Updated, 8:01 a.m.: Copy edits
NORWALK, Conn. – The “very large and aggressive” 2019-20 Norwalk Public Schools operating budget request has “guinea pig items” that haven’t been thoroughly publicly vetted, a teachers union leader told Board of Education members at Tuesday’s meeting.
Efforts to create a Montessori School, a School of Distinction and a rigor and relevance lab at Naramake Elementary School, as well as change high school start times, have not been publicly discussed, Joe Giandurco, Norwalk Federation of Teachers (NFT) First Vice President, said.
“These are guinea pig items that may or may not serve our students better and will cost a good deal,” he said. “The Strategic Operating Plan is not necessarily what everyone else thinks this district can afford. Montessori is tried and tested, but is it really needed? This is a huge cost for a preschool program. We have eliminated other NPS Certified teachers and preschool programs. Does this city really plan to continue to fund the Montessori each and every year? The Naramake lab means that all new teachers will spend a period of time teaching at Naramake. How does this impact those students and those teachers? This has yet to be fleshed out.”
The Board went on to delete the high school start time effort from its budget request, and unanimously approved the rest of the initiatives.
Board Chairman Mike Barbis noted that the Board had devoted much time at one of its meetings to the Montessori idea, and the School of Distinction concept was discussed in December.
Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowksi’s School of Distinction experiment would be funded by foundations in a three-year pilot program. The pilot school would seek to attain the state “distinction” designation with a school body of more than 63 percent high needs students as a research project that would add five days to the school year, lengthen the school day by an hour, and implement different teaching models. It’s part of an NPS objective to create a year-round school.
Because the initiative would be funded by foundations, it’s not in the Board’s operating budget request, Giandurco observed.
“It will certainly cost more and the research is not supporting that it prevents a true summer slide,” he said. “Our summer school programs had a positive impact on roughly half the students who participated this past summer. Why does anyone think that a year-round school would do better?”
“Bold and costly plans are often met with resistance and controversy. This budget is no exception,” Giandurco said. “The resistance stems from the past few years of disrespect from limited communication from Central Office. Plans are conceived and created behind closed doors without the proper and often required input. The NFT has repeatedly asked to be engaged and informed of major decisions. Not as a means of prevention but rather to check, make sure and ensure that the plans can be completed with fidelity. Dr. Adamowski and Central Office must come to the realization that the teachers of Norwalk are what breathe life into their plans. We shape, correct and fill in the holes created by the Strategic Operating Plan for the benefit of all our students.”
Barbis said, “Some of those things, they may not be the best ideas or not, but it’s up to the Board to make those decisions. That’s what we’re elected to do.”
Barbis did not reply to a Monday email offering him a chance to comment further. Adamowski did not respond. NPS Communications Director Brenda Wilcox Williams wrote in a Monday email that the Montessori School initiative, School of Distinction, and the rigor and relevance lab at Naramake Elementary School were previously discussed publicly. Wilcox Williams noted that the Naramake School lab, known as the “Quad D” lab initiative, was discussed publicly at the Board retreat in July.
“The Quad D concept was embraced by Naramake teachers and administrators, who have been recognized nationally for their leadership,” Wilcox Williams wrote.
At the July retreat, Adamowski briefly explained that the “Quad D” lab initiative was inspired by education pioneer William Daggett and began two years ago as a “talent development strategy,” in which new teachers have the opportunity to work under experienced staff for six months rather than being thrown in the deep end of the pool, “quite often with little or no real training” with the expectation that they “survive or to learn through experience.” He said it’s “a talent strategy, to raise student achievement by creating a cadre of more effective teachers.”