Education budget built on best practices

Mary Ellen Flaherty-Ludwig. (Courtesy photo)

Every industry focused on excellence is focused on identifying and replicating best practices. The best practices I know most about are in education, learned through my years of teaching, coaching teachers, and being on educational leadership teams.

As in all professions, best practices are based on the experiences of practitioners over time and this experience provides blueprints for achieving excellence. Superintendent Dr. Estrella’s team uses best practices to lift up teachers and young scholars to build a community of learners. The work leads to adaptive teaching that is based on flexibly meeting the needs of all students, community building and identifying effective solutions to overcome educational obstacles. It takes creative thinking, requires leadership and financial support.

As an educator and member of the Board of Education, I want to support the good things I’m seeing right now. I strongly support the Board of Education’s recommended budget, and here are some of the reasons why.

Over the years, Norwalk has had many standouts in excellence, including the Bank Street-themed Concord Magnet School (formerly Columbus Magnet School) and the Global Studies at Brien McMahon HS, with its range of languages and international exchange programs. The current work being done here in Norwalk expands and broadens this striving for excellence by using best practices in professional development workshops for all teachers, to assist them in developing high quality lessons for all young scholars.

Here are a few examples. For teachers, interactive workshops have been designed specifically for Multilingual Learners (MLLs) that also add value to lessons encompassing and embracing every level of young scholar. Last fall, high school and middle school workshop leaders invited teachers to bring a lesson with them. The workshop itself was not a lecture but rather a series of small group and larger group tasks activities to develop a product which would include visuals or constructs to communicate the topic of focus. In this way, the workshop mirrored how to engage young scholars, as well as providing a valuable product for the teacher, a ready-to-use upgraded lesson.

For students, STEAM and STEM lessons in Norwalk are also creating excitement. In an elementary science lesson, the teacher can first present a phenomenon such as a video of a bridge collapsing, follow by supplying cardboard, string, tape and scissors, and then assign teams the task of building a bridge between two desks. Finally, students test the strength of each bridge with pennies counted to the breaking/collapsing point. The giggles and cheering create a community where curiosity and wonder are sparked about structural design.

Another example is the NPS Twilight Program, which demonstrates an effective solution in overcoming an educational obstacle. During the pandemic, high absentee numbers among high school students alarmed the nation. Dr. Estrella and her team called each of these young scholars in Norwalk. Through this inquiry, they found students unable to attend school because they needed to work to help support their family, or needed to provide childcare to younger siblings. With this knowledge, a program was designed that offered schooling to these young scholars after hours, starting at 5 p.m. The Twilight Program graduated close to 20 students last year. When best practices like these are introduced, learning communities are strengthened.

We are on the verge of something transformational for all of our Norwalk community of learners. Our Norwalk young scholars deserve the highest quality lessons that educational best practices can provide. Let us support these efforts financially. I urge the City of Norwalk and the Common Council Members to fully fund the Board of Education’s recommended operating budget.


Sue Haynie February 17, 2022 at 6:30 am

Best practices? Then why do about 2/3rds of Norwalk’s high needs kids read below grade level still? Why has this been going on for decades? Reading is fundamental. ‘Best practices’ and the science of reading is taking a back seat.

Hmmm February 17, 2022 at 9:02 am

Generally agree but important to add research-based, results-driven to concept of best practice – not just practitioners’ experience.

John O'Neill February 17, 2022 at 9:47 am

“We are on the verge of something transformational for all of our Norwalk community of learners. Our Norwalk young scholars deserve the highest quality lessons that educational best practices can provide.” — I would argue this is a bunch of hogwash. (I’d use other language but I’m trying to be polite). So now we know why MaryEllen was the choice over Jody Satler for this BOE spot. She tows the company line even while that company is taking on water. AS an example of this transformation Norwalk’s Nathan Hale school just lost one of their best teachers due to this “transformation”. Only to be replaced by a New York City acolyte. (Does anyone see a pattern here?) Why on Earth would we want to model ourselves after the failing NYC Public School model? One other thing — According to what I’ve heard this job was not posted. Isn’t that against the rules?
One might ask — Where the heck is the Teacher’s Union on this? I know Yordon’s husband is tight with Rilling administration. Can’t she put in a good word for her teachers while sipping wine with the Rillings at Yordon’s Million Dollar home in Redding?
Let’s right this ship before we reach a tipping point we’ll all regret.

Piberman February 17, 2022 at 11:05 am

Not a word here about what’s required for our failing public school system to meet CT Edu Dept graduation standards. Or even to acknowledge our long standing systemic issues with our public school system. If our BOE members can’t even acknowledge our long standing problems and present realistic plans for specific improvement with goals and dates we’re just spinning our wheels.

Why should hard pressed homeowners who fund our public school system pay more taxes to a failing public school system whose overseers – the BOE – lack even a plan to improve systemic under performance ?

“We are on the verge of something transformation…” Really. How about publicizing a specific plan on steps planned and goals established to improve our public school system so that a majority of our students meet CT Edu Dept graduation standards ?
Is that too much to ask our BOE and City leaders ?

Electing BOE members w/o any experience in managing large public/private entities guarantees we’ll just stay “as we are”. Our surrounding towns elect BOE members with the requisite backgrounds to ensure high performing public school systems. Sadly in Norwalk we have other requirements – “an interest in public schools”.

Lets hear from other BOE members their plans on how they’ll transform our failing public school system into one that we can be proud of and is worthy of our children.
Silence isn’t golden here. No public plans by the BOE subject to public reviews just ensures nothing changes in Norwalk.

Why is our Supt remaining quiet ? No plans for major improvement in our failing public school system ? Other than spending big sums ? Was our Supt hired to secure major improvement in our public school system ? If so where’s the “progress report?”

Why are our City leaders quiet about our failing public school system ? Mayor, Common council, local business and civic leaders, clergy ? Are our hands tied with collective inability to demand much better public schools for Norwalk ?

Piberman February 17, 2022 at 11:52 am

Do the comments above by a BOE member suggest experience and knowledge of how large organizations are managed ? If we elect BOE members w/o appropriate experience and knowledge of how large organizations are managed how will we ever change our failing public school system into one that educates most of our kids meeting CT Edu Dept graduation standards ?

Was our School Supt given CT’s highest Supt salary to quickly change our failing public school system into one that meets CT Edu Dept requirements ? Or was it just for show ?

Highland Avenue Neighbor February 17, 2022 at 12:53 pm

To the BOE. You don’t need more money to provide sound leadership and creativity. The NPS is already incredibly well funded from the city. If you need to allocate resources for a new program or initiative, cut out something that’s not working. Work within your means.

Admiral February 17, 2022 at 1:07 pm

Estrella and this current BOE are the most detrimental things to EVER happen to the Norwalk Public Schools.
Thank goodness she appears to be close to her retirement age.

Patrick Cooper February 17, 2022 at 3:05 pm

@John O’Neil – bullseye! “So now we know why MaryEllen was the choice over Jody Satler for this BOE spot. She tows the company line”

Never have truer words been written in this space.

Harry’s “HTC” is absolutely frightened by the challenge in Dis-E. Never mind that they exert absolute control over the other 4 districts – it’s simply intolerable that someone may earn their way onto either the BOE or CC – and speak – freely. Honest. Un-scripted. You know – does NOT tow the HTC line. This is why – masks, social distancing, pandemic, etc. is enforced except when they need to run a BS primary so 2nd to dead last can have another shot at it.

Best Practices? Swamp Land & Brooklyn Bridges for sale. Disgraceful. Any parent paying even a small amount of attention isn’t buying what she is shoveling.

Seriously? February 17, 2022 at 4:26 pm

John O’Neill – You raised a question about a job posting at NHMS. Let me suggest that someone do an FOI for the job posting for the current HR director’s hiring, for the ways the job was advertised, for the applicants for that position and for a description of the hiring process, including the names of the interviewers — and their notes. Why do I suggest this? It’s because I don’t know anyone who ever saw a job posting for that job. Yet, the board of education approved hiring Lissette Colon. I just shake my head in dismay, not only because she was hired, but because she is still employed.

Admiral – Dr. Estrella is much younger than you think. This said, I don’t disagree with your first sentence.

s February 17, 2022 at 7:41 pm

I think it’s time we look at what’s going wrong .. Maybe even look at other countries with better education- yes- US falls short in education, and learn from them instead. We have a failing system in schools. Norwalk kids are struggling

Observations and a question February 18, 2022 at 9:11 am

It is clear the author is a good soldier simply doing what she is told to do. Not an original thought in her piece at all.

Lisa Briton pounds to table on the ECS formula inequities. And she is dead right. Duff and the rest of the career politicians take the easy road and refuse to go out on a limb and fight for equity. (irony here is palpable given Norwalk’s progressive leadership!)

I struggle with this though. ECS gives Hartford school system $10k per student, Norwalk, $900. Does anyone have student performance stats to prove that increased spending equals classroom performance in Hartford? (Not West Hartford, but Hartford which probably looks more like Norwalk) I’m happy to be wrong about this but I’m guessing Hartford kids are not excelling in the classroom even with the annual lottery winnings.

I think we should turn this around. Expect more from families and students. Hold them accountable. All of this mamby pamby hand holding and forgiveness is a joke.

Anyway, Mary Ellen, if you really want to have an impact on your city, have an opinion that is your own. Be provocative, stand up for something. Nodding your head in tacit agreement is apropos of nothing. Pieces like this just prove you are simply pushing paper around and providing zero value.

Joe February 18, 2022 at 10:06 am

Keynote Speaker making a lot of money at Taxpayer and Teacher expense

Friends of mine who are classroom teachers in the Norwalk Public schools just told me that the Superintendent brought in a Keynote Speaker at a cost of $10,000-$20,000 appearance fee on Thursday February 17, 2022 for a 45 minute speech about social emotional learning and equity. This is the second time this keynote speaker has spoken to the teachers virtually and yet the Norwalk Public schools doesn’t have enough money for more Aids in the classrooms or support for Special Ed children. What is going on here? How is it the Norwalk Public schools can pay upwards of $40,000 to a keynote speaker when our schools can’t even fund learning. This is ridiculous and tax payers should be outraged.

JoAnn M. Smith, MD February 18, 2022 at 12:35 pm

As a taxpayer who writes (for us) large checks twice a year to our town, we appreciated knowing what it is providing for our children.
The fund of knowledge in child development is expanding rapidly; this article elaborated specifically on the adept implementation by our school system to the many individualized data driven, hands on programs (STEAM, STEM, MLLs). This is encouraging! The Twilight Program for kids whose varied family situations prohibits them from attending school during regular class time sounded unique, and we hope it continues beyond the pandemic. In light of the information provided in this essay, we think that our tax money is well spent.

JoAnn M. Smith, MD
Assistant Professor, Department of Psychiatry
Netter School of Medicine, Quinnipiac University

JoAnn M. Smith, MD February 18, 2022 at 12:50 pm

As a Norwalk taxpayer, we write (for us) large checks twice yearly to the city. This article clarified where the money was going. The fund of knowledge of Child Development is expanding quickly.
The rapid implementation of individualized, data driven programs (STEAM, STEM, MLLs) for our children here is impressive. They work!
The Twilight Program, quickly adapted, saved many kids; we hope it continues beyond the pandemic. In short, we believe this program should be supported. We think the money is well spent.

JoAnn M. Smith, MD
Assistant Professor, Department of Psychiatry
Netter School of Medicine, Quinnipiac University

John C. Miller, Jr. February 18, 2022 at 6:09 pm

WOW!!! Every word of this article smacks of “consultant speak” which was bought and paid for by the taxpayers of Norwalk. As noted by John O’Neill, its a total bunch of nonsense and is not, as the good Doctor notes, money well spent. Do our election laws contain any provisions for recall elections?

Piberman February 19, 2022 at 3:51 pm

I’ve re-read the article above several times. Same question arises ? How would the BOE member know what “best practices” in creating budgets absent experience managing large public/private entities and having a requisite financial background ?
Saying it doesn’t make it so.

From the available public information we have a failing public school system in Norwalk. Our CT Dept of Education’s web site states most Norwalk graduating students fail to meet CT requirements. So far no BOE has denied that statement.

And from the limited available public information none of the current BOE members (or recent past BOE members) have backgrounds managing large private/public entities or have major financial backgrounds. They wouldn’t meet requirements commonly seen in selecting Board members in sizeable firms with a $200 million budget.

The argument against sharply increasing our City school budget isn’t made because we have many more students. It’s precisely because our schools are failing to meet CT requirements. And that takes more competent/experienced BOE members and public school administrators. Raising the school budget won’t improve our long term failing public school system. Council members know it. Our Mayor knows it. And so do taxpayers. We don’t have a budget problem. We have management competence problem in Norwalk’s public schools. And that can’t be solved with just more monies.

Joe February 20, 2022 at 4:25 pm


You are exactly right. We have a management competency problem in the Norwalk Public Schools, and the tax payers of this city better wake up. The corruption, and waste of money now is unbelievable. You have to ultimately blame the Board of Education and those who hired the Board members, because these people are the ones making the decisions. The teachers are busting their tails with little or no support, and this is why so many teachers are currently leaving the Norwalk Public Schools. They are fed up with what is going on. Norwalk needs a new Board, and new administrators.

Piberman February 22, 2022 at 12:57 pm

The BOE member who wrote the above letter perhaps unknowingly explains why Norwalk has failing public schools. Not a word about running our schools to meet CT Edu Dept standards ! Our BOE appears interested in “practices”. Not outcomes. Has any BOE member managed a substantial public/private organization where its “practices” not “outcomes” are the goal ? Not likely.

As long as our City Hall, Common Council, Dem Part Leaders in our One Party City remain “indifferent” to our public school outcomes Norwalk will continue to short change most of our kids attending our public schools. Adding to Norwalk’s reputation as the “hole in the middle of the donut”. Doesn’t look like City officials and our Dem Party leaders seem much concerned about our failing public school system. Maybe they don’t think public school education is all that important. Even though it 70% of our City budget. Is it because their kids are out of school ? Or just indifference ?

Piberman February 24, 2022 at 10:47 am

Not a single comment posted complimenting our BOE for our public school oversight.
Not a single comment by either a BOE member or sr administrator on a plan to secure much higher public school achievement.
Not a single comment by a Common Council member or our Mayor on how we improve our failing public school performance.
Not a single comment by a parents group on how we improve our failing public schools.
Other than spending more monies.

Our City’s leadership, BOE, Supt and sr school administrators have no plans to improve our failing public school system or secure a system where most school grads meet CT Edu graduation standards.

How can City residents have continued confidence in our elected leadership that collectively is unable to secure adequate student performance in our public schools ? Or even post plans on how to secure such goals.

Maybe we need a City Charter Change requiring the BOE to use a nationally prominent search firm when securing a Superintendent. And list basic requirements for service on the BOE.

Our failing public schools are not only unfair to our public school students but unfair to all City residents and property owners. And yet our elected officials remain silent.
Perhaps hoping no one will notice.

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