Community conversation yields ‘valuable’ input

Kendra Baker photos
Community members gathered in Wilton High School’s Library Learning Commons to share their thoughts, ideas and recommendations about budget priorities with Board of Education members and school administrators on Nov. 9.

The Wilton Board of Education held the event in order to give residents the opportunity to become engaged early on in the budget process. Members of the Board of Finance, as well as newly elected education board members Deborah Low and Gretchen Jeanes, were also in attendance.

Some topics discussed during the event included:

  • Communication between the school district and parents.

  • Before- and after-school tutoring.

  • The importance of students having staff members they can turn to.

  • The state budget’s effect on Wilton’s school budget.

  • Classroom size.

  • Professional development.

Following the community conversation, Board of Education members shared what community members had to say during their meeting later that evening.

Glenn Hemmerle said the conversation went well, but “we could have used two and a half more hours.”

“Of the nine questions we had ascribed, we only got through three of them, but we had some really good input at our table — really valuable and some really good input,” he said.

“The opportunity to sit and talk with parents or the public about what we’re doing and how we’re doing it — you can never have too much of that.”

Hemmerle said many of the questions and concerns expressed among his group were ones the board has heard before.

“The driver that’s going to really be critical for us is how we communicate as a board — how we communicate, why the budget is what it is, what the assumptions were, what it means and how did we get there,” he said.

“It goes beyond budget communication. It’s how we communicate in general with the public about what we’re doing — it’s absolutely critical. We always have to find better ways of doing it.”

Laura Schwemm said much of the conversation at her table was “focused on children’s experiences” at Wilton’s public schools.

“We had Cider Mill and Middlebrook and the high school represented,” she said, “and the concern is always if [students] are learning and getting the support that they need with their education.”

Chris Stroup said an assertion was made that he thinks the board or school administration should look into — that “increased spending on professional development for teachers, particularly around literacy, might actually produce a reasonably substantial ROI [return on investment]” and “significantly reduce, among other costs, special education referrals.”

“If I was hearing correctly, there may be some recent empirical data that supports that,” said Stroup. “I’m not aware of it, but it would be, I think, useful follow-up.”

Bruce Likly said interest was also expressed in having the district “proactively push out” its agendas and minutes.

One of the big topics at Board of Education Chair Christine Finkelstein’s table was ease of access to information.

“There’s just so much information but there’s no central spot to get it,” she said.

“We also had some great ideas about tapping into the tremendous parent resources and expertise in our community — bringing that into the schools possibly as a way to take the place of outside people who come in.”

There were also “lots of ideas for things kids could benefit from,” Finkelstein said, such as “more world language” and “work vocational training, because a four-year college education isn’t for every student.”

Overall, Finkelstein said, it was a “very interesting discussion.”

Superintendent Kevin Smith said he found the community conversation “very engaging” and he “appreciated the multiple perspectives.”

“I think we heard quite a bit of conversation about the augmentations that people would like to see — world language was one of them and a desire to push world language further, [as well as] a desire to continue our efforts to share services,” said Smith, adding that one person at his table also asked that the board “find ways to protect those who are on fixed incomes.”

Finkelstein said all the feedback from the community conversation will be “taken into account as the budget process continues.”