Norwalk BoE looks to pilot school in 2019

Norwalk Public Schools Chief of Technology, Innovations and Partnerships Ralph Valenzisi talks about grant funding, during the Board of Education retreat in July.

Updated, 8:43 a.m.: Copy edits

NORWALK, Conn. – School officials laid out plans at Tuesday’s Board of Education Meeting for a pilot school offering a fundamental change in instruction.

Outside funders have already pledged to cover half the $3.6 million cost of a three-year attempt to create a School of Distinction with a student body of more than 63 percent high-needs students, Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski said.  Brookside, Kendall and Jefferson Elementary Schools are interested in becoming the model school, which would add five days to the school year, lengthen the school day by an hour, and implement different teaching models.

“This may not be what people want. But quite often the customer doesn’t know what they want, they know what they have. They are not able to appreciate the effect of something until you actually try it and do it and they see the results. We have to deal with that issue,” Adamowski said. “Because if we simply had people do what they want, we would just do more of the status quo.”

Adamowski, Chief of Technology, Innovations and Partnerships Ralph Valenzisi and Michael Chambers of the Greenwich-based Heidenreich Family Foundation first laid out the School of Distinction idea in July at the BoE retreat.  Charitable foundations are excited about Norwalk’s test results and looking to invest in groundbreaking programs here, Valenzisi said.

Rowayton Elementary School was named Norwalk’s first School of Distinction in February, in spite of 45 percent of its students having high needs.  Other Connecticut Schools of Distinction have had at most 20 percent high-needs students, and this had inspired foundation interest in creating a School of Distinction in Norwalk with more than 50 percent high-needs students, Adamowski said in July.

A “School of Distinction,” is a state designation signifying “a school performance index of 85 or better with no gap outlier.”   Creating one with a majority of high-needs students has never been done in Connecticut and, “That is one of the reasons why there is philanthropic interest in this project,” Adamowski said.

The Grossman Foundation and the Heidenreich Family Foundation have pledged to cover half the cost, which will serve as challenge to other foundations to match the funds, he said.

The district has an average of 63 percent high-needs students, Adamowski said Tuesday.

The prospectus presented Tuesday was developed from research in achievement gap-closing schools from around the country and from successful local practices, NPS Chief Academic Officer Brenda Myers said:

  • “Tenets” include ambitious leadership, a rigorous and relevant curricular model and a culture of professional learning.
  • Teachers would be required to attend 16 days of professional development each year, up from the current four days.
  • A literacy model would be founded on integrating reading, writing, listening, speaking and viewing
  • There would be problem-based mathematics using Singapore Math
  • “Coherent” blocks of instruction would include 120 minutes of literacy, 90 minutes of numeracy and 60 minutes of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics)
  • A Commitment to an Arts Program would include Kodály music program
  • Student Health and Wellness would include social emotional learning based on CASEL framework


Data would need to be measured over 12 years, as children move to college- and career-readiness, she said.

BoE Chairman Mike Barbis objected to Singapore math.  The district looked at it a decade ago and decided NPS wasn’t in the position to teach it, he said.  Myers replied that it wouldn’t be taught district-wide, so the required professional development would be much less onerous.

NPS is now on Common Core State Standards, which require conceptual development, she said.

Barbis also questioned the English Language Arts approach.  He noted that Rowayton is using Core Knowledge ELA and that this isn’t mentioned in the prospectus.

Data shows a slight increase that can be attributed to CKLA but the big deficit in ELA is writing, Adamowski said.

“We can look at Core Knowledge but our sense is that’s not going to move the needle enough. What will is 30 minutes a day on writing,” he said.

Barbis agreed that writing deficiency is a serious problem and BoE member Bruce Kimmel commented that writing needs to be integrated into everything the children do because “to be a good writer you have to write and write some more.”

Adamowski agreed that “there has to be some explicit instruction but then integrated.”

Continual progress monitoring is needed as part of the pilot school program because quarterly assessments aren’t enough, Chief of Specialized Learning and Student Services Yvette Goorevitch explained. Adamowski noted the connection between music and math achievement and said note reading is essentially spatial intelligence, and children in this school will be playing a flute before moving on to band or string instruments in third grade.

Kodály is a form of general music education, he said.

All of this dovetails with another NPS objective: to create a year-round school, Adamowski said.  Valenzisi explained that there would be two-week breaks throughout the school year for a year-round school, and this would help prevent summer slide.

Funders would expect results within three years, and would fund a full five-year process if there are signs of incremental progress, Adamowski said. BoE member Julie Corbett called that a relief and explained that it takes five years to turn students around, and there are concerns about sustainability.

The schools that are interested have at least a 71 percent high-needs population so “we are really talking about aggressive growth here,” Corbett said, asking if the staff had been consulted in the request to be considered as a pilot program.

The buy-in will require approval of the School Governance Council involved and, “this is not for everybody,” Adamowski said.  He explained that there will have to be “fairly detailed design specs later this spring” so teachers can evaluate the proposal and go through an opt-in or opt-out process, in which principals would have to agree that they remain in the school and commit to the training.  There would be no consequence for the teachers who decline to stay, as there will likely be vacancies in other schools.

Barbara Meyer-Mitchell asked if families had been consulted, and suggested a survey.

A school will probably be chosen this spring and the Board will have to decide what the roll-out will be over the course of the first year because all of the goals cannot be met within one year, Adamowski said.  He said that the phase-in will be designed before he retires.

NPS will proceed full steam ahead, he said.

“This is fundamental change. It will have fallout and implications all around,” he said. “… Perhaps with a tiny bit of enhancement but we wouldn’t be able to move the needle fundamentally, and this is about moving the needle fundamentally for students who in the current system, predictably would have the results that they are having now.”

“The Schools of Distinction is a really interesting way to promote improvements,” Norwalk Federation of Teachers President Mary Yordon said at the close of the meeting. “…There are wonderful improvements underway in all of our schools and it’s incredible to consider that there are institutions and individuals out there who believe in the work that we are doing and are willing to fund the changes that are necessary to close the achievement gap, which has been stubborn for the last few years in all of Connecticut.”

“I am very disappointed to hear that there are plans underway, today, for the first time, that will involve impact bargaining,” Yordon said.   She noted that “ambitious leaders” will require courageous followers and the Federation of Teachers is looking for “careful communication” as, “we have not had communication about these issues.”

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Sue Haynie December 5, 2018 at 6:52 am

I love the idea but as a taxpayer, I have doubts since it’s a union shop.

Mary Yorden of Norwalk’s NFT “I am very disappointed to hear that there are plans are underway, today, for the first time, that will involve impact bargaining,..“ambitious leaders” will require courageous followers and the Federation of Teachers is looking for “careful communication”

Looking out for adults, not children, is Mary Yorden’s job and is one of the reasons why NPS doesn’t Already Have, in Every school, the ‘Tenets’ outlined about like continually assessments, rigorous writing instruction (no news to parents Ms. Yorden), etc.

Mary Yorden again..”(funders) willing to fund the changes that are necessary to close the achievement gap, which has been stubborn for the last few years in all of Connecticut.” Really Ms. Yorden, for the last ‘few’ years? You mean for the last 50+ years. The NFT and the rest of America’s unions have been MIA.

I hope the funding is exclusively from outside funders because as a taxpayer, I’m exhausted.

enough December 5, 2018 at 7:22 am

Sue, Mary does a good job at helping her teachers. It is not a union issue. If it was up to many of the people at central office they would steam roll our teachers with countless initiatives that they do not wait to see the proof in the data to see if they worked. Middle school redesign is in phase 3 now, and the issues are just starting to come to light that they teachers knew would happen right from the start. Larger classes, unflexible schedules, cross housing, not enough guidance counselors, not enough kids taking electives due to being put into intervention programs. Yet, the teachers were told they are against change. As a tax payer and a parent I am against this concept of a longer school day. 6 hours is long enough, most kids check out after that point. Adding in a science lab here, or music there isn’t going to make a difference to the child. How about social studies? Again another subject that gets pushed to the back burner. It is like a sport you can practice many things all the time, but until you do something over 1000 times right, then you can truly say you mastered it. With all this initiatives the teachers do not have that time to say it is really working.

Piberman December 5, 2018 at 10:11 am

Longer days and moving towards technologies is surely a major step forward. Asian students typically spend 10 hour school days, 6 days weekly without only short summer recess. Focus on the STEM subjects. And run rings around the rest of the world. China could never have emerged as the 2nd Superpower if its schools were run by Public Unions. So Kudos to the BOE !

The reality for objecting parents is few good jobs await a high school certificate. And college is the “new high school”. So onward and upwards.

Adolph Neaderland December 5, 2018 at 10:26 am

Why not get direct information from districts outside of CT that have implemented this or similar programs?

I did not attend this meeting but have the impression that there has been very poor communication with parents regarding this program.

As an aside, I fundamentally disagree with Dr. Adamowski . “Because if we simply had people do what they want, we would just do more of the status quo.”

Sounds rather self centered and unwilling to be questioned. Not good public relations. Parents are entitled to understand how their children are being educated.

Pash December 5, 2018 at 12:27 pm

Other districts have unions and they do pretty well as for performance! problem is we have Adamowski while other surronding towns have good Superintendants who know what there doing.

Teacher December 5, 2018 at 1:38 pm

@ A.D.

1000% agree. If you question the leadership your ignored. If you provide feedback your ignored.

Adolph Neaderland December 5, 2018 at 3:25 pm

Further to my previous reply, Cloonan Middle School in Stamford CT has been noted as a School of Distinction, why not learn from their experience?

Steve December 5, 2018 at 4:56 pm

Pliberman last I saw China was a communist country, is that what u are advocating ? As for teachers, they teach far less than here, one of those teachers stayed with us a few years ago . Sorry the beat schools in the world are hnionized

Concerned December 5, 2018 at 7:24 pm

I’m sorry Sue but usually you have the students in mind but you don’t always have the facts. Teachers are implementing interventions far more intense and with kore rigor then ever before. This year elementary schools were givien a writing program with no PD and books to share amongst the grade levels. A science program was started with NO SUPPLIES and a PD that consisted of signing onto schoology beftoe school and the other PD’s and were supposed to have monthly PD’s on the new curriculum but some grades have only had 1 PD so far! Keep in mind the PD is half day in which the presenter stated that they usually take 2 days on the one topic!! Teachers are given more and more to do by people that aren’t even in the schools asking them what is working and what is not. Not to mention that administrators aren’t even open to the idea of collaborating with the very teachers that have more experience than they do! You have no idea what’s going on in these schools and keep in mind we already have schools that have an extended day and buses that aren’t even getting kids to school on time. Many times 30 minutes late which defeats the purpose of haveing an extended day!

Sue Haynie December 6, 2018 at 7:00 am

@Concerned, I stand by the statement that the NFT and the rest of America’s teachers unions have been MIA and my facts are spot on. Where were (are) their voices when, for decades++, America’s education schools have been setting up prospective teachers for failure due to inadequate training and credentialing, leaving a corps of educators, especially at K-5, who weren’t taught how to teach reading, writing, math, and core subjects.

The Unions protect inadequately trained, uninspired or incompetent educators with the same rigor as they support great educators. The Union contract negotiations are 99% about salary, benefits and job protections. That means public school, for parents who have few choices, becomes a crap shoot, something for the lucky and the brave.

Education schools’ long-term failure to train America’s future teachers is the ‘climate change’ issue of public schools. Teacher’s Unions are the voices that can make change happen but they have to admit it first.

This new NPS pilot school sounds like a great idea. However, I assume (fear) that the NFT, given the comments by Ms. Yorden, will enter negotiations and water it down, advocate for adults over kids, muck it up. Go ahead, just don’t spend Norwalk tax dollars doing it.

There’s years and tons of articles that support what I stated above, but here’s one as an example:

MT December 6, 2018 at 3:40 pm

Has anyone asked the teachers how they feel? They have families too, unhappy teachers make for unhappy students! If Adamowski leaves it may be worse if Costanzo moves up? Is his lawsuit over? Did we foot that bill?

Sad April 23, 2019 at 4:34 pm

The teachers have spoken up in regards to this. The SGC ended up voting this grant down as staff did not support it. At Kendall there was a survey done of the teachers that reported that almost 70% would try to transfer to another school. The problem is that there are many unanswered questions and right now I believe Kendall is the only school left. The principal has not been transparent with staff, the SGC, or parents. Many parents think year round means more but it is only 5 more days of school and the extra time in the day is not being provided by the certified staff. I’m not sure what kind of leaders would eat to lose their regime who got them to where they are in the first place?

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