Correction: Sherelle Harris’s questions about the superintendent’s recommendation were mischaracterized in the original version of the story.
NORWALK, Conn. – Support for Superintendent Manny Rivera’s choice of English Language curricula appears strong in some quarters, but some Board of Education members are still questioning what they see as a step away from much desired consistency in Norwalk Public Schools.
Rivera is recommending Journeys as a city-wide curriculum for grades kindergarten to fifth grade. But schools interested in using Core Knowledge can make a proposal to go that route under his plan. He would then evaluate the proposals and allow a maximum of two schools to go ahead.
The board is expected to vote on this March 18.
Rivera’s presentation of his PreK-5 Literacy and Comprehensive Plan and Recommendations to the BOE Curriculum Committee last week drew immediate questions, as BoE member Shirley Mosby expressed concern.
Tuesday night’s BOE meeting provided a mixture of enthusiastic support from community members and muted questioning from Mosby, Migdalia Rivas and Rosa Murray.
Sherelle Harris said she had emailed Rivera questions and had gotten her answers.
“We have been trying to have some kind of consistency for years,” Rivas said. “I don’t know, this is an opportunity to get started with this year with what we’re working on. I would think that maybe we would continue to encourage a consistency.”
Journeys sounds consistent, she said.
“When you have feeder schools, when you have students coming out of elementary schools going into middle schools, they have to have consistency,” Murray said. “I’m really looking forward to seeing how this works. I know we talk about thinking out of the box but we are talking about kids education. We can’t afford any more time lost. We need to be very, very careful on how this is decided, but we need to move forward.”
“The reason for selecting Journeys is because it is a very comprehensive program,” Rivera said. “They have kits and components and tools for intervention, they have a strong ELL (English Language Learners) component, they have a strong digital component, and given some of the needs that I have observed in terms of our faculty, that is why I am comfortable recommending a comprehensive program city-wide,” Rivera said. “Core Knowledge doesn’t have some of those elements right now, that are fully developed.”
But he was “very impressed” with the year one data for Core Knowledge, he said.
“Students coming in new demonstrated the biggest gain right away,” he said. “… I am familiar with schools from my prior experience that have used CKLA — schools in Washington D.C. — and they have performed very well.”
Curriculum vendors are very concerned with “fidelity of implementation,” Rivera said.
“They want to make sure that the programs that we implement are as designed,” he said. “You’ve got to have that strong commitment coming from a principal and with the staff.”
Lauren Rosato of the Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) Council said Rivera had done his due diligence in forming the “extremely comprehensive” plan.
“Our kids will be the ones to pay if there is an impasse on the Board of Education in approving this plan,” she said. “We supported you in conducting a national search for a new superintendent that resulted in the appointment of Dr. Rivera. We ask you now to allow him to lead us. He is more than qualified to make educational decisions in the best interests of our students, parents and teachers.”
Norwalk Federation of Teachers President Bruce Mellion called Rivera’s plan a “quantum leap forward.”
“On behalf of the teachers I can only say they are very happy to see that we have gotten to this point after a very long process,” he said.
“The reading that I am getting is that it’s fully supported across the system,” Rivera said.
Mosby said that she knew that the Core Knowledge curriculum has pros and cons.
“I don’t want to get into that because I know that one side is going to argue one way, one side is going to argue the other,” she said.
Her concern was that the parents get input into whether or not their school becomes a pilot program, going the alternative route, she said.
Rivera said a letter had been drafted to send to all parents of elementary school children. Comments or suggestions will be tracked, he said.
Consistency in the school system will be achieved because of Common Core State Standards, he said.
“The glue that holds everything together are the Common Core State Standards,” he said. “That’s going to be non-negotiable, professional development for all staff. … I think we’re going to have to invest in some summer institutes, potentially offering summer institutes at two different times during the summer, bringing back teachers early or giving them an option of participating in one versus another.”
BOE members Heidi Keyes and Artie Kassimis indicated support.
“You didn’t just take a curriculum and say here is my choice, you’re putting a whole plan together and it looks like you’ve actually engaged the entire Norwalk community,” Kassimis said. “You’ve got libraries, you’ve got parents, you’ve got all the different aspects that the city has to offer. I appreciate that very much.”
“I can stand here very confidently and tell you that I think I have made the absolute right recommendation here,” Rivera said. “I am going to ask you to support that.”