Yesterday, I received an email regarding one of our graduating students who had just learned that he had been accepted at Harvard. He is our second Harvard acceptance this year that I know of. This is such an exciting time for seniors as they learn of their choices now for college next year. The Stratford community should be proud that we have such hard working and studious students. Some of these students will graduate with 15 college credits, saving their parents a semester of college tuition. I wish that the cynics in the community could see how education in the Stratford Schools has evolved into more rigorous 21 century learning. Our students are expected to know more, research more, write more, challenge thinking and sources more, and become responsible global citizens who treat one another with respect.
Over the last three years, we have strategically planned our professional development and resources to build the capacity of all our educators to strengthen their ability to deal with the new expectations for teaching and learning. We have written new curriculum and instituted new teaching strategies that research shows are more powerful for learning. We spend a great deal of professional time on improving instruction for better student achievement.
We are doing this at the same time that our population has been changing. We have new students register throughout the year – 57 more at the elementary level today than were with us on our official October 1 enrollment report. Those students come from so many different places and backgrounds that we are constantly working to “catch them up” to our expectations. We have 49 different languages in our Stratford Schools.
Even with the challenges of an influx of students, we are now seeing the results of our efforts over the last 3 years. For the first time, we are seeing the improvement in our STAR scores at the midyear assessment. We assess with STAR three times a year to monitor progress. We are also seeing a move to close the achievement gap. Four of our elementary schools were acclaimed as “Schools of Distinction”. Wooster Middle School was acknowledged with the State School Climate award. We have both the CT Elementary and Secondary Assistant Principals of the year awards this year, and the CT Science Teacher of the Year award. Our efforts at improving math instruction at the elementary level are showing results after only 5 months of math coaches working with teachers in their classrooms. Our reading scores are climbing with the implementation of Columbia University’s Readers’ Workshop.
There are so many positive things happening now in our schools that I am deeply concerned that just when we are turning the corner for 21st century learning, the rug might be pulled out from under our progress by those who want a flat budget. Contracted salaries, insurance and set cost increases alone require a 2.65% increase over this year’s budget. I see comments that have no basis in fact being used as justification for demanding a 0% increase this year in the school budget. Misinformation is being disseminated to justify no increase in the education budget. This district has NOT had $2 million surpluses. If there were ever a surplus, it would go back to the town, but you can check the past budgets and clearly see that 99.9% of the budget is consistently spent. The school district is audited twice a year, once by the town auditors and again with the filing of the yearly ED001 with the state. The accusations are being answered by the Board of Education completing another audit.
What we all have to do together is focus on what is in the best interests of our children. They are our future.
After the Stratford Board of Education finance committee spent 7 budget workshop meetings delving into the projected education budget for next year, they approved moving that forward to the Board of Education. There the "itemized estimate of expenditures" must be approved to send to the town for the Mayor and Town Council to approve as is, or to make whatever changes they deem appropriate. A vote on the proposed budget was tabled last Monday night and will be reconsidered during a BOE Finance committee meeting Monday night, and possibly approved at a special BOE meeting next Tuesday night, March 7.
Over the course of the last 3 1/2 years, we have strategically worked to improve our curriculum and instruction. We have the advantage of having truly caring and committed teachers and administrators, but we have needed to bring up to date training to the district and build the capacity of all our educators to deal with the current best practices. We have begun and continue to work on rigorous curriculum and to change our instruction to actively engage our students in learning that is meaningful and challenges their thinking.
What is gratifying is that we are now seeing the results of our work. The STAR assessments from this midyear show growth and in some cases, tremendous growth. Our expectations are high and we intend to continue on this growth path as we stay focused on this mission.
Also gratifying is the recognition that is coming to some of our schools and educators. This year alone, we have the Connecticut Elementary and Secondary Assistant Principals of the Year, the Middle School Science Teacher of the Year, the Connecticut School Climate Award at Wooster, and a finalist for Principal of the Year. We also have 4 schools that just received the Schools of Distinction Award. So, we know we have not reached the level of student achievement that is our goal, but the recognition that the Stratford Schools is receiving reaffirms that our work is beginning to pay off.
Greetings Families and Community Members - The second stage of the Strategic Planning (Five Year District Plan) process is beginning, and Stakeholders are needed join one of the four Action Teams necessary to carry the process forward.
The Action Teams are as follows:
Family and Community Partnerships
Mastery Based Learning in a Diverse District
21st Century Skills and Assessments
Rigorous social curriculum that promotes character development, social emotional wellness, and positive behaviors.
We'd love to have your expertise and voice participating in this important work. We reached out via School Messenger last week seeking your interest in becoming a member of one of these teams. We've heard from several of you expressing your desire to participate and we thank you and appreciate your willingness to commit to this process. If there's anyone else interested in being a part of this project, please submit your name to Teresa Lycoudes at 203-385-4209 or via Email at [email protected]. We hope you will join one of our teams, and we look forward to moving the Strategic Plan forward.
This is always a super busy time of the year in schools, and probably for all of you at home also. We have had a smooth start to the year with a number of new families moving in and all of us adjusting to new friends and new learning. We welcome all of our new families and hope that you are experiencing our Stratford hospitality. It is not easy to adjust anytime you make a move, but many of our new families are coming from out of state and out of country. So we recognize how difficult this move might be. Since all of us in this district want your children to be successful, please let us know how to assist with your transitions.
As we are dedicated to doing the best for our students, we have embarked upon our Strategic Planning process for a new 5 year plan. This plan should be the guide for important decisions the district must make for the next 5 years, while still allowing flexibility for unexpected events. After all, no one can really predict the impact the emerging technologies might have.
Stakeholders,including students, representing our community volunteered their time this past weekend to meet Friday night and all day Saturday to begin the work of the Strategic Plan. We will meet again in January, after which several action teams will work on building out the actions to meet our goals. A meeting at the end of May, or the beginning of June, is when we will finalize our plans and take them to the Board of Education for approval. We expect to be accountable for the goals that are set and will report our status to the Board of Education on a regular basis. You will be able to see our Strategic Plan after it is finalized on our website. We welcome your comments.
Welcome to the start of the 2016-2017 school year. The teachers have planned an exciting curriculum for fifth grade and I am certain that your children are already comfortable in their classrooms and making friends. As we said in our August notification, we are busy reconfirming the residency of all our students this year, beginning with the fifth grade. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause you, but we want to be able to assure our Stratford community is supporting verified Stratford students. A special thank you to those who have assisted us already by providing the necessary documents. If you have not re-verified your residency, at this point in time, please do so by October 31, 2016.
Janet M. Robinson Ph.D. / Superintendent of Schools