By Bruce Likly, Chair, Wilton Board of Education
Before I launch into my overview of our November 20 Board meeting, I’d like to give special recognition to our superintendent Dr. Gary Richards, who has been named “Connecticut Superintendent of the Year” by the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents. This is among the highest honors in the field and it highlights the strength and quality of Wilton Public Schools. Dr. Richards was recognized for his many contributions to our school district, and for his strong commitment to students and to the field of education. Several Board members were in attendance when the surprise announcement was made, and I can assure you, it was a great day for Wilton! Congratulations Dr. Richards – well done!
Now on to pending business…
High School Report Cards
High school students were undoubtedly pleased – or maybe not – when their first quarter report cards were emailed directly to parents’ inboxes. This marks the first time that report cards were transmitted via the EdLine communication network. We have been rolling out EdLine’s functionality piece-by-piece, first with schedules and class assignments, then grade postings and attendance, and now with report cards at the high school. Eventually we will electronically transmit report cards district wide, but for now, this is a tremendous step forward and will greatly reduce the paperwork and logistics involved with paper versions.
YouTube®, Twitter®, and Pinterest®
Another step forward in the use of technology at the high school is the decision to "unblock" three websites: Twitter, YouTube, and Pinterest. As these web services have come to play a bigger role in communication and education, we realize the importance of allowing students and teachers access throughout the day. YouTube, for example, provides teachers and students access to millions of video clips that can enhance learning in and out of the classroom.
Twitter is an equally powerful resource, providing opportunities to create live interactive homework sessions, make connections with classrooms around the world, and access free online professional development resources. Pinterest, an online bulletin board, assists students and teachers with online research projects. Several schools in our “District Reference Group” (DRG) have already opened these sites, and we are pleased that our students and staff will also have access.
For the second year in a row, the Board was required to adjust the current year calendar. Super storm Sandy forced us to close school for six days, and given that the Wilton calendar has no built-in "cushion" to draw from, we needed to get out our pencils and find a way to restore those days. After much discussion the Board adopted the following revisions:
- Add a shortened day for students on February 4. Offer an afternoon professional development day for staff.
- Eliminate the last three days of the February vacation. School will be in session on Wednesday, February 20, Thursday, February 21, and Friday, February 22.
- Add two days to the end of the school calendar. The last day of school will now be Tuesday, June 18.
- If there is one additional snow day, the last day of school will be Wednesday, June 19.
- If there are two additional snow days, the last day of school will be Thursday, June 20.
- If there are three additional snow days, the last day of school will be Friday, June 21.
- If there are four additional snow days, the school year will be reduced by one day, from 181 to 180 school days. The last day of school will remain Friday, June 21.
- If there are five additional snow days, Monday, April 15, the first day of April vacation, will become a school day. The last day of school will remain Friday, June 21.
We are grateful to the many parents who took the time to weigh in with their thoughts about how the calendar should be reconfigured. We recognize that this plan will work well for some families and not so for others. Unfortunately, we were not able to find a solution that would work for everyone. I want to assure you however that the Board carefully considered all options, and decided that given all factors including the best use of educational time and the spacing of vacations, this would be the best solution for the remaining school year, and provide the most flexibility as we head into the winter months.
Full Day Kindergarten
Miller-Driscoll Principal Cheryl Jensen-Gerner provided the Board with an overview on a growing trend both nationwide and in Connecticut – full day kindergarten.
Currently 99 districts in Connecticut provide full day kindergarten to all students. In Fairfield County 16 out of 23 districts provide full day sessions to their kindergartners. And within the seven districts that comprise our DRG, all but two now offer full day for all students. As Mrs. Jensen-Gerner informed the Board, one hundred percent of districts in our DRG offer more kindergarten instruction than Wilton.
The Board was presented with research strongly in support of the full day concept. Among other reasons, children are arriving for kindergarten more prepared than ever before, thanks to pre-school instruction and "at home" instruction in concepts such as letters, numbers and even reading. Children are capable of more learning, and five full days of school each week would allow teachers to accomplish more from a curriculum basis, and also to help students develop at the social/emotional level.
Our kindergarten teachers have given this concept their stamp of approval, as has the entire administrative team. Still, many issues have yet to be addressed, including the impact of five full days of school on those students who may struggle with the transition. Mrs. Jensen-Gerner will return to the Board with a plan detailing how a full day program would be rolled out, what the curriculum might look like, budget implications and other logistical issues. The Board will be asked to vote on this topic in the coming months, with an eye toward implementing full day kindergarten beginning with the 2013-14 school year.
Class Size Report
Each year the administration provides the Board with a detailed report about the number of students enrolled in every class taught in the Wilton schools. The class size report is analyzed and scrutinized for a number of purposes:
- As a "report card" on our success at meeting BOE class size recommendations:
- 18-20 students maximum for K-2 classes
- 20-22 students maximum for 3-12 classes
- To determine staffing needs.
- To possibly reallocate existing staff assignments.
- At the high school level, we can track electives that are most popular with students, and those that may have run their course and need to be replaced.
Assistant Superintendent Tim Canty presented the class size report, and told the Board that taken as a whole, current class sizes are in keeping with Board guidelines.
Although some classes, especially at the high school level, have more students than we would prefer, we have to consider the alternatives: adding more sections of a particular course would have budget implications, and putting a hard cap on class enrollment would deny some students the opportunity to take a certain course. Many of our honors and advanced placement courses, for example, have high enrollment rates. But given that these courses are college level, and presumably of interest to our strongest learners, we are relatively confident that we can maintain more students in those classrooms.
The class size report is available on our website, and I encourage you to scroll through.
Fiber Optic Cable Project
As you may be aware, Yankee Gas is scheduled to install pipeline next spring/summer that will involve ripping up sidewalks and roadways throughout downtown Wilton. A proposal has been made to take advantage of the opened infrastructure to also install fiber cable, as a way to create a "shared optic network" between town hall, the library and the schools.
The proposal is under review by a committee comprised of representatives of the Board of Selectmen, Board of Finance, Board of Education, and the Library. School District Technology Matt Hepner and Finance Director Ken Post have been strong proponents of the project, and have made the case that the schools would benefit significantly.
The Board gave its approval to the project via a resolution that cited the benefits to the schools:
- A secure, redundant network between all our schools, the town and Wilton Library Association.
- Shared computer services between the town, schools, and library.
- Elimination of need for 3rd party backup provider. This would enable the Board to save as much as $28,800 per year in off-site hosting costs, or $576,000 over the 20 year life of the bond.
- Establishment of a secure, high-speed connection between our video security system and the police.
- Ability to function remotely in the case of a disaster.
The Board of Selectmen will now review the project, and decide whether or not to place it on the May ballot for voter approval.
And speaking of the Yankee Gas project.... A proposal has been made to phase in the Yankee Gas pipeline installation by eliminating Miller-Driscoll from the current plan. The Board of Education believes strongly that this would be a mistake given Wolfpit Road is already torn up for the sewer project, the underground oil tanks at Miller Driscoll are reaching the end of their useful life, and the savings in converting the facility from oil to gas will be approximately $90,000.00 a year. In light of these facts we passed a resolution urging the Board of Selectman to include all four of the schools in phase one of the Yankee Gas project.
Additionally, leaving Miller Driscoll as the only school operating on oil would deny us the opportunity to seek "bulk" cost savings through lower rates. It would also throw a wrench into our plan of having all schools operating in an environmentally preferable and cost efficient manner.
We hope the Board of Selectmen will consider the merits of our resolution, and ensure that the Yankee Gas line includes all four of our school campuses in the initial phase of this project.
Several other topics were also presented at our meeting, which for the sake of brevity; I will save for a future update. Those topics, which include possible world language course additions at the high school, and revisions to our existing suicide prevention and intervention policy, were presented to the Board along with detailed backup information.
Our next regular Board meeting is scheduled for Thursday, December 13 at 7pm in the WHS Professional Library. The district technology plan and enrollment report will be key agenda items. As always, the public is invited to attend and to offer comments. You can also watch from the comfort of your home on Channel 78.