It’s still officially in draft form, but Wilton Superintendent of Schools Kevin Smith gave the Board of Education a rundown of his priorities for the coming year at last Thursday night’s (Sept. 7) BOE meeting.

School climate, coupled with clarifying staff and public perceptions of district goals and operations, will play a significant part in the work, along with general student achievement and parent communications.

“Last year in particular some of our staff just kind of internalized this idea that the only thing we care about is student achievement,” Smith said.

“That’s not true,” he said. “We really care about student achievement, but we also really commit to our beliefs about the whole child.”

He said, however, that the district was challenged by not having good tools for measuring either student growth or development beyond academic achievement — something he’d like to remedy.

“One of our challenges is that we don’t have good tools for measuring everything we value,” Smith said.

“What I’m really imagining is taking a deeper dive in our portrait of a graduate,” he said, looking at how growth can be measured there and “steady progress” somehow quantified.

“When we talk about the whole child, we really do mean the whole child,” he said, with as-yet-unknown assessments needed to help demonstrate that to the community.

Managing the Message for Parents and Staff (Esp. Middlebrook)

“Part of the challenge here, too, is just really managing the message,” Smith said.

“It’s a struggle that we have, where (we’re) always trying to balance the good hard work of raising student achievement with insuring that kids and teachers can participate in the full life of school beyond straight-up academics,” he said. “That being said, at least for me, we’re a school, so achievement ought to be our first priority among many priorities.”

While specifics are still being ironed out, Smith expressed concerns relating to staff needs, culture and climate, particularly relating to Middlebrook School.

“I’m thinking very specifically about that population of staff,” he said, referencing disagreements that arose last year in relation to scheduling and structure changes, as well as staffing shifts following reductions in some teaching positions at the school.

“Last year was a tough year … The ripple effects of people being moved into different buildings was really, really hard,” he said. “And so I’m thinking very specifically about that population of staff, but I think just in general we really need to look at the well-being our staff … and how we just look and support people.”

“I’ve been worried over the course of last year for a variety of reasons,” he said, noting the narrative around public education in general is currently very “tough.”

“I just worry about that at a macro level … We’re seeing some early indicators, and I don’t know that it’s correlated, of young people not entering the profession today just because of the challenges our teachers face,” Smith said.

“I’ll come back to you specifically with what I think some of those target areas can be,” he said, following further analysis of adult school climate data.

Fostering Better Communication

In terms of communication, Smith said that they were going to potentially look into some sort of redesign of traditional parent-teacher conferences, as they might not be proving as effective as possible.

“While my general sense is that it’s okay, it really doesn’t work the way it could work,” he said, suggesting a different approach could be in the offing to foster better communication.

“Stand by on that one … More communication to come,” he said.

Smith cited other important communication goals stemming from a “communication task force” that was put in place through the school and had its first meting last week.

“Just thinking about all the work that needs to be done, I expect that this will become at least a two-year process,” he said, with four-to-six meetings anticipated throughout the year in order to “focus on some discreet facets with the whole communication paradigm.”

He said an outside consultant is going to be engaged — “one of the national professional relations communications firms” — which will work in tandem with a task force that includes parents and administrators.

Smith expressed his happiness regarding some state law revisions that will change how teachers are evaluated and supervised. He said the original law, which was adopted in 2012, amounted to “a very misguided approach to teacher evaluation (that) yielded us nothing as a profession.”

The change, he said, “really opened up the opportunity to design plans in consultation with our staff, and in partnership with our staff, that really focus on the growth of our teachers.”

He said he would be working with Charles Smith, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, on new evaluation and supervision plans he believes “really will serve teachers better than what we currently have.”

Student Achievement Targets

Regarding student achievement, Smith said the district will continue to maintain a target average of 85%.

“We’re chipping away at it,” he said. “We’re getting closer, so I think it’s a reasonable target we should continue to aspire to across the district.”

He said the intention is to work with outside professionals to augment the “acceleration framework” that’s been in practice since the pandemic, which adversely impacted some academic numbers.

Likewise, he said, the district will continue to try and close the achievement gap as it relates to special education numbers since the pandemic.

Board Chair Ruth DeLuca said that members should submit any questions they might have about Smith’s draft to him and that they might hope to approve the document at the next meeting.

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