The following is “Notes from the Board Table,” the regular update from Bruce Likly, chairman of the Wilton Board of Education.
We took last week’s Board of Education meeting on the road, all the way to Cider Mill where the Board enjoyed a student-led demonstration in the school’s innovative Learning Commons facility. The Learning Commons concept has been a work in progress for the past few years, as our dedicated staff works to adapt our facilities to meet the needs of 21st Century learning.
As described by the Cider Mill administrative team, the Learning Commons is a “space” where students and teachers come to investigate questions, produce artifacts and consume information related to learning. It’s a place where library media staff and technology staff now work as an integrated team to serve as coaches and co-teachers as they work to effectively incorporate technology into students’ everyday learning experiences. In Cider Mill, the Learning Commons is located in the space formerly known as the library media center. But now, the space has been transformed to include space for quiet reading, group interactions and computer-based learning.
Cider Mill’s efforts have been spearheaded by technology instructional leader Jason Greasley and library specialist Liisa Hibbard, who led a team of colleagues in conceptualizing the purpose, capabilities and design of the Learning Commons. As Greasley explained, the facility is rooted in four underlying strands:
- Digital Citizenship
- Creativity and Collaboration
- Information/Research Literacy
- Literacy Appreciation.
A group of 5th graders demonstrated the benefit of this integrated approach to learning. The students demonstrated their prowess at programming and robotics by remotely manipulating toy robots through a maze. The students worked in groups to guide their robots, and when questioned, several said the exercise helped them realize the limitless potential of technology in problem solving, and the value of collaboration.
Learning Commons are “works in progress” across the District, and it was fascinating to see how the facility has already become a vital part of the Cider Mill culture. Students look to the facility both as a source for the tools needed to do their work, and as a place to collaborate with peers and teachers.
The Wilton Education Foundation and the Cider Mill PTA have been tremendous supporters of the Learning Commons initiative. Their generosity has enabled the purchase of new furniture, technology, and other materials. Superintendent Kevin Smith’s proposed 2017-18 operating budget also invests in the Learning Commons concept. As we have learned, our traditional approach of maintaining a library, media center and computer lab—independent of each other—is inefficient. Today’s students are learning in an integrated environment, in which they move seamlessly from one medium to the next. The Learning Commons fills this need, and aligns the Wilton Schools with best practices already in place in other high-achieving districts.
It’s essential for members of our community to understand initiatives like this, as we continue to discuss the 2017-18 budget. We want community members to be aware of our plans, and feel good about supporting our budget.
To date, Board members have submitted roughly 50 questions to the administration, seeking clarification about various aspects of Superintendent Smith’s proposed budget. We spent time during last week’s meeting reviewing answers to those questions. One topic of note was the issue of class size. Specifically, the administration was asked what the effect would be on class size if we were to eliminate a section at each elementary grade level. The net effect would be:
- Grade 5: Average class size would increase from 21.4 to 23.07.
- Grade 4: Average class size would increase from 22.5 to 24.5.
- Grade 3: Average class size would increase from 22.2 to 24.
- Grade 2: Average class size would increase from 20.4 to 22.1.
- Grade 1: Average class size would increase from 20.8 to 22.7
- Kindergarten: Average class size would increase from 19.3 to 21.3.
On the surface, this might not seem like a dramatic impact. How much of an impact can “just one more” student have in a class? Well, when asked about it, each of our building principals had the same reaction: the impact would be significant. As Miller-Driscoll principal Kathy Coon explained, today’s classroom has students learning at all different levels, based on individual capabilities. A classroom teacher will generally offer instruction to the entire class, and then move among students as they work to build on the teacher’s lesson. Adding one or two more students would stretch the teacher’s ability to offer one-on-one instruction, and take away from the classroom experience. Principal Coon also noted the “slippery slope” that could occur, as an increase in classroom sizes next year, could open the door to additional increases in future years.
The entire “budget question and answer” document is posted on the district website. As currently proposed, the budget seeks no additional funding over current spending levels.
Finally, a quick but important housekeeping item. There are a couple of pages on the District website that note the Board of Education email address. We learned last week that while the home page correctly lists the new email address for correspondence with the Board, the page listing our members was not updated. We regret this oversight, and any inconvenience it may have caused. The mistake is being corrected, but please note that all Board correspondence should be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.