Here's what's new as Wilton schools open for new school year

The public schools have indeed opened. At least one caller to the Bulletin newsroom this morning wondered if today was the day.

Monday is the first day of school for Wilton students, who will have woken up to a brand new fleet of buses, a wave of incoming teachers, sweeping technological changes and new course offerings.

There have been new hires to the teaching staff across the board, ranging from Wilton Preschool to Wilton High School, along with a new district teacher for the hearing impaired.

The largest instructional change is centered at the high school, in which 10 new teachers have joined various departments, from English to science to special education. Many are formerteachers.

“These teachers who are joining us are demonstrating outstanding backgrounds in their educational experiences,” said Assistant Superintendent Tim Canty.

The high school will also be taking on two full-time reading instructors, who will help students make the transition from general reading comprehension to sophisticated and content-specific subject areas.

Over the summer, Wilton educators participated in a professional development program, in which teams worked to outline the initial units of instruction that will kick off the school year.

Class sizes are projected to remain within the goal ranges, as determined by the school board, but precise figures cannot yet be determined because a variety of factors, such as late registration, can affect the projected statistics.

The school board will track enrollment over the first few weeks of classes in order to compile an official census by Oct. 1, which historically has been “extraordinarily accurate,” according to School Superintendent Gary Richards.

The optimal class size ranges, as determined by the board, for grades K-1 is 18-20 students; grades 2-5, 20-22; and upper grades are assessed on the basis of each department; for instance, English class sizes are generally maintained at the lower end of the spectrum because they often require more focused attention on reading and writing development.

Student Transportation Association, a school bus contractor signed this year, is bringing in a fleet of 35 buses, which are the first in the state to offer lap-shoulder belts.

Bus routes will operate using a “triple-tier” schedule, in which each school has coordinated start times so the buses can be used more than once for every pickup and drop-off period, a practice that improves efficiency both in terms of costs and expediency.
Sewer construction over the summer has reduced traffic on Wolfpit Road to one lane, and the school board recommends that Miller-Driscoll parents take advantage of the bus service because traffic in the area could become very congested.
Former bus drivers have been rehired and there has been no increase to payroll.

Schools will also receive a new technology package, which will be incorporated into the classroom, including SMART Boards, iPad carts, an increased use of Web supplements and broader Wi-Fi access.

The high school is moving towards full implementation of wireless Internet, and grades K-8 and library media centers are in the process of doing so as well.

Web access can be an opportunity for teachers to integrate new devices, programmed with educational software, into the classroom.

Computer access will be further expanded as a variety of funding sources — from the operating budget, PTA donations, and some from Wilton Education Foundation — have allowed for new iPad carts, which will be used as “mobile computer labs.”
The carts include a charging unit and are able to move the resources from one classroom to another, as opposed to the two fixed computer labs at Cider Mill School.

The iPad and iPod can be especially effective in helping students with learning disabilities. ProLocquo, for example, is a software program designed for people with communication disabilities.

Dr. Richards recounted a story of a father of a 14-year-old with a communication disability who began using the software. He said the father came to him saying he was now able, for the first time, to understand what his child was thinking.
Instructors have been working over the summer to develop curriculum levels of instruction that will include iPads as a digital tool, and the school board will monitor the extent to which they are effective over the year.

SMART Boards are another feature of the technology package. They are interactive tools that act as digital chalkboards, allowing students to interact with charts, graphs and 3-D geometric models. They also allow for teachers to save lectures and class materials, which can later be accessed online.

Grades K-8 have “fully implemented” the devices, and Wilton High is in the process.

Certain types of sound-field technology will also be introduced into the classroom, including an amplification system that magnifies sound in order to prevent air conditioning and other distractions from drowning out lectures. Teachers will also be offered lapel microphones if needed.

Mr. Canty described the technology package as “cutting-edge instructional practices that are responsive to emerging needs of this generation.”

At the end of the year, students will be invited to participate in a spring technology expo to present how they have found new technology most effective.

“We’re feeling very good about the process we’ve employed to launch the program,” Mr. Canty said of the technologies.

New electives
Two elective high school courses have been added to the curriculum. AP Economics allows students to take both macroeconomics and microeconomics on a semester basis, and Web Design will give students a basic approach to website customization.
Kindergarten and grades 3-6 are implementing a comprehensive new math program; grade 6-10 Spanish courses will feature new textbooks, which include a digital a Web component; and Middlebrook School is now offering technology education and a family and consumer science course.

“We are taking a careful look at our programs to see if we can be responsive to an increasing need to deploy programs that promote science, technology, engineering and mathematics skills,” Mr. Canty said.

The school board has also initiated a programming plan to educate students on the dangers of bullying, partially in response to state legislature and mounting concerns, Dr. Richards said.

“We’re taking this very seriously and we have a moral and professional commitment to providing a safe place for kids,” he said.