The State of Connecticut passed a new law that will affect all school districts in the 2016-17 school year. It mandates that districts within a region of the state start school on the same day, have some common professional development days, have a common February and April break, and follow some other guidelines that restrict a district from setting its own calendar according to its own needs. Knowing that the 2015-16 school year was the last time that the district could establish its own calendar, and with the availability of enough days to hold a February break but keep enough days for snow cancellation, the district opted for one “last” time to hold a February break. I do not anticipate that the district will ever have a full week off in February again after the new calendar law goes into effect. The proposed unified calendar guidelines for 2016-17 have our students beginning school on Thursday, September 1, with school on Columbus Day and the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. It also has the February break as the Friday and Monday around Presidents’ weekend, versus the Monday and Tuesday we have scheduled in the past. The district will have the flexibility of five “flex” days within the calendar, so if we wanted to take off Columbus Day, that could count as using one of our five allotted flex days.
No, it is not accurate. All of our students had seats on each and every bus, and no students were sitting in the aisles. The districts’ buses each have a capacity of 71 students, and at most the student loads were in the range of low 50’s on several buses of the fleet, with most buses much less than this. As part of the operations of our district, the Director of Transportation checked the digital recordings of the buses with the greatest student loads to verify this information. Any parent with a transportation issue should contact David Lustberg at 203-291-1477.
If the district enrollment projections trend accurately, the first year that the district could comfortably move grade 2 to WIS in 2016-17. It would only be in the case of relocating an entire grade to WIS that North House could be considered to be taken offline for school use. Half of the regular classrooms of Hurlbutt are located within the North House structure, and these classrooms tend to be smaller than those of East House and South House. Also, the classrooms in the North House do not have individual student restrooms, unlike those in the other two areas of the school.
If grade 2 were ever moved to WIS, it would be appropriate to review how space is allocated in Hurlbutt to best meet the educational needs of the students and to determine which parts of the school would not be needed for school space. Since North House is more isolated from the core of the school and its classrooms smaller with no individual classroom restrooms, North House would be a logical area to consider to take offline if enrollment continues to decrease and the district moves a grade to WIS.
No, the district sees those as independent decisions. The Facilities Committee has discussed from a long-term view that if the North House is taken offline for educational purposes at some point in the future, there would be a possibility of housing the Senior Center on the first floor of the North House. If this were to happen, the current space occupied by the Senior Center would revert to school use and there would be physical separation of the North House from the rest of the school.
The district is currently awaiting the security review on the shift in parking, but what has been proposed is to use the established parking lot near East House (which is used as a play area) for a staff parking lot. This would permit staff who park in the front parking lot of the school to park in the East House lot, opening up approximately 18 spaces for the Senior Center in front.
The main entrance of the Senior Center is proposed to remain in the same location that is currently used. There are no new entrances proposed for the Center.
It is also proposed to construct a permanent wall across the interior access hallway for the Senior Center in the South House, which would replace the current partition of locked doors to separate the school from the Center. The location of the permanent wall would be moved approximately 40 ft. further up the hallway to include the entrances to 3 classroom spaces not currently part of the Center. With the addition of the permanent wall, a new interior fire-resistant hallway would need to be constructed within the Senior Center to permit safe passage of seniors to the outside in the event of a fire. There is not now and would not be any emergency egress for seniors through the school with any plan.
Every district is being asked to complete a security analysis/risk assessment of every school based upon the new school safety and security standards that have been published in draft form and are anticipated to be adopted in final form this coming summer. (Note: A copy of the latest update on these standards is attached.) With the proposal to expand the Senior Center at Hurlbutt Elementary School on the table, it was a natural decision to begin with the review at Hurlbutt Elementary School. However, each of our schools will undergo a risk assessment in a similar manner over the next few months. Even if the Hurlbutt facility did not house the Senior Center, it would still be required to undergo a risk assessment under these new standards.
Weston Public Schools has had a rich history of supporting the performing arts through its curricular and co-curricular programs. We are fortunate to have many gifted educators on our faculty cultivating the interests, passion, and abilities of our students in music and theatre. Many of our students move on to pursue careers in the performing arts and their experiences in our schools provide a foundation for their future success. Performing and visual arts are valued as part of our educational program, and the district is steadfast in its commitment to the continuity of a high quality arts program as we move forward in 2014-15.
During this time of transition, as several outstanding educators have opted to move on from their current roles, it is natural to wonder who will replace these individuals and will these “new” educators be able to fill the big shoes that are being left behind. With much advance notice of these key hires, we have been planning diligently for an effective transition, including a new high school band director and a director/advisor to Company, the high school theatre organization.
With respect to the high school band director, this position has been posted for some time now, and we have a pool of experienced candidates. Additionally, there will be an advertisement in the New York Times in the next few days and an outreach to established music associations. The district has also been in touch with colleges and universities noted for exemplary music programs regarding outstanding alumni they might wish to recommend to us as well. The interview process will begin shortly and will continue until the right person has been hired. We will not settle. Just as we are not bound to hire at the first step of the teacher contract for any teaching position, the salary level of the most qualified candidate will not hinder the appropriate hire.
In terms of the advisor and director for Company, these roles are independent. While it could be that one person emerges to assume both roles, another scenario is that the district may find one individual for the advisor role and one or more individuals who seek to direct individual performances. We have also been working on recruitment efforts for these positions, but have deliberately kept them less formal until after we can all enjoy the upcoming outstanding performances of Carousel, as not to create a distraction to our current actors and director.
Although change is sometimes difficult, it brings with it the opportunity to review and enhance our current programs with input from the community. The district is examining its performing arts curricular offerings. We have had recent discussions at Board of Education Curriculum Committee meetings to discuss the needs of the program as we continue our commitment to excellence in the arts. The district has also made a commitment to review its formal oversight of the performing arts program and to devote additional dedicated resources for this oversight in the 2014-15 budget request. At the recent meeting with Board of Finance (BoF) in which the BoF reviewed the education budget for next year, it was communicated that an exact budgetary request for this oversight need would be provided in the next week or so, as it was not included in the budget work that began last fall.
Additionally, we will be exploring the establishment of a K-12 Advisory Council of the Arts for the district, seeking to invite members of our Weston community who have direct experience in the arts to serve as critical friends to the work of the district as we continue to work to enhance the quality of all our arts programs. Those who work in the field or possess unique experience in the arts have so much to offer our students and educators.
I am also pleased to report that the district is planning to expand its performing arts opportunities for the fall. In next year’s budget proposal, the Board of Education has approved a concept to begin our orchestra program a year earlier, in grade four, to align Weston with other districts in the area. Additionally, we have started a summer performing arts camp for students in grades 5-8, in coordination with Weston Youth Services. It includes opportunities for students to take part in a summer theatre production or take instrumental lessons. These two new features of our district further educational opportunities in the performing arts for many of our students.
I am confident that we will continue to maintain Weston’s proud tradition of excellence in performing arts. We are committed to ensuring that our students have access to outstanding programs and educators during their K-12 career.
There are some K-5 classrooms that still have food celebrations. When they have food, the requirement is to have a healthy alternative available for all children, which is usually fruit. The schools offer choice, and they strive to educate children about the choices and many do select the healthy alternative. As a follow-up to this question the district will ask for additional input from its medical advisor on the current practice of food at school celebrations. A further response will be posted here as soon as it is available.
There is no proposed reduction to visual or performing arts education within the district. There has been a focus on a transition plan for the drama program districtwide with the departure of several key personnel who are either retiring or opting not to continue in the drama program at this time.
The Curriculum Committee of the Board of Education met this morning (3-12-14) to review transition plans and is working to coordinate the shift to new staff for these key positions. There is also a commitment to provide formal oversight of the district drama program for 2014-15. This role has been filled informally in the past.
There is every expectation that the outstanding work in the arts will continue to flourish in the future and will continue to be a priority of the district.