Monitoring Initiatives: the nitty gritty of Board of Ed work by Bruce Kimmel

Monitoring Initiatives: the nitty gritty of Board of Ed work by Bruce Kimmel
Posted on 05/08/2019
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     The April meeting of the BOE’s Curriculum and Instruction Committee focused primarily on updates of already-approved initiatives. Committee members also had an initial discussion of field trips, a topic that has been of interest for several years.

            Last year, the BOE closed the city’s small alternative high school called Norwalk Pathways Academy at Briggs (NPA), and its students were assigned to Norwalk and Brien McMahon high schools. Earlier this year, board members were updated on the program at McMahon, called the Innovation Lab, or I Lab. The mid-year data indicated attendance and grades for the I Lab students were up substantially compared to the previous year; moreover, most of them were taking electives with the general student population and were involved in extra-curricular activities.

            The first agenda item at the committee’s April meeting was an update on the Continued Opportunities to Restore Education initiative, called CORE Lab, at Norwalk High School. The data there showed a major increase in attendance and a substantial improvement in grades for the former NPA students. Like their counterparts at McMahon, the CORE Lab students at Norwalk High were taking classes with the general student population and participating in a variety of school activities.

            One of the more interesting developments at both schools is the number of non-NPA students who have transferred into the CORE and I lab programs. This is due in part to the small size and counseling, but also because of the technology-based credit-recovery process that enables students to pinpoint what they know and don’t know in various courses and thus enables them to move forward at a relatively quick pace.

            It was too early to track the graduation rates for the two labs; that will be done next fall. All in all, committee members were pleased with the progress at both high schools.

            Committee members were updated on the status of the new screening method for gifted and talented students, which will be administered to all third-graders in the fall. We have discussed this new program several times already and will continue to monitor it at our May meeting. We received a brief report on the visit by Swiss and German educators who observed the program and were impressed by its content and student diversity.

            The next update was related to the curriculum at the currently-being-built K-8 Ponus Ridge STEAM Academy. A few years ago, the board agreed to implement a STEM curriculum at the new school. This past April, we voted to add a major arts component to the curriculum, which will also focus on science, technology, engineering and math. A task force has been working on the new curriculum, which will be implemented first at the middle school level.

            The committee’s final update was on the upcoming Summer Academy for grades 5 and 6. This year, the district added 6th grade to its summer program and thus adjustments had to be made to the curriculum. Similar to last year, the committee will scrutinize the end-of-year literacy assessments of summer school students with the beginning-of-the-next-year assessments of those students to determine the effectiveness of the program in reducing what’s called the summer lag, when students lose up to three months of learning over the summer. We also will compare these students to those students who did not attend summer school.

            The final point on the agenda was an initial discussion of field trips. Several years ago, the board adopted a policy that made it mandatory for school trips to be reflect existing curricular initiatives. However, there has yet to be a data-based assessment of the policy. What the committee okayed was an effort to begin compiling information on trips – how many there are, do they reflect the curriculum, are they planned well-ahead of time, are there obstacles preventing students from going, and are there significant differences among schools.

       This was an initial discussion. Next September, the committee plans to address the topic again and devise a plan for digesting the data.

            The Curriculum and Instruction Committee generally meets on the third Tuesday of the month in City Hall. The meetings are from 5:30 to 7:00. Of course, the public is welcome.