Thursday evening’s (Oct. 20) Board of Education meeting started on an inspiring high note. Wilton Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Kevin Smith presented a Salute to Excellence to the Wilton High School’s Unified Sports program and its “Wilton United” team.

As part of the presentation, Smith announced that Wilton High School had been recognized as a Special Olympics Unified Champion School, by the CT Interscholastic Athletic Conference (CIAC) and Special Olympics North America.

Unified Sports is a program that creates collaboration between students of all abilities who participate together in athletics as well as a variety of other activities. Schools recognized as Unified Champion Schools must demonstrate an inclusive school climate; promote a sense of collaboration, engagement, and respect for all members of the student body and staff; and meet 10 national standards of excellence.

The award is presented on a four-year cycle. This year’s recognition is the third consecutive time Wilton High School was named a Unified Champion School.

Paul Mengold, CIAC’s assistant director of Unified Sports, presented the Champion School banner at the meeting to the WHS students, coaches and administrators, and said that of the approximately 135 high schools in Connecticut involved in Unified Sports, “Wilton is one of the best.”

He noted that there are more than 1,000 applications nationwide for the award, and WHS was one of only five schools in Connecticut to receive it.

Mengold said that as a former high school athletic director, he understood the commitment of time and resources it took to make a successful Unified Sports program.

“This is the highlight of athletics and it’s what athletics is all about. And you guys have done a wonderful job. It’s well worth… your efforts, all of you, to put on such a great product and a great school and a tremendous Unified Sports program,” Mengold said.

The highest testimonial came from Emma, one of the WHS student-athletes. Using an assistive communication device, she said, “Thank you everyone for coming. I love Unified Sports. I get to play soccer with my friends. My coaches help me a lot. Thank you for this award. Go Unified Sports!”

Smith told the Board that the school will hang the banner in the Field House gym at a later banner-hanging ceremony, and promised, “We’ll be back again in four more years.” He added that the award represents the inclusivity and diversity practiced by the district and the GOOD that permeates the school community as a rule. “Never doubt what we’re about,” Smith said.

Board Approves Policy Change in Performance Graduation Requirements

Later in the meeting, the BOE members voted to approve the proposed changes in the Performance-Based Graduation Requirements policy. The changes had been introduced at the Board’s prior meeting on Oct. 6.

There were two significant changes to the policy that were approved:

  • adding a science requirement: “In order to graduate from Wilton High School, a student will develop an in-depth understanding of science content and develop the key scientific skills of communication, collaboration, inquiry, problem-solving, and flexibility.”
  • eliminating a specific “cut score” on SAT assessments: instead of requiring minimum SAT scores on the reading (460), writing (460) and math (510) sections, the language was “softened” to require students “meet the proficiency benchmark.”

Earlier in the year, when the WHS administration team emailed families with graduation requirements, some parents responded with feedback and surprise regarding the requirement for students to achieve a specific score, especially in mathematics.

Making the change to the more subjective “proficiency benchmark” will be a better option, according to BOE Chair Deborah Low. “To me, the most important thing is there are lots of alternatives because I think what got in some people’s heads was, this one score was do or die.”

Language around the number of credits required to graduate was changed from ‘years’ to actual credits. With the policy change, the total number of required credits also increased from 23.5 to 25 credits. Smith said that “the overwhelming majority” of students graduating from WHS exceed that number.

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One point Board Member Nicola Davies had asked about was the requirement for students to take two science credits, while other DRG (District Reference Group) schools require three credits.

Principal Dr. Bob O’Donnell said requiring an additional science credit wouldn’t be consequential, since the majority of students take more than the minimum of two credits.

“Not surprisingly, the very vast majority of our students take actually four science credits, just to be prepared for the college process. In fact, 75% or so took four [credits] and approximately 5% (depending on the year) took more than four. So the number of students who are taking only two  [credits] is very nominal. In one year it was 1.3%, 2.7%, 2.6%…” O’Donnell said, adding, “But the students are taking a lot of years of science and they have a lot of opportunities.”

He later estimated there were around nine students who don’t take more than two science credits over their four years at WHS.

Board Vice-Chair Ruth DeLuca asked whether it mattered that the State of Connecticut required three units of science.

O’Donnell explained that the state requirement was a cluster of nine STEM credits, and WHS can apportion those credits accordingly through the various other STEM disciplines as well as science.

The district is also changing the terminology for “Applied Arts” courses — the category will now be called “Career Technical Education” or CTE.