Notes From the Board Table: Calendars, renovations, grades

First things first: Last week the Board of Education approved calendars for the 2015-16 and 2016-17 school years. The previously approved 2015-16 calendar was reopened to move a partial professional development day from Feb. 3 to Dec. 11, where it will be of greater use and the 2016-17 calendar we approved closely mirrors the schedule we have followed for the past few years. Knowing how important the calendars are to families’ work schedules and vacation plans, we wanted to let everyone know the Board had taken this action. Each calendar is posted to the District website (Wilton.K12.CT.US) under “Quick Links” for easy access.

Miller-Driscoll update

Karen Birck of the Miller-Driscoll Building Committee and representatives from Tai Soo Kim Partners, the architectural firm, and Turner Construction gave us an update on the Miller-Driscoll renovation project and reviewed some almost-final design plans. It was a relatively comprehensive report, and we are grateful for the years of work these individuals have put into the project.
We reviewed detailed drawings and were updated on some recent changes. For example, we reviewed site work modifications that were made to address concerns raised about traffic safety and flow, and concerns raised about the continued use of traditional skylights as a source of natural light. Traditional skylights were a concern because of their propensity for leakage and corresponding high maintenance costs.
The committee, mindful of the importance of natural light in such a sprawling facility worked to find a viable alternative solution. Randall Luther of Tai Soo Kim detailed the solution they will be implementing which will not only provide ample natural light and address maintenance issues but will also have a prominent role in the school’s exterior design.   Natural light silos with vertical glass panels will be installed in each of the building’s “common areas” and will be roofed using colors corresponding with the different areas of the school.   The light silos will have multiple benefits including: (a) helping students, visitors and safety personnel identify different parts of the building; (b) enhancing the visual appeal of the building; and (c) helping to regulate solar heat gain.
The building committee also listened to the board’s recommendation that they try to increase the window sizes and natural light in the portable classrooms that will house some of our students during the school’s renovation. Luther explained the committee is in the final stages of selecting a provider for the temporary classrooms, and that larger windows have been specified per the board’s direction, regardless of which manufacturer is selected.
I cite these examples for a reason. Building committee volunteers, both individually and collectively, have been the target of several baseless accusations. Throughout every step of this process, which goes back multiple years, these individuals have been receptive to input from the community, and have consistently prioritized the need to deliver a safe, cost-efficient building of which we can all be proud, and which will last for future generations.

Weighted grades

The board continues to consider whether or not to change the district’s current policy to not provide extra credit for Wilton High School students who successfully complete advance placement or honors level courses.
The past few months have been an interesting “fact gathering” period, highlighted by numerous emails from concerned parents and students, a panel discussion featuring several WHS guidance and faculty members along with college placement adviser Dr. Matthew Greene, and a late-May workshop that allowed board members to exchange thoughts and ideas.
Our next step will be to form a small working group to delve into the policies and practices in place in some of our nation’s leading public schools. The working group will include the board’s Communications and Policy Alignment Committee (Superintendent Kevin Smith, Board Vice Chair Chris Finkelstein and me), WHS Principal Robert O’Donnell and at least two members of the WHS faculty. We intend to interview, and where possible visit, ultra-high-achieving public high schools that have weighted grade policies in place to learn how the policy is implemented, and if the policy has had any detrimental impact on students.
I expect this work will take place over the summer, and that the policy committee will make a recommendation to the board shortly thereafter.