NORWALK, Conn. — A Norwalk educator received national recognition Monday.
Norwalk Public Schools Gifted and Talented Coordinator Lori Leibowitz was named Gifted Coordinator of the Year by the National Association of Gifted Children, West Rocks Middle School gifted and talented teacher Jessica Stargardter said on Twitter.
The honor comes on the heels of NPS ending year two of its three-year plan to reorganize the long overlooked Academically Talented program.
“We have exceeded all the expectations,” said Chief of Specialized Learning and Student Services Yvette Goorevitch at the May 26 Board of Education Curriculum & Instruction Committee, going on to congratulate Leibowitz for a “job very well done.”
NPS began the overhaul in 2018. Enrollment was dropping. There were 785 students in the AT program in 2013-14 and 713 in 2017-18, with the student body growing from 11,169 to 11,573 in that time period, Testing and Evaluation Specialist Diane Filardo said, noting, “We have been named a district of innovation, so this is our chance to show that innovation as we address this problem.”
The first goal was to become compliant with changes in state regulations regarding the identification of students who have gifted potential, Goorevitch said in May. And, “We looked at our data and recognized that there was an inequity and a disproportionality with regard to who was being identified by previous assessment measures.”
Using reading scores disadvantaged second language learners, she said.
Last year, 1,038 students were identified as gifted and talented, up from 819 the previous year, Leibowitz said.
“It’s not a Norwalk issue. This is a national issue of under identification of our ethnicity or ethnic groups and children that do not speak English,” she said.
The enrollment went up by 100 in the first year, Goorevitch said. Overall, it’s about 300 more students in the gifted and talented program.
“I think that’s pretty extraordinary. The fact that we found an additional 300 students that were not they did not have the opportunity to be in gifted and talented so I mean, I’m very, very pleased with our results so far,” Leibowitz said.
There were no English Language Learners in the 2017-18 program, but ELLs are 18.2 percent of the population in 2019-20. The free and reduced lunch population went from 20.5 percent to 59 percent. Special education students went from 1 percent to 15 percent.
“It’s really important that we get to our kids really early,” and although the program begins in third grade, this year NPS has Project GLOW (grow, learn, observe and wonder) in grades one and two, Leibowitz said.
There are also two schools with a full time gifted and talented teacher, Rowayton and Kendall elementaries. And the Academically Talented program has “a real curriculum now, which I’m really proud of,” Leibowitz said.
Representatives from Seattle Public Schools came to visit Norwalk this year because, “They want to build a program like we have here in Norwalk,” Leibowitz said.
“People all around the country and, and even internationally now are seeing the great things that are coming from our program here in Norwalk, and are really trying to emulate what we’re doing with our kids, you know, in their own district. So I’m so proud of, of everything that we’ve done and our students,” Leibowitz said.
“We had 12 National Invention Convention finalists in our public schools this year, that was over double the amount that we had last year,” Leibowitz said. “And I know competitions aren’t for everyone, but it’s just such a source of pride for our community. And these kids, the fact that we were shut down and these were then shifted to virtual competitions that the kids did, so well.”
Eshan Amin, a Brookside Elementary third grader, went on to win third place in the national competition for Toy Scraper 2.0.
Leibowitz also mentioned National History Day.
West Rocks Middle School rocked the Fairfield Regional division of the Connecticut National History Day virtual competition, winning first place in multiple Junior categories. Ponus Ridge Middle School and Roton Middle School students also won awards.
West Rocks students Haylie Lau and Shirley Lin took first place statewide in the Junior Group website category. Their project focused on the Stonewall Uprising.
The “breaking barriers” theme for the contest tied in well with Norwalk’s curriculum, Leibowitz said in May.
She also touted enrichment clusters as generating positive feedback, “kids wanting to come to school because they’re so excited about their cluster.” Her team also enhanced distance learning by designing choice boards that all students could use, she said. Guest speakers on Zoom included a surgeon telling middle school kids about COVID-19 and his job.
“You guys should be proud,” Curriculum & Instruction Committee Chairwoman Sherelle Harris said.
The National Association of Gifted Children has not posted the awards to its website. It states that the award is given to a “district gifted coordinator/administrator who has had a significant and positive impact on the gifted students in his or her district.”