At the last Board of Education meeting of the 2018-2019 school year, the Board members covered a lot of ground. Among the news that was announced and topics discussed were lots of … new news (something we in the media love…)

New Hires

Superintendent of Wilton Public Schools, Dr. Kevin Smith, told the Board members that the district is already looking ahead to next year’s start, as hiring has begin for 2019-2020.

“We have been off to a tremendous start to our hiring season. [Director of human resources] Maria [Coleman] shared with me earlier today that in the last two weeks we’ve hired a Fulbright Scholar, a nationally recognized musician and a Wilton High School alumna who was valedictorian of her class. So we’re off to a great start, it’s actually one of the best seasons I think I’ve ever had as an administrator,” Smith told the Board.

Coleman added, “It’s just getting better and better.”

Board chair Christine Finkelstein said she’s looking forward to meeting all the new hires in the fall.

Alternative School–New Students and Facility

Wilton’s Genesis School–the alternative school program for grades 7-12 that will launch in the fall at Trackside Teen Center–is already percolating, and according to Sharon DeAngelo, the assistant director for special services K-12, there are approximately 12 students who will likely make up the first year’s class.

Currently, DeAngelo said, seven families have already applied and are going through the application process; five other families are still in an exploration phase, speaking with DeAngelo and assistant superintendent for special services Andrea Leonardi about potentially applying.

“We think by the end of the summer we’ll have 12, and we’re very excited,” DeAngelo said, adding that the staff is already hired and in place to get the program operational in time for the Tuesday, Aug. 27 start of school. “To start outlining the curriculum pieces, everything that needs to go in for evaluation.”

Additionally, there is some maintenance and facility work that needs to be done, including painting, security and compliance updates to bring the Trackside facility up to par with Wilton School District needs. Smith explained that some of that work includes installation of a security camera, and potentially a new set of doors to separate Trackside’s ‘barn’ area from what will become the school and classrooms on the left side of the building.

Three current Wilton faculty members will move to Genesis from other Wilton schools–Tom Koch, who was a 6th grade ELA teacher at Middlebrook; Brett Amero, a science teacher at Wilton High School; and Eileen Wheeler, a special education teacher at WHS.

Special Education–New Benchmark Reached in PPT Hours

One of the areas that has drawn significant attention in the way the district manages its special education operations–both from an efficiency and cost-saving perspective–is how much time teachers spend in PPT (planning and placement teams) meetings.

DeAngelo said, “not spending as much time in PPTs has been one of our areas of focus” since District Management Consultants, the consultancy firm hired by the district to find savings, spent time in the district and left a report with several recommendations.

For the 2018-19 school year, the district held 134 fewer PPT meetings. “You average an hour per PPT, which here in Wilton it’s often longer,” DeAngelo explained, adding, “It’s great to have everyone back in the classroom and not sitting in meetings.” She also said the district will continue to make the effort to spend less time in such meetings. “We think we can still do more, but we are happy with where we are with that.”

Smith added that in his first year in the Wilton district (2014-15), there were over 1,900 PPT meetings. “If you look cumulatively what that’s done with staff, we’ve picked up about 400 additional hours of instructional time through those changes.”

Board member Glenn Hemmerle noted that reducing PPT hours was “one of the key objectives” spelled out by DMC.

Wilton Continuing Education–New Kitchens, New Technology, and Updates

During her yearly presentation to the BOE, Wilton Continuing Education (WCE) coordinator Dolores Tufariello announced two technological developments that will help the district improve what it offers to the public and promote the program even more.

One new effort that WCE will debut in the fall is a podcast series featured on the WCE website. The podcast was developed in co-ordination with Scott Schulte, a former Top-40 morning radio personality who will be teaching two podcast classes in the fall. It’s an element that Tufariello says will help market the Continuing Education programs offered by the district.

The first podcast produced by Schulte for WCE features the drone classes and instructors, and is available online.

The other element Tufariello said will be introduced is a WCE app. Parents will be able to see what registration availability is for courses, and presumably will be able to register directly through the app. The app is currently still under development.

Tufariello added that she is also researching new website platforms, as the current WCE website has been in use for the past 10 years.

One other major change is that the WCE program is eliminating all registration fees, except for childcare. Initially, Tufariello said, those fees were put in place to offset website fees. “But we’ve calculated this and we don’t really need that anymore. So that’s another benefit to the community,” she said.

She also said that the adult continuing education culinary classes this past year “knocked it out of the park.” Of the ten classes offered in the 2019 spring session, eight of the 10 classes were filled to capacity–a sign that bodes well for the kitchen renovations being done at Middlebrook School and Wilton High School, Tufariello promised. She referred to the kitchen upgrades and renovations that were included in the FY-2020 school budget this past budget go-round. “I thank you for that.”

Superintendent Smith said those renovation projects begin July 5 and are scheduled to be completed Aug. 16.

One WCE area that was so popular it filled just hours after being made available to the public was before- and after-school care. The program could only support limited enrollment, a factor that earned a bit of frustration from area parents. Tufariello said what limits the number of families that can be accommodated is the available play space at the schools.

Miller-Driscoll‘s child care program was able to accommodate 51 contracted students, along with what she said was “a good number of drop-ins” thanks to the child care program having dedicated space in the pre-school area. That amount reflects an increase from two years ago when the program only operated out of space in the cafeteria.

Cider Mill School‘s child care program has 40 contracted students participating in the program, plus 20 drop-in participants signed up. Tufariello said she’s hoping to expand the program at Cider Mill, if more permanent space can be found at the school.

She acknowledged that what’s driving the demand is the increasing number of two-working families, and that both the town’s Parks and Recreation Department and Miss Sharon Cowley’s Create Learning Center have added childcare programs to help accommodate families who were shut out of the school’s childcare offerings.

“We’re hopeful that Parks & Rec will lead a good program. And we’re willing to help them,” Tufariello added.

Overall, she said that the five top WCE programs offered to adults in 2018-19 were:

1.  Indoor and outdoor tennis
2.  Cooking – Most popular was Aranci 67 cooking class
3.  Bridge
4.  Drone and drone safety (conservationist, archivers, photographers):
5.  Knitting