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Will You Join Me?

Please consider joining me as I VISIBLY Stand Up for Youth.

Our children deserve our support each and every day, but we can take steps to VISIBLYdemonstrate our support of young people.

From April 30-May 11th, I will visibily demonstrate my support of for youth in a variety of ways.  I will use signs, buttons and other means.

Will you VISIBLY demonstrate your support for youth in the next two weeks?  Who else will you encourage to do so?

Thank you for considering this step.

Leanne

In recent weeks, parents have received AlertNow messages which some describe as insufficient in terms of details.  The topics of these messages, including: medical emergencies, social media threats and police response to the school campus after hours, have undoubtedly raised questions and have left some parents feeling uneasy about school safety.  In response to questions from parents about the dissemination of information, I am happy to provide clarity.

Stonington’s Public Schools belong to the community.  They must reflect the values of those who live here.  It is for this reason that our Strategic Plan was not created solely by members of the school staff, but rather by representatives from all facets of our community.  As such, I believe that the community deserves to know about the happenings within their schools, and to be alerted when unique or unexpected issues arise.  Parents should not hear about school events in the newspaper or on television first, but schools and the press serve very different purposes and are governed by unique mandates which prescribe the actions of both institutions.

Print, television, and electronic media exist for the purpose of providing information of interest to their audiences.  They can, and do, report on a wide variety of topics and utilize a multitude of sources to build their stories.  Try as they may, their coverage is not always entirely complete, particularly when stories relate to schools and students because there is much in the way of law that protects student privacy.

Schools exist for an entirely different purpose: teaching and learning.  Among the highest priorities in making sure this occurs is the maintenance of safety in the school setting.  We have guidance and mental health staff, safety and crisis teams, and a wide-variety of protocols to follow should circumstances require we take action, both proactive and reactive.  We are fortunate to have one of the best school and police department relationships in Connecticut in Stonington.  We are the envy of many.  Similarly, we have an incredible partnership with Stonington Human Services, and they are regularly at the table with us as we assist students and families in need.  It is for these reasons that we are prepared to meet any challenges we may face, and that we are so well-prepared to assist our students.

 Some parents are uneasy about not receiving all the details concerning recent events at the schools.  We have been asked for names of children, for the specifics of disciplinary consequences, for details regarding participation in mandatory counseling or police involvement.  While we understand that these questions arise out of concern for the safety of all children, and we share those concerns fully, we must uphold our legal responsibility to take reasonable steps to ensure that confidentiality is maintained.  The emergence of technology, and our ability to utilize it to inform all parents quickly of school-related happenings, does not supersede our legal responsibility to maintain this confidentiality for all students involved.

It is our hope that by broadcasting messages using the AlertNow system that parents will view this as a commitment on our part to share what we believe parents need to know about the events in our schools in a timely manner.  When statements are brief, it is not because we wish to remain vague.  Should we have information that leads us to be concerned about safety for students, we will be clear and forthright and will take any and all necessary steps to protect them, including direct communication with parents.

Thanks for listening,

Leanne

On Thursday, March 22, 2012, Stonington’s Board of Education adopted a revised calendar for the current 2011-2012 school year based on a set of recommendations from my office.

What did I consider when making my recommendations?

Student Achievement:  What conditions are most conducive to student learning?

Legal Frameworks:  How do we remain within the laws established for public education?

Resources: How are our financial and human resources best allocated/spent?

Health & Relationships: What is in the best interest of students, staff and families from these two important perspectives?

Calendar specifics:

The new calendar is posted to our website and is being mailed home for the convenience of parents and guardians.

  • Please note that the Board has reinstated the April vacation and that school will be closed beginning on Friday, April 6th, and will reopen on Monday, April 16th.
  • The revised calendar also identifies Wednesday, June 13th, as the last day of school.  Should there be need to close school for any reason, (inclement weather, etc.) days will be added on to the end of the year until the 180 school day minimum requirement is met for all students.
  •  The date of the Stonington High School graduation will continue to float to the last day of school.  On April 1st, we can solidify graduation on the 180th school day and, only if needed, seniors would make up any additional days.   As of today, the graduation would take place on Wednesday, June 13th, but again this may change if we must close school for any reason between now and April 1st.

 What laws govern graduation dates for high schools?

State statute 10-16l.  Establishment of graduation date requires that graduations not be held until the 180school day requirement for students is met.

There are two exceptions:

“Boards of Education may, at the beginning of the school year adopt a school calendar with a specific graduation date, provided that the calendar contains at least 185 school days.  Graduation may then be held on that date, regardless of the number of school closings that occur during the year.  If school has not been in session for at least 180 days at the time of graduation, however, seniors would be required to return to school after graduation to complete the 180 required school days.” *

“Another exception allows a school district, after April 1st, to establish a graduation date that would provide for 180 school days.  Thereafter, if the school must be closed due to inclement weather or other emergency, graduation may be held on the designated day.  As is the case above, however, if at the time of graduation school had not been in session for at least 180 days, seniors would be required to return to school after graduation to complete the 180 required school days.”** (Circular Letter C-9, CSDE, 2011)

*Stonington does not have a calendar that contains 185 school days, so the first exception does not apply to our district.

**On April 1st, the graduation date can be solidified in Stonington, but if closings due to inclement weather are needed, seniors would be required to return to school after graduation to meet the 180 day requirement.

Should you have questions, please don’t hesitate to let us know.

Leanne

Stonington’s Board of Education published the following message on their blog on Friday, March 9th:

“In an effort to be consistent with stipulations it made when discussing this year’s school calendar, the Board of Education Thursday decided to keep the scheduled June 8 graduation date as is and eliminate three days of the April vacation. The change was necessitated because of school days lost to bad weather conditions and because the traditional means of making up these lost days – by tacking days onto the end of the school year – meant graduating seniors would not meet the state-mandated requirements for minimum number of days of school attendance. The changes mean school will be scheduled on April 11,12 and 13 and all students will have their final day of classes on June 8, which will be a half-day session.  In addition to this change, the Board decided it will revisit the proposed school calendar for the 2012 -2013 school year in an effort to prevent a recurrence of this issue.  For years, the Board has heard that the previous practice of allowing graduation day to fluctuate as the end of the school year was extended by snow and storm closures, caused a hardship for many families.  Board members understand that decisions about the school calendar will not be universally popular.”

At this time, I would like to add some additional thoughts:

The Board and the Superintendent work together on the school calendar.  The Superintendent builds sample calendars for the Board’s consideration each year, while the Board evaluates the nuances of each and ultimately votes to adopt a calendar it believes best supports student learning.  In recent years, the emergence of regional calendar initiatives have meant that goals of calendar adoption have evolved beyond those of local traditions and now include considerations of regional professional development opportunities, cost savings due to transporting students to schools of choice through common schedules, etc.

When Hurricane Irene forced the loss of three school days at the start of this year, the Board looked at options associated with reclaiming these days early in the fall of 2011.  They gave consideration to holding school on Columbus Day, Veterans’ Day and reclaiming professional development days in October or November.  They discussed the value of professional development as well as contractual implications of holding school on holidays and in the end, they opted to stay the course and wait to see what the winter would bring in terms of school closures.  The 2011-2012 calendar contained a clause which indicated April vacation could be in jeopardy if 5 days were lost before March 1st.

When March 1st arrived, the schools still had only three days to reclaim, but questions concerning HS graduation remained.  A minimum school year must contain 180 days, and graduation dates are to be confirmed no later than April 1st.  When the March BOE Agenda was published, it included an item labeled “2011-2012 Calendar Confirmation”.  The need for the Board to discuss the calendar included finalizing how to handle the three missed days and decision-making concerning moving or confirming the HS graduation date.  While there were public comments made at the meeting about the graduation party, the Board worked to focus on the required number of school days for students.  As the blog excerpt above indicates, there is clear acknowledgment that many will not be pleased with the Board’s decision to eliminate three days from April vacation, nor with the decision to leave the graduation date untouched.

The question is: “What now”?

As Superintendent, I want to make the following statements:

1.  The schools will be ready to receive children on April 11, 12 and 13.  Learning remains our priority.

2.  Families with travel plans established after the March 1st threat to vacation had passed and that cannot be changed, should go forward with them.   Parents should use the typical process of sending notes to the school indicating such absences.

3.  I am committed to working with staff to address their own conflicts over travel plans booked after the March 1st threat of vacation loss had passed.

4.  We will eliminate hardships caused by this situation in any way we possibly can for students.   This will include a careful look at the presentation of new material, homework, assessments, etc. during these three days.

Thank you to all who have communicated openly, and honestly, in response to this issue.

Leanne

Each January I am invited to present a proposed budget to the Board of Education, but a significant change in the process this year allowed me to advocate for what the schools need rather than attempting to package our program into a budget with a pre-determined bottom-line.  This change freed me to consider a multitude of ways in which the work of the district might be moved forward, and it provided me with a platform for projecting the costs associated with making them a reality.

As I mentioned in a previous post, we have spent the fall outlining our significant challenges.  This process, along with our continued commitment to the Strategic Plan, made formulation of the budget more purposeful and organized.  Attached here, you will find links to the slides associated with my presentation and a summary known as a global budget.  In the weeks to come, the Board will discuss the budget in great detail before adopting some version of it as their own.  The workshop scheduled for Thursday, January 19th will focus on requested staffing.  I urge you to consider participating in that meeting which begins at 7pm in the SHS Commons.

My best,

Leanne

Superintendent’s Proposed 2012-13 Budget Presentation

Superintendent’s Proposed 2012-13 Budget

Communication is most definitely a two-way street.  Public schools are accustomed to providing feedback to students, but in my opinion we can do a great deal more to solicit meaningful feedback from students and families.  The options seem endless.  There’s the full-blown survey, the scheduling of focus groups, or one-on-one interviews with a random sampling of children and parents to name just a few possibilities.

But perhaps the new year has me yearning for simplicity because I’m inclined to begin with one question: “Are we getting it right?”  I saw this query printed on a sign in a wildly successful retail shop over December vacation.  Underneath the sign, a stack of blank cards and an army of pencils stood ready to collect the thoughts of any customer with something to say.  There was no suggestion that customers comment specifically on the shop’s inventory, the look or feel of the space, or the efficiency of the salespeople – but rather an open invitation to provide feedback on any aspect of the operation.

Consider this blog post our first “Are we getting it right?” sign.   Use the “Leave a comment” button to submit your answer.  We look forward to hearing what you all have to say about Stonington’s Public Schools.  Knowing how students and families feel about our work will only help us to refine and improve.

Thank you in advance,

Leanne