Updated, 4 p.m.: PDF added; 3:34 p.m.: Clarification as to meaning of vote.
NORWALK, Conn. – The proposal to make Kendall Elementary School a groundbreaking year-round educational program, with longer school days and shorter vacations, is set to be voted on Tuesday by the Norwalk Board of Education.
Kendall would become year-round in 2020-21 under the “Above the Bar” proposal. The concept would be approved if the Board votes yes; full implementation approval will come later. In a related discussion, the Board is expected to chose which of two district-wide 2020-21 calendars it prefers; both would overlap with Kendall so that Kendall’s breaks will coincide with those in other schools.
The Kendall proposal, though lauded by Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski and Kendall Elementary School Principal Zakiyyah Baker, has generated opposition from the Norwalk Federation of Teachers.
“There doesn’t seem to have been any communication with the district employees saying, you know, who’s interested in this?” NFT President Mary Yordon said at a May Board of Education meeting, where NFT Kendall building steward Jeff Beckley called it unfair to target Kendall for an NPS experiment.
“Our position on the year-round calendar has not changed,” NFT President Mary Yordon wrote Monday. “We would like the district to adhere to signed agreements and communicate more carefully. The NFT continues to attend public Board meetings in order to be informed of changes. If we ask the right questions in our meetings at City Hall, we can sometimes be informed of changes.”
The year-round model includes an additional 300 hours of teaching per year via an additional five days of school per year and an hour added to the school day, Chief of Digital Learning and Development Ralph Valenzisi told Kendall parents on May 2.
Adamowski has estimated the three-year experiment will cost $5 million; Valenzisi has said $3.6 million. Adamowski in December told the board that outside funders had already pledged to cover half the $3.6 million cost.
The program is planned for a five-week summer break; students who are not reading at grade level will go to a two-week summer program, with a complete school day of instruction in all areas. Parents can opt their children in, if they wish.
‘A plan for the country’
Baker at the recent BoE retreat said 85% of Kendall students receive free or reduced lunch. The idea is to “create a magical learning environment for students,” become a category one school and earn the School of Distinction designation based on the sustained work of all students.
Kendall earned School of Distinction status for 2017-18 because of the achievements of its high needs students in English Language Arts (ELA).
“Our challenge here is to change the conditions so that all children can learn,” Adamowski said. “And this is the difference between paying lip service to all children can learn and actually trying to create a social condition where that could occur.”
Kendall is proud of its School of Distinction status, “But we know that that’s just knocking on the door,” Baker said. “And Above the Bar is about providing a plan not only for our district, but for the state and the country around how you close your achievement gap for all students in a consistent and sustainable way. How do you document it and how do you make sure that it’s not a one-year scenario, but it’s that it’s something that happens over the course of history?”
A personalized educational program that addresses socio-emotional and academic needs with project-based learning and a career and citizenship foundation is the ticket, she said.
Assistant Principal Sarah Carmody spoke of content changes in math and music.
“We will allow all Kendall students to participate and engage in school choice programming and probably at the end of our school day, where students will be able to take elective courses that will be taught by the staff at Kendall. And then at the end of that period or their period of that elected they’ll come up with a project that they will be sharing to demonstrate their learning,” she said.
A Young Scholars Program, like a gifted and talented experience, would identify first- and second-grade students who are achieving academic success, in partnership with the University of Connecticut, Carmody said. Family and Children’s Agency will assist in socio-emotional learning through “lunch bunches” and “providing a wraparound program for our highest needing students.”
Students will have a healthy snack period, Adamowski said.
Kendall is going this year to a family-style dining experience, Carmody said. Also, “We are going to be doing an extended day program on a voluntary basis for students where they can engage in activities and enrichment after school with support from the Carver Center and After the Bell.”
Kendall has nearly 500 students and 250 attend the After the Bell program at Carver, Valenzisi said. “We’re going to be expanding that the goal then would be in year two to be able to have it as the extended day program for all students.”
The advanced curriculum started in 2018-19 and “we were able to kind of scratch the surface on the project based learning on rigorous instruction and being able to engage and enrich and enhance the school day for students,” Carmody said.
Beckley at the May Board meeting said 22 Kendall teachers intended to transfer out of the school.
“As an NFT steward, I’ve had to console crying teachers, counsel them, and rationalize to them feelings about how our school faculty and families seem to be unfairly targeted now as the only school in Norwalk that is facing a change to their calendar,” Beckley said. “What is even more confusing is that the original point of the grant was to create the ‘first ever’ School of Distinction from a school that was as economically challenged as ours; we did that, as well as Tracey and Jefferson, without additional instructional time or without the grant.”
Adamowski on July 26 said there are 38-39 Kendall staff members and 15 or 16 of them had applied for a transfer, and 10 have been placed in other schools.
“So, there’s another four or five that will be placed at the end of next year, before we (go) to the to the calendar, and those positions were filled with people from within and externally, who are very supportive of the ‘balanced’ calendar,” he said. “So we now have three quarters of the staff that is very supportive of it. And we would attempt to get to 100% by the end of next year.”
Yordon on Monday called Adamowski’s numbers “roughly accurate.”
“Changes occur every day,” she wrote. “There are 14 teachers who will not be returning to Kendall due to transfers, reassignments or resignation from the district, according to my most recent report. There is at least one certified person from another school who transferred in to Kendall. There are about seven additional teachers who requested a transfer or who sought out positions elsewhere in the district, but who will be returning to the school.”
She continued, “Every NFT member is a hard-working professional who considers student success a top professional priority, whether they are a newcomer or a veteran in a building, and regardless of transfer status.”
‘Why is there none?’
Kendall’s percentage of high needs students is the highest in the district and one of the highest in the state, Adamowski said on July 26, calling the schools’ math scores “normal” for an 81% high needs population.
“I will tell you that there is no school in the state of Connecticut that has a it has 81% of its students high needs in level one, there’s none. Zero,” Adamowski said. “If we’re successful, this will be the first and why is there none? There’s none because the right conditions do not exist…. This is an issue that challenges the status quo. That challenges every institutional arrangement, it’s important to do what’s important for the students, at Kendall.”
Many of Kendall’s fifth graders were crying on the last day of school because the Carver after school program ended on May 30, Baker said. “We have our own data to show that our kids are excited in teaching and learning the right way. And our parents’ only concern was, ‘I don’t want my child at a desk all day, you know, doing the same thing. What are you going to do in order to personalized learning for them?’”
She drew upon her own upbringing for inspiration.
“We can’t show that we’re growing our students, that it really is for nothing,” she said. “I was a student within communities where I did not get what I needed as a young person. And sometimes I have people who I think really liked me and cared about me, but they didn’t educate me at high levels. And so we need to make sure that we are creating a school environment where we’re doing both.”