NORWALK, Conn. – Marching orders have again been laid out by the Norwalk Board of Education, in hopes of duplicating the success it has declared in its 2016-17 score card.
“This is year two of our three-year Strategic Operating Plan,” Board Chairman Mike Lyons said at Tuesday’s BoE meeting. “You start from the 10,000-foot level and try to work down to the details. This is very detailed. We have 28 goals for the year and 10 priority outcomes. It’s a lot of stuff for our staff to work on but as we said last year, I think we got 23.5 out of 25 targets accomplished which is a pretty good success rate. These kinds of things stretch us but it’s good to stretch, good to challenge yourself and try to bring these things in.”
The Board’s Priority Implementation Steps for 2017-18 were laid out at the Sept. 5 BoE meeting and received unanimous approval Tuesday.
1. Increase high school graduation requirements to 26 credits; redesign program of study.
This would depend on more funding to the high schools, Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski said on Sept. 5, as it hinges on eliminating study halls.
Study halls have been reduced this year due to financial support from the city, and with continued funding they can be eliminated next year, he said. This would bring Norwalk in alignment with the graduation requirements of most of its neighbors.
2. In partnership with the University of Connecticut National Center for Gifted Education, redesign “Academically Talented” program to reflect best practice, equity and cost-effectiveness based on student need.
“This program is going to need a lot of redesign and revision, starting with the way we identify students, which is very outdated and biased,” Adamowski said on Sept. 5, and on Tuesday, he elaborated to say that NPS administrators met with Joseph Renzulli and Sally Reis, experts in the field of gifted education.
“We learned so much from them in the course of a couple of hours, there is a lot of work to be done here. They cringed when they found we were using an instrument to identify students that was developed by a psychologist in 1965, that has since been highly discredited,” Adamowski said.
By contrast, Renzulli’s Schoolwide Enrichment Model (SEM) is “designed to increase the number of students who can participate in the gifted program and use the gifted program as a means of developing talent, not just recognizing talent that already exists,” Adamowski said, explaining that he intends to bring SEM here.
NPS will work with a consultant to develop a new gifted program this year, he said.
3. Implement ‘Phase II’ of Middle School Redesign; develop and plan Phase III.
This will deal with issues that are “peripheral” but not unimportant, Adamowski said on Sept. 5.
“Middle schools are off to a great start,” he said. “I really expected that we would have much more confusion, much more concern with going to the block schedules in 7th and 8th grade, there’s very little if any.”
“There is a great deal that is going well but teachers have some serious concerns district-wide related to the school redesign,” Norwalk Federation of Teachers (NFT) First Vice President Joe Giandurco said Tuesday, naming a need for professional development and issues with the music program.
“Some of the middle school redesign is rushed. We are not looking at the small details,” Giandurco said.
4. Develop a vision and strategies to align educational technology in a manner that accelerates and sustains the Strategic Operating Plan.
“This isn’t technology for technology’s sake, it’s how does technology support the goals of our strategic operating plan and better achievement for our students. The research is very mixed on this. We have to look at what are the best ways that technology supports student learning. It not just being on the computer more,” Adamowski said on Sept. 5.
5. Develop and implement a ‘real time’ District Data Dashboard to the track student outcomes in relation to the goals of the Strategic Operating Plan.
This is data online instead of paper reports.
6. Expand summer school Tier III intervention to grade 5 and implement new Extended School Year (ESY) program for eligible students (in middle schools).
This includes expansion of the summer school.
7. Partner with Norwalk Housing Authority to develop the highest and best educational use for the proposed Colonial Village Education Center.
Adamowski spoke on Sept. 5 of the “Norwalk Housing Authority prospect of building a 10-classroom learning center on the Colonial Village site,” which would be used during the day by the Housing Authority and in the evening by Norwalk Public Schools.
8. Plan a 30 minute extension in the elementary school day to begin in the 2018-19 SY.
NPS is “close” to an agreement with the Norwalk Federation of Teachers to add 30 minutes to the elementary school day, because “we have had shortest day in our area if not the state,” which is counterproductive to Tier I instruction, he said, on Sept. 5.
9. Develop an Assessment Plan to measure the growth of students with Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) and assess the effectiveness of specialized instruction and student services.
NPS has made progress and is now in compliance with federal law, Adamowski said on Sept. 5.
“We need to evolve now from a compliance orientation to one of quality specialized instruction where our focus is on our special education students growing, learning more, advancing academically with the modifications and adaptations that they require,” he said.
10. Develop a blended learning center at each high school to provide students with opportunities to stay on track for graduation and earn additional credits.
This is “not a silver bullet but a small piece of the puzzle in terms of students being able to take more courses and earn additional credits and stay on track as opposed to becoming overage and under-credited,” Adamowski said on Sept. 5.
11. Accomplish the ‘Design Phase’ of new schools planned for the Ely and Ponus building sites.
The Common Council recently approved architectural firms to design the new school buildings planned for the Nathaniel Ely site and Ponus Ridge Middle School.
“I am sure the Facilities Committee will be very actively involved,” Adamowski said on Sept. 5.
12. Implement ‘Phase III’ of Student Based Budgeting; provide adequate high school funding to support graduation requirements.
Adamowski, on Sept. 5, spoke again of the need to increase high school funding.
13. Develop strategic plan for Early Childhood Education.
“Think about where we started: 2.5 years ago, we had approximately 90 percent of students entering kindergarten had a preschool experience … only 40 percent were ready for kindergarten,” Adamowski said on Sept. 5. “That tells us a good deal of preschool is not effective. I expect there are going to be a set of goals and outcomes and we are going to be able to judge our programs.”
14. Complete planning and implementation of new high school ‘pathways’; new Media Pathway in partnership with CPTV; Health Sciences Pathway in partnership with NCC and Norwalk Hospital; International Baccalaureate Diplomate; expand NECA to full enrollment of 400 students.
NECA, the Norwalk Early College Academy created in 2014 by then-Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Manny Rivera, is set to reach full enrollment of 500 students next year and to have its first graduating class this year, Adamowski said on Sept. 5.
“This will be quite an event for our district,” he said, as students will graduate with both a high school diploma and a degree from Norwalk Community College.
15. Implement Dyslexia assessment and clinical services in partnership with Fairfield University.
Adamowski made no comment.
Norwalk, in partnership with Fairfield University, opened a six-week long Dyslexia Clinic this summer in Brookside Elementary School, with a plan to open a year-round Dyslexia Clinic in the fall, on the Briggs High School property.
16. Complete and implement rigorous curriculum design, mapping and alignment in grades 6-8 in Reading and Math.
“This moves us as a Tier I issue from simply following a program and calling it our curriculum to having a curriculum and using a variety of materials, teacher judgment and school preference, in terms of how to teach the priority objectives of the curriculum. So it brings us to a more sophisticated level than just adopting Journeys and adopting Go Math,” Adamowski said on Sept. 5.
“To have an articulated curriculum for K-12 in some areas is an incredible achievement,” Yordon said Tuesday. “…There are difficulties but we are pleased to help power these changes when they are needed and when they will help improve achievement.”
17. Reduce interruption of student learning by ‘pull-outs’ from academic subjects – Academically Talented program, band instrument lessons, strings lessons, and teacher ‘pull-outs’ for IEPs.
There are 1,700 IEPs (Individualized Education Program) a year, Adamowski said on Sept. 5, calling that “disruptive to every child in a teacher’s class,” as teachers are “pulled out” of the room.
There’s no data to support elimination of pullouts, Yordon said Tuesday, asserting that most Planning and Placement Team (PPT) meetings occur during teacher prep time.
“Most music lessons cause loss of no more than one class per subject per month at most. Those actually, we find, tend to increase the focus,” she said.
18. Develop and pilot systemic Tier III intervention in Reading in grades 4 and 5. (Achieve 3000 or other programs).
“The data reviewed at retreat suggested that in reading language arts our weakest grades are 4, 5 and 6,” Adamowski said on Sept. 5.
19. Pilot model lunch time (dining environment and healthy food) experience at Rowayton Elementary School; expand breakfast in the classroom program at 6 schools.
A café-like renovation is nearly complete at Rowayton; NPS has received a grant to help expand the breakfast program.
20. Conduct feasibility study for Montessori Primary Program/School.
“We are hoping to find the right place (for Montessori classes), realizing this is a choice… we are anticipating a high level of interest in Montessori,” Adamowski said on Sept. 5.
21. Conduct study and analysis of staff absenteeism and develop plans, policies and procedures to improve adult attendance and reduce student learning loss.
NPS has more teacher absences on average than the state, Adamowski said on Sept. 5, specifying 10 absentees a year here and eight statewide.
“Staff absentee… is another theoretical thing but we don’t have a lot of actual data,” Yordon said Tuesday.
22. Conduct study and develop a plan to address recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics and Centers for Disease Control concerning delayed high school start times; plan pilot 2018-19.
This is a health issue, Adamowski said on Sept. 5, explaining that a Committee will be formed and there may be public hearings.
BoE member Heidi Keyes attended a conference and, “To me, the evidence is clear” that teenagers need a later sleep time, she said.
“Amazingly there are people in our community who are sleep experts,” and they will be on the Committee, Adamowski said, adding that in one community this transition began with a ninth-grade class and there are “1,000 ideas,” which will be vetted.
23. Implement Anonymous Alerts at high schools and middle schools to help address Social and Emotional Security and Social Media dimensions of school climate; Implement Raptor Visitor Management System at all schools to increase school security.
The Raptor system will be in place in all of Norwalk’s schools, in September, BoE member Artie Kasimiss said on Aug. 15.
24. Expand the “Excellence in Education” recognition program to include school support staff, in addition to honoring certified teachers and aligning with the State’s Teacher of the Year program.
This program led to Norwalk’s first Teacher of the Year, Adamowski said on Sept. 5.
Yordon said Tuesday that the NFT celebrates including support staff in yearly recognition.
25. Develop and execute a “State of the Schools” program (annual report) to communicate progress towards fulfilling Strategic Operating Plan.
Since studies show that most annual reports are not read, NPS would like to move to a “State of the Schools” program, which might include a community convening sponsored by Norwalk ACTS, Adamowski said on Sept. 5.
26. Conduct feasibility study and develop plan for International Baccalaureate K-12 Pathway (Early Years and Middle Years Programmes).
Former Brien McMahon High School Principal Suzanne Koroshetz will be involved in this, Adamowski said on Sept. 5.
Brien McMahon has a newly accredited International Baccalaureate program and NPS plans an elementary school IB on Concord Street with hopes of creating the first K-12 IB pathway in Connecticut. Figuring out how to handle offering a middle school IB is a challenge, Adamowski said, rhetorically asking, “Do you have it in one school or in two schools?”
27. Develop and pilot Tier III Reading tutoring opportunity in grades 4-6 as an extension of the school day, and in partnership with the Norwalk Public Library.
This was suggested by BoE member Sherelle Harris at the recent Board retreat, Adamowski said on Sept. 5.
28. Develop and Implement ‘Rigor and Relevance Academy’ Plan to improve Tier 1 Instruction.
“In our effort to explore and strengthen Tier I instruction, one of the most valuable tools we have is rigor and relevance,” Adamowski said on Sept. 5, naming Naramake Elementary School, where “every child had significant growth,” as the preferred lab school for professional development, given the success in student achievement there.