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Opinion: What works and what needs to improve in Norwalk Public Schools

Norwalk residents have a right to be informed about how their tax dollars are spent by the Board of Education. As members of the Curriculum and Instruction Committee, we believe regular updates of the Committee’s work is a good way to keep residents informed. It’s their money, their Board of Education, and their long-term property values that are at stake.

In our September column, we focused on the expanded high school curriculum, the gifted and talented program, the new science curriculum, and the creation of a task force to examine our world language offerings. This column includes an overview of our October meeting topics.

Middle School Redesign: A few years ago, the board began to address a two-part problem in our middle schools. First, per pupil expenditures at middle schools were higher than per pupil expenditures at high schools. This was unique; it’s usually the other way around. Second, our student test scores, for years, dropped precipitously during middle school – despite the additional funds.

The board adopted a multi-year plan to correct the problem. We are now in phase three of the redesign, which the committee will regularly monitor. Our main concerns at the October committee meeting were to better integrate the remedial math program, called Teach to One, into the overall schedule, and to improve the professional development and coordination among the middle school house leaders. We were pleased to hear that a new program, called Encore, allows middle school students to participate in activities they choose based on their own interests.

Gifted and Talented Data: Last year, the board decided our G&T program needed to be revamped after reviewing state test scores of our academically talented students, which were not nearly as high as expected. The program was redesigned to ensure these students received challenging and imaginative instruction every day. Last month, the committee began monitoring implementation of the new program, which early indicators show is going well.

The board noticed last year that the student demographics of our G&T program did not reflect the demographics of our district; nor did they conform to national and state recommendations. As a result, we have adopted an entirely new method of identification.

The data from the three schools piloting the new program (Cranbury, Tracey, and Roton) indicate the district has made only slight improvement regarding the diversity of our G&T students; the number of Hispanic students in the program increased. However, 87 students between grades 4-8, who did not qualify for the program under the old method, were retested and met the criteria. We will monitor this problem closely as we review the results of all third graders who were recently tested.

Literacy Instruction: There’s probably nothing more complicated than teaching young people to read, write, listen, speak, and observe. Last year, after reviewing state test scores, the board concluded we needed to improve classroom instruction in reading and writing across the system. We seemed to be missing something, yet could not identify exactly what it was

During the committee meeting, a host of issues emerged, such as the number of times students actually are required to write during the course of a day, including homework; how to ensure students are receiving instruction based on their particular reading levels; the need for classroom teachers and out-of-classroom intervention teachers to better coordinate instruction; how to provide students easy access to books of interest; and the value of interdisciplinary activities, especially at the elementary level. This is a critical issue that will be regularly reviewed by the committee.

Before we adjourned, the committee decided to devise a communication system to prevent already-discussed issues from being forgotten as new issues emerge; a communication system that will keep committee members up-to-speed on the challenges facing the district.

The committee usually meets on the third Tuesday of the month, 5:30, in City Hall. In November, we will discuss student assessment data gathered in September to see if last year’s effort to expand our summer program has diminished the typical learning loss that occurs over the summer. We will also discuss Tracey School’s “character” curriculum. Of course, the public is always welcome.

10 comments

Enough October 30, 2018 at 6:10 am

So how does making teachers teach two grades and 150 students benefit anyone? It certainly is not a small learning community. Middle school teams were much more effective than this current system. If you look at the data your teach to one program has the worse math scores in the district. This redesign is ineffective and has caused morale to plummit amongst your teaching staff.

Thats funny October 30, 2018 at 6:30 am

“Encore, allows middle school students to participate in activities they choose based on their own interests.”

I find that hilarious. The board/downtown cuts the specials programs like technology and family and consumer science, limits the availability of the languages for students, and pulls students out of physical education… why you might ask?! So that students can sit in more reading and moth programs! That sounds exhilarating for a 10-14 year old. 125 minutes of math/reading!

So let me get this straight. 85 minutes of math isnt enough, let’s pull kids into remedial math and LA, and then add a class with no grades, across the three grade levels (so 10 years olds could sit next to 14 year olds). We will call it “encore” where teachers have to cut one their blocks short, and teach something completely different. Makes a ton of sense!

The middle schools NEVER needed to be redesigned, and morale is at an ALL TIME LOW. But hey, keep on pushing those great standardized test scores, because apparently that’s important.

Frustrated Parent October 30, 2018 at 10:24 am

And yet again the Board of Ed misses the mark on Special Education. Does it really not mean anything to you? Do you not realize what is going on in this district or do you believe the lies that you are being told?
Then you question why all of these complaints! This article says it all!

Keep sweeping things under the rug Norwalk, seems to be the only thing this district is good for!

Piberman October 30, 2018 at 11:59 am

Imagine if BOE member Kimmel worked more effectively within the BOE rather than periodically “educating” the public as a self proclaimed spokesman. Is there a future “Mayor” or “BOE Chairman” here.

Tysen Canevari October 30, 2018 at 2:02 pm

We need to focus on breaking up the teachers union as well. Get the best teachers possible and pay them according to their worth. Only in Norwalk may a teacher be arrested for drugs and keep their job because of the union. Try that in corporate America and let me know what happens.

Kathleen October 30, 2018 at 11:05 pm

Thanks to this committee for much appreciated transparency. It is my understanding that teacher-led professional development is also something discussed. Great idea!

Teacher October 31, 2018 at 7:38 am

Despite the advances on standardized test MSRD has created some problems and left a wake of destruction in its path. Math and LA have smaller learning communities, however Science and Social Studies do not. These teachers either teach 2 grades (150 plus students) or 2 content areas. Either option is helpful for students. Couple that with the mixed needs of our students and results are less than stellar in these areas.
88 min of instruction is a lot for many of students. A schedule change and emphasis on Science instruction would benefit all.

Niz October 31, 2018 at 1:18 pm

SMDH how to educate kids has already been mastered
Yet Norwalk’s approach is all backwards and not at all functional.
Look to the most successful districts in the country and re asses

Shantia Rooplal November 2, 2018 at 9:02 pm

In order to make positive progress in educating every child ,got to get rid of the recycled limited mental thinking of some of this school district staff.Cant have the same people in lead and expect to see desired educational outcome.Walk in any American college or university,how many American students in there ? What went wrong where!

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