Notes From the Board Table: Progress on renovation and reading

The Miller-Driscoll building renovation took a big step forward last week, when the Board of Education voted to advance the project to the state Department of Education. The state requires our board to give its final blessing to the building plans and budget estimates before the state will begin its review process.
Our board was pleased to give its unanimous approval, and we are optimistic the state will give its OK by the end of August. Once we have the state’s approval, the project can go out to bid and we can begin to identify the vendors who will actually perform the work.
I expect the project will start to move quickly once we have approval from the state.  Indeed, we expect to have our temporary classrooms installed on the Miller-Driscoll campus within the next few weeks. We will keep our parents, students and community members updated as key decisions are made. For one thing, the M-D Building Committee will relocate its website to the BOE website, and it can also be accessed via the town website.
The Miller-Driscoll renovation is a significant investment that Wilton’s taxpayers are making in students and in our community’s future. It will be exciting to watch the project come to fruition, and I hope all members of the community will share in this very positive step forward.
Another item of note from last week’s board meeting was a “year-end” review from Assistant Superintendent for Special Services Ann Paul. You may recall that earlier this year, we commissioned an external consultant, District Management Council (DMC), to conduct a thorough review of current special education practices, expenditures and results. DMC surveyed parents, principals, administrators, teachers and staff; conducted an extensive data review; and benchmarked Wilton’s special ed practices against those of other high-performing school districts.
Last week we received preliminary results from DMC, which Paul reported on at our meeting.  First, and I think important to recognize, the study noted the town of Wilton’s commitment to providing superior services to our most vulnerable learners, and our staff members’ deep commitment to their students.
DMC did make a number of recommendations about how we can improve our processes, which could have the added benefit of added cost savings.
• Reconfigure the way reading is taught to struggling students at the K-5 level. DMC asserts that reading is best taught by “most qualified” reading instructors who are able to intervene with students at an early age. This is something that Superintendent Kevin Smith and Paul have had on their radar for some time. It’s generally understood that helping a child become a proficient reader can unlock so many opportunities for a child, so the earlier we can intervene to help a child become a skillful reader, the better our chances of helping this child avoid the need for special services. We currently have different reading practices in place at Miller-Driscoll and at Cider Mill.  We will give our reading instruction careful analysis in the coming months, to ensure we are giving our students the absolute best instruction possible.
• Allow teachers to spend more time in the classroom. The survey found that teachers and staff spend a significant amount of their time performing non-classroom work. Specifically, this refers to the high number of parent/staff meetings, known as a “Planning and Placement Team” (PPT) meetings, that take place over the course of the year. During the 2014-15 school year, our teachers, administrators and staff members participated in more than 1,900 PPTs to evaluate our 600 students who receive special education services. In addition to time out of the classroom to attend the meeting, each PPT requires a significant amount of planning, data collection and advance collaboration. This high number of PPTs seems out of alignment with what is happening in other districts, and we are determined to find ways to maintain a high level of parent/staff communication, but in a way that is less obstructive to the school day.
The DMC survey findings have identified several opportunities to improve service to our students. As we evaluate these recommendations, we will of course be mindful of our commitment to our students. As we have learned from the study, quality of instruction does not always correlate directly to spending. Rather than assume that higher spending will lead to better results, we will be taking a close look to ensure that every dollar is well spent and truly helping our students.
The DMC study results offer a very interesting and exciting opportunity for the district. We will keep you advised as we decide how to address DMC’s recommendations. The survey findings are posted on our website, if you care to learn more.
As always, if you have questions or comments, please contact us at BOE@Wilton.K12.CT.US.  Thank you.