Notes from the Board Table: Keeping an eye on curriculum

Those of you who have been faithful readers of the Notes column may have noticed a theme over the past few months, namely the introduction of several new programs and processes, and a brief overview of how each serves a specific purpose in helping to improve instruction in the Wilton public schools.

It occurred to me however, that it might be helpful to bring the discussion full circle, and highlight the interconnectedness of these programs. This is a critical point. Each new initiative is a vital link in a comprehensive strategy to improve how learning occurs in our schools, rooted in a strong curriculum that continually challenges each student.

My goal, and Superintendent Smith’s goal, is to communicate with parents and community members about our strategic plan so that everyone understands what we are working to achieve, and how we will get there.

We have stated our vision is for our students to be “innovators, collaborators and critical thinkers,” and we expect that the Wilton schools will be recognized as a “premier, dynamic” district by virtually any measure. To do this, we have begun addressing the learning environment in several ways:

Curriculum Coordination and Alignment. We now have in place two instructional coordinators who are responsible for the refinement and evolution of our humanities and math curriculums. Wilton has always been regarded as an outstanding district, and with this added focus in two core areas of our curriculum we believe we can be even more successful. We see areas for improvement in coordination across classes and schools, and opportunities for improved rigor, efficiencies and alignments.

Instructional Coaching. Integral to everything is to ensure that our teachers have the best tools and skills to deliver the right concepts at the right time, and in a way that keeps all students engaged and challenged. To do this, we have assembled a team of  “coaches” who are working directly with teachers to develop and implement leading-edge instructional techniques and help ensure we have the resources necessary for appropriately rigorous instruction for every child. As you may know, our teachers look forward to professional development days as an opportunity to learn about innovative teaching techniques and best practices. With our on-site coaches, teachers can now benefit from high-caliber professional development on a regular basis.

Math in Focus (Singapore Math). The district adopted the Math in Focus curriculum in 2013 because of its rigor, mastery-based curriculum and alignment with the Common Core. In doing so, our students are being asked to adjust to a new way of thinking about math, and are facing a more strenuous approach to math instruction. Our transition to the new program continues, with many students finding the new curriculum challenging.  We have responded by ensuring adequate staffing is available, and will closely monitor student progress going forward.

Common Core. The district’s move to utilizing these new standards is not simply to comply but is rather based on a desire to increase the quality and fidelity of our overall curriculum. For those of you interested in learning more about what your students are and will be learning, there is a great app for that — Check out CommonCore powered by MasteryConnect in the iTunes App Store and know that our teachers and administrators are actively using this tool to support advancements in our district’s teaching and learning process. Additionally, as part of the administration’s goal of keeping parents informed about our use of the Common Core, a series of parent meetings have been scheduled as follows:

Miller Driscoll: Dec. 15, 7 p.m.

Cider Mill: Nov. 16, 7 p.m.

Middlebrook: Nov. 16, 7 p.m.

Wilton High School: Dec. 1, 9:30 a.m.

Parents will receive more detailed information, but I wanted you to have the dates so you can mark your calendar.

Establish Student Benchmarks and Assess Individual Learning. This is the purpose of the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) testing protocol that was introduced last week. Students in grades K-9 participated in the district’s new adaptive testing model and the results will be used to determine each student’s instructional path. Teachers will review MAP results during this week’s professional learning exercises, and determine the proper course for each of their students.

While each of these initiatives serves a specific purpose, they do not function as separate silos. Our curriculum alignment efforts help determine priorities for our curriculum coaches. Our coaches ensure that classroom instruction is consistent across all grade levels, and that teachers are connecting with all students through new and creative methods of instruction. Our teachers use assessment data to understand each student’s strengths and weaknesses. Each of these processes functions like a well-oiled machine, with each part interacting seamlessly, in what has come to define a 21st Century school environment.

Long gone are the days when a teacher stood in front of a classroom and lectured students for 45 minutes. Our goal for the Wilton schools is to be a leader in integrating innovative approaches to teaching and learning that will continue our tremendous record of academic success. In doing so though, it is important for our community – the owners of our school district – to understand the direction we are taking. As important as these initiatives may be, if we fail to communicate them effectively, and receive community buy-in, we can not succeed.