WILTON \u2014 The pandemic of 2020 may have an influence on next year\u2019s budget, but Superintendent of Schools Kevin Smith said some of the lessons learned this past year could ultimately help improve instruction. Smith presented his administrative goals to the Board of Education on Dec. 3, and also provided an abbreviated draft of his district goals, which he said he would be sharing in more detail privately with board members through a written draft via email, owing to time constraints. Among his hopes for the coming year is that he\u2019ll be able to present a budget proposal for the 2021-22 school year that would not show an increase above 3 percent at the most. \u201cI feel confident that we\u2019ll be able to achieve that goal,\u201d he said, noting the range of unbudgeted expenditures that have been necessitated by the pandemic, including unexpected staff additions and protective supplies. He said it could possibly go as low as being a flat proposal, but it\u2019s still a work in progress. \u201cThis year is extraordinary [and] we\u2019re playing very close attention to our budget,\u201d he said, noting his office continues to stay on top of potential state and federal reimbursements. With that in mind, he explained the district\u2019s intention \u2014 as in years past \u2014 is to meet the broad range of academic and extracurricular needs of student, but this year with a renewed focus on social and emotional wellness. \u201cIt has been and it remains today our chief focus to develop the social and emotional well-being of our kids,\u201d he said, noting the tragic suicide of a Wilton High School student this past year. While the board did not vote on implementing a mental health screening the administration proposed last month \u2014 hoping to do so at its next meeting \u2014 Smith referenced several other initiatives underway with a focus on mental and emotional health. Along with working with Silver Hill Hospital on several fronts, he said he has consulted with Dr. Stephen Xenakis \u2014 a retired brigadier general, psychiatrist and Defense Department adviser who has worked extensively with detainees at Guantanamo Naval Base. He said Xenakis proposed the creation of a \u201cbroad-based awareness campaign\u201d in town that would involve various community organizations highlighting a focus on \u201ccaring.\u201d \u201cWe would invite every community organization to join and as part of that just recommit to their efforts that are already underway,\u201d he said, with the initiative creating activities around the theme and highlighting resources to \u201chelp foster connection among every segment of the Wilton community.\u201d \u201cI think it\u2019s an opportunity to really do some good for everybody who lives here,\u201d Smith said, noting it was still in the early planning stages but could have far-reaching impact. Regarding mental and emotional health, Vice Chair Glenn Hemmerle pointed out that among Smith\u2019s written goals for the district, he should be highlighting attention on the well-being of staff. \u201cI don\u2019t see that here,\u201d he said, though he believed the work was being done to help staff, particularly as it relates to the pandemic operations. \u201cI think we have a number of teachers out there who are really struggling, the way our students are struggling, and I think we should try and develop some way of helping them,\u201d he said. \u201cI\u2019m not saying that [you\u2019re] not. Don\u2019t get me wrong. But I just think we need to highlight [it],\u201d he said, and make it part of the written objectives for next year. Smith, who said he appreciated the comment, noted there were good support networks in place within each building for staff, as well as at the district level. \u201cA lot of folks have expressed concern about working,\u201d he said, noting the district was trying to handle each situation on a case-by-case basis, given the extraordinary circumstances of this time. \u201cJust verbalize it,\u201d Chair Deborah Low told Smith, citing \u201ca tremendous amount of effort\u201d that the district has put toward caring for its staff. \u201cLet\u2019s just make it more public perhaps \u2026 more visible,\u201d she said. \u201cI would like to see that as part of your objectives,\u201d Hemmerle said. Good news Part of the good news from this extraordinary year, Smith explained, may be that they\u2019re \u201cable to leverage some of the lessons from the pandemic,\u201d including use of virtual learning tools as a means of instructing certain students who were particularly responsive to it. \u201cWe want to make sure that we have opportunities to respond to those kids where our more traditional structure didn\u2019t work, [if] we can serve those kids better,\u201d he said. He said some districts in other countries have already modified their instructional approach based on this experience, explaining there were lessons that could be garnered for Wilton. Still, he said, it remained unclear what the academic impacts will be on students moving forward, particularly in the area of math, which generally seems to be taking more of a hit through distance learning. He said there could be financial implications addressing deficiencies, with needed interventions or support, but those questions were still yet to be answered. \u201cI just think, in setting up the conversation, it\u2019s important to name again that this has been an unbelievably challenging school year,\u201d Smith said. \u201cAt this point we\u2019re just not clear what we\u2019re going to see,\u201d he said.