Back-to-school enthusiasm was the highlight of last Thursday’s (Aug. 24) Wilton Board of Education meeting, as Superintendent Kevin Smith updated board members about how the district was ready to start the 2023-24 school year.

But first, BOE Chair Ruth DeLuca kicked off the year’s opening meeting with her own statement on the readiness of the district [included on GMW]. As part of her remarks, she noted that 2023 marked Smith’s 10th-year anniversary as head of Wilton Public Schools.

“His commitment to the education and well-being of our children is unparalleled. His steady calm, quiet strength, and vision continue to guide this district to excellence. We benefit on a daily basis from his ability to make each day count and also see present challenges through a long-term lens,” DeLuca said.

Smith noted that, according to Fran Rabinowitz, the executive director of the Superintendents Association, the current average length of service for school superintendents in Connecticut is six years, but that he was happy to buck that trend.

“It’s interesting how the profession has changed. So thank you, It’s been great. I’m looking forward to another 10 plus 10… plus 10,” he said.

At least the next three years are set for Smith, with his new three-year contract one of the consent agenda items that the board approved at the meeting. Among other items, it shows that Smith’s base salary for this year is $287,403.99, and references annual discussions about setting his salary for 2024-25 and 2025-26. According to DeLuca, Smith’s 2022-23 base salary was $279,033.

Big Picture of District Poised for New School Year

Smith provided the board with a overview of the “big picture” heading into the new school year.

One item he was pleased to discuss was an early look at a report from the Connecticut State Department of Education with results from the spring 2023 state assessments.

The CDSE looked statewide and by district at the changes in student achievement in English Language Arts (ELA), mathematics and science, comparing pre-pandemic student performance from 2018-2019 to achievement in the 2021-2022 and 2022-23 school years.

[Editor’s note: Smith provided a brief preview Thursday evening, but the CSDE released the official results on Monday, Aug. 28. GOOD Morning Wilton will have separate coverage of those results at a later date.]

Smith summarized the results, noting that achievement has improved across the district, due in large part to the acceleration framework Wilton officials implemented to address learning gaps caused by the disruption of the COVID pandemic.

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“We demonstrated, across the [District Reference Group], the strongest growth in mathematics achievement, both in terms of growth rate and percent of targets achieved,” Smith said.

He bullet pointed some specifics:

  • On the Connecticut school day SAT, Wilton “had the strongest achievement on the EBRW [evidence-based reading and writing section] and the second strongest achievement in mathematics.”
  • Wilton had the “highest aggregate achievement on the NGSS [Next Generation Science Standards assessment given] in fifth, eighth and 11th grade, scores.”

Smith said the board would hear more specific details once the district administrators had time to review the data.

“But just as a precursor, we’re very, very well-positioned academically to pick up and continue that momentum from last year,” he said.

Enrollment — Higher than Expected

Smith told the BOE that enrollment for the first day looked to be higher than originally projected, by about 93 students.

Enrollment projections always change at the beginning of a school year as new families move into the district, others move away, and some students withdraw to attend school elsewhere. Quite often, the district doesn’t have exact figures until the first week of school as more information comes in.

BOE Chair DeLuca said that as of Tuesday, Aug. 29, there were 3,828 students enrolled in the Wilton School District, which included the unexpected 93 students Smith had mentioned earlier at the meeting.

That number does not include the 22 students currently outplaced in schools outside of Wilton.

However, she cautioned that district officials are “still processing” numbers and the total could still shift — echoing Smith’s remarks at the BOE meeting that the figure would be refined in the first week of school.

The increase from projections meant personnel changes. Smith briefed the board that Miller-Driscoll administrators added another kindergarten class in order to keep class sizes at 18. Funding for that new teacher would come from tuition payments from out-of-district students enrolling at the Genesis program, making the change “budget neutral,” according to Smith.

He also indicated enrollment numbers were high at Genesis, calling the program “packed.” The district will enlist WHS teachers to provide math and science support there over the course of the year.

He also anticipated needing to hire an additional paraprofessional to support “a couple students … with exceptional needs” who moved to Wilton from out of state recently.

Teacher Longevity in the District

Smith mentioned the career longevity of teachers working in Wilton, something that’s notable given the problematic trend of teacher shortages in school districts across the country.

He attributed the Wilton School District’s strength in large part to the fact that Wilton teachers “choose to stay.”

“Nationally, just about half of all new teachers leave the profession within five years. But here in Wilton teachers come and they stay and many of them stay for their entire careers,” he said.

Smith spelled out some specific data points.

  • Wilton faculty members have served an average of 12 years in the district
  • Nearly 20% of the staff has 20 or more years of service, with “several” who have been with the Wilton schools for more than 40 years.
  • 40% of the staff has been in the district for 15 years
  • Over half have worked in Wilton for more than a decade.

“That’s a real testament to this town, this community, the strength of the system and it perpetuates its own strength through longevity,” Smith said

Speaking directly to parents, he said the fact that Wilton teachers come to Wilton and stay, their children “are in really good hands.”

“They’re capable, competent, caring, compassionate hands and they’re all going to have another really tremendous year this year,” Smith added.

Six Teaching Positions Still Open

Despite bucking career longevity trends, the Wilton district will start the year with six teaching positions still open.

District Human Resource Director Maria Coleman said last minute resignations threw a wrench into the hiring process, as up until just a couple weeks ago there was only one unfilled spot.

She’s currently looking to hire a world language teacher at Middlebrook; a humanities coach at Middlebrook; an interim special education position; a culinary arts teacher; another special education position; and a physical education teacher.

“We have a plan in place for every one of those those openings. interviews have already started. So we’re feeling very good about that,” Coleman said, adding that while six is a higher number of openings than she’d like to have, it’s relative.

“You look at other school districts that still have 20 vacancies, some more than that, so we feel good about the plan that we have in place already,” she said.

Coleman provided an additional perspective, noting that 20 new employees had been welcomed to the district, including 19 classified staff members.

“They reflect the top 5% of the very competitive applicants pool. Many of the applicants are experienced teachers from neighboring districts. So we were really pleased when we were reviewing the different applications and conducting interviews,” she said.

Applicants go through a “rigorous, three-part interview process,” according to Coleman: an initial interview with a committee at the specific school building; a second interview to show a demonstration lesson; and a final interview with Central Office administrators.

It’s a process that helps the district get to know the candidates very well, and vice versa.

“We’re courting them as much as they’re courting us. In many cases, they’re being recruited from neighboring districts and they choose us because of the way that they feel in the buildings, the way that they’re treated by the administrators and staff,” she said, adding, “I hear it every year. They choose us because they really feel like this is a place that puts kids first, is highly collaborative, and has a very positive culture.”

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One reply on “Back-to-School Updates, Superintendent’s 10th Year, Higher Enrollment, and Student Achievement Gains Highlight Wilton BOE Meeting”

  1. “Smith told the BOE that enrollment for the first day looked to be higher than originally projected, by about 93 students.”

    Cool, I look forward to the Board of Finance adding an extra 2.5% (93/3742 which was I believe the projected enrollment as of last spring) to next year’s budget in addition to inflation/contractual increases, because it would be horribly inconsistent of them to only consider enrollment numbers when they go down, and we all know that the cost of running a school district scales perfectly with the number of students.

    (perhaps they can make some extra money licensing out patents to the quantum teleportation system that allows the district to hire 1/20th of an art teacher)

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