NORWALK, Conn. — A redesign of the teaching structure at Norwalk’s middle schools should save the city $745,000 in next year’s budget, Norwalk Public Schools Chief Financial Officer Thomas Hamilton said.
This was discovered in the process of getting ready to switch to student-based budgeting, Hamilton told Common Council members Tuesday.
“Unlike most districts, where you would normally expect to spend the least amount of money at the elementary level, the middle school level, and the most at the high school level, where the high schools have the most comprehensive program with more electives and so on and so forth, we found that we had a quite unusual situation here in that we were spending more at the middle school level than at the high school level,” Hamilton said.
“The superintendent has assigned Dr. (NPS Chief Academic Officer Michael) Conner to develop a middle school redesign that will generate savings of $745,000,” Hamilton said. “That equates to a bit less than $200,000 for each middle school.”
The software that has been budgeted, to be paid for by grants, will help with that effort, Conner said.
“Our greatest area of concern is the middle schools,” Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski said, referring to the “internal achievement gap.”
Data shows that students close the gap between kindergarten and fifth grade but then level out in middle school, he said.
The plan is to design something that is both better programmatically and more cost effective, he said.
“We think that both can be achieved,” Adamowski said.
Council President Bruce Kimmel (D-At Large), a retired teacher, asked how the middle schools could be spending more.
“I can’t image how that would happen,” Kimmel said.
“It has,” Adamowski said. “Part of it, we think, is the fact that we are in a horizontal team structure in all of the middle schools.”
There are grade level teams with the result that middle school teachers teach one less period a day than their counterparts in elementary school and high school, Adamowski said. There’s a personal planning period and then team period for team planning, he said.
“Some of that gets done, but it hasn’t been a robust process,” Adamowski said. “So there is less teaching per teacher at the middle school level. Then we have other design issues n terms of how time is used. I think as Dr. Conner looked at middle schools, we see a lot of wasted time. We see the need to restructure time. We should be able as a school district to offer a good middle school program somewhere between the cost of our current elementary school program and our current high school program.”
This would be efficient and data based, he said, adding, “That is not to say there are not wonderful things happening at each one of our middle schools, but that is where the gap is most resistant to education in our school system because of the dip that takes place in fifth and sixth grade and doesn’t quite recover in seventh and eighth grade years.”