NORWALK, Conn. — Adaptable instruction plans to get through the pandemic. Community engagement. Improved district communications. The groundwork for a strategic plan. These are some of the goals Norwalk Public Schools Superintendent Alexandra Estrella, Ed.D., laid out for the Board of Education on Tuesday.
“Most importantly, my goals talk about the design of a new strategic operating plan for this year, so that we can launch the work effectively in 2021, 2022,” she said. “So a lot of that work is on the way, and will continue to be with an expected draft in February of 2021. So I’m really looking forward to the work ahead.
Estrella listed six overarching goals, with backup documentation that breaks each one down into action steps.
The main goals are:
- To ensure an effective, efficient and well-ordered transition of leadership, while developing a laser focus on increasing the achievement of ALL students.
- To establish a collaborative relationship with the Board of Education that yields trusting and productive conversations to strengthen the governance of the district.
- To generate a deeper understanding of the district’s organizational structures, norms, strengths and needs, multiple opportunities will be created to listen broadly and deeply to diverse district and community stakeholders, while offering them the opportunity to get to know me.
- To improve the flow, frequency, and quality of internal and external communication and information stemming from central office, schools and partnerships.
- To ensure a system of continuous improvement that maximizes services and supports for schools, an evaluation of NPS’s organizational efficacy, productiveness and efficiency will be conducted that will lead to the creation of a new strategic action plan.
- To enable a safe and successful return to school for students and staff, with an instructional plan built for consistency, but adaptable to changing circumstances.
The “expected outcomes” from these are:
- Identifying the priorities and direction of Norwalk Public Schools.
- As a result of the “listening and learning tour” and other engagements, a comprehensive summary of the findings, observations and potential next steps will be created for further reflection and implementation.
- The foundation of a strategic five-year plan will be established as well as short-term improvement plans for areas of immediate attention, while also establishing how the Board of Education and (the superintendent) will engage in systemic reform by raising the bar to increase student achievement.
Estrella said since she’s started this summer, she and the administration have focused on “community engagement.”
“The emphasis has been around community engagement—getting to meet members of different constituents within the community, spending a lot of time listening and learning from the different constituents, learning about the things that have been working well, things that we continue to improve upon and address,” she said.
One of the ways they’re engaging the community is through the district’s equity project, Estrella said.
“The equity project is one element of the work that we’re utilizing that I’m utilizing to learn from the community—what things we need to continue to look at and stress upon,” she said. “But also I’ve engaged in community in listening and learning conversations alongside board members to learn about the things that I have been working well the things that community members and different constituents within the organization feel we need to continue to have, but also what are the things we need to continue to improve upon and addressed, and we’ve had some really robust conversations, and it has provided a lot of insight into the work ahead.”
Estrella said that she had to add a COVID-related goal, since she took over the district in the middle of the pandemic this summer.
“A lot of it consists of the reopening plan, the work that we’ve been doing, to ensure the safety and well-being of our students while keeping at the forefront, the need to continue to ensure that students are learning day in and day out, and that we’re making the best choices for student learning as we work alongside our staff within the scope of the different constituents in the district,” she said.
However, she emphasized that she wanted to make sure that despite the pandemic, the district continues to address other priorities and needs of students.
“We’re also tackling the work that has been as a result of the pandemic and making sure that we are juggling both items and not allowing one thing to take more priority than the other because both of them are essential—one to maintain the work that we need to do now, but most importantly, to keep in mind the work that needs to be done as we move forward,” she said. “We (need to) think about the success that we expect to see in our work as we transition out of this pandemic as well.”
Board members said they appreciated the detailed goals Estrella set for herself and the administration.
“I think it is a huge Herculean task to do all the things that you’ve laid out for yourself,” said Barbara Meyer-Mitchell. “And we’re very excited to see how that plays out for the district. It’s obviously a different approach than the previous Board took with more measurable goals related to student outcomes. But I think that, especially in this first year, as we are transitioning into with many, many changes, it’s a really great plan to prioritize understanding the full community and all the different pieces at play. So I appreciate these goals and the thoroughness of your tasks as you played them out.”
Newly named Board Chairman Colin Hosten said that he was encouraged about how Estrella is involving the community of families, parents, and students in her work.
“When we think about developing a five-year plan to take the district into the foreseeable future, I’m really pleased that that is being informed directly by this listening and learning tour,” he said. “This engagement with the community starts with our students, and includes the voices from our parents and other parts of our community, including our teachers, other classroom personnel, our staff, and, of course, the leaders of the district and the senior leadership.”