NORWALK, Conn. — The dates for high school graduations and middle school promotion ceremonies are set, but the exact number of people who will be allowed at each are still up in the air, Norwalk Public Schools Superintendent Alexandra Estrella said at the Board of Education meeting on Tuesday.
The ceremonies will be most likely outdoors, she said.
“The numbers are going to depend on the cases around that time,” she said. “Right now, we have restrictions in terms of how large the groups can be. And we’re also even trying to organize prom and taking these numbers into account. So it’s a day-by-day situation right now.”
Estrella said the recent rise in cases in the area halted their plan to move ahead from the hybrid model.
“One of the reasons why we were unable to transition our middle schools and high schools to three feet (distancing) was because our cases started to spike again, so until our cases start to normalize, or most importantly, drop, it’s going to be hard for us to give any type of precision and how we’re moving forward at this point,” she said.
The plan is to have the last day of school on Friday, June 18, which will be a two-hour early dismissal for students, she said.
Graduation and middle school promotion dates are as followed:
- Center for Global Studies: Friday, June 11, 6 p.m.
- Middle school promotions: Wednesday, June 16, 6 p.m.
- Norwalk High School and P-Tech Academy: Thursday, June 17 6 p.m.
- Brien McMahon High School: Friday, June 18 at 6 p.m.
New survey for students
The Norwalk Partnership, which aims to prevent substance abuse and misuse in teenagers, will be conducting a survey with the school district in May to gain an insight into students’ social emotional and mental health, as well as how prevention efforts are working. There will also be some questions about the district’s focus on equity.
“Youth voice has been highlighted as an important focus,” Yvette Goorevitch, Norwalk’s Chief of Specialized Learning and Student Services, said. “It is a student survey for middle and high school students … It will allow us to raise awareness and also reset our baseline as we measure the impact of our social emotional, mental health and prevention education initiatives, both within our schools and within our community.”
Norwalk Partnership, which was formed in 2020 through combining the work of the Community Prevention Task Force, which was managed by the Human Services Council (HSC), and the Partnership, managed by Positive Directions – The Center for Prevention and Counseling, will be using a new survey to avoid some of the concerns that were raised when a similar type of survey was administered in 2018.
“We are pivoting to a different survey instrument that we think is going to give us the information we need now, and also avoid some of the issues from the previous survey,” said Margaret Watt, Prevention Director for Positive Directions. “So in the previous survey, there was some controversy about the fact that it asked about sexual behaviors, even in the middle school survey; the new instrument that we’re proposing, does not get into any of that. The survey that we want to use is called the developmental relationship survey.”
The questions will ask about how students are doing, the substance use, if there is any, as well as how COVID has impacted them. Counselors will be available to provide support for students who need it to help answer the survey, whether one-on-one or in a small group.
Parents can opt their students out of the survey if they want to, Goorevitch said, and the goal is to survey about 3,400 students from grades 7 through 12.
“Based on the 2018 data that we had, the risky behavior and the issues of feeling so sad, and thinking about self-harm, was chilling – it was chilling nationally, it was chilling across the state, and it was chilling locally, to the point that we really needed to form this coalition that Margaret spoke about,” Goorevitch said. “That was pre-COVID. So we know, we need this data. And we know we need wraparound services, and that we need to plan for the partnership. While the school district invests and supports the social emotional learning, it is a really larger picture that needs a wraparound approach.”
The survey will take place in a few weeks and take less than a class period, she said. Watt said she hoped to have results to present back to the board in May.
Strategic plan update
The strategic plan has just wrapped up its need assessment, which took longer than expected, according to Richard Lemons, executive director for the Connecticut Center for School Change, in part because of “brilliant reasons.”
Those reasons included making sure other plans that are taking place simultaneously, such as the facilities study and the equity and inclusion work, were put into the strategic plan. There was a push to make sure a wide variety of stakeholders were able to share their thoughts and opinions, he said.
“We’ve gone out into the community in a variety of ways and gathered more data over the last few weeks,” Lemons said. “We’re going to soon be making meaning of that and turning into these next two parts of the work so that we can get you a draft plan in May. So it’s been an exhaustive needs assessment.”
The strategic plan task force conducted interviews with union and district leadership, and held about 28 focus groups with administrators, teachers, students, families, residents with no students, civic leaders, and local philanthropic and funding partners. Almost 600 educators also completed a survey to provide more feedback.
While most of the data is still being gathered and analyzed, Lemons said there were some major areas that came up from all of the groups.
On the “asset” side, where participants were asked what the district is doing well participants in the groups and surveys highlighted:
- Diversity in the community and among students
- A culture and practice of inclusiveness
- Passionate, hard-working, and caring staff
- A recent period of leadership stability
- A variety of programmatic offerings
- Commitment to career pathways
- Commitment to continuing to improve
- Innovation during the pandemic to provide services to families and students.
On the “development” side, where participants could describe areas the district needed to work on and improve, the groups and surveys noted:
- A need to attack inequity and disproportionality
- Foster consistent leadership
- Develop consistency and quality across the district
- Enhance systems development and promote coherence across the district
- Enhance academic rigor
- Examine the work being done at the middle school level
- College and workforce readiness
“My team has more work to do to sort through all of the focus group transcripts and notes that we have, we have to work through that survey,” Lemons said. “And we have to pull together the sources of information that we’ve been wrestling with for almost three months now, and kind of quickly turn the corner. I’m excited about what we’re going to be bringing to you, I believe it’s in mid-May now a draft of that framework that will include all of this, embedded within it.”