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The School Bell Rings For Greenwich Students ...

and the Board of Education gets back to work too.

 

The school buses start rolling today.

students are set to return to class this week with 6th and 9th graders starting today and the remaining grades returning on Tuesday.

While students get a clean slate, the Board of Education will return to its ongoing business by holding the first meeting of the school year on Thursday, Aug. 30 at 7 p.m. in . In addition to being Dr. William McKersie's inaugural board meeting as auperintendent, there are several key issues on the agenda for discussion.

Size Matters

An update on the district's Enrollment Report Update will be presented despite the enrollment numbers changing every day, even during the first week of school.

Deputy Superintendent Dr. Ellen Flanagan explains that as in the past, many parents tend to register their children as the start of school approaches. And it is not just a matter of showing up at the school; there is a process to follow including electronic registration and of course, residency verification.

At the end of business on Thursday, the actual number enrolled inclusive of Pre-K was 8,832 versus a projected of 8,838 or a 99.9% accuracy rate.

Kindergarten enrollment is over projections by 36 at 692, which Flanagan calls “a great sign for the district.”  First grade, however, is coming in at 35 students under projected.

Elementary and middle schools are at 100.3% of projected while at GHS the actual is at 99.9%.

Following The Guidelines

Per Policy E-040 Effective Learning Environment, Procedure E-040.21 Class Size, the approved Greenwich Public School Class Guidelines are:

  • Kindergarten - Grade 1 (16 - 21) *Ham. Ave. (12-15)
  • Grade 2 - Grade 3 (18 - 24)
  • Grade 4 - Grade 5 (19 - 26 )
  • Grade 6-12 (12 – 30) excluding subjects such as physical education and certain music classes)

The board has had many discussions on whether guidelines should be viewed as “hard-caps” meaning never to be exceeded or “soft-caps” which give building administration and Havemeyer staff some discretion in class sizes.

Anxiety about classes it nothing new, according to Board Chair Leslie Moriarity, "Annually, there is tension around the decisions regarding the addition or reduction in sections and this year is no different. The Board will discuss the enrollment data, including elementary class size information, at its August 30 meeting."

The school district has often discussed whether other factors such as specific student needs within a class or grade should be taken into consideration when dealing with sections at the top or bottom of the guideline ranges.

As with any model, there are pros and cons to utilizing guidelines. However, as communicated by Flanagan, the administration “does our best to follow” the guidelines approved by the Board of Education.

Flanagan is aware that the unknown is a “difficult” situation, agreeing that the few weeks leading up to the start of school will always see “fluctuations.”

“We carefully monitor” every class by keeping in “close contact with each building principal.” Flanagan states that the individual schools are diligent about following up with parents.

In addressing each situation, Moriarity states that "parents should have confidence that the BOE hires the best qualified teachers, has effective curriculum, provides classroom support and values continual improvement of staff skills through professional development."

Demographics Continue To Shift

Of note is that 3 of the 11 elementary schools have enrolled 5 sections of incoming kindergarten students this year; both and with 86 students and , who was only budgeted for 3 sections, has come in with a district high of 91.

There are 9 different grades in various schools across the district whose sections are approaching the top of the guidelines, which Flanagan says are being “watched” very closely. With the exception of Grade 1 at Hamilton Avenue however, (which has a different guideline for K-1 as part of their magnet program) there are no other grades beyond the guideline. (See elementary actual and projected enrollment document attached.)

Greenwich PTA Council President Lisa Beth Savitz empathizes with parents' frustrations. "PTA Council is concerned that several elementary school PTAs are fielding complaints from parents about both class size and the lateness of teacher assignment notifications," Savitz says. "We are sympathetic to the difficulty of predicting enrollment and we understand that the administration is working to ensure the optimal outcome for each individual situation."

She added, "We maintain that each PTA is best suited to articulate the needs of its own student body and we encourage each PTA to communicate those needs to the administration."

One school on the "watch list" which has pursued such communication with the administration is .

Of his school's situation, PTA President Peter Bernstein maintains that "it goes without question that Hamilton Avenue raises unique challenges, from our diverse population to the state claims of racial imbalance."

Bernstein has conveyed to the administration the need for another 3rd grade section, stating that "hamstringing our teachers and students with overcrowded classrooms defeats any gains we have made over time and makes it harder to provide critical assistance to ensure that our students succeed."

In all likelihood, Hamilton Ave and the other schools being watched may need to wait more than 2 weeks to get a final answer. "There is a September 15th cut-off in the guidelines, so maybe they will add a section prior to that date. However, this is not a time to wait and see; it is a time to act," says Bernstein.

And what happens if more students show up when the school bells rings than expected?

Moriarity says that while "generally, the BOE works to stay within its annual budget level. However, if there are unanticipated circumstances which make that too difficult to stilll deliver the necessary services, then the BOE would seek an additional appropriation from the BET and RTM."              

Test Scores

Following the return of test scores over the summer, the district's Academic Achievement Update will include a summary of CMT, CAPT and other assessment data will also be presented at the board meeting.

The data included in the report will be utilized in the "development of the district’s next three-year Strategic Improvement Plan," which will "guide" the district in "achieving the Common Core Standards adopted by the Connecticut State Department of Education and the performance goals set by the Board of Education."

Customer Satisfaction?

Last spring, the 2012 Harris Survey was administered for the 4th time. The intent of the district wide-survey, given every 2 years, is to assist the board and district in:

  • implementation of existing goals and strategies for improvement;
  • commitment to multiple measures of success;
  • provide measurement data for the board’s Success System – the district’s ‘Report Card’;
  • provide data for goal-setting, Strategic Improvement Plans, and Data Teams;
  • provide opportunity for stakeholders to share their perspectives

After Thursday's presentation of survey results, a review of the data will continue at each school by their respective School/Strategic Improvement Teams. The data is used as the basis for establishing school improvement goals.

On a district level, program leaders and department heads also utilize the results in determining areas that may be in need of improvement. The board will be updated again in early 2013.

Racial Imbalance Response

In early August, McKersie and Flanagan met with Connecticut Commissioner Stefan Pryor, to discuss Greenwich's racial imbalance status.

The district was cited by the State Department of Education (SDE) in a June 11 letter stating that Hamilton Avenue andschools were cited as being racially imbalanced and and were cited as being impending imbalanced.

The letter included a Sept. 14 deadline for a submission of a revised plan to address the racial imbalance at Hamilton Avenue and New Lebanon schools, and requests the superintendent attend the Oct. 3 State Board of Education meeting to explain the revised approach.

McKersie will update the situation Thursday.

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