Smith joins school district

Upon entering Dr. Charles Smith’s office at the Wilton Board of Education offices next to the high school, it’s very apparent that either he believes in staying neat or that he is simply too new.

“That’s my style,” he said with a laugh. “I follow the principles of Breakthrough Coach. I was trained by Malachi Pancoast about the importance of not having an office that is too comfortable. Our job is to be out in classrooms coaching teachers.

After being told he has a calm demeanor, the new assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction of Wilton Public Schools responds, “Everybody says that. It’s my style as a person.”

Dr. Smith replaced Timothy Canty, who left to join the Darien Public Schools. Before coming to Wilton in July, he was the principal at North Street School in Greenwich. He had been a part of the Greenwich system for 16 years before coming to Wilton for the opportunity to work alongside Superintendent Gary Richards.

“It was my home to a certain extent,” the Stamford resident said of Greenwich. “The decision to leave was a hard one but I did it because of Dr. Richards.”

With Dr. Richards’ announcement he will be retiring in December, his thoughts now shift to enjoying the brief time the two will work together, as well as focusing on the future.

“We have a very close working relationship,” he said. “He is a very kind, supportive person who’s worked very hard to develop a very positive and affirming climate here.

“When I was first hired I knew he was contemplating retiring but I didn’t realize it would be in December. So I’m sad that he’s going to be leaving but I’m hopeful that the board will be able to find somebody who will continue what he started and that I’ll be able to work with as closely as I worked with him.”

Dr. Smith is still learning the ‘Wilton Way,’ but said he is beginning to understand how the Board of Education works. He attended a board meeting at the end of the previous school year to begin to grasp its style, and will address the board formally in September when he offers what he said will be a “brief” presentation on the Common Core standardized test.

Following the recently released results of the CAPT and CMT, Dr. Smith feels Wilton schools are moving towards the Common Core tests and the results, while not fully analyzed, shouldn’t cause concern.

“Those are known as the legacy tests,” he said. “They were based on the Connecticut state standards. We’re in a transition phase right now. Some of those results may reflect changes towards the Common Core. The new tests will be assessed using a new assessment called SBAC (Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium).”

Teacher evaluation

One of the key changes for the new school year, he said, is the introduction of a new teacher evaluation system being implemented statewide, something he thinks  was key to his coming to Wilton.

“In Greenwich, we had an evaluation system that’s very similar to what’s being implemented statewide,” he said. “I’m trying to support the building administrators and ultimately the teachers with this new evaluation system which involves getting into classrooms and observing.

“There’s a component that involves observation of teacher practice and there are various other components as well, which are new to everybody, and that’s incorporating student learning outcome into the teacher evaluation. Teachers will be setting goals for student learning and they will be rated on whether those children achieve those goals. In Greenwich, we always set goals for students but teachers weren’t rated on that and it wasn’t a part of their evaluation.

“There will also be some parent measures that we will be incorporating, mainly through surveys. Parents will give input into how things are going in schools. It’s complicated. It’s very complex.”

Besides his strength in teacher evaluation and professional support, Dr. Smith has demonstrated a keen concern for special education. Originally from Long Island, he attended Bay Shore High School before receiving his bachelor’s degree in psychology from the State University of New York at Stony Brook, followed by his master’s degree in special education. He followed that up with an Ed.M in reading and learning disabilities and his Ed.D in educational administration from Teachers College, Columbia University.

Career stops included Roberto Clemente School for the Arts in New York City, returning to work at Teachers College, the New York City Board of Education, and The Shield Institute. Education evaluation and special education was a constant theme for him.

“I don’t really view general education and special education as separate,” he said. “Children with special needs bring a lot to the table. I like to think in terms of universal design for learning so that we design for everybody.”

As for that calm demeanor, Dr. Smith, who counts yoga as a hobby and activity, said he learned that earlier in his career.

“When I was director of a school in New York City for students with severe disabilities, we had students who could be quite violent,” he said. “We had students who would pass away during school hours. I learned very quickly that it was important for me to maintain a calm demeanor even though I may not be feeling that, for the sake of the staff and the students and the parents.

“I had to be the calm, cool, collected person. We had a lot of medical staff there as well, and I took my cue from them.”

Wiltonians should expect to see the new assistant superintendent around town often, as he said he plans to attend sporting events, as well as the various presentations of the arts the schools are known for.

“It’s my hope that I can do that,” he said. “There’s a lot going on here and I’m not sure I can do all of it. We want to make sure we’re educating the whole child.”

While he hasn’t had a chance to get into many classrooms yet, he is anxious to do so. This is all part of his entry plan.

“I tried to hit the ground learning,” he said. “As administrators, we feel pressure to hit the ground running. You can make some pretty quick mistakes. I’m trying to figure things out. I’m trying my best in a very systematic and thoughtful way to gain some understanding how things are done the ‘Wilton Way.’

“I am meeting with everyone in the central office, all of the instructional leaders, the building leaders and I’m gathering information in a very systematic way. By January I hope to be in a position where I can give some thoughtful input into how the district is going to move forward.

“I have thoughts of some goals but I want to be respectful of the work that’s been done. I heard a phrase recently, ‘don’t tear a fence down until you know why it’s been built.’”

He is a big believer in being collaborative and looks forward to seeing what the future holds in Wilton.

“One thing you should know about me is that I do believe very strongly in turning a lot of the responsibility for what we do over to students and engaging them as partners in the learning,” he said.

“It seems like a great community. A great school system with a very dedicated group of teachers. Everybody has been very welcoming. I’m very grateful.”