Notes from the Board Table

Exciting things are happening as we develop the 2015-16 operating budget for our schools, and I want to share a few specifics. Not only will these new developments affect our budget, but they will also have a transformative impact on how we approach teaching and learning in the Wilton Schools.

Before I delve into the numbers, I want to provide a brief overview of the structural changes Superintendent Kevin Smith and the administrative team are proposing. For many years, our schools have relied upon teams of  “instructional leaders” to assist with curriculum development, and ensure consistency of instruction within each school. Our instructional leaders have generally been recognized by their peers as tremendous resources, with vast experience and insight for instructional best practices and curriculum content.

However, our instructional leaders assumed these responsibilities in addition to their regular classroom duties. And, as curriculum content has changed dramatically in recent years, due largely to Common Core requirements, our teachers have asked repeatedly for more instructional training. As a result, there just aren’t enough hours in the day for an instructional leader to give 100% to students, and 100% to curriculum/staff development.

Which is why an entirely new format is being proposed for the 2015-16 school year. Superintendent Smith, working closely with Assistant Superintendent Chuck Smith, is proposing a small cross-district network of “instructional coaches” and “curriculum coordinators” who will work full-time to ensure that all teachers have the resources, training and support necessary to ensure the highest levels of student learning.

Specifically, the plan calls for two “curriculum coordinators,” one to focus on K-8 humanities curriculum (English language arts and social studies), and a second to focus on K-8 science and math. Each will report directly to Assistant Superintendent Chuck Smith, but will have daily interactions with each of the building principals and their teachers. The coordinators’ key responsibility will be to establish a clear philosophy for each subject area across the district, and to then develop, implement and evaluate a challenging and appropriate curriculum district-wide.

We will also appoint six “instructional coaches,” who will also report to Dr. Chuck Smith but will be assigned to specific schools. The instructional coaches will guide and support our teachers as they integrate curriculum standards into their daily lesson plans. Instructional coaches will provide coaching, assessments and support to teachers on a daily basis — something that currently is not available. The coaches and curriculum coordinators will also develop critically needed professional development for our teachers, which offers access to innovative thinking and best practices in key subject areas.

In essence, the curriculum coordinators will ensure the quality and content of instruction across the district, while the instructional coaches will ensure the quality of the delivery of the content.

Sounds expensive, right? Actually, you’d be surprised. By modifying the existing instructional leader structure, transforming a few existing positions and taking advantage of enrollment-related reductions of classroom teachers at Miller-Driscoll, Cider Mill and the high school, there are no new costs associated with the new instructional format.

The board first heard the proposal at our mid-December budget workshop, and the concept was enthusiastically received. Since then, we’ve had an opportunity to ask questions and learn even more about the idea. I wanted to share the basic outline here, and I strongly urge all community members to learn more by becoming engaged in the budget process as it moves forward.

Superintendent Smith will share his budget with the community at a public hearing scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 22, at 7:30 p.m. at Middlebrook.

There is of course, much more to discuss with regard to the budget, and the board is working hard to ensure the budget includes appropriate funding to support our district goals, and is reflective of community priorities.

A few key provisions include:

  • New courses at Wilton High School including STEM coding and a “Farm to Table” culinary course;
  • Continued investments in technology including expanding our wireless networks, expanded use of Google Apps for Education and assurance that every teacher has access to a laptop computer;
  • Comprehensive review of special education services to ensure most efficient delivery of services.

As a final note, we are also working hard to develop a plan to reinstate enrichment programs for our 3-8 students and a third-grade world language program in a budget neutral way.

As initially presented, the budget reflects a 1.98% increase over current spending levels.

I applaud Dr. Smith and the administration for starting the process with such a thoughtful and innovation budget proposal.