Author: Michaela Fissel

I am a mother, wife, and activist who is dedicated to empowering human being to recognize their potential and achieve their individual greatness.

Kids and drugs – are we doing enough?


Yesterday the Windsor Board of Education (BoE) Curriculum Committee met.  During this meeting I once again raised the issue of whether or not we are addressing substance abuse prevention in 11th and 12th grade.  I asked this question in response to the finding that our curriculum review schedule was missing 11th and 12th grade health.

Unfortunately, the BoE President, Cristina Santos, attempted to block the conversation, stating, “we spent enough time on this issue last year.”  I would argue that last year there was not a public outcry for addressing the heroin epidemic.  Last year our state did not have hundreds overdosing within the first two months of the year, with many teens dying as a result of opioid misuse.  In our town alone, we have lost young people to opioid overdose death in the past 12 months.

Here is my position on the topic, you decide as to whether or not we should be having the conversation, or at least why someone would think it’s a bad idea:

Teen alcohol and other drug use is increasing at an alarming rate across Connecticut.  It seems like every day there is another obituary in my news feed for a young person who has lost their life to addiction. In my very own hometown I have lost 9 peers as a result of substance misuse in the past 11 years.

Despite the growing rate of drug abuse and dependence amongst young people, Connecticut school districts continue to provide inadequate instruction on substance abuse prevention – ignoring state laws (G.S. 10-19) that require students receive this life-saving information.

Roughly 1 out of 10 Connecticut high school students engage in illicit drug use on a regular basis, ranging from marijuana to crack cocaine and heroin (National Survey on Drug Use and Health).  While, 27.1% of high schools students were offered, sold, or given an illegal drug on school property (Connecticut School Health Survey).  Substance use during adolescence has been strongly associated with the incidence of life-long chronic dependence.

As a person who survived addiction, I have asked my friends, “why did you leave me at a time in my life that I needed you the most?” Their response, “I was scared and I didn’t know how to help.”  It is unacceptable that our young people do not have the information that they need to offer guidance as someone they love risks incarceration, institutionalization, or death.

Over the past 5 years I have asked hundreds of young people who are in recovery across the state of Connecticut, “what can we do to improve outcomes in the area of behavioral health?” and the most frequent suggestion has been to teach about mental health and substance abuse in high school.

While looking into this recommendation I have found that the majority of school districts across Connecticut are out of compliance with Connecticut General Statute Sec. 10-19, which requires that every student be taught the knowledge, skills, and attitudes needed to understand and avoid the effects of alcohol and other drugs.  In addition, this statute mandates that every local and regional board of education attest annually to the Commissioner of Education that all students have received this instruction through a planned, ongoing, and systematic program.

To assist districts, the State of Connecticut Department of Education (SDE), not surprisingly, has developed a highly sophisticated set of standards for covering the topic of alcohol and drug use through district level health curriculum.  The SDE has outlined these standards in the Healthy and Balanced Living Curriculum Framework, which is aligned with the National Health Education Standards set by the Federal Government.

This means that Physical Education (P.E.) teachers are responsible for covering the topic in gym class or other health related courses such as weight training.  While we can see that there is multilevel alignment, an oversight has been made.

How so?  Well, students are only required to take 1.5 credits of P.E., meaning that during their senior year students often opt out of P.E. to take courses that are of greater interest to them.  This is where my concern heightens.

Adolescence is a critically important time for students as they prepare to take on adult responsibilities and consequences – yet our students are potentially not receiving the information that they need to make informed decisions about substance use.  All the while the opportunity to use drugs doubles and first time drug use quadruples between freshmen and senior year (Swedsen, J., et al., Archives of General Psychiatry).

I cannot even begin to imagine how many futures can be saved by providing the information they are entitled to receive while going through school.

Yesterday, I brought this specific this topic up for consideration during the curriculum committee meeting, and Mrs. Santos’ response was that “all districts” are out of compliance.  That is a false statement.  Our district was out of compliance with the law until last year when I raised the issue.  This year I was simply following up because there was a discrepancy in the curriculum review schedule that was presented yesterday.

I believe that it is completely without our prevue as a Board of Education to discuss matters that are impacting our student body, and it would be an appropriate conversation to begin within the curriculum committee given that there is a law that requires that we include substance use in our curriculum.  Specifically, G.S. 10-19 includes, “The content and scheduling of instruction [on substance use] shall be within the discretion of the local or regional board of education.”

To be clear, I asked yesterday for a conversation – I asked for us to take a look at how substance use education is embedded into the curriculum from kindergarten through grade 12.  I asked for assurance that this information was being delivered in a developmentally appropriate way through scaffolding.  This is not to micromanage the teachers, this is to ensure that our children are receiving the lifesaving information that we are required, by law, to teach.  Why am I being blocked?


1 out of 10 high school students have used an illicit drug ranging from marijuana to crack cocaine and heroin (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2014). National Surveys on Drug Use and Health: Model-Based Estimated Totals, NSDUH Series H-43, HHS Publication No. (SMA) 12-4703. Table C.8, C.21, C.22. Rockville, MD).

The opportunity to use drugs doubles and first time drug use quadruples between freshman year of high school and senior year (Swedsen, J., et al., Archives of General Psychiatry).

There is an upward trend in the non-medical use of prescription opioids, including Oxytocin and Percocet, between 8th and 12th Grade (Johnston, L. D., O’Malley, P. M., Miech, R. A., Bachman, J. G., & Schulenberg, J. E. (2016). Monitoring the Future national survey results on drug use, 1975-2015: Overview, key findings on adolescent drug use. Ann Arbor: Institute for Social Research, The University of Michigan).

27.1% of high schools students were offered, sold, or given an illegal drug on school property (Connecticut Department of Public Health. (2013) Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance – Connecticut: Components of the Connecticut School Health Survey).

5% of 12-17 year olds in Connecticut reported recreational use of prescription pain relievers (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2014). National Surveys on Drug Use and Health: Model-Based Estimated Totals, NSDUH Series H-43, HHS Publication No. (SMA) 12-4703. Table C.8, C.21, C.22. Rockville, MD).

By the age of 25, two out of three have used an illicit drug ranging from marijuana to crack cocaine and heroin (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2014). National Surveys on Drug Use and Health: Model-Based Estimated Totals, NSDUH Series H-43, HHS Publication No. (SMA) 12-4703. Table C.8, C.21, C.22. Rockville, MD).

Despite Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) being deemed a failed prevention program through a 20 year longitudinal study and independent two meta-analysis, DARE continues to be implemented throughout districts (Join Together (2007). Prevention Education in America’s Schools: Findings and recommendations from a survey of educators)

It has been found that school districts should not be the principal providers of general prevention education, but should partner with other social institutions and parents to develop and implement comprehensive community prevention strategies (Ashlery, R. S. et. al. (1998). Drug Abuse Prevention Through Family Interventions. IDA Research Monograph 177.)

Suggested topics for a harm reduction approach to drug abuse prevention:

  • History of human drug consumption
  • Commonly taken drugs and their effects
  • Purposes for which drugs are consumed
    • Drugs as a response to adolescent angst
    • Alternatives to drug consumption
  • Hazards of any drug consumption and means of risk-reduction, including
    • Self-assessment of risk
    • Personal rules related to drug taking behavior
  • Drug dependence
    • Its extent, nature, impact, and treatment.

(Nickolson, T. et. al. (2013). Focusing on abuse, not use, in drug education)



With Humility and Gratitude


Dear Mrs. Santos,

It is with the utmost gratitude for the educators and families of Windsor that I would encourage us to re-watch the full board meeting and reflect with openness on the statements shared, and undertones taken. (Watch board meeting here:, budget discussion begins at 00:40:00)

For the record, the Republican Caucus of the  Windsor Board of Education does not support homogenous grouping.

We have moved beyond the interpersonal conflict that was so pervasive in past terms and have come to the current term with humility and gratitude – with a solution focused perspective that is centered in possibilities.

Furthermore, no one on the Board is here for any other reason than to promote an educational system within our district that  fosters an equitable opportunity for achieving the genius and full potential of every student.

As we requested during the budget process, we ask that whole-class leveled instruction strictly for Grades 3-5 in the subjects of ELA and Math, along with grades 6-8 ELA, Math, Science, and Social Studies be considered.

We can have a discussion on research based  models for leveled instruction at a later during a full board meeting, with possible action to refer to curriculum committee for further consider, as I am fully aware that models are in existence, such as the

Although, the 3 student per level model is clearly not an efficient approach and so that is why we have asked for whole class leveled instruction.  It would be anticipated that differentiation would still occur through this model because of the unique developmental, instructional, and social-emotional needs that every student possess as human beings.

I have attached the language submitted for consideration during the budget process that speaks to what we, as a caucus, requested.  I would note that we could have included our intention to promote ongoing systematic assessment and data driven movement between levels within the document, and for that we opened ourselves to criticism.

We recognize that, as it was agreed upon across multiple board members at the last meeting, consistent movement between levels coupled with strong oversight of multiple demographic indicators will be of critical importance.

As it is described, leveled instruction allows for the scaffolding of knowledge and the movement of students along a continuum that is tailored as the best fit for their instructional needs – true individualized learning.

Thank you very much for taking the time to read through, and consider, the content of this email.

With Respect,

Michaela I. Fissel

Member, Windsor Board of Education


On Feb 19, 2016, at 12:37 AM, Santos, Cristina <> wrote:

Mrs. Rizzo-Holmes,

I am writing this evening to share my concern about your insinuation, on camera conveniently, that I share any affiliation to the concept Homogeneous Grouping of our elementary children. Additionally, I am writing to caution you and your caucus, that you not attempt to spin any comments, sentiments and/or convictions that I hold. I will not allow you, or your caucus, to put words in my mouth ever again. Furthermore, I have a right to my opinion and should I desire to share it, I will speak for myself. Hence, this public email, given FOIA, is to set the record straight on your statement of 2/17/16 during the Regular Meeting of the Board inferring that I have ‘changed my position’.

For the record, I have never, nor will I ever, support Homogeneous Grouping as has been championed by Minority Leader Paul Panos during his entire time as a member of the Windsor Board of Education. At no time ever as an elected official, since November 2007, have I agreed, publicly or privately, with this archaic and discriminatory practice. Let me remind you the last time you and members of your caucus were in my home, 3/16/14, the ferocious, heated argument at my dining room table where I adamantly, unequivocally, stated I would have nothing to do with, ever, the concept of Homogeneous Grouping. I have not “changed my position”. Last night you attempted to spin I previously supported Homogeneous Grouping. Not a chance!

I have shared and spoken in support before, by example, my children’s time at OE and their reading program called SFA. It was, from a parent perspective, a reading model that my children did well under. Perhaps other parents did not feel the same way. But, that was a small portion of their time during the school day. And let’s be clear, all classrooms were heterogeneously grouped to ensure balance by gender, race, ethnicity while still accounting for Special Education inclusion. That SFA model worked well during the late 90’s, early 2000’s for the student population at the time. Those are not the children we have today, and that model has long since passed its’ prime. Luckily, for today’s children Education is not stagnant. And, our children are lucky to have a comprehensive Multi-Tiered Support System developed by our district leadership that will ensure their needs are met both in academic and social/emotional areas.

Your model, as described and explained throughout this budget process by Mr. Panos, is taking an entire grade level (example given was 6 classes), and leveling children into three groups (audio 2/2/16) putting these children together as a classroom. In my opinion, that is not acceptable.

It has become abundantly clear that you like to “attack me” for any/all comments I make. Last month, you jumped all over me when I made a statement that during the Finance Committee Meeting of January 11, which lasted 1:30:23, no objection was put forth regarding Budget Assumption #12, line #2. The fact is that not a single comment was made by yourself, or any Republican, on Budget Assumption #12, line #2 at the January 11 Finance Committee Meeting, which was specifically added to review the budget assumption document. Your comeback at me was again playing spin for the cameras. Next time, do committee work in committee, that is why we are a committee of nine!

I don’t “flip-flop” on my convictions, but I do wear flip-flops to the beach. The next time you attempt to put words in my mouth, or speak for me, I will immediately call you to task, on camera or otherwise. STOP playing political games!

Instead, use your energy toward helping all of Windsor’s children.

Mrs. Santos

Cristina Santos

President- Windsor Board of Education

An Honest Look at Literacy

It is no secret that I have publically criticized the educational system of Windsor for continuing to allow at least 20% of our students to remain underperforming in reading across assessments year after year. Whether we are looking at the DRA, DRP, MAP, STAR, CAPT, CMT, SBAC or any other number of educational alphabet soup acronyms that are used to measure student achievement, it is more than clear that there is a systemic gap in our approach to addressing the literacy needs of 1 out of 5 students.

Since beginning my tenure on the Board of Education, I have repeatedly asked what we can do to provide targeted interventions that are appropriately tailored to the unique instructional and developmental needs of our students so that they can move forward to achieve their full potential.

As I stated during the special meeting of October 14, 2014, “of those 30% of [high school] students [who enter the high school significantly behind in reading], how many of those students were potentially identified below level before 3rd grade?”

Over the past three years it has become blatantly apparent that when I ask direct questions about the significant number of students who are below standard in reading, I am met with a cautionary statement against relying on the tests used to assess achievement. This is attributed to the fact that every few years the assessment tools used to measure achievement are changed. For example, Windsor no longer uses MAP testing. However, just two years ago, the Windsor Board of Education received a comprehensive presentation on the use of MAP as the new and upcoming assessment for accurately measuring student achievement.

In addition, factors such as free and reduced lunch, the transient nature of our families, and even special education status have been used by fellow board members as limitations when we discuss student achievement. I am the first to state that these factors need to be considered when tailoring interventions because students are complex people who exists between multiple contexts.

However, looking back it really just felt like a ploy to distract from the facts, given that we don’t actually have meaningful conversations about how these factors are impacting our students. What we are left with, is a significant body of students who are not being afforded the opportunity to access the curriculum in a way that would enable them to perform at the expected level.

Take for example the fact that during the 13/14 school year 28.8% of students in 3rd grade were below standard on their MAP – Reading assessment, while this same 3rd grade class, just a year prior, had 29.8% of their students below standard. How much longer are we going to allow such a significant number of our students to begin their lives with such a deficit?

Consider that if just 20% of our most recent graduates from the class of 2015 left our school below grade level, we are sending just about 57 people into our community without a proper education. That is scary to me, and it should provide a catalyst for us to come together and have a honest conversations about what is happening in our district.

Given what I have shared with you in this post, you can only imagine what I must have felt like as I read through the Literacy Improvement Plan that was presented to us during the Curriculum Committee meeting yesterday evening. The Literacy Improvement Plan is a detailed document that described the history of literacy within our district over the past half-decade, an overview of where literacy stands today, the current delivery of instruction and personnel, a set of goals and an action plan, and even a series of recommendations. The document itself is clearly academically focused and research driven.

As I stated to Bonnie Fineman, the Director of Arts and Humanities for the Windsor Public School System, I nearly cried as I read through the document because I am so incredibly grateful to finally have someone understand that I’m not calling to question individuals’ commitment to addressing this issue, I’m simply attempting to begin an honest and open dialogue about the fact that we have a significant number of students who remain underperforming year after year in the area of reading.

I look forward to hearing more about the Literacy Improvement Plan at the upcoming February 17th Full Board Meeting. I am confident that the team that Ms. Fineman has put together will bring a level of openness on the issue of literacy that I personally have been waiting for since my election.

Thoughts On The Budget – Share Now Through This Survey

WINDSOR Residents: Share your thoughts on the budget through this ANONYMOUS survey:

DISCLAIMER: The bloggers of WindsorRights did not make the survey. We are passing this survey along at the request of a bipartisan group of concerned citizens. This survey does not guarantee that your feedback will be considered for making adjustments to the budget. It is hoped that the results will be considered by elected officials. This is anonymous and therefore will have lower credibility and there will be an increased likelihood that those opposing a truly democratic process will dismiss any findings as lacking merit. If you feel that you would like to ensure that our Windsor Officials know how you feel – you can share your perspective at tomorrow’s Special Meeting on the Budget. Just kidding, the Town Council will not have a section for public comment so this is probably your only chance to let them know where you’d prefer to see cuts.

If you’d like to share your ideas with the members of the Windsor Town Council directly you can email

To PreK Or Not To PreK – That Is NOT The Question

There have been an increasing number of rumors that the District received a grant that will cover the cost associated with re-opening Roger Wolcott and expanding preschool here in Windsor. Let me assure you – that is false.

Before I continue, I believe that it is important to preface this post by stating that at this time the BoE has not voted to accept the grant, has received very little information as to how the district will proceed with the expansion, and has no information on the needs of our district besides what the State Office of Early Childhood (OEC) has provided as justification for including Windsor as an eligible district for the Smart Start Grant (SSG). (more…)

Say it with me now… “SHAD DERBY”

Despite the weather, it is starting to feel like that time of the year again – Shad Derby time!

There are a number of events and fundraisers scheduled over the next few months in preparation for Saturday, May 16th. The Windsor Shad Fest Bureau has clearly been quite busy given the calendar of activities provided on their website. To learn more about upcoming opportunities to contribute to the big day, go to:

At this point you might be wondering why I am so excited about the Shad Derby Festival. Well, how could I not be? I have been attending Windsor’s Shad Derby Festival for as long as I can remember and now I get to bring my own children to experience the day. Each year I sit back and recall the memories of the parade, fried dough, winning a gold fish, running into so many friends and neighbors that I can barely keep track, and the various moments of joy when I have made a new discovery amongst the hustle and bustle.

Most importantly, as a kid I remember that each year the Shad Derby marked one month until the end of school. There would always be a buzz around the hallways as we decided whose house we would meet up at.  While also debating as to whether we would go to the parade or if we were too old. More often than not the parade was a must because it was exciting to watch the Shriners in their little cars and listen to the marching bands fill the air with music. It’s funny how I can still recall running into my mom just before the parade started and she would always remind me to put on more sunscreen.

Considering everything in the parade, I would definitely have to say that the Shad Derby Queen candidates being driven in the beautiful cars will always be a sweet memory. Growing up in town I was always mesmerized by the idea that here in Windsor we actually have pageant queens. Little old Windsor was cool enough to not only have a festival, but also we have queens. Interestingly enough, our very own Melissa Rizzo Holmes was a Shad Derby queen candidate. You don’t believe me? Here’s the proof:

So, as I wrap up this post up, I will end with this… is this year going to be the year that the dunk tank finally comes back?

Do you have a Shad Derby memory? SHARE BELOW IN THE COMMENT SECTION!

Reduction in Paraprofessionals

In regards to the Superintendent’s proposed budget for the 2015-2016 school year (, I appreciate the extra time and care that was put into creating the document. I consider it to be more informative than the 2014-2015 proposed and adopted budget that we are currently operated within.

It must have taken more time for the Superintendent, Business Manager, and others involved in the process to make changes in how the budget is presented, while also providing a greater amount of information to the public.

Before we get into the more challenging areas of the budget – I am grateful for the opportunity to review the document. It has been a positive experience discussing the details with everyone who has been involved. (more…)