The following is “Notes from the Board Table,” the regular update from Christine Finkelstein, chairman of the Wilton Board of Education.

I had two humbling moments during last week’s Board of Education meeting.

First, as Middlebrook teacher Heather Priest was detailing the tremendous progress she has made in implementing a districtwide “Zero Waste” initiative, I looked down and saw my big, giant plastic bottle of water sitting on the table right in front of me.

And later, when district technology director Fran Kompar mentioned that third grade students were producing QR codes as part of a social studies lesson, I asked if she meant their teachers were producing the codes. No, it’s the students.

Truly humbling moments, but excellent reminders of the many initiatives underway in our schools that are transforming how students learn, act, and even think. And in these two particular examples–sustainability and digital learning–Wilton has been recognized as an innovator, with both Heather Priest and Fran Kompar honored for their achievements.

With regard to Wilton’s sustainability initiative, Mrs. Priest, was joined by program co-leader, Wilton parent Tammy Thornton, (pictured, right) and they provided a brief overview of the district’s “Warriors Won’t Waste” campaign, which is now in place in all schools. The campaign promotes the ideals of sustainable living through recycling, reuse, composting and donations of unused food. Among the more notable successes the initiative has had so far:

  • Since “Warriors Won’t Waste” was launched just two years ago, over 5 tons of compost and 6 tons of recycling that would have gone to a landfill has been diverted.* [Important to note: Wilton High School has only been a participant since the 2017-2018 school year.]
  • In December 2017, 100% of Cider Mill cafeteria waste went directly to landfill. By April 2018, that figure plunged to less than 10%. Instead, almost half of waste is now composted, and one-third is recycled.
  • Recycling waystations, with separate receptacles to capture compost, landfill and recyclables, are now in place in all cafeterias. Wilton High School currently has three way-stations in place, with a fourth on the way.
WHS principal Dr. Bob O’Donnell near one of the zero waste stations in the school’s cafeteria. (photo: Amy Korn/Twitter)

Going forward, Heather and Tammy emphasize the need for buy-in among not just students, but teachers, staff members, parents and community members. The need for adults in our community to model good behavior. (Hence my embarrassment at having my plastic water bottle on the table.)

A good place to start is through “reduction,” which means rethinking the packaging and products we use throughout the course of the day. This could be as simple as using a lunch box instead of a brown bag, or a reusable sandwich bag, or bringing a reusable water bottle to a meeting. The list goes on…

Wilton has become “the district” that surrounding school districts look to for guidance and examples. As such, we are grateful to Heather and Tammy for their passion about this important cause, and their commitment to teaching all of us lifelong lessons about the need to take better care of our environment.

Our district is also raising the bar with regard to digital learning. Last year, under the direction of Fran Kompar and team leader Eric Haakonsen, Wilton implemented a “Ready Access Digital Learning” strategy, whereby technology is consistently available to support student learning. This means having the right tools in place–devices, apps, digital licenses–along with a robust infrastructure to support our growing capacity needs.

As both Fran and Eric are quick to point out, the ultimate goal is for technology to become an expectation, something that is “just always quietly there,” ready to assist when needed. In working toward that goal, the Wilton Public Schools is in the process of a digital transformation:

  • Each school’s “library learning commons” has become a vibrant, technology-centered hub.
  • 2,800 Chromebooks and 450 iPads have been assigned to students.
  • Students are also allowed to use their own devices.
  • 270 apps have been vetted and approved for instructional use.
  • Continual system upgrades have been made to meet growing network needs. Our daily average internet speed is expected to double to roughly 300 Mbps by next year, as the number of devices served by our network continues to grow.
  • Students will be exposed to increasingly innovative opportunities. I mentioned that our 3rd graders routinely produce QR codes. Beginning this year, Wilton High School students participating in the “Global Inventors Convention” will join in video discussions with students in Africa.

I cite our “Zero Waste” and “Ready Access Digital Learning” initiatives as examples of the many innovative, teacher-led projects taking place districtwide. As we begin the new school year, I can hardly wait to see the growth and accomplishments of our students, thanks largely to our dedicated faculty and staff.

*UPDATED:  The figures for waste, compost and recycling have been updated by Heather Priest.

main photo:  Fran Kompar/Twitter