Rivera’s split plan draws support, skepticism

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.

Norwalk Board of Education member Shirley Mosby addresses Superintendent Manny Rivera Tuesday in City Hall.

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.”


11 responses to “Rivera’s split plan draws support, skepticism”

  1. Marjorie M

    There is a large difference between Journeys and CKLA, according to the ratings of the teachers who studied the various programs. I agree with those who want consistency. It is rumoured that Rowayton will choose CKLA. It makes no sense. Journeys has the best program to support the State standards. One vote here for consistency!

  2. John Hamlin

    For once we should give a new superintendent a chance to make a difference.

  3. Carolyn Chiodo

    Consistency is common core standards not a text book. Norwalk has a large achievement gap and needs multiple tactics to close it. Bravo to Rivera for coming up with multiple strategies… parent component, PD, technology and text book(s). I think piloting the CKLA in one or two schools is brilliant (which ever they are) Never before has Norwalk had such a comprehensive/strategic literacy plan. I’m impressed.

  4. The teachers have endorsed Rivera’s entire plan, including the CKLA pilots. “The 42 page presentation is a comprehensive framework for literacy k-5. This is what Norwalk teachers have been waiting for a long time.” – Bruce Mellion, NON, 2/28/14. “Norwalk Federation of Teachers President Bruce Mellion was effusive in his praise for the plan. ‘The key word is literacy; it’s not about the selection, it’s about a comprehensive literacy program,’ he said. ‘It’s well developed, well thought out, it’s something I’m very, very supportive of.’ Mellion said the most important piece of the strategy was parental involvement, which calls for the development of a guidebook to help parents learn what they can do to improve language and cognitive development, as well as ‘Parent Cafes’ where parents will have access to additional resources. ‘It’s comprehensive in every way, shape, form and aspect,’ he said. ‘I think everybody can get behind it in a very positive way, and if everyone does their part, we can have some tremendous success.’” – Bruce Mellion, The Hour, 3/1/14.

  5. the donut hole

    The only question is after common core fails, what will be the next wonderful program.
    After that happens will people finally start to understand that centralized bureaucratic approach to education is one of the primary causes of failure?
    These are the same folks who implemented NCLB, why do we think that CC is some kind of silver bullet?

  6. jlightfield

    This is exactly how you move an idea forward to implementation. A long time in coming in the BOE and I’m happy to see progress.

  7. Thanks, Jackie. This comprehensive approach to literacy (coupled with a commitment to innovation) is unprecedented in Norwalk.

    donot hole — Thanks for the optimistic outlook. Maybe you’d prefer the status quo?

    The curriculum approach we’re taking here is not ‘centralized and bureacratic’ – it is locally devised and open. The base textbook – Journeys (http://www.hmhco.com/shop/education-curriculum/reading/core-reading-programs/journeys) will be used at all 12 elementary schools along with the Core Knowledge Readers by Scholastic for supplementary readings (http://teacher.scholastic.com/products/classroombooks/coreknowledge.htm). The option to pilot CKLA at two schools provides for innovation and comparison of programs to measure results and share best practices.

    The “consistency” is found in the entire program, not in the base textbook, which is why the ‘lack of consistency’ argument is faulty — consistency is a good thing, but absolutely uniformity of reading materials isn’t needed to get there.

    Finally, in this plan each elementary classroom will also receive $1,000 to be used for purchase of books in the teachers’ discretion for even more supplemental reading. Purchase of all of these materials is made possible by the fact that Journeys only costs about half of what the originally-proposed Pearson textbooks would have cost, thus freeing up funding for more supplemental reading materials.

  8. the donut hole

    Mike, thanks for educating on the book selection and the benefits. I know you are making a big time difference even if I am skeptical of Common Core. I hope you can understand why some of us feel this way given it is being driven by the same folks pushing Obamacare. It is really hard to believe anything they say or do anymore.

  9. SoNoCC

    @Mike Lyons:
    SoNoCC applauds Dr. Rivera, Mike Lyons, the BOE, and the professional staff members who have spent endless hours in developing this comprehensive approach. We are especially appreciative of the attention given to the needs of the children of District 99, here in the heart of South Norwalk.

  10. donut, I hear you. Much of the ‘red state’ opposition to the Common Core started when the Obama Administration started pushing it. I’m no fan of Pres. Obama, but if he says 2+2=4, 4 is the correct answer, whether one likes him or not. Likewise, if the Common Core is good, Pres. Obama’s support doesn’t change that.

    The real push for strong common content started back in the ’90’s with E.D. Hirsch and the Core Knowledge Foundation. Their philosophy took 15 years to catch on, but now it has. Interestingly, Hirsch himself is a liberal Democrat with an Obama sticker on his bumper. But there is strong support for the Core approach from the conservative side of the aisle, too; here are two good reads from that perspective on why it should be supported:




  11. Lifelong Teacher

    Our twelve elementary schools are very different. Walk through the hallways, meet the students, parents and staff, and look at the enrollment and demographics. Why are things so unbalanced? That’s a whole other story, but my point is one size does NOT fit all.

    Journeys, CKLA, Expedentiary Learning, they are just a set of books. The Common Core is now the curriculum we must all address. Professional development and accountability for teachers and leaders will make the difference.

    I echo Mike Lyons’ statement. This is an unprecedented commitment to literacy.

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