Report: Norwalk schools CISD rollout was poorly done

Then-Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Manny Rivera in January 2014 pitches his budget, which included curriculum and instruction site directors. (Archive photo)
Then-Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Manny Rivera in January 2014 pitches his budget, which included curriculum and instruction site directors. (Archive photo)

NORWALK, Conn. – The 2014-15 rollout of a new, critical, Norwalk Public Schools group of administrators was “severely flawed,” according to a report issued by a company hired by the Board of Education to study the reasons a large grant was lost.

MRM, a marketing, research and merchandising company with a 25-year history of evaluating federal and national grant programs, was hired by Interim Superintendent James Connelly in May to assess the progress of installing curriculum and instructional site directors (CISD) in Norwalk Public Schools, a position that was created by former Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Manny Rivera. The report, in part, was commissioned due to the decision of the Dalio Foundation not to fund the directors in their second year – a loss of half of a $2 million grant.

While Dalio cited the “change in district leadership and the lack of an aligned vision and strategy” at Norwalk Public Schools as its reasons in a terse letter informing NPS that it was pulling its funding for the second year after spending a reported $1.1M for the first year of the grant, MRM lays out a case for lack of leadership in rolling out the CISDs.

An excerpt:


  • The lack of clear communication was a major obstacle in the successful implementation of the program.
  • The failure to bring principals in at the planning phase contributed significantly to the problems the initiative faced.
  • Other than the job description, Site Directors received no preparatory professional development (PD) for their roles, although several were assuming their first administrative positions.
  • There was wide-ranging concern about the limited amount of time allotted to teacher PD, especially in light of the new Journeys (English Language curriculum) program.
  • There was confusion surrounding whether the CISDs would report to principals or to the head of literacy in the Central office.
  • CISD’s indicated they would have benefited from scheduled meetings with other CISD’s to discuss what was working, what wasn’t working, and why. Group time with Principals to discuss their roles and share their PD would also have been beneficial.
  • While the focus on mClass assessments had its critics, the diagnostics, progress monitoring and intervention strategies appear to have had an impact on student achievement.
  • While the CISD job description very clearly included student engagement, it does appear to have taken a back seat to assessment and intervention strategies.
  • The goals and expectations of the Dalio Foundation grant were not shared with the schools they funded in a clear or timely manner.
  • There was little or no effort made to communicate the responsibilities of CISDs and/or how they differed from traditional APs, to key stakeholders including teachers and parents.
  • The time it takes to build relationships of trust and respect appears to have been overlooked in the planning process of this new initiative, particularly by funders looking for ‘measurable’ results in a short time frame.

The report states over and over that CISDs are a good idea, strongly recommending that the position be maintained for at least another year to “allow time for critical course correction and reevaluation.” It cites some successes with the role and offers recommendations for the future.

“It’s obviously disappointing that the roll-out was poorly executed,” BoE Chairman Mike Lyons said in an email. “As I stated at Convocation, our strategic planning process gave us a good master plan for the next five years, but some of the implementation of it sputtered. As I’ve also noted on many occasions, the Board was aware of this, and the obvious need to move from planning to effective implementation was the principal reason that Dr. Adamowski was chosen as superintendent – this is his forte.”

Implementation of Common Core State Standards requires a comprehensive reform effort that is “difficult and time consuming,” the report states. That led Norwalk to realize that half-time assistant principals were inadequate and to create CISDs, the report states.

“The purpose of installing Curriculum and Instruction Site Director in Norwalk’s Elementary Schools, and the varied objectives of the principle grants involved in funding them and/or their responsibilities, created considerable confusion, and not inconsiderable obstacles, in the first year of the program,” the report states. “However, even as everyone dealt with this well-intentioned, but poorly explained and implemented shift in priorities, there were some clear positives that emerged from this initiative.”

MRM, in explaining its methodology, states that it interviewed six principals, six site directors, and seven members of central office staff, all of whom had been involved in the CISD rollout and were eager to talk about the experience.

MRM offers these quotes:

  • “There was chaos at every level, no one to go to for an answer.”
  • “When the concept of CISDs was presented to the Principals it was an assistant principal in name change only.”
  • “CISDs have made terrific impact on schools; I expect real progress on the elementary level.
  • The first year is the hardest. We are on track for learning. Keep the momentum going.”
  • “I hope the CISD position will continue. I’ve already seen growth with teachers.”

“There was wide-ranging concern about the limited amount of time allotted to teacher PD, especially in light of the new Journeys program,” the report states, offering these quotes:

  • “All we did was open the box.”
  • “It doesn’t matter what’s in the box if you don’t know your standards.”
  • “The Journeys curriculum rollout was nightmarish. From the teachers’ point of view, it was the worst rollout ever.”

“To reiterate, all interviewed felt the position of Site Director should be sustained for at least one more school year,” the report states. “In large part, their reasoning is that the lack of training, the lack of preparatory time and the lack of clarity concerning the role of the CISD disallowed rapid integration of the new responsibilities. As evidenced above, principals and CISDs felt that they had no time to plan how the CISDs would function in their buildings.”

NPS set “highly ambitious goals” for the 2013-14 school year, the report states, going on to quote Rivera explaining in an August 2013 letter that NPS “would make every effort to coordinate “all of its entitlement resources.” The resources listed included: Priority Schools, Extended School Hours, Accountability, Title I, Title II, Title Ill and Alliance funding, as well as grants GE Capital, the Dalio Family Foundation, the Grossman Family foundation, the Nellie Mae Education Foundation and the K-3 Early Literacy Assessment Pilot Grant.”

“This is important because it illustrates the complexity of the challenge,” the report states. “While many of these grant goals were compatible, the expectations and requirements of each grantor were certainly not identical. This effort to bring all external resources together into a common focus may have contributed to the loss of Dalio Foundation funding for the second year of their grant.”

MRM makes these recommendations:

  1. Clarify the objectives of the position and the program and resolve open issues.
  2. Publicize the rationale for the program and share it with parents, teachers and all stakeholders.
  3. Perform crosswalks to clearly identify the gaps between current standards and associated curriculum, instruction and assessment, and those of the CCSS.
  4. Develop action/accountability plans and timelines for the implementation of the CCSS and the alignment of curriculum to standards in ELA and Mathematics.
  5. Engage principals, CISDs, and Elementary teachers in the planning of goals, priorities and measures of progress and document the decisions made.
  6. Resolve differences of opinion concerning the full mClass assessment process.
  7. Develop a PO calendar that balances attention to assessment, Journeys and whole chi d/student engagement.
  8. Revise the CISD job description based on the outcomes of the above recommendations.
  9. Appoint a Central Office Coordinator to manage communications, arrange training sessions, develop the agenda for the quarterly meetings and document all relevant proceedings.
  10. Consistently promote the discussion of accomplishments and obstacles among and between Site Directors and Principals, and celebrate successes, small and large.
  11. Offer leadership training, coaching and mentoring to the CISDs.
  12. Train CISDs to provide in-depth and embedded PD for teachers in the use of Journeys.

The Board recently hired Michael T. Conner, Ed. D, as NPS chief academic officer.

“I know that addressing the issues with CISDs is one of the many priorities (Adamowski is) working on, and that Dr. Conner will have a big role in getting them up to speed (yes, the ‘coordinator role’ will be filled by him as CAO),” Lyons said.

Although Dalio announced that it was pulling its funding after the mid-year progress report, the end of year report shows much better results.

The Dalio Foundation Final Report states:

“During the BOY to MOY period of the 2014-15 school year, schools were not consistently employing the progress monitoring features of the mCLASS system as designed. Diagnostic assessments were not a required feature of this year’s assessment plan. Growth in student achievement from BOY to MOY was less than optimum. … The growth from MOY to EOY seen in student scores was substantial, with 80% of K-3 students (including ELL and Special Education) achieving benchmark on DIBELS assessments.”

The report provides the following chart, showing increases in the number of students who reached goal level.

Fullscreen capture 972015 80051 PM

The MRM report offers this assessment:

Student achievement

  • The end-of-the year DIBELS reports from all schools, including the five Dalio Foundation schools, showed quite positive results:
  • The percentage of k-3 students at benchmark was 79.9%, a 9.5% increase over the previous year
  • The percent of all kindergarten students (where the first year of training was focused) was 82.2%, more than a 14% improvement over the previous year.
  • The percent of all students achieving benchmark in the five Dalio schools averaged 78.8%, and the percent of kindergarten students reaching benchmark in those schools was 86.6%.

Administrative Impact

  • All Site Directors provided some form of professional dt (PD) individual teachers, grade level teams and/or entire staffs.
  • All Site Directors have begun building trust relationships with teachers in their buildings.
  • All Principals and Site Directors believe that the fidelity of teacher- evaluations improved due to collaboration of Principals and Site Oirecto1s..
  • More than 80% of Principals and Site Directors see the Site Director role as distinctly different than the role of Assistant Principal
  • More than 80% of Principals have adjusted Site Director’s responsibilities to one degree or another to accommodate their greater role in instructional leadership.
  • More than 80% of Site Directors have regularly attended training sessions in diagnostic and progress monitoring assessment conducted by the Central Office Literacy Director.
  • At least two thirds of Site Directors have demonstrated diagnostic and progress monitoring strategies in individual classrooms at grade level meetings and/or for the entire staff.

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8 responses to “Report: Norwalk schools CISD rollout was poorly done”

  1. Sue Haynie

    The just-retired Deputy Superintendent Dadonna made $215,000/year+ benefits. He oversaw all administrators and principals as well as Curriculum and Instruction. Dadonna worked alongside Bruce Mellion of the NFT and Tony Ditrio, the NASA administrators head, for almost a decade. There was a lack of communication between these 3 highly compensated, long-time partners in key leadership positions? Or was there a lack of will and an aversion to change?

    Dr. Maureen Ruby, the K-5 Literacy Instructional Specialist, was the Leader in charge of the one-bright spot in this report, the mCLASS assessments, which had a significant impact on student achievement.

  2. A few quick points to the defeated Sue Haynie-

    1. Clearly reading comprehension skills need to be emphasized for students as well as the frequent naysayers and blame-fixers (with far too much access to the internet). The report faulted the school department leadership. “LEADERSHIP” usually means the person in charge.

    2. When Manny Rivera was superintendent, he was in charge (with the able assistance of his shadow-superintendent).

    3. If Haynie’s spin is accurate then we need to look at the majority block on the Board of Education. After all, if one deputy is to share the blame, then what about the Band of Five who blindly supported the Superintendent, approved the Deputy’s re-appointment and approved the hiring of a Technology and Partnership Guru (who was supposed to be tending to the “partnership” with the Dalio Foundation)?

  3. Hobbes, just to keep the vote counts accurate, Rivera was appointed by a 7-2 vote (not just by the “Band of Five”); Daddona’s contract renewal was approved by a 7-2 vote (with two of the “Band” voting against it (Haynie and Barbis)); the plan for CISDs was approved 9-0; and Valenzisi’s appointment was approved 9-0.

    I agree there is too much “blame fixing” going on here. Rivera is gone, Daddona is gone, Ruby is gone. The analysis of what happened with this grant was done by interim superintendent Connelly with the support of the Board; we wanted to know what happened so we can prevent it from happening again. Now Adamowski is here, Conner is about to start (and will be responsible for the CISDs) and we have a roadmap on what needs to be done. Dr. Adamowski has already begun implementing the twelve recommendations made in the report.

  4. MarjorieM

    There you go again, Sue Haynie! Daddona was NOT NOT NOT in charge of the Dalio Foundation Grant. Ralph was. Daddona was totally left out of the loop. GET YOUR FACTS STRAIGHT FOR ONCE! Ralph met with principals and the Dalio Representatives. Ralph visited the schools with the Dalio representatives. Ralph wrote the mid year report for the grant. Daddona had NOTHING to do with it per Manny Rivera. STOP YOUR ATTACKS ON DADDONA ONCE AND FOR ALL!

  5. NPS Retired Teacher

    Sue Haynie, why are you blaming Tony? He had nothing to do with this grant. He was totally excluded by Rivera. Ralph Valenzi had the reins for all of the antics that transpired. He was over his head. He did not have the leadership skills to take care of all that was necessary with this grant.

    Place the blame where it belongs. . . not on the head of Daddona.

    He is retired. Find another victim to blame for all that is wrong with the district.

  6. Steve Colarossi

    There has been nothing in any report to suggest the grand conspiracy unabashedly spun by the first poster.

    There has been nothing to support the wild speculation that Manny Rivera’s good sense was overtaken by some mind-control trick by 2 union officials and one deputy administrator.

    There hasn’t been a single shred of evidence to suggest that the Norwalk public schools weren’t lead by Supt. Manny Rivera during the design and implementation of the Dalio-Foundation-funded program. Perhaps reasonable people could disagree as to whether any one person was responsible for the grant loss. After all, Norwalk’s education organization has suffered for years with imperfect and inconsistent upper administration.

    But there can be no doubt that the habitual libel of assessing blame on individuals with no responsibility for negotiating the grant, designing the position or overseeing grant compliance is as wrong as it is repugnant to common sense and decency.

  7. IMHO

    @ Sue Haynie

    It would be humanistic of you to refrain from slinging mud at Bruce Mellion on a day when the man’s death was announced. I am sure that at 8:24 a.m. when you posted your comment you did not know of the passing of the NFT President. However, maybe the poor timing of your name calling with regard to this one individual as part of the three you have called out in your post will give you some hesitation in the future about the continual way you identify and accuse NPS employees in public. This Roman Colloseum mentality of putting people in the middle of the virtual arena here and sending in the lions to tear them apart must stop. Is it any small wonder that there was a mass exodus of administrators who no longer wanted to be a part of this culture of tearing down NPS employees?

  8. Jerri Drazkiewicz formerly known as Norwalk Lifer

    People like the first poster is why many are leaving Norwalk

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