NORWALK, Conn. — The Norwalk Public Schools have turned the corner and are moving rapidly ahead. Here is a report on some highlights of the progress we’ve made recently.
1. Budgets: We have completely revamped our financial operations and budgeting. Two years ago we faced an unexpected deficit that set off a crisis. But in the two budgets since then, we have managed to cut the rate of increase in our budget by over 60 percent while adding staff positions and programs.
In those two budget years, the Board of Education budget increased more slowly than any other city department, as improved financial management and savings reached through effective labor negotiations came on line. Instead of the big deficit two years ago, for the current year’s budget we ended the year with a surplus, which we plowed back into the system to rebuild portable classrooms, hire back additional teachers and aides, and purchase additional classroom technology.
Our proposed budget this year will rebuild our HR and special education departments, complete restoration of middle school intramurals, and build a solid literacy program throughout our elementary schools. Click here to read more about our plans.
2. Long-term Budgeting: This year we put forth our first-ever three-year budget projection; adopting three-year budgets should allow us to avoid the annual budget panics of years past and engage in long-term planning that aligns our budgets to our long-term goal of improving student achievement.
3. Strategic Plan: As part of our budget process, the board and Dr. Rivera adopted a Strategic Plan with six focus areas to guide policies and budgets for the next six years: the focus areas are to “Build Greater Accountability Against High Expectations and Standards”; “Build the Knowledge, Skills and Capacity of Teachers and Leaders”; “Improve and/or Transform the Learning Environment for All”; “Improve Special Education; Improve or Build the Systems and Structures Necessary to Support our New Learning Environment”; and “Build Partnerships and a New ‘Pre-K through Grade 14/16 Mindset’ for Students and Parents.” We are already making solid progress toward all of these goals.
4. Common Core Curriculum: Norwalk is one of the first communities to achieve full implementation of the new Common Core State Standards. With the board’s recent approval of Dr. Rivera’s Pre-K to 5 Literacy Plan, we have approved all mathematics and English curriculum upgrades from K through 12 in all 19 schools. K-12 mathematics curricula and 6-12 English curricula are already implemented or in process; the last component (K-5 English) will be implemented this fall. The Common Core is the biggest change in decades in public education, and represents a return to a philosophy of teaching solid subject matter knowledge, not just ‘techniques,’ in educating our children. See the NancyOnNorwalk story on this subject.
4. Superintendent Rivera: Our extraordinarily qualified new Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Manuel Rivera, has lived up to our expectations and then some. He is carrying out a fundamental reorganization of the central office, establishing a forward-looking, 21st century management approach for our schools. He is actively reaching out to all segments of our community as he develops and implements his plans.
5. School Security: We have worked with Mayors Moccia and Rilling to add police resource officers to increase security at our schools. We also worked closely with the city to have the police perform facility security audits at our schools, and developed a detailed emergency plan for the schools covering everything from storms to shooting incidents. We have almost $2 million of security enhancements budgeted and in the planning stages to execute during 2014.
We also have activated new communication protocols to get word out quickly regarding any incidents at our schools, with email and text-messaging systems supplementing the Reverse 911 system to get word out quickly to parents and the community in the event of an emergency.
6. Teacher and Administrator Evaluations: We are well along in implementation of the first system of evaluations that ties teacher and principal evaluations to the performance of their students. Due to delays at the state level, this system will not be fully implemented until 2015, but the first set of “Smarter Balanced” tests that will feed into the system will be administered on a practice basis this month.
7. Technology / Communications: We are in the midst of a multi-year technology program (much of it Common Core-driven). We have completed the process of making all of our schools wireless, and we are expanding use of the Wireless Generation system, APEX learning, and similar technologies. Our Genesis portal became fully operational late last year, which allows parents full online access to their children’s assignments and grades. Two weeks ago we went “live” with our substantially enhanced web site, and have also established a Facebook page and Twitter account, and all Board of Ed meetings are now videotaped and shown on Cablevision’s educational access channel.
8. Briggs Turnaround: Two years ago some were calling for the closing of Briggs, our alternative high school. Since then, we have successfully applied for designation of Briggs as a State Turnaround School, receiving a major state grant. As noted recently by Briggs’ principal, staff and students, the transformation at Briggs, only a third of the way into the Turnaround, has been remarkable. See the earlier NancyOnNorwalk story.
9. Building Stronger Partnerships: It is a priority of Superintendent Rivera to grow and enhance our existing partnerships with Norwalk ACTS, Norwalk Community College, the business community and other community groups to expand opportunities for learning outside the classroom. Strong steps have already been taken in this regard, with more to come.
Norwalk’s schools are in the beginning of a renaissance, and I’m pleased to be able to report on this progress to the community.
Mike Lyons, Chairman
Norwalk Board of Education
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