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Commentary and Opinion Jul 16, 2012 - 12:18 PM

Dr. Marks' open letter to the Norwalk community

By Dr. Susan Marks

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It has been a privilege to serve the Norwalk community and our Norwalk Public School families who care deeply about our schools. During my tenure, I have met some of the most dedicated teachers, administrators and support staff in my career, good people who work hard who work every day on behalf of our students. Over the past two years, I visited many classrooms in all of our schools, observed our students learning and spoke with many of them. They have told me that they want to be challenged and they want to learn at high levels. While there have been many challenges over the last two years, we have continually kept our focus on our students.

Many of the initiatives begun during this time are funded by private/public partnerships. I am proud that I have been able to bring over $1,000,000 of programs and support to our district.

Our work with the Corporate Collaborative (GE Capital, the Norwalk Children’s Foundation, and the Fairfield County Community Foundation) and The Norwalk Education Foundation has allowed us to leverage quality professional development in the area of the Common Core State Standards (mandated for 2014) including:

- Attendance of teams at two Common Core State Standards conferences in New York City

- Sending a team comprised of a board member, principals, teachers and central office staff to the Developing Futures Conference, July 15 - 21, 2012, for high quality professional development, and work on the rollout plan for this coming school year

The relationships that we have forged with other public/private partnerships have provided our students with significant resources and support such as:

- Administration of the PSATs to all 10th and 11th graders

- Schools of Hope reading program at Fox Run Elementary School funded by United Way

- Wi-Mentor Program at Brien McMahon High School funded by United Way

- Norwalk Grows funded by a number of our community partners led by the Norwalk Children’s Foundation (which provides edible gardens at our schools)

- Ready-Set-Go SAT Preparation program at Norwalk High School funded by the Norwalk Children’s Foundation

- Peer-2-Peer Tutoring funded by the Norwalk Children’s Foundation. This peer support is for first-time AP takers and after-school tutoring for elementary school students

- Norwalk Mentor Program funded by the Human Services Council
Project L.E.A.N. at Jefferson Elementary School, funded by Pepperidge Farm and Norwalk Hospital

- ConnCap Program (Connecticut Collegiate Awareness and Preparation) partnership with Norwalk Community College

- Continued collaboration with the Carver Center to provide afterschool programs at our middle schools and high schools

Over the last two years, we have increased our competitive grant applications resulting in several opportunities including:

- A 3-year Nellie Mae grant for $750,000 to support professional development, transformation and accreditation planning for our high schools.

- An Early Literacy Assessment grant utilizing Wireless Generation technology to assess reading skills and providing professional development and support for teachers

We continue to make progress in improving our instructional programs. We are implementing the GoMath K-6 program that provides consistency of instruction in all 12 of our elementary schools. Additionally, all Algebra courses now use the same text and curriculum whether taught in middle school or high school. We are eliminating lower level courses in our high schools so that our students will be adequately prepared for college and the world of work. We are expanding our Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) courses at the high school level. This year Brien McMahon High School was certified to implement Project Lead the Way, a STEM initiative.

We have also set the plan and are well on our way to reinventing Briggs Alternative High School with new leadership and a vision to improve the instructional program to provide for career academies, internships and support for individual student needs.

On other fronts, Norwalk Public Schools has been chosen by the state as a pilot district to roll out the new teacher and administrator evaluation process during the 2012-13 school year. Being a pilot district will help us to ensure that we have the highest quality teachers and administrators in every position.

The fiscal situation in Norwalk has presented significant challenges. Reductions in staff over the past five years have taken a toll on the Norwalk Public Schools. There needs to be a greater communication and understanding that investing in our school district must include staffing our schools appropriately. As the district moves forward, there also must be investment in the central office to ensure proper oversight, accountability and transparency of all processes, in all areas of the school district.

In addition, a different way of approaching the budget process will help us to recover from the reductions made in the last several operating budgets. This should begin with a strategic planning process to develop a 3-5 year budget plan. This spring, the community came together to state unequivocally that we need to more adequately invest in our schools. By working together, the rebuilding process can begin.

I have approached the superintendency as a 24/7 job, working tirelessly on behalf of our students. I have been a visible superintendent and been in our schools and in the community. I believe together the Norwalk Public Schools community has set a vision of high achievement and rigor for all our students.

A sincere thank you to all our staff for going above and beyond to accomplish all we have done. Our students are learning and continuing to increase their achievement on many measures.

And a heartfelt thank you to Norwalk for the opportunity to serve our students and families.


Susan Marks

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