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Oct 272011

The 2011-2014 District Improvement Plan is a goal oriented, data driven, multi-year plan that identifies adult actions directed at improving student performance across the District in the areas of:

1) literacy

2) numeracy

3) creating strong and viable linkages between the District and parents and the community.

The plan articulates the district’s goals based upon data analysis and outlines adult and student implementation strategies in order to improve student achievement.  The plan  also specifies a monitoring process  used to ensure that the actual work is completed as designed.

The District Plan has two components: the strategies and processes that can only be accomplished at the District level and plans that are developed at the school level.

In addition to the district plan, each school develops its own School Growth Plan  and specifies the work  needed to be done in order to meet District goals. Each school plan  focuses on improving  student performance and identifies strategies and processes that are unique to the needs of each school.  Individual school growth plans will be completed by each building principal by the end of November.

District Improvement Plan 2011-2014-10-27-11

Oct 262011

An Educational Cost Sharing (ECS) Task Force has held two meetings in the past week- one in New Haven and the other last night in Waterford.  Publicity about these meetings has been scant at best.  Red Apples learned about the meetings at the last minute and provided written public comments, which are attached below.

The state allocates approximately $2B in taxpayer dollars towards education in a formula known as Educational Cost Sharing (ECS.)  Money is redistributed and allocated to cities and school districts in what can best be described as convoluted, inequitable and an unaccounted for process.  Norwalk taxpayers have  long been short-changed in getting our fair share of tax revenues sent to Hartford, even though we are the 6th largest city in the state and have 43.7% of our students on Free or Reduced lunch.  Advocating for the revamping the ECS Formula should be a TOP PRIORITY for our local politicians, Board of Education members and state representatives. The  Norwalk Common Council passed a resolution regarding ECS funding earlier this year, but that message needs to be made louder to Hartford.

Residents need to write to their elected officials and let them know that Norwalk deserves to get it own tax dollars back in order to properly and fairly fund our school district.  Below is a list of the email’s of  Norwalk’s state representatives:









ECS Task Force Public Comments

ECS Debate – Two Sides to the Story

Norwalk Common Council – ECS Resolution

Click below to view the Connecticut State Department of Education Bureau of Grants  2010-11 List


Oct 242011

Healthy school districts have educational leaders who work together for common goals.  When they do- students win, our neighborhoods win and our city wins!

A strong and competent superintendent holds educational staff accountable.  In turn, they are held accountable by a well-functioning Board of Education (BoE), who in turn holds a strong but (hopefully) sincere union leadership accountable.  All three must work together in order to be focused on the success of the school district and city.

It’s pretty safe to say that over the past 10 years, Norwalk has suffered from alternatively a lack of leadership or competency from its superintendents, to a BoE that was at best lassie faire to an administration that at its worst was dysfunctional, vengeful or incompetent.  Lastly, local politicians have been forced to pay lip service to a super structure that they have no direct control over, since the state legislature has not seen fit to pass any education reform that might 1) drive more adult accountability at local school district levels or 2) manage state dollars equitably (think ECS funding), nor garner Race to the Top federal dollars.  Did you know that the City of Norwalk won’t even have a seat at the negotiating table this spring when school staff employment contracts come up for negotiation?

The headline in The Hour, about a month ago, regarding the Superintendent considering a leave of absence demonstrates how the status quo in this town can eat good people up and spit them out.   Between the BoE’s lackluster support on BOTH sides of the political aisle (after having hired her!) and the 20+ years of threatened union leadership wanting to keep their political hold, superintendents have become human pinyatas. 

There are only about 10 individuals, strategically positioned and protected by collective bargaining or contracts in this district, that are wreaking havoc in the sandbox, throwing sand in the face of the most simple of education reforms.  Things like: school climate surveys, the school calendar and Teacher of the Year are just a few examples of their resistance.  The school climate survey was our new superintendent’s attempt to give approximately 1400 staff and 5500 families an opportunity to express their opinions on their local schools – a wonderful first for this city.  The change in school calendar was directed at increasing instructional time in the classroom prior to state testing and giving students an opportunity to meet real heroic veterans instead of sleeping in on Veteran’s Day!  Finally, the Teacher of Year program was directed at recognizing the qualities and attributes of an honorable and critical profession.

The three simplest issues at the core of education reform for Norwalk look to:  1) adult accountability and transparency, 2) increased academic rigor and 3) closing the achievement gap.  And guess what – it’s happening!  Our top 25% of students test on par with our wealthier, leafy suburbs.  Our African American and Hispanic students test better than the state.  There is a new Common Core Curriculum coming in 2014 to 48 out of 50 states and Norwalk will be ready!  More kids are taking Honors and AP classes.  Yes, we still need to do more to help the average student- but that issue is not unique to Norwalk.

Parents and the community have an opportunity, next month to vote in political leaders and Board of Ed representatives who will continue to make education reform a priority in Norwalk.

As we go into this election season, Norwalk residents must also be held accountable for the educational situation that has evolved in this city, and the rest of this country.  In Norwalk, alone, in the last election, a little more than 13,000 voted in the mayoral contest. The BoE candidate with the most votes got a little less than 6000!  That’s only 20% and 10% respectively, out of the 50,000 registered voters in the city.  This degree of low voter turnout is amazing when one considers that:

  • Education accounts for nearly two-thirds of Norwalk’s City Budget
  • Everyone in the city contributes their tax dollars to the school budget whether they have children in the school system or not – they should want it to operate successfully
  • Norwalk’s desirability as a place to live is greatly impacted by the effectiveness of its school system, and ultimately residents home values are impacted too

As Norwalk Public Schools continue to make progress in student achievement, it’s important that our educational leaders Administration – BoE – Union be held accountable and act civilly and responsibly toward each other using data and facts as we move forward with education reforms. Healthy school districts have educational leaders who work together for common goals.  When they do – students win, our neighborhoods win and our City wins!

So, let your voice be heard, attend the candidate debates starting this week and get out and vote November 8th.

Look for those candidates who will reach across the aisle and get to work.  Good things ARE happening in education in Norwalk and they must be given the fertile political ground to continue.


Lisa Thomson

Co-Founder REd APPLES of Norwalk






Oct 242011

Community Conversation about Civility – October 12, 2011 @ Norwalk CT Fat Cat Pie Co.
Norwalk 2.0 & REd APPLES

The results are in from the first community conversation about civility hosted by Norwalk 2.0 and Red
APPLES on October 12th at Fat Cat Pie Company. About 50 Norwalk residents, reflecting a cross-section
of the community, shared their views in writing by taking the five-question civility quiz on a series of
posters around the room. They also selected drink tickets with civility attributes with show respect
topping the list, followed by seek common ground, show appreciation and listen tied for 2nd.
Participants’ written comments indicated they experienced nearly twice as many examples of uncivil
behavior as civil behavior over the past year.

Listening, collaboration and general politeness topped the list of civil behaviors. Little
things like saying please, thank you, good morning, and have a nice day make a big difference
according to the data collected. Participants also acknowledged the kind of collaboration
that took place after the recent hurricane with neighbors helping each other.

Examples of uncivil behavior included rudeness e.g., interrupting, not listening, bullying,
and general loss of self-control in public and on-line where people often hide behind anonymity.
Road rage was also cited as a troubling behavior.

Creating a civil community is important, according to participants, because people want
Norwalk to be successful, it’s easier to get things done, and they want to continue living here.

They also acknowledged the relationship between democracy and civil behavior, perhaps
taking a cue from George Washington who said, “Every action done in company ought to be
with some sign of respect to those that are present.”

The Speak Your Peace Civility Project in Wisconsin website states, “This is not a campaign
to end disagreements. It is a campaign to improve public discourse by simply reminding
ourselves of the very basic principles of respect. By elevating our level of communication and
avoiding personal attacks and general stubbornness, we can avoid unhealthy debate. This will
lead to a more effective democracy and help maintain our sense of community by increasing
civic participation.”

The 4th question on the quiz asked people to identify something they could do in their
everyday work/life to be more civil. Comments focused on increasing self-awareness, developing
patience, and improving listening skills:

• Think before I speak, words can hurt.
• Slow down and be more patient.
• Listen to everyone and respect opposing opinions.
• Look for common ground.

According to one participant, “civility should be a normal, natural part of our
existence…simply treat others how you want to be treated…have respect.” Another suggested
that public officials and town employees need to learn that “a resident asking a question does
not equate to challenging the official.” Another shared, “Walk the walk, the world hates a fake.”

Norwalk 2.0 and REd APPLES plan to keep the civility conversation going by sharing the results of the
civility quiz and promoting ongoing dialogue through future programs



Oct 062011

Recently, we sat down with members from The Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now (ConnCan) and discussed a host of issues impacting education reform.    ConnCan has built a movement of concerned advocates who come together to make sure that all Connecticut students have access to a great public education.  Through advocacy driven by their own research and analysis, they inform the public about educational issues and provide a platform for advocates to take action.  www.conncan.org.

As the election season draws near, we encourage residents to ask candidates to share their thoughts on any of the  range of topics highlighted by ConnCan below:

  • Societal issues impacting education
  • Standards accountability and data
  • Teacher and Principal Quality
  • School Choice and the Role of Families
  • School Funding
  • Leadership


General/Big Ideas

Many people point to factors such as poverty, healthcare, crime, and parenting for the as sources of the problems in our schools and for the poor performance of schools.

  • To what extent do you think these factors affect our schools’ ability to provide an excellent education for all students?
  • Do you think that it is our school system’s responsibility to educate kids to their fullest potential regardless of the external problems they bring with them?

What do you see as the major obstacles to ensuring that every Connecticut/Norwalk child has a great public school? What will you do to tackle those obstacles?

Student Performance and the Achievement Gap

Connecticut has the largest achievement gap in the country. On the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), our low-income and minority students score nearly three grade levels behind their white and middle class peers.

  • How do you feel that Norwalk is affected by this reality?
  • If elected, what will you do to close that gap?

Some may assume that the achievement gap is created by the high performance of our top students, but in fact, even our high-achieving students are not doing as well as they should. On NAEP, the even the top 10 percent of Connecticut eighth-graders score a full year behind their peers in Massachusetts.

  • If elected, what will you do to challenge our top-tier students so that they can compete nationally?

President Obama has stated the goal of putting America in the lead internationally in college graduation rates by 2020. As part of this effort, the Obama administration has emphasized the need to fix the problem of low graduation rates in some public high schools, which have been dubbed “dropout factories.” Even students who do manage to graduate from the lowest-performing high schools and go to college often attend colleges where the remediation needs are high and the failure rates are even worse.  In Connecticut, only 79% of all CT students graduated from high school in four years in 2009. Even fewer of our state’s minority students graduate from high school in four years. In 2009, only 66% of African American students, only 58% of Hispanic students and 60% of low-income students graduated in four years. (Source: http://www.sde.ct.gov/sde/lib/sde/pdf/pressroom/new_graduate_data.pdf)

  • What will you do to improve graduation rates in Connecticut’s high schools and better prepare more of our students to go to college?


Standards, Accountability, and Data

Right now in Connecticut, more than 70,000 children – a group equivalent to the entire population of New Britain – attend elementary schools where less than one in four students reads at grade level, and some of these schools have been failing for five years or more.

  • If elected, what will you do about schools that have been performing poorly for five years or more?
  • Do you think schools that have been underperforming for five years or more should be closed? How would you ensure that students don’t have to attend schools that we know are not educating them?

Some states and districts, including New York City and Washington, DC, have taken strong action with schools that consistently underperform, including releasing the administrators and teachers in schools that are failing to educate students and replacing them with new, high-performing staff and programming that meet the students’ needs.

  • Would you support this kind of approach in Connecticut?

Increasingly, schools, districts and states are using data about student performance to drive decision making.  In Connecticut, such data is often very difficult to access and interpret for educators and leaders hoping to improve outcomes for students. What, if anything, would you do to improve access to and use of timely, meaningful information?


Teacher and Principal Quality

Teacher and Principal Preparation, Certification, Retention

A State Department of Education report recently found that 70% of graduates of teacher preparation programs in Connecticut did not pass an exam that measures their knowledge about how to teach reading. What will you do to improve teacher preparation in Connecticut?

Right now, there are programs that allow promising candidates to become teachers or principals without following the traditional path to certification. If elected, will you support alternative routes to teaching, such as Teach for America, or alternative routes for principals, such as New Leaders for New Schools?

Do you think that the salary, tenure, and promotion structures go far enough to attract and keep the best teachers and principals? If not, what kinds of changes would you help make?


Teacher Evaluation and Accountability

Do you think that student performance should be included in decisions about teacher salaries, tenure, and promotion?

The financial crises that schools and districts face nationwide, and in Connecticut, may force many education leaders to find ways to cut costs, including by laying off teachers. These tough choices have focused attention on the notion of incorporating factors beyond seniority, such as teacher effectiveness, into staffing decisions.

  • Do you think that teacher layoff decisions should continue to be based primarily on the length of time someone has been teaching, or should other factors be incorporated into those decisions as well?
  • How would you change teacher evaluation systems in Norwalk?


School Choice, Role of Families

Do you think that parents should be able to send their child to the public school of their choice? If yes, what policies would you support to help more parents choose their child’s school?

Do you think competition among schools can help spark improvement? Why or why not?

Do you think that Connecticut needs more high-performing school options, including non-district schools (charter, magnet, technical)? If so, what will you do to increase the number of high-performing schools of choice here in Norwalk?


School Funding

Our state faces a $3.5 billion deficit.

  • What, if any, cuts would you make to education spending?
  • What steps will you take to ensure that every dollar spent on education is spent as wisely as possible?
  • If elected, how would you direct our scarce education dollars to students who need them the most?

Under Connecticut’s current system of funding schools, money goes to districts, not students. Therefore, the state pays different and inconsistent amounts for students with similar characteristics and learning needs simply because those students attend schools in different districts.

  • Do you have ideas on how you might address this issue?



Connecticut did not get Race to the Top funding, while our neighboring states won this funding.

  • Why do you think Connecticut lost? What could we have done to improve our application?
  • If elected, how would you ensure that Connecticut does not fall further behind our neighboring states and does not lose out on future opportunities for federal funds?
  • How can Connecticut best position itself for success in the current round of Race to the Top (Early Learning Challenge)?





Oct 052011


A Community Conversation on Civility Gathers on October 12th

NORWALK – Norwalk 2.0, a community development advocate, working with REd APPLES, a grassroots non-partisan community coalition organized around improving Norwalk Public Schools are co-hosting a Community Conversation about Civility on Wednesday, October 12th from 6-8 p.m. in the Fat Cat Pie Co. special events room at 3-5  Wall St.

Both organizations want to start a conversation about how we as citizens behave in public.  Whether it’s the Board of Education, the board room or public hearings, the climate of community discussion is in peril. What can citizens of Norwalk do to renew a sense of civility and respect?

The event is free, and open to the public.  Light snacks will be provided by Fat Cat, and a cash bar will be provided for those wishing to have a glass of wine. Come, listen and share your ideas about what you are willing to do to change our community culture from one characterized by dysfunction and bullying to one built on respect and civil discourse.

For more information visit the websites: www.norwalk2.org and www.redapplesnorwalk.org




For RED APPLES: Lisa Thomson lisa109@optonline.net

For Norwalk 2.0: Maribeth Becker mb@norwalk2.org


Civility References:

Former Norwalk resident , Greg Bard was intrigued by our Civility Night at Fat Cat’s and emailed us the following link to share with residents, demonstrating how a large,  international and diverse organization like WIKIPEDIA  gets its editors to cooperate.  Wikipedia touts civility as one of its most important values, driving polite and efficient  productivity out of its distributed editing organizations.  We will post more  relevant links on civility as we find them.   We wish Greg could join us…but he sent his best wishes with regrets from sunny Florida!

Wikipedia: Civility






Oct 032011

Book Photo

The second most important decision you will make as a parent — apart from deciding to have the kid in the first place — is deciding which school for them to enroll in. Make the right decision and you could put them on a path toward lifelong learning, a prestigious college education and a successful career. Choose wrong, and well, you know. Talk about pressure. Luckily for parents, Peg Tyre, author of The Trouble with Boys and a former Newsweek education reporter, has a new book to help parents evaluate both schools and teachers so they can find the right place for their child. Fittingly, it’s called The Good School: How Smart Parents Get Their Kids the Education They Deserve.[1]


Read more:

Time Magazine 8/24/11, ‘The Good School’ by author Peg Tyre Article

Does Class Size Matter, Excerpt from “The Good School, How Parents  Get Their Kids the Education They Deserve”

New York Times 9/18/11 ‘Putting Parents in Charge’ by Author Peg Tyre

National Public Radio, 8/28/11, ‘The Good School’ Author Peg Tyre Interview

Education Next 9/15/11 ‘The Good School’ by author Peg Tyre Article and Podcast

[1] Excerpt from Time U.S. online “7 Things You Need to Know About a School (Before You Enroll Your Kid) by Kayla Webley. Wednesday, August 24, 2011