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Administrators Reflect On A School Year Of 'Growth'



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Administrators Reflect On A School Year Of ‘Growth’

By Steve Bonanno

As the end of yet another school year grows closer, and the sound of the last bell draws near, administrators agreed that it has been a year of growth and development, both for the district and students.

 A big change this past year, Superintendent of Schools Janet Robinson said, was creating the Teacher Evaluation Plan. The new system focuses on student work to help evaluate teachers. In the system, students and colleagues are surveyed as part of the evaluation process. Student achievements, as well as observations by administrators who sit in on classes, are also used in the evaluation, the superintendent explained.

Another pilot program this year was Flipped Classroom. The program, Dr Robinson said, has students take classes online and do the homework in class the next day. Dr Robinson said this new method came from Khan Academy, a nonprofit organization with the goal to change education for the better.

Newtown High School Principal Charles Dumais said what really stood out for him this past year was the broad variety of student successes.

“Whether it’s in athletics, the arts, academics, or fundraising, they just do an amazing amount in a high quality way,” said Mr Dumais.

This school year had some significant events that really stood out to the high school principal. One event in particular is NHS’s Best Buddies Prom, which was inaugurated this month. Best Buddies is a nationwide program that pairs special education students with nonspecial education students. This event was a prom specifically for the special education students and their buddies, explained Mr Dumais, noting, “It was really a heartwarming event.”

The athletes of NHS also had their share of successes this past year, the high school principal observed. The girls’ volleyball and basketball teams both won state championships and the boys’ relay team is going to North Carolina to compete in nationals.

A Big Start

Sandy Hook Elementary School’s year started in a big way with an opportunity to host renowned author Patricia Polacco for a day, said Sandy Hook School Principal Dawn Hochsprung. In the spring the school’s library-media specialist also coordinated a first Skype “visit” with celebrated children’s author Tomie dePaola for students. The school library also initiated an e-book lending program with Kindles acquired through donations from parents, community members, and book vendors.

“Our [Parent Teacher Association] has once again supported our school’s cultural arts programs throughout the year,” said Ms Hochsprung.

Sandy Hook Elementary School has also worked hard this past year on improving its curriculum. Ms Hochsprung said the three specific areas that have been improved are higher order questioning, student communication, and responsibility for learning.

 “Parent feedback reflects that children are enjoying reading and engaging in higher level conversation at home as well as at school,” said Ms Hochsprung. “Teachers have worked diligently to put our school on this trajectory, and their enthusiasm has been infectious!”

Lesson Study Program

The highlight of the year at Head O’ Meadow Elementary School has been the new Lesson Study Program, said Principal Barbara Gasparine. Ms Gasparine said that in the program, teachers from kindergarten through second grade work with her to identify gaps in student learning and planned lessons to address the needs of students.

“Once the lesson was developed, one teacher from the grade level taught the lesson with other members of the team observing,” said Ms Gasparine. “The team met back for discussion and reflection on the learning, revised the lesson plan, and a second teacher taught the lesson the next day with identified modifications in place.”

Ms Gasparine plans to continue Lesson Study with kindergarten through second grade teachers next year and will also introduce the program to grades three and four. Ms Gasparine also said even though the program is a once-a-year event, pieces of the process are expected to transfer into ongoing conversations year round.

“Our goal was to make learning engaging and rigorous while targeting a difficult area for student learning based on data,” said Ms Gasparine.

This past school year was also interrupted by bizarre weather phenomena both at the start of the school year and in October.

“Between the October snowstorm and the hurricane we would have had a very stressful spring if we had any other snow days during the winter,” said Mr Dumais.

Mixed Emotions

As the summer vacation nears, Dr Robinson and Mr Dumais described a yearly mix of emotions that comes with seeing another senior class leave.

“Graduation is always an emotional and exciting event, seeing all the graduates and knowing what’s ahead of them,” said Dr Robinson. “I’ve had the opportunity to get to know some of this year’s seniors, and I think they will all do very well.”

Mr Dumais, who deals with many of the seniors on a weekly basis, seemed proud and a little sad when asked about his departing seniors.

“It’s both hard and exciting watching the students move on,” said Mr Dumais. “The number of opportunities that are available to them that they’re taking advantage of, it’s just amazing.”

Along with the students, at the end of this school year, NHS will also be saying goodbye to Assistant Principal Scott Clayton, who will be leaving the school to move to Stratford. 

With the end of the school year, preparations for the next school year are already underway.

The district will have some changes next year, says Dr Robinson. One is students will be allowed to bring their own electronic devices, such as iPads and laptops, to school in order to do school work. The other change will be a more project-based curriculum.

“Instead of students having chapter tests at the end of units they will have research projects,” said Dr Robinson. “This will better prepare them for college.”

A change that will be more visible to the town will be a new roof on Middle Gate Elementary School.

“It has been a tough year in terms of budget, and this makes it difficult to plan for next year, but there have not been any cuts involving the students,” said Dr Robinson. “The students are the number one priority.”

As students’ priority shifts from school work to summer vacation, the number one priority for administrators becomes preparing for another school year.

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