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Aug 162011


The Thomas B Fordham Institute, published a report last year that chronicled the Best and Worst cities for school reform. To answer this question, analysts examined six domains that shape a jurisdiction’s receptivity to education reform:
Human Capital: Entrepreneurs need access to a ready flow of talented individuals, whether
to staff their own operations or fill the district’s classrooms.
Financial Capital: A pipeline of flexible funding from private and/or public sources is vital for
nonprofit organizations trying to break into a new market or scale up their operations.
Charter Environment: Charter schools are one of the primary entrees through which entrepreneurs can penetrate new markets, both as direct education providers and as consumers of other
nontraditional goods and services.
Quality Control: Lest we unduly credit innovation per se, the study takes into account the quality-control metrics that appraise and guide entrepreneurial ventures.
District Environment: Because many nontraditional providers must contract with the district in order to work in the city, finding a district that is both open to nontraditional reforms and has the organizational capacity to deal with them in a speedy and professional manner can make or break
an entrepreneur’s foray into a new market.
Municipal Environment: Beyond the school district, is the broader community open to, even eager for, nontraditional providers? Consider, for example, the stance of business leaders, the mayor, and the media.

Take a look at the report as it makes for fascinating reading.  Makes one wonder where Norwalk might rate?



Aug 142011

Good Things ARE Happening in Norwalk

Note:  This list will be updated periodically as information is gathered or received.

With all of the central office administration, Board of Education and budget challenges facing education these days, particularly in urban school districts such as ours, bad news is routine.  While we still have a ways to go, REd APPLES thought it important to share with Norwalkers some of the positive initiatives that have been underway in our Norwalk Public Schools  and those brought to us under the leadership of our new superintendent. In time, many of  these efforts should begin to bear fruit in terms of student achievement.  We’ve taken the liberty of categorizing the items into the following 6 areas, which should be near and dear to parents and taxpayers hearts.  It certainly is ours:

  • Increasing academics, rigor and raising the bar
  • Community Team Building & Collaboration
  • Closing the Achievement Gap Through the Use of Data & Early Intervention
  • Reducing Operating Expenses
  • Addressing Adult Accountability and Operational Issues Across District
  • Increasing Staff Professional Development through the Grant Application Process

Below is a grocery list of initiatives underway.  It is by no means complete and it is important to note that some efforts like the District Data Management Team has been underway for several years now.

Increasing Academics, Rigor and Raising The Bar

  • CMT scores rose overall in math reading and writing for the 2010-11 school calendar year with  1 in 3 elementary children attained the top level of ADVANCED in math and 1 in 4 middle school children attained the top level of ADVANCED in math
  • Plans are underway to weigh high school Honors courses with an additional (.5) credit anticipated to begin this Fall following BoE approval.
  • Received proposal for a curriculum review and pursuing outside funding (NOTE: Stamford PS performed similar curriculum review, and found 150 literacy programs used across 12 elementary schools.)
  • Changed School Calendar to increase school learning days/time in the Fall, increasing academic instruction time prior to March CMT/CAPT testing; resulting in earlier summer dismissal and cost savings
  • Participated on national panel on STEM education to drive future Science, Technology, Engineering and Math curriculum into district
  • Introduced Let’s Get Ready non-profit funded ($10K)–program that provides free tutors for SAT prep and college admission counseling
  • Identified outside funding to provide PSAT administration for all high school sophomores and juniors free of charge in October 2011
  • Piloting  new schedule at BMHS in 2011/12 to implement higher level courses and increase options for teacher collaboration
  • Working on Wireless Generation Application for K-5 (who produces state-of-the-art digital formative assessments—State of CT will pilot/fund Wireless Generation tools in 5 Connecticut priority districts.

Community Team Building & Collaboration

  • Implemented Parent and Staff surveys for discussion in the Fall.
  • Engaged in extensive community outreach: NCC, NHA, PTOC’s, Chamber of Commerce, BET, local churches, NAACP, Rotary, Carver Center
  • Engaged in collaborative (if not painful) budget planning/cutting exercise with unions, BoE and Community
  • Engaged with non-profit foundation who has offered to fund a forum for labor/management collaboration
  • Professional outreach—Superintendents Network (brings superintendents together to discuss ways to improve student achievement/participation paid for by grant), Ct Assoc of Urban Superintendents, Ct Assoc of Public School Superintendents, So Fairfield County Superintendents Assoc.
  • Advocacy outreach–Ct Coalition for Justice in Education Funding; Think Tank for Drop Out Prevention (participants in statewide venture were invited & funded by United Way), Briggs grant collaboration (with NCC/City/NPS), College Board
  • Updated school profiles listed on the State of CT Strategic School Profiles site (Note: Some hadn’t been updated in years)





  Closing the Achievement Gap Through the Use of Data & Early Intervention

  • Deployed 2011 K-5 Summer School initiative in collaboration with Literacy How, directed at  professional development & reading research, funded through Title 1
  • Submitted a Federal Investing in Innovation (i3) grant to pilot a K-5 reading ‘lab school’ in Norwalk in collaboration with Literacy How/Haskins Lab that would address district- wide reading professional development  and provide research- based intensive interventions for students at risk of reading failure.
  • Oversaw teachers and building principals use of  data integration with CMT Reports that provides roster reports which include the teachers that instructed students in Math and Language Arts prior to March testing
  • Testing coordinator worked with Questar to give Middle Schools the Fall/Winter Degrees of Reading Power (DRP) ranges to tier students used for Response to Intervention (SRBI)
  • Researched data technology solutions (Performance Matters; Children’s Progress, LinkIt) to make student data available to teachers/principals and is working on a timeline with funder
  • Outside funding identified for ACCUPLACER at high schools to track kids who need help BEFORE they graduate (worked with NCC on this)
  • Wi-Mentor to train mentors & support students via the Internet at the High School level—non-profit funding $100,000 for 2 years
  • Worked with Norwalk Children’s Foundation to bring Peer2Peer mentoring and tutoring program which links academic achieving high school students to elementary students who need assistance. BMHS and Norwalk high school students to target Jefferson and Silvermine students.
  • Collaborated with Stepping Stones to support K-5 in 7 Norwalk Title 1 schools–covers costs to Stepping Stones Museum, Healthy Children, Healthy Communities (HC2), field trips, workshops, and exhibits—3 year grant by non-profit

Reducing Operating Expenses

  • Implemented an independent insurance audit
  • Implemented an independent energy efficiency audit
  • Implementing a centralized purchasing unit that will oversee office supplies for district/reduce costs


Addressing Adult Accountability and Operational Issues Across the District

  • Ongoing District Data Driven Management Team (DDDMT)  and CALI (Connecticut Accountability for Learning Initiative) process by which all 19 schools are visited, School Growth  Plans are reviewed and adult actions identified and monitored as part of a collaborative effort between the district, schools, instructional leaders, union leaders and the community in a concerted effort to drive up student achievement in Literacy and Numeracy.
  • Identified differences between and among schools, regarding approach to  educating students, differences in expectations and standards and homework
  • Central Office and DDDMT identified method of categorizing schools based on CMT/CAPT test results and District Improvement Plan goals—tier structure determines level of support and intervention that schools will receive
  • Central Office and principals working to have Pre-school and Kindergarten orientation and registration more consistent among schools (ads for this were supported by non-profit funding)
  • Working on a position management process that links employees to locations and a funding source


Increasing Staff Professional Development through the Grant Application Process

  • Collaborated with high school staff  in ‘Building a Collaborative Culture’ grant at the high school level—$750,000 non-profit funded over 3 years
  • Deployed 3rd grade literacy initiative for one elementary–$40,000 non-profit funded
  • Increased NPS non-profit outreach bringing a whole new level for outreach and potential funding dollars for professional development of staff directed at increasing rigor and closing the achievement gap.  (Note: Non-profit funding noted above equals more than $1,000,000 for this year.)
  • Attended non-profit funded seminar ‘Foundation to the Brighter Futures Summer Conference’ in Orlando to discuss the Common Core State Standards that 46 states (including Connecticut, have adopted.  The CCSS will be implemented by all 46 states by 2014-15.
Aug 102011

Last week, The Hour Reported and Norwalk Net blogged about how the staffing of another central office position had come to dominate the BoE discussions of late, as Dr. Marks  has drawn the short end of the staffing straw with regard to the 2011-12 budget cuts, leaving central office staff short-handed.  One of many managerial issues that has emerged, is HOW or WHO should evaluate the principals?  We have provided what we think is simple solution to this particular issue:

What about interim measures for principals that objectively collected a variety of KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) by building?

Quite frankly, why doesn’t the board authorize Dr. Marks to hire clerical staff to compile the following types of hard teacher and student data on a per building basis and start benchmarking the elementary, middle and high schools. Certainly that might get folks to look at adult data and provide insight into school operations beyond student test data.

A short list of things to track might include the following:

• turnover
• grievances and complaints
• absences
• average years of service by teacher/subject
• % of teachers rated average
• % of teacher rated exceptional
• % of teachers in need of improvement

Student & Parent Data
• CMT  and other CFA  test data
• Suspension data
• Student absences
• Transfers out of district
• Attrition from elementary to middle
• # of Lawsuits
• # of Complaints

Last spring, I took the position of doing away with the Director of Elementary position (not person), given that I didn’t think that one person could be held responsible for evaluating the principals at this juncture in US education, due to the fierce lobbying efforts by many to keep things status quo and to come up with every excuse known to man as to why evaluations can’t be fair.   Also, until legislation changes, due to incredibly stringent collective bargaining contracts, you can’t get rid of an educational employee  anyway.

Objective data like the KPIs listed above coupled with the pending school climate survey for staff and parents seems to be a pretty good place to start and would yield an un-biased assessment of where school administration and management issues lay, allowing the Superintendent or the BoE to begin questioning principals on why their schools seem to yield best practices or alternatively ask  principals why they think their operational data is not consistent with their peer group in the district .  Additionally, folks could analyze whether there is a correlation between adult operational behavior(S) and data  and student achievement?





Aug 072011

This week the Wall Street Journal reported on an internal power point document that brags about the strategies used by the leadership and lobbyists of the American Federation of Teachers’ union to undermine parent groups in Connecticut.  The document demonstrates what parents and reformers are up against in the quest to clean up public school education.  RiShawn Biddle of DropOut Nation first uncovered the document on August 2nd entitled “How Connecticut Diffused the Parent Trigger” and explains how the union did it.   The document has since been taken off the AFT website.

While AFT  President, Randi Weingarten has repeatedly gone on the record as saying that she and the AFT support systemic reform in education and a collaborative approach with the community (she even echoed that sentiment to me directly at a Yale Leadership in Education Conference that I attended this past spring) the power point presentation demonstrates an attempt to kill parent voice in different parent and local communities,  confuse the community on what the educational issues are as well as the power they have over state legislators.

Let me restate that Red APPLES is pro- reform and pro teacher (despite the attacks we get for publishing information and data that we come across)  but  this document  is being posted  because  it provides a small glimpse into the concerted organizational leadership and strategy used by the AFT to slow-down or outright oppose any change that is directed by local communities, parent groups and/or even their own state teacher groups like  the CEA (Connecticut Education Association!)   It’s a bit of a David versus Goliath scenario, and it really doesn’t need to be.  Is education reform really about ongoing teacher development and kids anymore or is it about maintaining power from those historically in charge ?

Now lets examine our own backyard.   Given the  educational challenges Norwalk  faces (like the rest of the nation) not to mention the  personal attacks on the new superintendent or different members of the BoE, who undoubtedly try to serve in the best interests of the children;  can some of our troubles be tracked back to an overall strategy  by union leadership (either teacher or administrator or both ) to keep the community so fraught with chaos that it will undoubtedly slow down any attempt to change or improve the system?  Or are we just that disorganized?   I don’t believe in conspiracy theories and genuinely believe that Norwalk is making great strides with regard to  improving its test scores and 98% of staff are working extremely hard under the most challenging and stressful of circumstances  financially and managerially.  But,  just imagine WHAT could be accomplished, if somehow the various educational leaders in Norwalk somehow behaved as if we were all in this together?  Check out the power point presentation and draw your own conclusions.

Now, more than ever it is important for parent groups, school districts, boards of education and union leadership to come together on local reform initiatives.  Increasingly businesses and foundations will be looking for cities and school districts that have good working relationships with their union leadership as educational reforms move forward.  Let’s hope Norwalk is on their shortlists.