Opinion: A status report from the Board of Education

NORWALK, Conn.  — As summer vacation starts, it’s time for one of my periodic updates on the status of the Norwalk Public Schools. Previous updates can be found at https://nancyonnorwalk.com/letter-a-status-report-from-the-board-of-education/ and https://nancyonnorwalk.com/letter-a-status-report-from-the-board-of-education-2/. Here are some recent highlights:

1. Budgets: For the second year in a row the Board’s previous year budget is ending in a surplus, and for the second year in a row our new budget has the smallest percentage increase of any city department (despite a raise for teachers and other unionized staff). The budget also includes the first-ever three-year budget projection. See https://nancyonnorwalk.com/rivera-pitches-168-million-responsible-boe-budget/ and https://nancyonnorwalk.com/surplus-in-current-norwalk-schools-budget-could-help-city-get-under-2014-15-cap/.

2. Strategic Plan: Our Strategic Plan is no longer just on paper – it is being put into effect with a significant central office reorganization, a major K-5 Literacy Plan (with literacy experts at every school and millions of dollars of new Common Core-based curricular materials and technology enhancements), and other improvements. See https://nancyonnorwalk.com/norwalk-boe-to-vote-on-ambitious-rivera-reorganization/, https://nancyonnorwalk.com/riveras-literacy-plan-given-go-ahead/, https://nancyonnorwalk.com/norwalk-public-schools-taking-intelligent-risk-going-with-riveras-ela-choice/, .

3. Common Core Curriculum: Norwalk is one of the first communities to achieve full implementation of the new Common Core State Standards. We have approved all mathematics and English curriculum upgrades from K through 12 in all 19 schools. The new Common Core SBAC tests were performed flawlessly this spring with Chromebooks operating on Wifi, which for the first time has been extended through our entire school system. https://nancyonnorwalk.com/rivera-announces-big-news-thanks-staff-for-hard-work/.

4. School Security and Safety: We are in the process of implementing over $2.6 million in security enhancements throughout our schools. Additional Police resource officers have been added to increase security at the schools, the Police department has completed security audits, and we implemented a detailed emergency plan for the schools covering everything from storms to shooting incidents. New communication protocols to get word out quickly regarding any incidents at our schools, through email and text-messaging systems supplementing the Reverse 911 system, are activated. AEDs (defibrillators) have been purchased and will be installed in all schools before the beginning of the next school year. See https://nancyonnorwalk.com/norwalk-schools-research-emergency-scenario-safety-preparedness/ and https://nancyonnorwalk.com/once-around-the-city-matters-of-the-heart/.

5. Technology / Communications: We are in the midst of a multi-year technology program (much of it Common Core-driven). In addition to making all of our schools wireless, we activated our Genesis portal, which allows parents full online access to their children’s assignments and grades. We have a new web site, Facebook page and Twitter account, and all Board of Ed meetings are now videotaped, shown on Cablevision’s educational access channel, and will be loaded soon onto YouTube.

6. Briggs Turnaround: Despite repeated claims from a handful of people that we ‘haven’t done anything about Briggs High School’, the truth is just the opposite. Major progress with this “turnaround school” continues, as testified to by its principal, staff and students. See https://nancyonnorwalk.com/briggs-high-school-progress-touted-by-students-administrators.

7. Special Education: After years of neglect, we are finally addressing the problems with special education in Norwalk, both to improve services and to reduce costs. See https://nancyonnorwalk.com/norwalk-boe-approves-plan-to-restore-decimated-central-office-beef-up-special-ed/.

8. Pre-K and Post-12 Education: We have taken steps to provide both pre-K and after-school programs for our youngest students (https://nancyonnorwalk.com/boe-approves-sonocc-after-school-program-memorandum-excessive-comments-squelched/) and a first-in-the-state joint high school / college technology education program for our high schoolers (https://nancyonnorwalk.com/a-first-for-connecticut-p-tech-academy-in-norwalk/).

9. Facilities: We’re managing additions to Naramake and Rowayton schools, are conducting a $100,000 facilities study to improve long-term management of our physical plant and capital budgeting, are working with the city on energy efficiency and environmental initiatives (https://nancyonnorwalk.com/norwalk-task-force-hopes-to-finally-enact-school-recycling/), and have taken steps to upgrade day to day maintenance and custodial services at our schools as well (https://nancyonnorwalk.com/norwalk-public-schools-looking-to-clean-up-their-act/).

10. Superintendent Rivera: Our extraordinarily qualified Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Manuel Rivera, has lived up to our expectations and then some. He is carrying out a fundamental reorganization of the central office and establishing a forward-looking, 21st century management approach for our schools. He is actively reaching out to our community as he develops and implements his plans. He received a glowing (and well-deserved) first year review from the Board. See https://nancyonnorwalk.com/norwalk-schools-super-given-raise-by-boe/.

The trends in Norwalk’s schools are all upward. It is a pleasure to be able to report on this progress.

Mike Lyons, Chair

Norwalk Board of Education


16 responses to “Opinion: A status report from the Board of Education”

  1. Taxpayer Fatigue

    You are doing a great job, thank you! I hope that all these improvements will translate to improved test scores soon, as that is what drives property values (and of course one of the few measures as to the quality of education our children are receiving, as flawed as they may be). As a fiscal conservative, I would like to see the overall budget decrease, but that doesn’t seem likely to ever happen.

  2. Piberman

    Competence unmatched in recent City history ought to inspire Mayor Rilling to demonstrate similar competence at City Hall. Long past time for more competent administrators at City Hall. Please.

  3. MarjorieM

    Regarding Superintendent Rivera, he has also received his 3% raise PLUS his annual $30,000 annuity. So far, he has implemented programs and budgets that were started before he came. His new central office appointees are costing the district more money over time, and his consultants must be costing plenty. Where is accountability for administrators? Where is the district on setting up a school in South Norwalk? What will he have to accomplish this year to get another 3% raise, his annual $30,000 annuity and the $50,000 bonus? I think taxpayers want to know. Yes, I ask the hard questions.

  4. EveT

    Can you comment on the recent Walkathon at Fox Run School to pay for air conditioners? It was surprising to learn that our schools don’t all have central air conditioning.

  5. Marj, are you deaf? I have noted on multiple occasions that Dr. Rivera didn’t get ANY bonus this year (much less a $50,000 bonus); it is a matter of public record.
    “So far, he has implemented programs and budgets that were started before he came.” Many of the programs listed above started on his watch (or at least on mine). The report doesn’t credit Dr. Rivera with everything being done; its a report on the goings-on, some of which originated with Marks, some with Daddona, some with the Board itself, and many with Rivera.
    Yes, you ask hard questions, but you don’t read the articles you ask the hard questions about.

  6. Taxpayer, our scores are up on state and national tests, though not as much as we’d like; see https://www.nancyonnorwalk.com/2013/08/test-scores-norwalk-tops-among-cities-but-lags-behind-state/ and https://www.nancyonnorwalk.com/2013/09/norwalks-sat-scores-rise-but-rivera-sounds-note-of-caution/. Our best score improvements have been in mathematics, which is a hopeful sign since we’ve been on Common Core math for several years now. The real challenge is getting English scores up, which is why we’ve focused so much time, effort and money on getting the Common Core English program implemented. It went into grades 6-12 this year, and goes into K-5 this fall.

  7. EveT, the Norwalk elementary schools were un-air-conditioned when I went through them, and they still are. That doesn’t make it right, but in a time of limited budgets, air conditioning just wasn’t as high on the priority list as Common Core and school security improvements, which took the bulk of our capital budget money from the City the last two years.
    Dr. Rivera’s $100K facilities study will identify issues like this and help us to develop a capital budget plan than can hopefully address them over time. Alas, we don’t have the resources to solve every problem at once.

  8. MarjorieM

    Mike, I am not deaf. I was referring to your expectations for this coming year. What would he have to do to earn the 3%, the automatic $30,000 yearly annuity AND the $50,000 bonus? What would he have to do for this COMING school year?

  9. Suzanne

    Mr. Lyons, I always appreciate your reports and your responses to queries, so here’s mine: Why does it cost $100K for a facilities study? It would seem like the people on the ground, i.e., teachers, would know what is wrong with their classrooms and the principals, the larger facility.

  10. Thanks, Suzanne. The Facilities Utilization Study is much broader than just identifying things like leaky roofs or lack of ACs in individual buildings. Its designed to give us an overall sense of the physical plant needs of the system, and help with both near-term (e.g., repairs) and long-term (need for school renovations / expansions based on population shifts, etc.) facilities plans, and tie those needs into capital budget planning and requests.

  11. Marj – “What would he have to do for this COMING school year?” A bang-up job — with highly specific goals / objectives, numerically measurable — if a bonus is to be granted. All of which would have to be approved by vote of the Board in advance. As I said in an earlier article in response to a question from you, “We didn’t set numerical performance criteria for his first year, so he is not eligible for a bonus. We are considering possibly setting such criteria for next year, which would be payable (if the set criteria are met) in July, 2015.” The contract says that the Board has the OPTION to set such criteria. If we decide to do so, the contract says that “reasonable, measurable and objective criteria for being awarded such compensation may be determined by the Board. Criteria for assessing the Superintendent’s performance will include by way of example: (1) progress by students measured by tracking the same cohort of students from year to year on appropriate testing; (2) improvement in graduation rates; (3) reduction in the achievement gap between Caucasian and Latino students and between Caucasian and African American students; (4) reduction in teacher absenteeism; and (5) other elements to be determined.” We’re giving that some thought now.

  12. MarjorieM

    Thank you, Mike. I am sure the Board will let us know what the criteria will be once it’s established.

  13. Mike Lyons

    Yes, the criteria, if set, will be measurable and public.

  14. Joe

    Mr. Lyons’ repeated comment, “our new budget has the smallest percentage increase of any city department…” is at best, misleading. The Ed Dept. budget dwarfs all the other departments in dollars spent.

  15. Joe, would you have been happier if, as in most preceding years, the growth in the school budget had been the largest of any city department?

  16. Norwalk Parent

    My biggest concern is this focus on Common Core and SBAC testing, things almost all students, parents, and teachers have consistently argued as unreliable and having questionable validity. GPA and good teachers are the biggest indicator of successful students, not CAPT, CMT, or SBAC. Obviously, some of this is out of your control and federal and state ignorance on these matters, especially Mr. Duncan, makes it difficult for you to do anything in regards to making sure our students and teachers are not “successful” or punished based on improving standardized test scores. I apologize for my rambling – I guess my major hope is that the Board and superintendent realize how successful the teachers and students have been even if some standardized test score does not “prove” it. Students and teachers are human beings – not machines or data sheets. I have always been so concerned with when my child comes home and tells me all of these data-driven tests he is forced to take and his teachers are forced to give and grade, wasting what I assume is valuable time. I am not a teacher, so perhaps they like and prefer to do it. Again, I apologize for the length of my concern.

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