Wilton students officially return to school Tuesday, Aug. 27, but Wilton High School freshman as well as students in grades 10-12 who are new to the district will be on campus for orientation today. GOOD Morning Wilton had the opportunity to talk with WHS principal Dr. Bob O’Donnell last week about what he’s looking forward to as the 2019-2020 school year begins. In his own words, here’s what O’Donnell had to say:

The high school staff and administration are always very, very excited about the new school year, just to get our students back and our families back and to welcome them back. It’s always exciting to see the Link Crew Leaders who are here for three days now–they’ve been here getting ready to orient and welcome all of our freshmen next Monday.

We’re planning a nice welcoming event for the, all the kids as they come off the buses on Tuesday. So, a lot of things are already in place. There’s a lot of good planning that’s been going on.

The block schedule will be interesting and new for the entire school community. There’s a lot of positive energy around it and excitement–I had the joyous opportunity of having lunch with some of the Link Crew kids today, talking to them about how they’re really looking forward to it. Some expressed that they were a little bit concerned until the pilot last year and now they’re convinced that this is going to be really good for them and good for teaching and learning at the high school.

At first when they started reading it, you know, it might’ve been a little confusing, but I asked them, “Did you figure it out? Was it starting to make sense?” And it is and it will. As I wrote in my back to school letter, I would just encourage all of us in the school community–students, staff, administration, families and parents–we’ll all have to exercise some patience, and we’re going to try to make this go as smoothly as possible. But with any huge new initiative or schedule, there could be a few hiccups.

Students are very resilient. They tend to figure out the schedules more quickly than the adults–myself included. So I think we’re going to be good. We’ll have a homeroom on Tuesday morning, so we’ll have the opportunity to share any other information that we need. We’re all going to experience it and learn together. I think it’s going to be good for our school community.

I had a great morning today with the new staff. We have 11 teachers who are new to Wilton High School and then somebody who is transferring from one of the other schools. We just had a great day at the district level and the building level, getting them oriented and thinking about what it is to be a WHS Warrior faculty member. I really like our new hires. There was energy and excitement in the room. I want teachers who fundamentally really care about kids and want to work closely with them and get to know them and teach to their personal styles. And who want to reach out and build connections and bridges with families.

So, I’m feeling good about where we are right now with the new faculty. And then of course there’s our veteran faculty. We try to hire the best of the best, so we’ve got some great teachers here. We’re excited. There’s a lot of really committed educators here who are going to be ready to roll the red carpet out on Monday and Tuesday morning and we’re fired up.

There has not been a lot of construction here at the high school this year. The focus has been on Cider Mill’s  tiling and painting–Wilton High School is in the queue for that. So the big project is certainly the culinary kitchen. That’s something we started working on planning a few short years ago, and it’s finally coming to fruition.

It’s going to be much more of a state of the art culinary kitchen and we all recognize there’s a lot of traction around the culinary arts these days. Any number of networks you turned on, you have all the cooking shows and everything. There are new hoods in there that are massive. We’re getting all new commercial grade appliances and are building a walk-in freezer addition onto the back of the facility. That will just present opportunities for the program and for the amount of food we can order and store and organize.

I think that the kids in both culinary and advanced culinary are going to be really excited. They’re going to have a culinary experience that is more authentic, certainly more contemporary, more applicable to what is going on in the realm of culinary arts outside of the walls of WHS in restaurants and culinary schools. Chef Kim Russo worked closely with us on the planning. She’s a great culinary arts teacher. It’s going to open up real opportunities, and it also presents the opportunity to say, okay, this is what we’re offering now in culinary arts, but, based on the new facility and the capacity that we have now, what should we be doing in the next five years? There’s some creative programming and coursework that we can potentially introduce.

I’m looking forward to eating some of the things that come out of that kitchen.

Also, the idea that with the quality of Middlebrook‘s [culinary] program, they’ve got some great teaching staff there. The idea that we’ve got some articulation between the two programs, and I know that they do work together as well. Heather Priest at Middlebrook and Kim Russo here, so that’s important too.