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A Message from Mike Lyons: A Look Back, A Look Ahead

A Message from Mike Lyons: A Look Back, A Look Ahead
Posted on 10/07/2016
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As we settle into the 2016-2017 school year in the Norwalk Public Schools, it is important to note how much progress we have made in recent years in moving our schools forward. 
There is much yet to be done, absolutely; but Norwalk’s student body has the reached the highest achievement level of any urban school system in the State, and we intend to build on that achievement to make our good school system into a great one.

An overview of progress at our schools this past year includes the following accomplishments:

  • A strong, experienced senior management team is now in place with the hiring of Dr. Steven Adamowski as Superintendent of Schools, and with the addition this year of Dr. Michael Conner as Chief Academic Officer, Dr. Lynn Toper as Chief of Specialized Learning and Student Services, Frank Costanzo as Chief Operating Officer, Tom Hamilton as Chief Financial Officer, and Cherese Chery as Chief Human Resources Officer.

  • The Board of Education adopted of a three-year Strategic Operating Plan to guide the direction of Norwalk Public Schools through the 2018-19 school year. The plan includes a variety of performance measures which will be used to monitor progress over the next three years.

  • As part of the Strategic Operating Plan, the Board of Education adopted a new “Theory of Action” to drive fundamental change. Known as Managed Performance Empowerment, MPE provides autonomy to schools with improved performance and closely manages those that do not meet expected benchmarks for student achievement. As part of this initiative, Student-Based Budgeting is being phased in to assure equity among our 19 schools.

  • Following the presentation of the 2015 CREC Special Education Review, work began on the priority action items necessary to improve education of students with special learning needs. The role of Chief of Specialized Learning and Student Services was created as a new, senior management position that reports to the Superintendent. A $3.6 special funding plan was agreed to with the City to support rebuilding our special education programs.

  • The Board of Education approved a new policy that is establishing School Governance Councils at all schools. School Governance Councils will be the primary, local school decision-making body of a school, with memberships that include parents and guardians, teachers, community leaders, the school principal, and at the high school level, students.

  • A comprehensive Facilities Utilization Study has moved from the study phase to the implementation phase, with an extremely detailed plan now under review and $2.5 million in capital funding designated to start work with in 2016-17. The plan calls for construction of three new schools and major renovations at other schools over the next ten years.

  • To increase academic achievement and close the achievement gap, the District convened a Middle Grades Design and Improvement Committee with the goal of identifying improvements that have begin roll outs at each middle school this year.

  • To close the Achievement Gap, Norwalk Public Schools redirected grant funding to support implementing of Tier II and Tier III interventions, which includes increasing math educational time from 60 to 90 minutes per day in the elementary and middle schools.

  • NPS is significantly reducing the amount of high-stakes testing of our children (many of the older tests had limited value), while replacing old tests with a smaller number of more effective tests (e.g., NWEA) that provide better feedback to allow successful interventions to help children during the school year.

  • For the first time, Norwalk Public Schools has school calendars confirmed for two school years at a time.  With the Board of Education approving calendars for the upcoming school year and the one that follows, families and community organizations now have a head start on planning for the following school year.

  • In 2015-16, work continued on the new Norwalk Early Childhood Center, which opened this fall to serve both special needs and typical PreK students in a beautifully-renovated facility on Allen Road.

  • The “After the Bell” after-school program continued to serve children in South Norwalk on-site at the South Norwalk Community Center.

  • Following a request from Columbus Magnet School parents, staff and administrators, plans moved forward to transition the school into a K-8 program. 

  • The development of an International Baccalaureate program at Brien McMahon High School continued to move forward on schedule. 

  • The district completed year two of the Norwalk Early College Academy, a collaboration between NPS, NCC, the state of Connecticut and IBM, with NECA students taking classes for college credit at NCC.

  • Throughout the year, planning was underway for the transition to block scheduling at both high schools, which commenced last month.

  • Norwalk Pathways Academy, formerly Briggs High School, was re-directed as a high school program designed to provide over-age, under-credited students with a path to graduation.

  • With the support of the Dalio Foundation, NPS rolled out the second year of the Fund for Teachers program, which offers Norwalk teachers the opportunity to design their own summer professional learning opportunities.

  • The NEASC accreditation process was completed at Brien McMahon High School, after NEASC accreditation was secured at Norwalk High School in the previous year.

  • A partnership with Norwalk Community College continued at BMHS, giving high school students hands on exposure to career opportunities in health care.

  • We continued the expansion of summer school programs in the city, serving more than 700 students in a variety of programs. 

In September the Board of Education approved a very detailed set of ten “Priority Outcomes” and twenty-five “Implementation Steps” for the 2016-2017 school year, covering the first year projects of the three-year Strategic Operating Plan, all with numeric measures to allow detailed tracking of our progress.  In my next article, I’ll summarize those Outcomes and Steps.

Mike Lyons
Chair, Norwalk Board of Education