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Norwalk Board of Education approves strategic plan framework, new district organization

A PowerPoint slide presented by Richard Lemons, executive director for the Connecticut Center for School Change.

A new Norwalk Public Schools organization chart, unveiled by Superintendent of Schools Alexandra Estrella.

NORWALK, Conn. — “Future Ready for All.” That’s the proposed title of Norwalk Public Schools’ new strategic plan for 2021-2026.

The Board of Education approved the strategic plan framework, which includes the mission, vision, core values, and strategic priorities. Those items came from the district’s strategic plan task force, which has been putting together the framework over the past few months. The Board also approved a new district organization chart as a part of implementing those goals.

“We’ve had a really intensive past few months, looking at and listening to the needs and priorities of the district to clearly identify our work in the next few years, but most importantly we looked at the great work that has already taken place and the work that we need to continue to focus on to continue to strengthen NPS and move it to the next level,” Norwalk Superintendent Alexandra Estrella said.

The strategic plan framework came out of many different stakeholder meetings, surveys, and discussions, including: 10 strategic planning task force meetings, three community events, three full Board of Education briefings, six interviews with key constituents, 25+ focus groups with more than 300 participants, 900+ responses to the faculty and staff surveys, and 16 briefing sessions with specific groups.

The strategic plan’s mission statement is proposed to be: “Norwalk Public Schools provides an excellent and equitable education, so all students graduate future ready, civically responsible, globally engaged, and positive contributors to an ever changing and diverse world.”

The vision statement is still in the works, as the task force is working to incorporate student voices and ideas, according to Richard Lemons, executive director for the Connecticut Center for School Change, which is leading the strategic planning effort.

The district’s core values were listed as:

  • Student Potential: “We provide access, opportunities, and support, so that all students can meet their promise and potential.”
  • Excellence: “We strive for the highest level of achievement for schools, students, staff, and community.”
  • Relationships: “We foster constructive and meaningful connections among students between students and educators, and with the larger school community.”
  • Integrity: “We are honest, transparent, fiscally responsible and committed to doing our best for all our students, families, and community.”
  • Coordinated Services: “We work collaboratively with families and community partners to coordinate learning opportunities, experiences, and wraparound support for all students.”
  • Continuous Improvement: “We pursue improvement through reflection and disciplined use of data and evidence in all we do.”
  • Creativity and Innovation: “We seek out new solutions and creative and flexible ways to prepare all students for an ever changing future.”
  • Our People: “We support all our faculty and staff through investing in learning, developing a trusting professional culture and celebrating success.”
  • Diversity and Inclusion: “We embrace and nurture a diverse and inclusive community with individuals representing a variety of backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives.”
  • Equity: “We ensure that each and every student in every neighborhood has access, opportunity, support and encouragement to excel in all current and future endeavors.”

 

A PowerPoint slide presented by Richard Lemons, executive director for the Connecticut Center for School Change.

Lemons said that core values “represent the cultural tenets of the organization” and help to “set the tone” and “create the guardrails” to help the strategic plan succeed.

The values help set up the five strategic priorities, which will be the main areas the district will be working to accomplish over the next five years.

“We came up with five strategic priorities – you can also think these as goal areas underneath each of these,” he said. “We imagine in the coming weeks we will be inserting specific strategies that will help tell the story of exactly what we will be doing but that follows after we’re in agreement on the strategic priorities.”

  • Future Readiness: “Prepare all students so they are ready for further education, career opportunities, and globally engaged leadership.”
  • Equity: “Ensure equitable opportunities, facilities, experiences, and outcomes for all students.”
  • Excellence: “Achieve excellence in all aspects of our organization through effective systems, modern learning environments, and continuous improvement processes.”
  • Engagement: “Ensure all children, families, team members, and the community are informed, involved and feel welcome in our schools.”
  • High-Quality Instruction and Support: “Foster relevant and intellectually stimulating learning with targeted supports that produce social, emotional, and academic growth.”

 

Changes to the Norwalk Public Schools superintendent’s cabinet, unveiled by Superintendent of Schools Alexandra Estrella.

A new Central Office

To help accomplish the strategic plan, Estella announced that they are planning a restructuring of Central Office.

“Richard, and I have spent a number of hours looking at different iterations of what the table of organizations particularly for the cabinet should look like so that the vision and expectations set forward by the taskforce can be fulfilled within the next few years,” Estrella said.

The updated Central Office chart would have: one deputy superintendent of equity and inclusion; three assistant superintendents—one of schools, one of digital learning and innovation, and one of business and operations; chief of staff and communications, and chief financial officer.

The existing cabinet level positions that would be eliminated would be: chief academic officer, chief of specialized learning & student services, chief of operations, chief talent officer, chief of communications, and chief of digital learning & development.

Estrella said that this restructuring would be cost neutral and would aim to increase collaboration in better service of the schools and students.

“One of the things that we heard through the process was that many parents felt that the information was in silos or specific to schools, and that they weren’t getting information holistically across the district,” she said.

To help break those silos, Estrella said the chief of staff and communications would be responsible for engagement with parents and the community.

“That person will also be responsible, not only for the communication streams that we are accustomed to, in terms of the press, sending out notices, keeping our webpage up-to-date, but also having a clear focus on parent engagement and community engagement,” Estrella said. “And this person will be overseeing the family welcome center that we’re trying to create, to streamline services, particularly around registration Special Education providing assessments.”

The new deputy superintendent of equity and excellence would be responsible for helping make sure that those areas are embedded throughout all of the district’s work, Estrella said.

“The deputy superintendent of equity and excellence will work in tandem with myself as superintendent to ensure that the priorities set forward by the task force are fulfilled with a clear lens around looking at equity processes throughout the system and ensuring that all of the assistant superintendents supporting the work are in alignment with those priorities, but also setting clear expectations that this is not a piece of work that happens in silos – it’s going to require the organization at large to engage in that process,” Estrella said.

Board Chair Colin Hosten voiced support for Estrella’s new plan for the cabinet.

“I think it’s great to have a deputy superintendent of equity, excellence, and inclusion that really overrides all the operations, everything we do,” he said. “We have to make that an integral part of the work. And I think elevating the role of communications does reflect how important it is for us to remain just consistently engaged with every single stakeholder. We’re breaking down silos, we’re streamlining access.”

5 comments

John O'Neill May 26, 2021 at 9:03 am

First, I’d like to congratulate both Estrella and Hosten. This is the first piece of news I’ve read in awhile where neither has whined about money..So we are making progress

Second: These two are making rocket science out of much simpler concepts. As noted before a good principal (white, black or brown for those keeping score) means a good school. Get rid of the dead wood and you’ll have a great school. I’m guessing this committee forgot to ask teachers/parents about that..

Third: Eguity, Eguity, Eguity. Everyone loves to use the word, but no one seems to define it. My definition of “Eguity” is the quality of being fair and impartial..Will this be the case when holding every student and teacher accountable..OR, does Estrella/Hosten’s definition of Equity leave room for moving the bar in Orwellian Fashion (Some of more equal than others) We all know there’s already a de facto racial quota on discipline.

Fourth: Will the Teacher’s Union (Mary Yordon I’m talking to you) finally step up and protect teachers from being humiliated by students. Minimum grades and not being able to control students in a classroom are humiliating and counterproductive. Where’s the Equity in that? How can a teacher walk the halls with pride when Middle Schoolers curse them out without fear of discipline ? What’s that all about ??

Fifth: With all the money and all the progressive changes in our schools over the years, how come 50% to 70% of our community college students need remedial help? Maybe the solution is back to basics instead of “progressive” mumbo jumbo

I’m not worried — Equity will change all that..

Stuart Garrelick May 26, 2021 at 10:13 am

Sounds great. To say anything negative is like being against motherhood and apple pie. Having difficulty putting my finger on it but I feel something is missing.
First, I have read and reread the strategic priorities and in my mind they can all be met with a “separate but equal” educational system and I don’t think that is or should be the goal. How can we address the areas segregated by race, culture and poverty to bring our student population together into a multicultural school community that fosters the understanding, comfort and tolerance of our differences from which we can strive to build our neighborhoods in like manner? Has anyone anywhere come up with a strategy other than “bussing”?
Secondly, Norwalk has equal or superior high rent districts, beaches, parks, tennis courts, golf course, etc. than our neighboring towns, but when one hears people talking about choosing a town to live in and raise their family or about property values in general the one factor separating us from our neighboring towns is the school system. One of our neighbors is rated tops in the state and the others aren’t far behind. Norwalk is rated highly among “cities”, but that is judged to be on a separate and unequal scale. The difference in people’s minds is whether their children will have EVERY opportunity to achieve the highest level of success that they are capable of. That is more likely starting with a homogeneous population but is it even possible starting with a population as diverse as Norwalk’s? If data says yes we need to make that known and accepted. If the data says no we will always be relegated to second class status in the minds of many, despite the excellent job we do with educating many who start behind the eight ball.

nora king May 26, 2021 at 3:29 pm

So where do the parents fit in on this circle/plan? Where is the discussion about our rights, roles and our tax dollars being spent? They are our kids after all.

Michael McGuire May 26, 2021 at 5:20 pm

So the changes at central office are as follows:
The followign are to be removed –
• chief academic officer,
• chief of specialized learning & student services,
• chief of operations,
• chief talent officer,
• chief of communications,
• and chief of digital learning & development.
To be replaced with
• Deputy Superintendent to Equity and Inclusion along with three Assistant Superintendents of presumably Equity and Inclusion.

Question for Ms. Estrella and Mr. Hostin

Since schools are the biggest line item in our City budget, which has now exceeded $1.0 million per week, can you please explain in clear plain language what a Deputy Superintendent of Equity and Inclusion is tasked with? Also, would you kindly provide your definition of Equity.

Example – I think everyone can pretty much understand what a chief academic officer does. But what a Deputy Superintendent of Equity does…..not a clue.

I am not being snarky. Most people do not understand what Equity means in our racially charged environment. Therefore, a clear concise explanation for “we the taxpayers” would be vey much appreciated.

My internet searches on Equity come up with definitions that are vague concepts reflecting each individual’s interpretation (feelings) of what fair, just, and impartial should be.

However, since we each are limited in our knowledge wouldn’t that suggest that the person(s) determining Equity would, by default, be biased? This is particularly germane in our “post-Christian” culture where we have lost site of the “Golden Rule”.

This makes Equity ripe for abuse. I think you owe this to the public before these sweeping changes are made.

George May 27, 2021 at 8:22 pm

It should be about Equal Opportunity not “Equity of Outcome”.

Clearly the comments her indicate the BOE needs to do better in explaining what does Equity mean?

So what does it mean????

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