This year, the main goal of principals’ school improvement plans — at all grade levels in all seven district schools — is all-day kindergarten, one of the 20 elements of the Student Success budget for fiscal 2017.
The School Committee voted 9-0 to accept the plans. Member Alexandra Taylor was absent.
Consultant Lori Likis, who has been working with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) to help schools develop district plans, introduced the plan presentations during the W-H School Committee’s Wednesday, April 13 meeting.
“The intention here is to offer something that is helpful to districts, rather than another mandatory requirement,” Likis said. “You’re developing a district plan and using that to drive all of the other systems in your district. So it drives your budget, your evaluation system, educator roles and school improvement plans.”
The three pillars of W-H’s Planning for Success/School Improvement Plans are those outlined when the Student Success budget was unveiled in February — Every Child, Every Day: Healthy Body/Healthy Mind; a cohesive pre-K through grade 12 system of teaching and safe and secure schools.
“We’ve done strategic planning before, and I just never felt convinced that the plan really spoke for W-H or that it wasn’t really impacting improvement,” said Superintendent of Schools Dr. Ruth Gilbert-Whitner.
The seven principals provided three plan overviews, based on the elementary, middle and high school levels.
“Our goals are the same,” said Maquan Principal Donna Murphy. “There was something very heartwarming — and I’m going to steal some of the thunder from our middle school and high school principals — the very first goal for pillar one is the implementing of all-day kindergarten for all students across the district.”
She said it spoke to the importance of all-day kindergarten as a foundation for a good education on a level playing field. She also reiterated the importance of the added full-time social workers to improve social-emotional health.
Duval Principal Julie McKillop said extension and development of the elementary math and science curriculum is a key component of pillar two, the cohesive pre-K through grade 12 system of teaching.
Indian Head Principal Elaine White spoke of safe and secure schools in the elementary grades. Staff training in safety protocols will continue while audio communication technology, especially in areas like school gyms and cafeterias where it is lacking, is improved and new perimeter cameras are being looked at. Conley Principal Karen Downey was unable to attend due to a death in her family.
Middle school principals William Tranter and George Ferro outlined how the three pillars will be implemented at that level.
“We did spend a lot of time working together to align our school improvement plans across the district,” Tranter said of the seven administrators. “We all feel [all-day kindergarten] is an essential piece as students move up in the school system. … If you don’t get it early, it’s very difficult to catch up at the middle or high school level.”
Tranter and Ferro have been working together toward ensuring an equal middle school experience, no matter which town a student lives in, and agreed that more support is needed for guidance and school adjustment staffs. Like their elementary counterparts, math and science are key pillar two concerns in the middle schools.
“Safety and security is first and foremost,” Tranter said. “If kids don’t feel safe and secure, they’re not going to learn.”
At the high school, Principal Jeffrey Szymaniak said he had never enjoyed the school improvement plan process in the past.
“This year, because of the new process, it kind of means something,” he said. “It was exhilarating.”
He said he values the potential benefit of all-day kindergarten for high school freshmen eight years from now. He also said that, while school choice has helped him add programs at the high school, the Student Success budget will permit a lot more training for addressing the social-emotional challenges of the 2016 student.
Continuing the transition room is a key program as well as programs to ease stress.
The new semester schedule means more textbooks are needed, where teachers were able to juggle distribution on a trimester schedule. Szymaniak also wants to offer more detailed math, science and English electives as well as certificate programs for CNA, pharmacy tech, medical coding or animal sciences, for example.
“Teaching changes every year,” he said. “It changes with every class. … Whatever group of kids you have coming in the doors, you have to adapt.”
Szymaniak also said he is working to improve the experience level of front-door security personnel as well as designing a better traffic flow for the fall.
In other business, Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources, Safety and Security Patrick Dillon announced that Duval School Assistant Principal Dr. Elizabeth Wilcox has been appointed principal at Maquan School in the fall. Murphy is retiring this spring.
“I had the privilege to work with about 20 stakeholders who took this task very seriously,” Dillon said of the process that narrowed a field of more than 40 applicants to six for interviews and two finalists. “It was not an easy task for either one of the finalists.”
He said he viewed the integrity of the process as vital.
“She absolutely earned this opportunity,” he said of Wilcox.
“I’m absolutely thrilled,” she said. “I’ve been part of the W-H community for 14 years.”
Wilcox began as a grade two classroom teacher and as a reading specialist as well as assistant principal at Duval.
“I am sad to leave Duval … but I am very excited to go to Maquan and to be part of that community,” she said.