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.