NORWALK, Conn. — It’s unfair to target Kendall Elementary School for a Norwalk Public Schools experiment, Jeff Beckley said Tuesday.
“As of this evening, 22 Kendall teachers have confirmed to me over the last two weeks that they have or are ready to notify HR of their intent to transfer,” said Beckley, Norwalk Federation of Teachers co-Kendall building steward, to the Board of Education.
More than 25 audience members wore NFT t-shirts as they watched the early part of Tuesday’s BoE meeting, teachers who had come out to support the concern voiced by NFT leaders over Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski’s proposal to make Kendall a year-round school.
Outside funders are excited about the idea, Adamowski said in December, asserting that half the expected $3.6 million cost of a three-year attempt to create a School of Distinction with a student body comprised of more than 63 percent high-needs students had already been pledged to the district.
The year-round model, which could debut in 2020-21, also includes an additional 300 hours of teaching per year that research has shown significantly improves student achievement, Chief of Digital Learning and Development Ralph Valenzisi told Kendall parents on May 2. Students would go to school for 187 days a year instead of 182, and the school day would be one hour longer.
Teachers stayed away from that meeting to allow parents to voice their opinions, Norwalk Federation of Teachers President Mary Yordon said then, promising that the union would become vocal.
“It’s not an evil nefarious plan. It’s a plan to do something in an experimental way, with a new and novel therapy,” Yordon said Monday. “… But there doesn’t seem to have been any communication with the district employees saying, you know, who’s interested in this?”
“I reached out to try to set up some kind of collaborative communication district wide, that hasn’t really gone anywhere,” she said. “We are really troubled by the prospect of the building engaging in the work next year to plan for this, and the rate of attrition that will be ahead in the next couple of years as teachers do find their exits, who are not committed to this.”
On Tuesday, NFT co-Kendall building steward Heike Reichert and Beckley read a letter he had written to the Board, getting the entire letter out to the public in spite of the 3-minute limitation on public speakers. NFT First Vice President Joe Giandurco spoke to the Board, reiterating previous NFT statements alleging “failed communication” and the administration working around and against teachers as concerns are “largely ignored” as BoE Chairman Mike Barbis looked down at a screen, and Yordon said teachers are committed to their work but “process matters.”
“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.”
Kendall teachers first became concerned after a Dec. 5 NancyOnNorwalk story about Adamowski’s ambitions for the school, and Beckley and Reichert conducted a survey, he said.
- “We had 34 full-time certified staff members participate, or around 97%, which is statistically significant,” Beckley said, listing these results:
- 94% of the staff were opposed to restructuring the traditional model of the school calendar
- 85% of the staff were opposed to adding five additional school days
- 82% of the staff were opposed to increasing the day by another hour (a total of eight)
- 71% of staff were opposed to adding 12 additional days of professional development (Beckley commented that less PD is now planned)
- More than two-thirds of the staff (about 68%) reported that they would request a transfer from Kendall
“Please don’t misunderstand that our school couldn’t use the money from a grant like this to be even better, because what school couldn’t,” Beckley said. “… Yes, research does link poor performance on standardized tests to poverty. That should almost create the desire to enhance Kendall school, who perhaps had the highest growth in ELA in the state of Connecticut last year, with enriching experiences for our students. This could be meaningful summer and school break camps emphasizing arts, athletics, technology, and even careers. But drastically changing the schedule of our school as an experiment, when clearly our performance shows we can be a School of Distinction without this grant, and without the extra hours, seems to be an unfair consequence to the school with the third highest School Accountability Score in Norwalk.”
The 22 teachers who are on the verge of requesting transfers are about 60% of Kendall’s certified staff, nearly the same percentage as was found in December, Reichert said.
“There are others still hoping that this isn’t going to go through. It seems unlikely that Kendall can repeat as a School of Distinction with so much turbulence in staff attempting to leave, being replaced, or perhaps being forced into staying with no alternative and limited buy-in to the model. That also doesn’t seem to be fair to investors looking to allocate millions of dollars either,” Reichert said.
If this is the direction NPS wants to go in, then it’s time to work with the unhappy Kendall teachers to start finding them a new school community to be involved in, and to recruit teachers who are interested in the new model, they said.
“The NFT restates its desire to work with Central Office and the Board of Education,” Yordon said. “Most of the elements of the Kendall model have great value but planning matters and communication matters. The process matters.”
“Teachers are planners and we are committed to these students continued academic success,” Yordon wrote Tuesday evening. “At the Board’s request, in November 2017, we joined in negotiations to create an agreement signed by the Board that would provide a framework to create a year-round school calendar. It is unclear why less than one year later, in August 2018, this agreement was not used to help to shape the Kendall model. Similarly, last year, the Board approved the creation of a new music curriculum. Our math and ELA curriculum date from about 2016. But these are being replaced in the model with new ELA, math and music programs, without going through the Curriculum Committee approval process, or vetting by educators.”
Yordon on Monday said the NFT contract and the year-round schooling agreement says the NFT will be consulted on the establishment of a calendar, yet there have been multiple Kendall year-round calendars circulated and she is not in the loop.
“It doesn’t even look like anybody’s attempting to adhere to the collective agreement,” she said, explaining that the NFT can file a grievance and state Labor Board complaints, “and so we have every intention of exercising those options. But in the meantime, this is becoming a distraction.”
NancyOnNorwalk asked NPS Communications Director Brenda Wilcox Williams early Tuesday for a response to the allegation about the calendars.
“The balanced calendar is still in the formative stage,” Wilcox Williams said in an email. “It wouldn’t go into effect until 2020-21, so drafts are continuing to evolve with input that is being gathered from meetings, info sessions and surveys of the Kendall community. Once there is a concrete proposal to discuss, it will be discussed with the NFT and other unions as needed.”
Setting a calendar is the statutory responsibility of a Board of Education, Adamowski said during the meeting.
He also reiterated the Board’s concern with narrowing the achievement gap.
“Our funders… are very savvy about the research,” Adamowski said. “This is our best attempt, our best thinking, on how to raise the achievement level to for students who have not been able to experience the conditions in the past that would raise their achievement level.”
Kendall has become a School of Distinction because of its growth in English Language Arts, and it was historically Norwalk’s lowest performing school, he added.
“We applaud the growth, and have, and want you to recognize it, but I want you to know that there is still a lot of work here to be done,” Adamowski said. “And I don’t think it will be successful to continue business as usual without some radical change that for the first time can bring very low-income students, very high needs students, to the same standards as other students are meeting.”
Yordon called this “downplaying” Kendall’s School of Distinction achievement.
“We believe the distinction represents extraordinary efforts of the entire extended educational community of Kendall,” she wrote. “There is much work still to be done, but it is discouraging to us to hear this achievement discounted.”