Hot Topics for the Cold Months
William S. McKersie, PhD, Superintendent
The cold is here—or at least the threat of cold. The snow and ice are here—or at least the threat of the slippery stuff. With winter upon us, my mind turns to hot topics. For the next several months, at least three topics should keep our minds and hearts pumping in Greenwich. They are topics with immediate and long-term impact.
1. Strategic Plan
Greenwich stepped up big time in December to participate in the data gathering phase of the Strategic Planning Process. Our consultant, Public Consulting Group, had not seen before the level of engagement our staff, students, parents and community demonstrated in the focus groups, interviews and online survey. All opportunities for input were seized; for instance, over 5,000 people completed the challenging survey.
Public Consulting Group will report on themes from the data gathering phase in late January and early February. With the firm’s guidance, we will turn to several months of work to use the data analysis as a guide to develop multi-year strategic priorities, which ultimately will be approved and adopted by the Board of Education. The timeline calls for the priorities to be set by June 2015, so the next several months will be hot with hard work by staff, parents, students and the community.
2. Digital Learning Phase III Roll-Out
On December 23, we announced the selection of the two digital devices that will be used by all students in the GPS beginning September 2015. Building on the lessons from Phase Iand Phase II—and the deliberations of advisory committees including staff, students and parents—the iPad Air was selected for Preschool through fifth grade and the Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga 11e Chromebook for grades 6-12. Administrators are receiving these devices immediately; teachers will receive the devices in April 2015. We want to give administrators and teachers ample time to become accustomed to the machines before students receive their devices in September.
Extensive, dare I say aggressive, communication, support and training is starting now for administrators, teachers and parents. In the first week of January, all principals came together for the launch of Phase III planning and training that will carry through the winter and spring. All aspects of the Digital Learning Initiative are being addressed by district and school leaders: our infrastructure (access to the Internet); our learning management system (Schoology), which will be the link and repository for work and knowledge; our curriculum and lessons plans; our professional learning for teachers; and our approach to evaluation and continuous attention to course correction.
I applaud the path breaking work of our administrators, teachers and students as we begin the next phase of Digital Learning in Greenwich. Most important is the focus on using digital tools and resources to accelerate achievement for all students. I have been struck in observing the first two phases of digital learning that we are blending the new tools and resources into our curriculum and teaching—we are using the digital world to better connect students with teachers, their peers and essential knowledge so that they become facile solvers of complex problems.
3. Caring and Compassion
I set out two overarching themes for this school year: accelerating achievement and caring and compassion. These themes have characterized Greenwich for years, and should continue to do so—they are the essentials of effective and excellent schooling. In reflecting on the first half year and my messages on our academic pursuits, I am moved to share a few thoughts on caring and compassion.
In November, I had the opportunity to be on a panel addressing the topic of safe school climate at the annual meeting of Connecticut school boards and superintendents. The session was packed and it proved to be a strong moment for Greenwich. Before I said a word, the GPS was featured by other panelists for programs that set the pace for caring and compassion. When I took the podium, I noted that a superintendent must establish the tone for caring and compassion in a District, and I vowed to set that example.
This past weekend, I attended with nearly 1,000 other Greenwich residents the Memorial Service for the late David Theis (GHS, 1967), one of our three selectmen. The service and eulogies spoke eloquently to the caring and compassion that David brought to his life and work in Greenwich. Two moments were most powerful. The Reverend Dr. James B. Lemler, in his homily, stressed that David embodied the critical attribute of great leaders: first and foremost they care for all those they lead. Near the end of the service, Louis Hipp III (GHS, 1967) rose to give his remembrance. He featured what he called a “simple act by Dave,” which changed his life forever. Eating alone early in his first year at Central Middle School as a new student from North Carolina, Louis looked up to see David asking him to join a table of his friends for lunch. Louis was never alone again in the Greenwich Public Schools. We know that “simple act” to be rare among people of any age, but especially adolescents.
Care and compassion is what David Theis embodied. It is what we, as a community of educators, students and families, must also embody.
During these winter months, we have much to keep our minds and hearts pumping with warmth and good will.
January 12, 2015, Superintendent Message: Hot Topics for the Cold Months
December 1, 2014, Superintendent's Message: Gauging Progress in the GPS – Take One
November 3, 2014, Superintendent's Message: Lots of Industry...Lots of Product - Part II
October 7, 2014, Superintendent's Message: Lots of Industry...Lots of Product - Part I
September 2, 2014, Superintendent's Message: Our Signature: Achievement and Caring
June 1, 2014, Superintendent's Message: Distinguished Ideas
2014 Distinguished Teachers Essays
April 3, 2014, Superintendent's Message: Accelerating Achivement for All: Greenwich and the Achievement Gap
March 4, 2014, Superintendent's Message: Smarter Balanced - Field Test: Facts & Interpretation
February 5, 2014, Superintendent's Message: A Word on the Common Core
January 3, 2014, Superintendent's Message: Popular Knowledge of Complex Questions
December 3, 2013, Superintendent's Message: Distinguished Reflections
November 27, 2013, Superintendent's Thanksgiving Day Message
November 12, 2013, The Roots of Excellence
September 26, 2013, Letter to Greenwich Public School Families on our Call to Action and Strategic Focus
September 11, 2013 Letter to Greenwich Public School Families on Safe School Climate
September 3, 2013 Letter to Greenwich Public School Families on Safe School Climate
April 25, 2012, Superintendent of Schools Appointment Announcement
Resume for William S. McKersie (April 2012)