Looking Back at 2012, part 4

By Steve Smith - Staff Writer
Vernon/Ellington/Tolland - posted Thu., Jan. 3, 2013
UConn women's basketball associate coach Chris Dailey addresses the Tolland County Chamber of Commerce. File photos.
UConn women's basketball associate coach Chris Dailey addresses the Tolland County Chamber of Commerce. File photos.

Fall means kids head back to school, and in Vernon the fall of 2012 marked the beginning of many changes, as part of complying with the state Board of Education's Alliance District plan. The transformation model the district is following included a math interventionist as well as teacher coaches at several schools, which would remain there through the grant period, but then sunset at the end of the Alliance grant period as the schools strengthen.

“What we're choosing to do is to build capacity within our district to do the work ourselves,” said Superintendent Mary Conway. “Those coaches, hopefully, will build our capacity to do the work ourselves, and we won't need them in five years.”

The Ellington Board of Education had to make a last-minute adjustment to accommodate a summer increase in student population, and shifted a teacher from third grade to fourth at Windermere school. “It's not an ideal solution,” said Superintendent Stephen Cullinan. “If we had a classroom, I would say to the board that we have to hire another teacher, but we just don't have the space right now.”

The Vernon Community Arts Center had an exhibition by the winners of the first open art show. Jennifer Wheeler, from Salem, won the Best in Show award. Her exhibit, aptly titled, “Wonderland Circus,” combines the world of “Alice in Wonderland” with that of a circus.

“This is the body of work that I've been obsessed with for the last, probably 10 years,” Wheeler said. “I put patterned fabric on the ground and then I place my sculptures on the fabric; then I light them. I sit there at my easel and paint them. I work from direct observation and I do impose my own color harmonies.”

In September, the Vernon Town Council voted to appropriate $75,000 to winterize the now defunct Amerbelle factory, as a temporary measure to preserve the property and keep local residents safe. In October, the building was transferred to Bridgepoint Funding Alliance, LLC, who were said to be “experienced developers, familiar with adaptive reuse projects of this magnitude.”

Economic Development Coordinator Shaun Gately said there is not yet an indication of what Bridgepoint will do with the property. “This is step ‘point one’ in a long list of things that will need to be done,” he said.

“This security is not going to be just nailing up plywood,” said Mayor George Apel. “It's going to be a lot more than that.”

The Community School program at Maple Street School increased its capacity, doubling the number of days and increasing its hours. Principal Lois Possell said the continued focus will be on assessing the needs of families in the Maple Street Community, in order to see positive effects on student learning, and the hope is that the idea will spread to other schools. “I think it has such tremendous potential, not for just this part of town, but for the whole town,” Possell said.

In Ellington, the Opening Knight Players took a worldly view at cultural differences by performing “Stone Girls Dreaming” by Lisa Railsback, which takes place in the midst of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Director/advisor William Prenetta said the play is non-partisan and portrays how the conflict shapes the actions of two teen girls. “It's been great for our kids to learn about different cultures,” he said.

UConn Huskies women's basketball associate coach Chris Dailey, who is also an Ellington resident, talked to the members of the Tolland County Chamber of Commerce at its annual meeting. Dailey said that her experiences managing a championship team can relate to the business world. “You have to start with good people,” she said. “I don't think you can have a successful business unless you have good people, and unless you go out and find people that fit you.”

The area missed another disaster like the previous fall, as hurricane-then-storm Sandy came through the area. But it was limited to a few downed trees and utility wires. Ellington only had minor damage, while Vernon had more-widespread incidents.

“The real challenge during this storm was the high winds,” said Vernon Emergency Operations Director Michael Purcaro. “There were times when the winds were gusting and it wouldn't be safe to send out a vehicle.” Tolland was the hardest hit town in the area, with more than 50 percent of homes without power for days afterward.

“We are doing a road assessment of the entire town to identify low-hanging wires, which may impact the passage of school buses and public safety equipment,” said Town Manager Steven Werbner, just two days after the storm.

Several fall sports teams made it to the state tournaments. The Tolland and Ellington boys' soccer teams each lasted through to the Class M quarterfinals. Ellington/Somers football posted another fantastic season with a 9-1 record, but dropped a first-round tourney game.

The Ellington girls' soccer team edged Tolland in a second-round game that came down to penalty kicks, but just missed a win in the quarterfinal match. Ellington coach Jeff Hostetler said he was pleased with the team's season and record success in the tournament. “It's kind of like a Cinderella story,” he said. ”They play hard, but who in their brackets had Ellington going to the quarter-finals... except me?”

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