the Middletown league, contact Terry Balletto at tballetto@snet.net.

Middletown men's softball: The Middletown Men's Adult Softball League will hold registration on March 5 from 6-8 p.m. at the Westfield Fire Station. The league has openings for umpires, individual players and teams in three divisions. Players must be at least 18. For more information, contact Jason Annino at 860-305-5039 or go HERE.

Softball umpires: The Middlesex ASA Umpires Association is seeking persons who would like to become board-certified softball umpires. For information, contact state umpire-in-chief Hank Koritkoski at 860-347-4745 or hank.donnak@comcast.net. The process will be completed with a clinic and test on March 21 at 9 a.m. at Wilson Middle School in Middletown.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Commentary "Lead us not into Temptation."

a proverb from the Lord's Prayer, left at the door when entering the chambers of the P&Z meeting on Wednesday night?

It is hard to believe that not one person at the meeting standing in favor of the Walgreens at the intersection of Main and East Main Streets dared to question the wisdom, of the developer and the city on the plan as proposed. Where was the concern for our God given Earth and her environment and a consideration of what is best for the planet? Where was the concern for all people of your local community, not just the people of the church? Surely there must be some members of the public who spoke in favor of the proposal who where questioning the wisdom of the plan as presented. Did you dare not speak-up and ask the developer to consider the health and safety of all who would be subject to the changes in traffic patterns, (drive thru, adding more driveways for in and out of traffic, lane change configurations, additional lanes, additional traffic, increased speed of traffic, changing the environment for pedestrians, wheelchair users, and bicyclists) not just the motoring public, for fear the entire plan would be denied? Where is your awareness or concern for environmental justice? (Please see Wikipedia definition at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Environmental_justice ). Where is the concern to provide an environment that is safe and secure for those who chose active transport, or those who might not have any other choice but to use active transport? Does Walgreens or any other pharmacy for that matter—our corporate "purveyors of health"—have policies that involve doing what is best to truly promote good health for ALL Americans. The research literature is clear (please take some time to visit the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation web site, http://www.rwjf.org/pr/product.jsp?id=20112 this is just one of many good sites, thought arguably one of the best sites for lots of specific and general information on the subject), (additional source of good information, from the American Public Health Association web site, titled At the Intersection of Public Health and Transportation: Promoting Healthy Transportation Policy. http://www.apha.org/NR/rdonlyres/43F10382-FB68-4112-8C75-49DCB10F8ECF/0/TransportationBrief.pdft )that the built environment and land use patterns are having profound effects on the nations health; does anyone know this, does anyone care? Does anyone care how much this is costing us as a nation in terms of health care spending dollars? Welcome to views of the movie Wall.E World.
http://www.apple.com/trailers/disney/walle/

I am saddened, as well as disappointed that not one person standing in favor of the plan said please, perhaps we should reconsider some aspects of the plan, and acknowledge that our friends on the other side of the aisle have some reasonable points regarding health and safety/injury prevention. This nation is facing an obesity epidemic, with resulting chronic health ramifications. Much of CT, Middletown included, has heads and feet buried in quick-sand, regarding some of the documented ill effects of the built environment and land usage policy as it currently exists, on our nation's, and on our very own local health. This is why I will continue to go to planning and zoning meetings week after to week to speak to this pressing concern, and continue to ask that the city, that the P&Z, that anyone who cares, and can help to effect change, step up to the plate and get serious about getting something done, and setting precedents for what can be expected of developers and ourselves—the future of our city and all who live here—to see that we build the city in a manner that is conducive to,(trees, plantings, benches, pedestrian friendly, family friendly sidewalks, safe accessibility for those traveling by wheelchair, or cane, and bicycle friendly roads, ect.) encourages, promotes and allows for, healthy active behaviors. The other side of the health coin that plays into this plea is reducing our accident, injury and mortality rates, not just in the best interests of motorists, but for all users.

It is not to late. Please reconsider, consider the evidence, and ask the city and developer to take a closer look at what they can do, to do a better job—in building this space, and building place and all future spaces that promote health for the environment, health for the people—for you, for me—and yes, even the health and good will of the corporation.

State legislative happenings; I am forwarding this update that came my way. Contact your representatives to voice your support of these measures.
COMPLETE STREETS
Transportation Committee also has a bill, currently being drafted by a group working with Rep. Tom Kehoe and the Committee Co-Chairs, which will call for comprehensive "Complete Streets" programs. This legislation will do various things to make our transportation system more accommodating towards pedestrians and cyclists, including requiring that the state DOT accommodate users other than drivers on our roads. It's quite long so I won't get into the details here. The number is SB 735 and the initial public hearing most likely will be in a couple of weeks.

In addition to SB 735, there are a number of other proposed bills out there related to traffic calming, traffic safety reporting, speeding issues on highways, crosswalk funding for school construction programs, better pedestrian accommodations around mass transit stops, and so on and so forth. As I understand, it is likely that many of these measures can be incorporated into the Transportation Committee's SB 735 "Complete Streets" bill -- but if you have extra time, don't hesitate to look them up now and thank the people who were involved in proposing each piece of legislation.

ARTFARM Taming of the Shrew Auditions


From Dic Wheeler:

ARTFARM will be holding auditions on Sunday, March 15 for this summer's Shakespeare in the Grove production of "The Taming of the Shrew”. Auditions will be held 11 am to 2 pm or 4 pm to 7 pm at Oddfellows Playhouse, 128 Washington St. in Middletown . Must be 18 or over to audition, and there is a particular need for experienced male actors. Bring resume, Shakespeare monologue, dress to move and prepare to stay for the entire three hour session. Stipends available for some roles. Equity slots have been filled. To register for one of the audition sessions, or for more information, contact ARTFARM at (860) 346-4390 or info@art-farm.org.

Spring Awakening


I know there are still three weeks until Spring.

But I thought you should know that Kidcity's crocuses are starting to pop up!

Enjoy the day!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Family Activities at the CFA this Weekend



The Annual Carnival Children’s Concert takes place this Sunday, March 1 at 2pm at Wesleyan’s Crowell Concert Hall. The University’s Orchestra, guest-conducted by Roy Wiseman, will present a concert for children based on Igor Stravinsky’s famous ballet Pulcinella. In addition to this musical treat, the Orchestra will also perform works by Maurice Ravel and Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov. Bring your entire family down to Crowell on Sunday and partake in pre-concert festivities, which start at 1pm. There will be commedia dell’arte-inspired mask making. An Instrument Petting Zoo will also be featured so that children can familiarize themselves with less familiar orchestra instruments. Admission is free.

On another CFA-related note, Stan’s Café show, Of All the People in All the World, USA (The Rice Show), will be ending its run at Wesleyan on Tuesday. Firstly, if you haven’t gotten the chance to see the show yet, it’s incredible and a definite experience. Secondly, the artists of Stan’s Café will be hosting free family workshops on Sunday, March 1 from 12:30pm to 1:30pm and 2:30pm to 3:30pm. The performer's of Stan's Cafe will play games with the students such as “anyone who…” which will show them different ways of looking at the similarities and differences among people all over the world. Another game has teams of kids add labels to anonymous piles of rice, after which they'll be given activity sheets and let loose to explore the gallery. Space is limited so call the box office at 860.685.3355 to reserve space for you and your family.

Planning and Zoning: "No" to sober, "Yes" to drug drive thru, and still no chair






Planning and zoning denied a special exception to a residential recovery house for patients recovering from drug and alcohol addiction, and approved plans for a drug store with a drive-thru window, in a meeting that began on Wednesday evening and ended early Thursday morning. They also approved applications by Middletown Water and Sewer department, a subdivision of the Home Depot Plaza, and a proposal from the Conservation Commission. And in the news that isn't news department, they failed to elect a chair.

Sober House
Wendi Clark was before the Commissioners with a proposal for a special exception to allow up to 9 unrelated individuals to live as a family in a two family home at the corner of Loveland and S. Main Street (Eye story). She was represented by a very articulate attorney, Greg Kirschner, who works for the CT Fair Housing Center, based in Hartford. Kirschner presented the legal background that he argued made it impossible for the Commissioners to deny Clark a special exception. Geen Thazhampallath, interim deputy attorney for the City, also gave legal opinions.

Kirschner and Thazampallath both agreed that the Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act prohibit discrimination in housing on the basis of disabilities, and both agreed that addiction constituted a disability. Both agreed that special accommodations for the disabled were appropriate. They disagreed, however, on whether those accommodations of necessity included the right to living in a group home in a Mixed Use (MX) zone in which both businesses and residences co-existed. Kirschner argued that the Commissioners had absolutely no basis for denying a group of addicts the right to live in this house if they would not deny a traditional family that same right. Thazampallath countered that the Commissioners did have the right to uphold zoning regulations.

Many members of the public weighed in on this application, mostly in opposition. Ralph Wilson, an attorney who has represented many clients at Planning and Zoning hearings (including later this evening the Drive-thru Drug Store), has his offices immediately adjacent to the proposed Sober house. He spoke passionately about the effect of the Sober House residents' cars on access to his property. He was outraged at what Kirschner had told the commissioners, "I'm mad, and this is why I'm mad: This is a bunch of hogwash this guy's giving you." He urged the commissioners to deny the application and offered his services to the city if there was a lawsuit.

Common Council member Earle Roberts spoke about the importance of maintaining a definition of a family that was just like the one he grew up in. Mayor Sebastian Giuliano, who said that he had previously represented Wendi Clark, argued forcefully against the sober house, saying that this was not a situation of a group of disabled people pooling their money to rent a house in the same way that a family would, this was a situation of a landlord making a lot of money renting out individual rooms or beds to people who may or may not stay for very long, "This is a rooming house, masquerading as a sober house."

Edward Madison, former member of the New Haven Planning Commission and overseer of a network of sober houses, spoke to the Commissioners of the importance of resolving sober house issues administratively, not through planning commisions. He said this was the best way to reach a decision that was not unduly influenced by the political pressure that a public hearing includes. He said that litigation could be extremely expensive, noting that the city of West Haven spent $750,000 to take a case to the Supreme Court.

The commissioners unanimously denied the application for an exception, citing the lack of suitable parking space. After the meeting, I asked Attorney Kirschner for his reaction to the ruling. He said that he would be speaking with the City's attorney to try to work out a plan for the sober house that would not involve litigation. He said, "The last thing we want to do is to go to court, but sometimes that's the only option."

Another pharmacy with a drive-thru window
In October, the P&Z approved plans for the congregation of the Shiloh Christian Church to build a new Church Building between Coe Avenue and Old Saybrook Road (Eye Story). On Wednesday night, the P&Z commissioners heard a proposal to build a Walgreens store with a Drive-thru pharmacy on the property they would be vacating.

Over 50 members of the Shiloh congregation, which will be able to build a new church with the money from Walgreens, came to support the drug store project. Sonja Manjon, as Vice President at Wesleyan, also came to support the construction of the Walgreens Store. Several residents of neighborhoods around the site expressed great concern about the traffic on surrounding streets. Other residents expressed concern about the lack of any plans to improve pedestrian or bicycle traffic. Elizabeth Emery pointed out that the professional traffic engineer failed to provide any information whatsoever on any traffic other than automobile traffic.

After hearing from dozens of members of the public, the commissioners debated whether the proposal should be approved. Only Catherine Johnson opposed the project. She said that the city was getting precious little in return for providing a special exception that greatly increased the value of the property. Commissioner Quentin Phipps said that his support for the project was reluctant, other commissioners expressed unabashed enthusiasm for another drive-thru pharmacy. The commissioners approved the project with two amendments: they encouraged the addition of a new cross-walk across East Main Street, and they asked the developer to make 10 of the 65 parking spaces not of asphalt but rather lined with a surface pervious to water.

Other approvals
The commissioners approved three separate projects by Water and Sewer: a water main extending from Moody School out Country Club Road to across I91, a storage building on Berlin Road, and a Bartholomew Road pumping station. They also approved a subdivision of the lot containing the Home Depot on Washington Street, to accommodate plans for a Price Chopper in that plaza. These all passed without substantial controversy.

The Conservation Commission proposed a change to the 1993 Plan of Conservation and Development, to designate the Merriam Tree Farm property as "suitable for acquisition as open space." This is necessary for the city to use money recently aproved by Common Council for the purchase of the development rights. This proposal did not generate much controversy, although one member of the public, Jeff Pierce, did say, "All this designation of open space is a bunch of hooey." Several members of the Conservation Commission spoke to the importance of the Merriam property for open space preservation. The P&Z commissioners unanimously approved the designation.

Still no chair.
In the absence of Barbara Plum, who in December (Eye Story) proclaimed herself chair because she was the last commissioner to have been so elected (in 2007), Richard Pelletier acted as chair for this meeting. Commissioner Pelletier rearranged the order of the agenda considerably from what was posted, to the consternation of several Shiloh congregation members, who were forced to wait with their children until nearly midnight for a decision on the Walgreens application. Commissioner Pelletier said that he had rearranged the agenda for good reasons, but this was apparently done without the knowledge of other commissioners, two of whom apologized for the change in agenda.

Early Thursday morning, Pelletier called for nominations for a chair. Barbara Plum and Deborah Kleckowski were both nominated, although neither was present for the meeting. The voting was inconclusive, as neither candidate garnered the 5 votes necessary for election.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Week in Preview 2/23 - 2/28 Correction & Addition

Earlier this week, I wrote that the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center would be performing in the Crowell Concert Series at Wesleyan - they are. Not on Friday night, as I mistakenly wrote, but Saturday at 8 p.m. ("Pre-concert Talk" at 7:15.) Pianist & co-artistic director Wu Han (pictured) will lead the ensemble in the program of music by Dvorak and Bartok. Go to www.wesleyan.edu/cfa or call 685-3355 for ticket information.

If you are on campus this weekend, do not miss "Stan's Cafe:Of All The People in All the World", the installation in Zilkha Gallery (with satellite sites at Russell Library, the main lobby of Olin Library, and the empty ION storefront of Main Street Market.) Take your time, read the captions,and think about the world and your/our place in it. The show, regretfully, closes after Tuesday March 3 but, happily, the rice used in the various locations will go to food pantries and soup kitchen in the area.

Middletown-based playwright Jenny Lecce is one of 9 writers featured in this weekend's "New Works New Britain" Friday through Sunday in the lovely Trinity on Main, 69 Main Street in New Britain. The plays, all under 20 minutes, feature local directors and actors. Performances are 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 4 p.m. on Sunday. For more information, go to www.nwnb.webs.com.

A Place to Play, A Place to Learn


Ready. Set. Begin.
 The month of March ushers in lions or lambs or some other animals ( I forgot how that goes..) and also Connecticut Mastery Testing. CMT's are used by the state to measure how students are doing as a general population within their district, grade, and individual school. Individual's scores may also determine placement for other programs.
 I'm sure many, many colorful pie charts and graphs are created with this information to determine where funds should go to reward schools with high scores and help troubled schools. In all seriousness, these tests are very important.

Business owner/police officer and mom is offering up her business A New World Laser Tag as a venue for students to study and prepare for the CMT's free of charge and distraction-less.  
The website : http://www.testprepfun.com found on many of the individual Middletown elementary and middle schools' websites is a suggested site for practice test taking and educational games. 

In her email to me, Ms. Duffy writes: "I also wanted to let people know that we have 12 high speed computers; in preparation for the CMT tests we are allowing students to use these computers as no charge for one hour per day to go on the website Testprepfun.com. My two sons are Middletown students and I learned about this website through their schools. Evey student has a login ID and pass word given to them at school so they can practice for CMT tests. I know how important these tests are and I know that many students do no have access to computers at home, so this is a way they can practice for CMT tests."

Do you moonlight as a level 12 "Dungeon Master"?  If  the acronym MMORPG means anything to you like it does to me, you would find it helpful to know A New World Laser Tag now has a new component: Underworld Gaming to fufill all your gaming needs. Doesn't Red vs. Blue mean anything to you?

A New World Laser Tag is located on Main Street. More infor can be found on the website : http://www.newworldlasertag.com/underworldgaming.htm

Pencils down.


A Generous Business Owner


I came across this picture on the web the other day and thought I would share it with the readers. The picture is of Marc Levine, owner of Mallove's Jewelers on Main Street and a big check for Middletown's Amazing Grace Food Pantry. I do not believe the local newspapers covered this gracious donation; and I feel its especially important to acknowledge and give thanks to people's generosity in a time of economic recession to inspire others to continue to contribute to the common good. Mr. Levine  is humble enough to go under the radar; none the less here's a big thank-you to his business's generous donation!   And who said diamonds were only a girl's only best friend?

Wesleyan Farmers Market Today


From Tressa Eaton:

The Wesleyan Farmers' Market
Wednesday, February 25

11:00am - 2:00pm

BECKHAM HALL


As always there will be beautiful fresh produce, goat cheese, baked
goods, pesto, eggs, honey, handmade jams, spices, yarn, coffee,
cookies, soaps, bread, and more!

There will be hot food made with local ingredients from our vendors,
so you can buy a tasty fresh lunch if you get hungry!

Stop by the info table for recipes, reading material and an organic
cotton Farmers' Market t-shirt.

Check out the website (www.wesleyan.edu/wsa/wfm) for more information

A first look at the school budget

At Tuesday's Board of Ed meeting (covered in detail here), Superintendent Michael Frechette released a revised school budget, showing only a 2% increase from the current year's expenses. Although the dollars go up, the new budget actually represents a cut from the current level of service, and this proposed budget is the first step to see where those cuts might be made.

If you'd like to view the proposed 2% budget in detail, it's available at the Board's webpage.

The proposed budget details $2.5 million less in funding than the "roll-over" budget that the Superintendent proposed last December. The cuts represent an actual drop in the following services:

Cuts in salaries ($1,457,145 less than if fully funded):
•11 retiring teaching positions would not be replaced and an additional 13 elementary teachers would be eliminated, with a rise in overall class size for that level (all the schools except Moody and Macdonough would see classrooms condensed.)
• The assistant superintendent for curriculum position would not be filled after John Hennelly's retirement. Also retiring but unfilled would be one PROBE teacher. Supervisors throughout the district would be cut (3.5 positions).
•various other positions including a custodian, a secretary, and 3 support teaching positions at Woodrow Wilson Middle School.
•savings from the approved union contract with Local 466 of a 2.25% increase, with no step increases.

Cuts in benefits ($719,864 less than if fully funded)
•various cuts and increases in insurance costs, as dictated by the City's Risk Manager.

Cuts in other services ($28,747 less than if fully funded):
•After-school programing in a few high-need schools would be eliminated
•There are various one-time savings, such as putting off purchasing GPS systems for school buses.

Cuts in supplies and materials ($268,530 less than if fully funded):
•$300,000 in savings are anticipated from lower fuel prices
•minor cuts in instructional and maintenance supplies

Cuts in capital preventative maintenance costs ($25,000 less than if fully funded)

It is still to be determined how many staff changes would be accomplished through retirements rather than layoffs.

As several Board members noted at the meeting, it is common for various proposals for cuts to be considered over the months of the budget process. Between now and July 1st, when the new budget takes effect, there will likely be many changes, depending on the amount that Middletown receives from the State and the amount that the City will commit to the schools.

The Mayor has asked the Board of Ed to submit a budget request by March 4th. The Board plans to vote on the proposed budget after hearing public comment at their March 3rd meeting.

Middletown Minds In Motion 2009 at Snow School

From Jennifer Hadley:

Registration is now open for Middletown’s first ever “Minds in Motion” enrichment program, which will take place Saturday, March 21, 2009 at Wilbert Snow Elementary School from 12:30-4:00 pm.

“Minds in Motion” is an afternoon of fun, fast-paced, hands-on workshops geared to high-interest, motivated students in grades K-8. Workshops are designed to encourage curious students to try new experiences in a variety of subject areas. This year’s workshops range from robotics to dance, mathematics, fencing, logic, pottery, yoga, chemistry, karate, clowning, theater, hip-hop, fitness, and much more. The complete brochure, as well as online registration, is available at http://www.snowschoolpto.org/ or http://www.ctgifted.org/events.htm or contact Jennifer Hadley at jthom@wesleyan.edu, Jim Gaudreau at gaudreauj@mps1.org or call 860-347-2579 (Snow School). Financial aid is available to any student in need. Workshops will fill up quickly and are open to students throughout the greater Middletown area and beyond, so early registration is recommended. The registration deadline is March 9.

The afternoon also includes free activities for parents and teachers, including a keynote talk by nationally known educator and author, Nathan Levy, speaking on “Powerful Ways to Help Children Reach Their Potential.” Other adult workshops will focus on parenting gifted children, creating delicious healthy meals, raising readers, and parent leadership programs. The Vendor and Exhibitor area will highlight local programs and organizations, educational materials, and other resources of interest to families.

The event is co-sponsored by the Snow School PTO and the Connecticut Association for the Gifted (CAG), which has organized “Minds in Motion” events throughout the state for many years. Volunteers from Farm Hill, Macdonough and Independent Day School have been key collaborators, and local organizations and individuals have responded enthusiastically to the program.

More volunteers will be needed on the day of the event. The committee is also still registering vendors and exhibitors, with an early bird special rate for those confirmed before March 9. Please contact the organizers listed above for more information.

Week in Preview 2/23 - 2/28 (Part 2)

The halls are alive with "The Sound of Music", the halls of Middletown High School, that is. The final work of the team of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, the musical tells the story of the Trapp Family Singers and their escape from the Nazi occupation of their native Austria.

The MHS Drama Club, Chris Briggs, director, presents the musical this weekend in the new auditorium of the new High School, 20 LaRosa Lane. The large and talented cast is not only comprised of high school students but also from the middle and elementary levels. Performances are 7 p.m. Thursday through Saturday (2/26-28) and 2 p.m.on Sunday March 1. Tickets are $10 for adults, $ 8 for students and senior citizens and $5 for children under 12. You can buy them at the door or go online at www.middletownschools.org/.

Wesleyan University Assistant Professor Yuriy Kordonskiy directs a production of Jean Anouilh's "Eurydice" Thursday through Sunday in the CFA Theater. Anouilh's adaptationn of the Greek myth changes the setting of the story to a provincial train station in France in the 1930s where a traveling musician (Orpheus) becomes enamored of an actress (Eurydice) but they must run away together to continue their relationship. Realism clashes with magic as death and life become intertwined. Performances are 8 p.m. each night with a 2 p.m. matinee on Saturday. Call the Box Office at 685-3355 or go online at www.wesleyan.edu/cfa for more information.

Pianist Landon Knoblock, born in Miami and now based in Brooklyn, will perform this Friday evening at 7:30 p.m. in The Buttonwood Tree. Knoblock, joined by bassist Joe Rehmer and drummer Austin McMahon, is quite a lyrical pianist but does not shy away from rhythmical adventures. He has worked with vocalist Kevin Mahogany and trumpeter Arturo Sandoval and released 3 CDs as a leader, the latest being "The Heartbeat, the Breath", on the Italian CAM Jazz label. He also leads a quartet featuring New Haven native Ben Allison on bass. For more information about him and his music, go to www.landonknoblock.com.

The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center is the featured ensemble Friday at 8 p.m. in Crowell Concert Hall. The latest concert in 08-09 Crowell Series brings some finest classical musicians in the country to town with a program featuring music by Dvorak and Bartok. Artistic Directors David Finckel (cello) and Wu Han (piano) bring together musicians of all ages to perform and the quality and brilliance of the performances is impressive. Yonatan Malin, Assistant Professor of Music at Wesleyan, will give a Pre-concert Talk at 7:15. For tickets, call 685-3355.

Fishbone Cafe, 120 Court Street, has inaugurated its live music series in the upstairs "Boney's Music Lounge." This week, they welcome pianist Kent Hewitt & Trio on Friday and the duo of Joe Fonda (bass) and Charles Neville (saxophones, and he is a member of the famous Neville Brothers Band from New Orleans) on Saturday. For more start times and more information, call 346-6000.

Saturday night, The Buttonwood Tree welcomes back Terry Dame & Electric Junkyard Gamelan for a 7:30 performance. If you've never seen this ensemble and its plethora of home-made instruments (including the electric rubber band harps, wine glasses and percussion made from saw blades and old farm equipment), it's a real treat. Yes, this is definitely music, certainly inventive and always loads of fun (and occasionally a bit noisy.) Ms. Dame is a fine composer, an excellent saxophonist and a tireless inventor. To find out more, go to www.terrydame.com. To reserve a seat, call 347-4957.

School Improvement Plans presented at BOE Workshop

Tonight, the various Middletown schools met with the Board of Education to discuss their improvement plans. As a point of reference, in case you haven’t seen them, the District’s “SMART GOALS 2008-2011” are as follows:

 On the CMT in Math, Reading and Writing, the average grade-level gain in the number of students at or above proficiency over the three-year period of the District Improvement Plan will be at least 15 percentage points.
 On the Grade 10 CMT in Math, Reading, and Writing, the grade-level gain in the number of students at or above proficiency over the three-year period of the District Improvement Plan will be at least 15 percentage points.
 CMT and CAPT achievement gaps within all student subgroups in Math, Reading, and Writing will be reduced by at least 30 percent over the three-year period of the District Improvement Plan. In addition, all student subgroups will show growth in academic achievement in Math, Reading, and Writing.
 The number of overall suspensions and the number of students suspended in the District will decrease by at least 15 percent over the three-year period of the District Improvement Plan.
 The number of overall suspensions and the number of students suspended in targeted subgroups( (special education, and Hispanic and African-American males) will decrease by 25 percent over the three-year period of the District Improvement Plan.

The school improvement plans are directly linked to these goals in addition to the various issues each school faces. I didn’t make the meeting in time to hear the elementary schools present, but I did hear what Keigwin, Woodrow Wilson and the High School had to say.

One concern at Keigwin is about students’ transfer of knowledge. This refers to using skills in more than one place. For example, it shouldn’t be strange that a student would have to use math in science class, or write an essay in Social Studies (using proper grammar, etc.). Students are apparently not comprehending this fact of life (or resisting it because it makes them have to concentrate a bit more…).

Keigwin also mentioned coding books to match a specific reading level. That way a teacher or student would know that a book is or isn’t reading level appropriate. The thought is to move away from whole class novels toward individuals reading books at their specific reading comprehension level.

SRBI, or Scientific Research-Based Interventions, is CT’s new framework for school improvement. Learn more about this framework here.

Essentially, the Connecticut State Department of Education defines SRBI this way: “Scientific Research‐Based Interventions (SRBI) emphasize successful instruction for all students through high‐quality core general education practices, as well as targeted interventions for students experiencing learning, social‐emotional or behavioral difficulties. Core general education practices include comprehensive curriculums in key academic areas, effective instructional strategies, creation and maintenance of a positive and safe school climate, and a comprehensive system of social‐emotional learning and behavioral supports.”

This approach drives our school improvement process for the foreseeable future, and several buzz words like “best practice,” “data teams,” and “differentiated instruction” were mentioned again and again. Without having a specific definition of those teams, I surmised that they refer to teachers tailoring instruction to the specific student (how he or she learns, where he or she needs additional concentration, etc.). When students fail to do well, there will be a whole team of people ready to pounce in “scientific intervention” to get the student back on track.

Woodrow Wilson mentioned the “new” building as being a much better layout for a middle school than its previous location. The principal, Gene Nocera, was quick to point out that the myth that WW has tons of extra space is completely false. WW was originally built in 1958 for a high school population of 800, and the middle school currently has 740 students. Every classroom is used. The Co-Chair of the transition team mentioned that the building has several physical needs that need financial support – even though the budget is tough this year, these needs can’t be put off forever.

BOE member Sally Boske expressed concern over the transition students have to make from Keigwin to Woodrow Wilson, and there was much discussion about the drop in reading scores in 7th and 8th grade. Apparently 7th grade is the lowest performing grade nationwide, and Boske wanted to know what was happening during the summer to prevent this drop. There wasn’t a clear answer to her question other than the comment that as changes take root in the elementary schools, the improvement will flow upwards into higher grades. There was additional discussion about connecting core teachers to after school programs, focusing on creating a welcoming climate, and maintaining the social connection to kids and parents.

When pressed about the less than ideal reading scores for 10th graders, and what could happen during the summer to combat this decline, Middletown High School Principal Robert Fontaine said “I’m a big fan of summer vacation.” This response drew tons of laughter, but it did highlight an interesting distinction between the BOE and the Principal: school improvements depend on resources and staff to turn goals into measurable outcomes. With a budget meeting next on the agenda, and principals hanging on every word in case something is revealed, summer enrichment programs have to be at the bottom of the priority list! If our schools don’t have the basic tools they need DURING the school year, what students do with their summer vacations is the least of their worries!

Bill Boyd asked about the possibility of a program that lets students graduate high school in 3 years. Fontaine responded that most families are too traditional to be excited about such a thing. Even those students who have had the credits to graduate at 3 ½ years often don’t because they would have to give up their extra-curricular activities once they graduated.

There were other questions about the collaborative atmosphere and more specific teaching of study skills. The data teams meet once a week, but there isn’t time to get everything done. A Freshman orientation program hasn’t been possible because of staffing issues. Study skills are integrated into individual course curriculum because you can’t teach those skills in a vacuum. And, as study skills are now being taught at earlier grade levels, this area should improve.

Principal Fontaine said his biggest problem is kids who can’t read at the high school grade level. Too many Middletown High kids are reading at about the 5th grade level, which makes it impossible for them to excel at high school level courses. They can’t study when they can’t read or comprehend what they’re studying. In a private interview after his public comments, Fontaine had this advice for parents: “Be involved!” When pressed to define “involved, ” Fontaine said:

 Parents should attend the extra-curricular activities their kids are involved in. Go see them excel.
 Families should eat dinner together so kids have a chance to talk about their day and what they’re doing.
 For parents of younger children, reading out loud on a regular basis is crucial.

When asked what he’d do with a blank checkbook, Fontaine said he needs more staff in elective and support services. When the high school population swelled from 800-1350 a few years ago, the core class sizes were mandated to stay the same. This meant that teachers were pulled away from elective courses like music or art. Those areas are really suffering, but Fontaine doesn’t get to control what staff he gets. In Middletown, schools get an allocation per student that principals can decide how to spend on things like supplies, equipment, etc. However, staffing levels are determined by the BOE/Superintendent’s budget, and principals only have some control over the type of teacher. Basically, Fontaine has very little control over the budget other than during the final stages when something has to be cut and there’s a negotiation over what that it.

When to school improvement reports were finished, the BOE had a discussion about its priorities. However, there was confusion over whose priorities were being discussed, and the budget goals/objectives handed out by the Superintendent, Michael Freschette, were not what the agenda was talking about. BOE Member Corinne Gill clarified that the BOE was supposed to be examining itself to come up with a list of its own priorities - to set goals for itself for the year. This process was pushed off to a summer workshop.

After a short break, the BOE began a discussion of the budget. BOE member Jay Kaiser motioned to send the mayor only a dollar amount representing a 2% increase over last year’s budget, and not the specific line item budget. BOE members Sheila Daniels, Corinne Gill, Ryan Kennedy, and Bill Boyd argued forcefully against such action. Corinne Gill mentioned that the recent community discussions have specifically targeted the notion of transparency in government, so it would be wrong not to disclose the actual impact of a 2% budget (apparently a 5.6% (or so) increase would be holding even on the budget from last year plus contractual increases in salaries, etc.). Daniels, Kennedy and Boyd completely agreed, with Boyd saying it would be "totally inappropriate" to just send a number that doesn't demonstrate the board's funding priorities. Gill and Daniels were particularly upset about just sending a number because it wouldn't allow the public to comment on the budget while knowing what the money would actually be spent on.

The motion was eventually defeated. Please note that BOE Chair Ted Raczka and Judith Russo were not present at the meeting. For a meeting that was supposed to be a key step in finalizing the budget…

The BOE then voted to table the budget discussion until next week: there will be a special meeting, Tuesday, March 3rd at 7pm at the High School to consider the budget. The meeting will be televised and there will be a public comment session. There is a copy of the budget available but this link is to a budget representing a 5.61% increase over last year. The budget handed out at tonight’s meeting is just a 2% increase, which is actually a 3.61% cut from last year’s budget. The Superintendent should update his webpage shortly.

What no one is saying very loudly is that the proposed budget includes a loss of teachers (13 classes are to be consolidated) and an increase in class sizes. Granted, there is an early retirement package being offered, but the number of takers is not known yet. Field trips will not be funded, the 21st Century After School program has been eliminated (affects Bielefield, MacDonough and Snow Elementary Schools), and funding for instructional and maintenance supplies have been reduced. While the price of diesel is down, there has been no mention of whether or not this year’s bus route changes are permanent (If you remember, 300 stops were cut in August 2008 to save $50,000 in fuel costs.).

A few board members expressed concern over the budget, but nothing specific was mentioned. There was no evidence to indicate what board members felt was important to preserve even in difficult financial times. Next week’s meeting includes a public comment period, so in the absence of any obvious leadership from the BOE, please let your preferences be heard! The BOE email list is available and it only takes a minute or two to express your opinion. Or, come to the March 3rd meeting to deliver your comments in person. Essentially, the school budget is about $70 million in a $130 million city budget, and now more than ever we need to make sure it is spent wisely! The budget is due to the mayor in about 2 weeks, and it’s rather unbelievable that we still don’t know what it is exactly.

Now is not the time for political jockeying or any other nonsense. The BOE needs take responsibility for its actions, present a clear and well-thought out budget, and get on with it. The Mayor and Common Council have no control over how the money is spent, but they do have control over how much money is allocated to the school board. Without a complete and transparent discussion of how a 2% budget impacts our children, the BOE simply isn’t doing the job it has been elected to do.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Common Council Approves 466 Contract

In a special session Tuesday night, the Common Council approved a contract with city union, Local 466. The contract originally came before the Council at it's regular meeting early in the month, but consideration of the contract was rejected by all Democratic members, leaving angry union members to applaud Republicans who supported the contract, and to stalk angrily from Council chambers after the vote was taken.

Tonight's meeting was not without vitriol as union members spoke in favor of the contract, explaining sacrifices that union members made to reach a cooperative agreement. Council members spoke unanimously in favor of the contract which offers union members a two and a quarter per cent increase. Democratic members each defended their delay in the vote, and lauded the fairness of the contract. However, at least one Republican member, Phil Pessina, spoke strongly against a comment by Council member James Streeto who "joked" about politicizing the contract talks. Streeto explained to his colleagues that he was attempting to lighten the session with some humor, and apoloigized for making a comment which he noted was misunderstood, but out of line.

The contract was approved unanimously.

Locations for Budget Discussions Announced

Mayor Sebastian Giuliano has promised to hold budget discussions with community members, and a schedule of those discussions has just been released. The public is invited to participate in shaping this year's city budget.

BUDGET ROUND TABLE DISCUSSION


March 9, 2009 Cross Street 6-8 p.m.
March 10, 2009 Stoneycrest Towers 12:30 p.m.
March 10, 2009 First Church – John Hall 6-8 p.m.
March 11, 2009 Senior Center 12:30 p.m.
March 16, 2009 Russell Library 6-8 p.m.
March 17, 2009 Inn at Middletown (chamber) 8 a.m.
March 18, 2009 Newfield Towers 10 a.m.
March 18, 2009 South Fire District 6-8 p.m.
March 19, 2009 Westfield – 3rd Cong. Church 6-8 p.m.

Drive-through pharmacy and sober house at P&Z on Wednesday

The Planning and Zoning Commission will hold public hearings at its meeting this week on four different projects (Wednesday, 7PM, Council Chambers). The first two of them are likely to draw considerable comments:
  1. Sober House, 133 S. Main. This project, featured in an earlier Eye piece, is led by Wendi Clark. The house is at the corner of Loveland and South Main. According to the Planning department, the lot is non-conforming as a two family home, in regard to lot area, setbacks, and parking, for the mixed use (MX) zone. The application for this special exception is to allow up to 5 unrelated individuals to live on the first floor, and up to 4 more unrelated individuals to live on the second floor. Concerns have been raised by the Planning department and the Engineering department regarding parking. The plans, aerial photos, and City of Middletown departmental comments are all available for review.
  2. Drive-through pharmacy, corner of Main St. Extension and E. Main St. This will be a Walgreens Pharmacy on the lot formerly occupied by the Shiloh Christian Church, whose destruction was approved by the Design Review and Preservation Board. The Shiloh Christian Church was approved by P&Z in October to build a new church building on Coe Ave and Saybrook Rd. No substantial objections have been raised by the Planning or other City departments to this project. The plans and departmental comments are all available for review.
  3. Proposed amendment to open space plan, to include the Merriam Property (not originally listed on "proposed open space" list). Eye piece.
  4. Home Depot plaza lot subdivision. Plans and comments.

Police Officers Recognized in Series of Awards

Officers from the Middletown Police Department have received, and will receive recognition from a variety of local and state organizations.

On Sunday, February 22, Police Captain Gregory Sneed was honored for his service to the community, along with Councilman Grady Faulkner and Faith Jackson, president of the Middlesex County Board of Directors for the United Way.

On March 7, the Middletown Elks will name Officer Craig Elkins as Officer of the Year.

And on Thursday March 12, Police Chief Lynn Baldoni will receive the Leadership Award in the Annual Officer of the Year Awards Gala sponsored by the Connecticut Association of Women Police. The event will be held at the Farmington Club, on Town Farm Road in Farmington, and tickests are available by calling 860-306-6842 or by email at loisannwack@yahoo.com

Monday, February 23, 2009

Fire Officials Urged to Consider Ambulance Service

At Monday's meeting of the Public Safety Commission, members of the commission in reviewing the proposed budget variations submitted by fire department chief Gary Oullette, suggested that the department consider creating an ambulance service to provide an income stream for the department.

Oullette, in presenting his four budget scenarios demanded by Mayor Sebastian Giuliano of all departments (ideal, level service, level spending, 3% cut), suggested that a 3% cut in budget was impossible.

Commission member David Bauer suggested that the Common Council would be asking "hard questions" of all departments and that department heads, like the chief should be ready with real answers if a 3% cut is needed across the board.

Commission Chair Bob Santangelo suggested resurrecting an idea which has been around for at least 10 years, an ambulance service run by the Fire Department. The Fire Deparment currently has an EMT service which costs money, according to Oulette, but an anbulance service would make money, according to the chief.

Deputy Chief Robert Kronenberger, who wrote a study about creating a public ambulance service 5 years ago, suggested that it would take 5-10 years before such a service would show a positive revenue stream after start-up costs were covered.

Other obstacles stand in the way of creating an ambulance service. The town's only state-registered ambulance service is Hunter Ambulance, and the city would need to convince state authorities that an additional service was necessary.

Oullette, who initially said he was reluctant to make reports for the sake of making reports, agreed with the commission to explore the idea.

Police Chief Baldoni Plans to Retire July 1

Mayor Sebastian Giuliano confirmed rumors that Police Chief Lynn Baldoni has told him that she plans to retire at the completion of her contract on July 1. He said he has not yet received a official follow-up letter of her intent to retire.

Rumors have circulated through town that Baldoni would be leaving as part of a group of city employees who have taken an option to retire early, which has been offered by the city, with the incentive that employees would be allowed to remain in the city's HMO for retirement health benefits.

Giuliano said that Baldoni could retire and receive health benefits as defined by her contract.

Giuliano said that the offer to all city employees has been successful in his eyes, and that several employees have already responded to the offer, which has a March 1 deadline.

Giuliano would not confirm the number of employees who have responded, but suggested it was significant. He also could not confirm reports that more than one city director has taken the option to retire. He indicated that the attrition due to retirement would be a benefit to the city in difficult economic times as long as the city did not immediately try to backfill positions which are not immediately necessary.

Week in Preview 2/23 - 2/28 (Part 1)

The Center for the Humanities Spring 09 Lectures series continues this evening (Monday, February 23) at 8 p.m. in The Russell House, 350 High Street. Scheduled to speak is Katherine Maus, James Branch Cabell Professor of Renaissance Literature at the University of Virginia. Professor Maus is the co-editor of "The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Volume 1" (8th edition, 2005), "The Norton Shakespeare" (1997) and the forthcoming " The Oxford English Literary History, 1603-1660." Her talk, titled "Being and Having in Shakespeare's 'Richard II'", is free and open to the public. For more information, call 685-3004.

The Samuel Silipo Lecture Series at Wesleyan welcomes performance artist/ conceptualist/sculptor Dennis Oppenheim on Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. in the CFA Cinema. Oppenheim, whose career spans 4 decades, has become one of the leading figures in "public art", with large-scale works that fuse sculpture and architecture. In the late 1960s, many of his works used his body as the subject (see "Reading Position for Second Degree Burn", 1970, above) or larger installations that utilized wheat fields and snowy tracts of land. Later installations saw the artist working with puppets, building large "outdoor"sculptures, and more. Oppenheim will talk about how his work has developed and how his focus gas changed over the course of his career. The talk is free and open to the public. For more information, call 685-3355. To learn more about Oppenheim, take the time to wander through his website at www.dennis-oppenheim.com.

Mardi Gras, also known as "Fat Tuesday", will be celebrated in Middletown at Public, 337 Main Street. Tuesday Jazz series curator Trevor Davis assures us that there will be masks, beads, costumes, and, best of all, the music will be provided by the Heartbeat Dixieland Jazz Band featuring Bill Logozzo (drums), Bill Sinclair (piano), Art Hovey (bass, tuba), Andy Sherwood (clarinet), Skip Hughes (trombone), and Thomas Brown (trumpet.) Heartbeat DJB is one the area's finer ensembles, with members that are also involved in music education and social action. The party/music goes from 5:30 - 9 p.m. The Tuesday series has become quite popular and this is a night that should not be missed.




Mayor Giuliano to lead community budget conversations

Mayor Giuliano provided details about his plan to get community input about the city budget in an interview with the Eye last week. He said that his office would give a presentation on the budget at community meetings in various locations throughout Middletown in March.  Although the venues are yet to be determined, these meetings would likely occur at Fire Stations, the Library, and with neighborhood associations. 

The mayor has directed department heads to prepare four budget scenarios: 
  1. Department ideal: What the department would like to provide, if there were sufficient funds. Each department head has been asked to provide goals and a justification for this budget scenario.  
  2. Level service: Providing the same services as currently provided. This would require an increase in funding, as the cost of salaries and benefits have risen in the past year.
  3. Level funded: No increase in funding, This would in most cases lead to a decrease in services.  
  4. A 3% decrease from current funding.  All the departments were able to provide this, but they required substantial cuts in city services.
At the same time, the city is estimating how much revenue there will be from property taxes, fees, and state and federal sources.  Tina Gomes, budget analyst in the Mayor's office, said that even with a 3% cut in funding, there likely would still be an increase in taxes, because there are substantial revenue holes to fill.  One of those is the loss of funding from the state, primarily because of a cut in PILOT funding (payments in lieu of taxes). 

Another revenue hole is a result of what the mayor said was irresponsible budgeting by the Common Council in previous years.  Last year the Common Council used over $1 million from the sale of city-owned capital, the Remington Rand building, to pay for operating expenses. This year the city does not have a property to sell, therefore there is $1 million less revenue compared to last year. Last year's budget also did not account for items that in the end were paid for out of the general fund.  The arbitrated and retroactive increase in the police contract was paid for from the City's general fund, as was snow removal ($100,000 was taken from the general fund at the last Council meeting to pay for overtime).  

Giuliano decried the Democrat-controlled Common Council's budget "gimmickry" in establishing the budget last year, saying:
The council seems to look at [the budget] with blinders on.  And that's how you get into the rob-Peter-to-pay-Paul kind of situations. One time infusions of cash to pay operating expenses, yeah it all looks good this year, but you're creating a bunch of problems next year.  ... Next year, fiscal 2011, we got to worry about Aetna going, what kind of impact is that going to have on us? ... To bleed ourselves dry by creating these kind of holes in the budget or raiding the fund balance, you're going to lose the ability to deal with that problem next year.  
Giuliano said that the biggest single item in the budget, the budget for education (about $70 million, in a total budget of $130 million), would be provided by the Board of Education by March 3rd at the latest. He anticipates a budget from the Board of Ed that contains an increase of between 0% and a 2%.  Giuliano expressed his frustration at the lack of transparency by the Board of Education, which has yet to hold any substantive public discussions about their budget (they will be meeting this week to discuss the budget (Tuesday, February 24, 8:15PM)).

Giuliano hopes that a series of community meetings in March will offer residents an opportunity to provide thoughtful input into the budget priorities of the City.  He wants to ensure that the city's budget is not cut to the point that the character of Middletown changes. 

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Giuliano to Run For Re-election

The Middletown Press reported this weekend that Mayor Sebastian Giuliano will seek re-election.

Giuliano, a two-term Republican, ran unopposed in the last election. In November he will be challenged by Democratic candidate, Ron Klattenberg, who is a Common Council member.

Amazing Grace Grinder Fundraiser


From Rochelle Hughes, a report of a fundraiser for the Amazing Grace Food Pantry sponsored by St. Francis of Assisi Church and The Italian American Civic Order.

Middletown Represented at RI Mardi Gras


A contingent of Middletown residents traveled to Cranston Rhode Island Saturday night to celebrate Mardi Gras at the 17th Annual Mardi Gras Ball at Rhodes on the Pawtuxet, a renovated thirties-era ballroom.

Mardi Gras, or fat tuesday, is alternately called Shrove Tuesday, or celebrated in the Caribbean and South America as carnivale. It's the last Tuesday before the Catholic observance of Lent, the 40 days preceding Easter.

In New Orleans, Louisiana, Mardi Gras is famous for parades and weeks of celebration culminating in the final partying on Tuesday (an Eye correspondent regularly attends, and we hope to hear from her). In the Cajun and Creole regions of Southwest Louisiana, the celebration is no less outlandish, but it refers to some of the ancient rituals in a more direct way. For a week prior to Mardi Gras, there are parades, parties and lots of eating and drinking.

The party in Rhode Island stems from a decades long relationship between music promoters in that state, and musicians who have regularly visited. This is the first year that the celebration in Rhode Island actually took place on Mardi Gras weekend. Typically it is too difficult to induce participation by Louisiana bands who can play every night for a week at home.

Saturday, Jeffrey Broussard and his Creole Cowboys led off the evening of dancing with old and new creole and zydeco songs. Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys bookended his performance with altogether different versions of the traditional La Chanson de Mardi Gras. The evening ended with a zydeco blowout delivered by CJ Chenier and the Red Hot Louisiana Band.

Proceeds from the event benefit Very Special Arts Rhode Island, an organization which brings art and arts activities to physically and mentally challenged individuals.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Digging a Bit Deeper

Guitarist Eric Hofbauer, who appears Sunday February 22 at The Russell House as a member of saxophonist Charlie Kohlhase's Quartet, has built quite a resume since setting up shop in Boston a dozen years ago. He's co-founder of the creative music ensemble The Blueprint Project and has recorded with vocalist Rebecca Shrimpton and guitarist Garrison Fewell. Their 2007 duo CD, "The Lady of Khartoum" (Creative Nation Music) is notable for a number of reasons, e.g. the blend of disparate styles such as Persian music, blues, West African music, straight-ahead jazz and the sounds of Sun Ra (truly a musical world of its own.)

Another notable aspect of the recording is that the artists (and label) are donating 10% of the profit from the sales of the CD to Mercy Corps, an Oregon-based relief fund that works throughout the world (in their words) "to alleviate suffering, poverty and oppression by helping people build secure, productive and just communities." Fewell ( a distinguished musician and educator also based in Boston) and Hofbauer have designated their money to go to the Darfur region of Sudan.

As I wrote above, Hofbauer appears with Charlie Kohlhase - the concert takes place at 3 p.m. in The Russell House, 350 High Street. The concert is free and open to the public.

Hofbauer will be back in Connecticut on Saturday March 21 performing not only in a duo setting with Fewell but also with his new group The Infrared Band. They'll be hitting the stage at 8 p.m. in Real Art Ways, 56 Arbor Street in Hartford. The Infrared band is a quartet whose debut CD, "Myth Understanding" (Creative Nations Music) is a band with a good sense of humor as well as great musical intelligence. The CD arrived in my mailbox today and it's low-key yet probing (and challenging) music is quite delightful. Click on the label name above to find out more about the recordings. For information about Real Art Ways, go to www.realartways.org or call 860-232-1006.

Wesleyan Students Assaulted on High Street

This from Wesleyan Public Safety:

Public Safety would like to inform the community that on Friday 2/20/09 at approximately 9:45pm two students were walking in the area of High and Court St when they were approached by four individuals who assaulted one of the students. The suspects then fled the area. The injured student was transported to Middlesex Hospital for treatment

The suspects are described as African-American males in their late teens. Three possible suspects have been detained by Public Safety and Middletown Police.

This incident is under investigation by Wesleyan Public Safety and the Middletown Police. Anyone with any information is asked to call Public Safety at 685-2345 or the Middletown Police at 344-3200.

408 Cold Shoulders


A record 204 brave souls took the frigid plunge into Crystal Lake in Middletown today during the 9th annual Penguin Plunge hosted by the Polish Falcons. There were 38 more taking the dive this year than last. The plunge also drew hundreds of less brave onlookers to the event which is an annual fundraiser for the Special Olympics.

Among the celebrity plungers were Connecticut State Attorney General Richard Blumenthal and Middletown Deputy Police Chief McMahon Patrick McMahon.
video

Rice: Funny, Moving, Beautiful and Edifying






When I covered the delivery of 4,000 pounds of rice for Wesleyan's most recent installation of Feet to the Fire, Stan's Cafe, Of All the People in the World, USA. I was, frankly, skeptical that piles of rice, representing world statistics, could actually be "art" worth considering.

I was wrong.

I attended the opening of the installation Friday, and was immediately struck by the simple beauty of the piles of rice, where each kernel represents a single human being, spread on a gallery floor, on white sheets of paper containing compelling statistics.

The first two piles of rice you encounter in the exhibit are one which represents "All the people in the world who died today," juxtaposed with the second pile which represents "All the people in the world who were born today."

(Actress and docent, Charlotte Gregory, of Birmingham England, attends a stray grain on a pile of rice.)


The piles of rice, attended by actors in the role of docents, who measure (each pound of rice contains 27,263 grains), assemble and tidy the piles of rice, are spread through the Zilkha Gallery. Others, mainly with historical statistical significance, can be found at the Olin Library on campus. Several other smaller installations will appear throughout the campus, and the city over the 12 run of the installation. And local restaurants have been cajoled into serving special rice dishes in conjunction with the exhibit.

(Wesleyan professor and Feet to the Fire director, Barry Chernoff, and Stan's Cafe director, and creator of Of All the People in the World, James Yarker.)

Statistics for the Wesleyan presentation of the exhibit were compiled by Wesleyan biology professor Barry Chernoff's students in an introductory biology and environmental science course. Eleven thousand pounds of rice will be used in the display, all of which will be re-bagged and donated to local charities and soup kitchens.

The simple beauty of the rice piles is framed by the statistics, which can make the piles seem awesome in the way they reveal numbers - McDonald's customers served in the USA today, or hilarious in their perspective - a single rice grain on a sheet of paper and the caption Morgan Spurlock (the director of Supersize Me).

The piles can also have a big emotional impact, as with the piles which represent all the people who died in the Holocaust, or the one which illustrates all the people who heard Martin Luther King's "I have a dream," speech, which is complete with a representation of the reflecting pool (more on that later).

Some of the piles are whimsical, such as The Hartford Symphony Orchestra, positioned on its sheet of paper like a conductor and and an orchestra, while some are instructive as the large pile which illustrates all the people in Connecticut who drive alone to work and some is shockingly tragic as is the enormous pile which represents all Americans without health insurance.

"I created the piece because I wanted to understand my place in the world, and who I share the world with," explained James Yarker, director of Stan Cafe, and creator of the piece. "I can take one grain of rice in my hand and say, 'That's me.'"

In fact, Yarker explained that people often find themselves in the show, but not quite so explicitly as one woman who approached him at a show in New York and claimed she had found herself. Yarker acknowledged the woman's claim, but she was insistent that she show Yarker the pile which she inhabited. She walked with Yarker to the pile which represented the Martin Luther King speech on the mall in Washington DC and she told Yarker she was there.

"'I was standing right next to the reflecting pool,' she told me," Yarker said. "But the remarkable thing was that she told me she had fallen into the reflecting pool, and she pointed to our exhibit pile, where a single grain of rice had fallen into our representation of that pool. She said, 'There. That's me.'"

The exhibit continues through March 3, and admission is free and open to the public. The gallery will hold family workshops on Sunday February 22, and Sunday March 1, during which parents and children will learn about compiling statistics, and how to measure and display those statistics with rice.

Friday, February 20, 2009

From the Atlantic to the Pacific in Middletown

I thought it was going to be a quiet evening, till Masselli emailed to remind me about our weekly martini get together (a tradition that is only a few weeks old - but it was my turn to buy, and Masselli wasn't about to let me off the hook). Tonight, for starters, we checked out the hot new restaurant and jazz club, Fishbone Café on Court Street. The interior of the bar and restaurant downstairs is low-key impressive, and the owners Ted Tine and Rosie Prue have also put in a cool club room upstairs for jazz and blues performances. I am definitely looking forward to the music scene there. And when the weather warms up, there are also decks upstairs and down for outside lounging. Apparently a 'Tiki Bar' is also in the offing. Should be loads of fun. And the front of the restaurant, facing Court Street, has a retractable garage door that will open the interior onto the sidewalk in pleasant weather. A well-thought-out design.

We had some nice martinis, and to top things off we tried the conch fritters - a recipe that Tine brought up from Key West. Delectable. We looked at the menu too, even though I was soon due at home. The meals look fabulous, and I cannot wait to return. For those of you who prefer land animals or vegetable fare, there are lots of options from above sea level. Here's their website, some of which is still under construction.

By now the place was starting to fill up with the dinner crowd. Just before we left we ran into some friends who had already heard exciting things about the menu (the place has only been open a few days, so news travels fast!). On our way out, Masselli insisted that I see the new interior of Mikado (on Melilli Plaza, between Court and Washington). My protests notwithstanding, in we went. Unbelievable! Hard to believe that we are in a depression (okay okay, recession), what with all these sleek new nightlife options. Mikado's renovation is lovely: new stone work on the walls, tile on the floor, the water streaming down the stone facing in the entrance, and the plant life beneath the floor. So Masselli insisted we try the Sushi bar and some warm sake. Well, I'm a sucker for sake. We also tried the firehouse rolls and the California rolls. Both were excellent, but the firehouse (with Tuna) were, frankly, to die for. Absolutely mouth-watering. You can check out the menu and some images on their current website. And we had a nice chat with Bob, the owner, who regaled us with stories of his three-month renovation. (Believe me Bob, I can relate: we've been renovating our house for ten years now, with no end in sight.)

A great night out from coast to coast in Central Connecticut.

On the Town (Friday through Sunday)

From six-strings to life-size puppets to contemporary creative music, there's much to see and do in Middletown this weekend.

Today at 5 p.m., attend the opening of "Stan's Cafe: Of All the People in All the World, USA", the new performance art/installation at the Zilkha Gallery (there is also a part of the installation in the lobby of Olin Library, Church Street.) To read more about the event, click here for a previous EYE posting or go to www.wesleyan.edu/feettothefire.

The appropriately-named Arlene WOW! returns to The Buttonwood Tree tonight at 7:30 p.m. The New Haven native is a singer-songwriter who slowly but steadily has been making inroads into the national music scene. Her songs speak of love won and lost, of the ups-and-downs of everyday life, and dreams of a better times. To get a taste of her music, go to www.arlenewow.com.

Besides the Greater Middletown Chorale Winter Choral Festival (read about it here), one can choose to go to The Buttonwood to hear the Collin Wade Quartet. The Colchester native, currently attending Western Connecticut State University (whose jazz studies program is the equal of many major schools), is a alto saxophonist with a "sweet"tone and an intelligent approach to creative music. Joining him will be Eric Laursen (guitar), Jake Habegger (drums) and Ian Tait (bass) - the rhythm section has worked together in the post-modern rock band The Files and Fires. The music starts at 7:30 p.m. Click here to get a sample of Wade's fine saxophone work.

The picture at the top of the posting shows the Awaji Puppet Theater Company preparing for a performance. The Company, who practices the ancient from of Japanese puppet theater developed on the island of Awaji, is in the midst of a North American tour and will perform on Saturday and Sunday at 8 p.m. in the World Music Hall, Wyllys Avenue. With elaborate costumes and precise movements, the APTC tell stories that range from comedic to tragic, from love to sorrow. As you can see from the photo, it takes several people to manipulate the largeLink puppets. For ticket information, call 685-3355 or go online to www.wesleyan.edu/cfa. Click here to see a video of the Company's tour.

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On Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m., The Russell House Music Series presents saxophonist Charlie Kohlhase in concert. A mainstay of the Boston creative music scene, Kohlhase is proficient on alto, tenor and baritone saxophones and has worked with the Either/Orchestra, Wesleyan Professor Anthony Braxton's Genome Project and Wesleyan graduate Matt Steckler's Dead Cat Bounce. He also had led his own groups for the past 2 decades and has issued 7 CDs as a leader. Joining Kohlhase will be guitarist Eric Hofbauer, bassist Jef Charland and drummer Mike Connors. The Russell House is located at 350 High Street and, as always, the event is free and open to the public. To find out more about Charlie Kohlhase, go to www.charliekohlhase.com.