By: Van Riley, Superintendent
Summer is a time for rejuvenation and a time to prepare for the future. I hope everyone has the opportunity to spend time with family and truly relax in preparation for the next school year.
I believe 2014-2015 will be a time for the Stonington community to set a new positive course for the future. We have many challenges that can either become obstacles or opportunities. We must work together to form our vision for what we want to see in our schools for the future of our youngest citizens. To that end, here are a few thoughts about what I see happening this coming year….
Board of Education Retreat – This August, the Board of Education will hold a retreat where important issues will be discussed and directions can be made. Some of the issues that the Board will consider are 1) How to improve Board communications with parents and the community, 2) Board Goals for 2014-2015, 3) Working with the K-12 Building Committee on facility needs, 4) Budget process, and 5) Redefining our mission and strategic plan.
Budget Process – My hope is that the three town Boards (Selectmen, Education, and Finance) will agree to meet and discuss the town budget process. It is important for all three Boards to work together to provide necessary town and educational needs within a reasonable tax structure. There needs to be a collaborative effort to set budget directions prior to the budget season so each board member and the community can have input and together decide what is best for the community.
K-12 Building Committee – The Board of Education and district administration will work with our K-12 Building Committee and their newly hired architect to develop plans for our outdated facilities. The Board of Education is currently considering options to include expansion and renovation of current elementary schools and other options for the K-12 Building Committee to consider. We need a facilities plan for the future…for the next 30 or more years. Together we can accomplish this important and necessary task.
Stonington High School – With our new Principal, Mark Friese and new Assistant Principal, Neil Curland, there will be a new positive focus for our high school students. Teachers and other staff are committed to increased rigor, consistency of policy and expectations, and enhancement of academic offerings for all students. Mr. Friese and his staff have already made some adjustments to increase AP offerings for juniors and seniors. They are looking into implementing a new child development program and work experience program where students can receive course credit for internships with our local businesses. In addition, we will implement an evaluation of the high school instructional model to assure that our students have the top educational offerings in the state. Lastly, Mr. Friese and Mr. Curland will work with the student government class and all students to provide opportunities for leadership and for students’ ideals to be part of the direction of Stonington High School.
Middle School Design – This fall the district will work with staff and parents from our middle schools to consider best practices for instructional delivery for our grades 5-8 students. There have been rumors that decisions have been made but that is far from the truth. We will look at ways to provide additional opportunities for all students, improved instruction, and ways to assure equity across the district. I look forward to these discussions with teachers and parents as we set directions for the future of our middle schools.
Special Education – A third study or evaluation will be with the instruction model for our special education program. Years ago, our district moved exclusively to the co-teaching model which has not allowed flexibility to meet each individual student’s need. Our Director of Special Services, Allison Van Etten, will lead the discussion on how best to revamp our model to provide appropriate instruction for our special needs students. Our students should not have to fit into our model. We should adapt our model to meet their needs. While we do a good job in this area, it is something that all of our special education teaching and paraprofessional staff can help us redefine for our students.
Administrative Changes – I was disappointed when Doug Hammel, Principal of Deans Mill School, took a position in another district. Doug is an exceptional educator and we will certainly miss him. However, I was pleased when Jenn McCurdy, Principal of Mystic Middle School, approached me and requested a move to the Deans Mill School position. Jenn started her teaching career as a teacher at Deans Mill School and longed for an elementary position. Of course that leaves us with the challenge of finding an exemplary new principal for Mystic Middle School. We are currently in that process and hope to have a decision by the end of July.
We are also in the final stages of filling the assistant principal position at West Vine/West Broad. Parents and staff will join Principal Dawe, Board of Education members, and district administrators in the interview and selection process. Again, we hope to fill this vacancy as soon as possible.