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Superintendent's Message

Lots of Industry…Lots of Product – Part II
November 2014 Superintendent Essay
William S. McKersie, Ph.D.
Superintendent of Schools
November 3, 2014 

 Greenwich is a busy district, driven by many hopes and promises. We have our expectations as highly dedicated educators.  We have the aspirations of our energetic and inquisitive students.  We have the dreams of families, rightly wanting the best for their children. We have goals and targets set by the Board of Education.  We have standards, assessments and other policies and procedures required by the State of Connecticut.  To succeed, our modus operandi has to be lots of industry…lots of product

This is how I signed off my October 2014 Superintendent Essay, in which I used as a springboard a comment by a British EPL (soccer league) sportscaster, who observed during one match, “We are seeing lots of industry today, but little product!” I rightly turned his statement on its head to offer that, after six weeks of school in Greenwich, I was proud to see lots of industry and lots of product.  Indeed, I promised to devote my October and November essays to the news.  So, here is the November run down on the excellent work underway this fall in the schools not featured in my October essay. 

Intellectual innovation and creativity are essential to engaging students and producing lifelong learners.  Riverside School is fostering student innovation and creativity through a new effort, “Genius Hour,” which involves all students on two Friday’s per month from 2-3 p.m.  During these hours, students explore their passions and interests to make choices about their own learning through a structured brainstorming process. Genius Hour is not random. By design, it guides students to have a driving question, undertake research on the chosen question, and share findings with classmates. With the advantage of Digital Learning tools, Riverside teachers were able to show students a school-produced TouchCast video presentation on the idea and practice of Genius Hour. Riverside looks forward to building on the creative and innovative ideas and projects that its students pursue in their Genius Hours.    

Drawing connections well beyond the classroom and the immediate assignment is essential to rigorous learning and problem solving. The fifth grade at Hamilton Avenue School is going beyond the school walls through the program, “Global Read Aloud 2014,” which has the simple goal of “one book to connect the world.”  A book is selected for children to read over a six-week period and becomes the basis for connecting with another class in the US or internationally.  This year’s book is One for the Murphys (Lynda Mullaly Hunt, 2012), a touching story about how a family’s love transforms a foster child in their care. Hamilton Avenue’s three fifth grade classes are connected with classes in North Queensland (Australia), Canada and Kansas. Taking advantage of their Digital Learning tools, the students have written about One for the Murphys, blogged on kidblog, chatted via Skype and Google Hangout, and used Google Earth to locate their partner schools and places noted in the book. All three classes also will use iMovie or Google Slides to create presentations for their partner schools.

Relationships are pivotal to effective schooling and learning.  Old Greenwich School and Glenville School launched this school year and the rigor that has followed with events aimed to foster (and emphasize) that good schools are built on strong relations between and among teachers, students, administrators and parents. Old Greenwich attributes its terrific start—with positive energy in the air and the school abuzz with excitement—to the opening all-school assembly, which introduced new students and staff to the school. After a warm welcome, the fifth grade students taught the rest of the school about core values and district norms with home-made skits that showed what to do and what not to do.  Creative and silly, the skits and songs were a hit with the students and the messages have resounded deep into the fall.  Clear on the other side of Greenwich, Glenville took a similar approach in its first Town Hall meeting by having the fifth graders welcome the new kindergartners—a wise step to immediately establish fifth graders as the leaders and role models for the entire school.  In a signature move, Principal D'Amico took the ice bucket challenge, securing over $1700 for ALS.  (I am told that pictures can be furnished, if requested.)

The physical space and arrangement of learning environments matter greatly to students and staff.  International School at Dundee (ISD), Parkway and New Lebanon, in three distinct efforts, have made the improvement of physical space one of their priorities this year. 

The International School at Dundee is repurposing its media center so the space reflects a Learning Commons area.  In this model, the media specialist, who has a flexible schedule for grades 2-5, works with teachers and students on a variety of topics, including the research cycle, digital and print resources, current and emerging technologies and the engineering design cycle.  Instead of meeting with a class once a week, which has been the traditional format, the medial specialist now co-teaches lessons with teachers and works with students in a manner that is driven by what needs to be taught and when. Included in ISD’s Learning Commons is an area dedicated to Makerspace (with two Makerbot printers).  Students in all grade levels are exploring the STEM engineering design cycle and various forms of 3D printing, CAD software, diagramming, robotics and problem solving.  The Learning Common approach represents a shift in how instruction is delivered, where teaching and learning, rather than the “schedule,” are driving instruction.

Parkway School is in the second of a three year quest to earn certification as a CT Green Leaf School.  The award is given to schools that demonstrate energy conservation, promote health and wellness programs for school communities, and educate students in environmental sciences.  In Phase 1, Parkway created a beautiful pollinator garden as an outdoor classroom, which was recently certified as a Schoolyard Habitat by the National Fish and Wildlife Association. All K-5 students began this year in the garden with a science notebook launch that gives them the tools to 'think like scientists” about the environment.  At this year’s Fall Festival, the garden was officially dedicated to former Parkway student, Dana Marella, who died last year of Neimann Pick Type C Disease.  Parkway teachers donated a bench for the garden with an inscribed plaque from the Marella family in loving memory of Dana. The bench faces the garden and provides a thoughtful spot for reflection and to remember those we love.

New Lebanon School is extremely proud to announce the successful opening and operation of their kindergarten at the BANC (Byram Archibald Neighborhood Association). The BANC location, required due to overcrowding in the main New Lebanon School, opened at the beginning of this school year without a hitch.  The children and parents acclimated quickly to their new 'digs'.  The kindergartners are at BANC each day through lunch, at which point they are bussed the short ride to the main school.  New Lebanon staff graciously 'adopt' the kindergarten students when they come up the hill each afternoon for specials and other programs. This group of students and parents has endeared themselves to the New Lebanon family fabric. The parents are among the most active volunteers in recent memory. The students are a unique and energetic group that is flourishing in their varied daily routine.  Looking long-term, Principal Barbara Riccio, staff and parents are working intensively with district, Board and town leaders to develop plans for a new and expanded school, which will provide in one building the high quality educational space required to serve all neighborhood and magnet students from preschool through 5th grade.

Eastern Middle School (EMS) has been firing on all cylinders this fall.  EMS’s “industry…product” examples run the gamut from digital learning to academic rigor to community service.  Eastern successfully rolled out Chromebooks to every student in Sixth Grade and the transformation in teaching and learning is already evident in those classrooms. As is the case annually, the Greenwich Reads Together program is a big EMS feature; over 100 students and faculty shared breakfast and book discussions on The Boys in the Boat, Outcasts United, and A Strong Right Arm.  Anthony Duncan (EMS Social Studies Learning Facilitator) held town hall meetings as Patriots and Loyalists debated the question: Should the American Colonies declare their independence from England?  And, Halloween Dress-Up Day was organized so that students brought non-perishable food as a donation to Neighbor to Neighbor.

This year, the Arch and CLP Program have been integrated into one school—now known as the Greenwich Alternative High School.  Program Administrator Barbara Varanelli and the faculty are coordinating with Carleen Wood (SPED Coordinator) on the unification. Classes have been merged and teachers are working together to assist all students in this transition. Several committees are focused on developing the vision and programs of the new Greenwich Alternative High School. The committees are exploring other alternative schools, methods and models to identify how we can increase academic rigor, improve the perception of the Alternative High School, and increase student success both in the work place and in post-secondary education. An example of one new idea is to provide online classes from Odysseyware and Mindfulness Training as a way to increase student engagement and the flexibility of learning time and tasks.

Greenwich this school year, as is our norm, is demanding a lot and accomplishing a lot—whether we are encouraging intellectual engagement, problem solving and lifelong learning, or fostering connections beyond a lesson and classroom to deepen learning, or building relationships essential to good schools, or providing the educational spaces and environments that inspire student success.  Our greatest strength, as professionals, is that our dedication and compassion drives us to always look for ways to do our jobs better so that all our students have the opportunity to grow. In our line of work, with the future of students as our main concern, lots of industry must lead to lots of product.  It is a moral imperative.    

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Lots of IndustryLots of Product - Part I
October 2014 Superintendent Essay
William S. McKersie, Ph.D.
Superintendent of Schools
(Updated October 7, 2014)

In the world sport of football, known stateside as soccer, commentators bring verbal art and dexterity to calling the game.  Words and phrases not typically used by American sportscasters to describe sports action are the norm with international play-by-play and color commentators.  One of my favorite moments was when a British football announcer offered, “We are seeing lots of industry today, but little product!”

Looking over the first six weeks of school in Greenwich, I am proud to see lots of industry, and lots of product.  Indeed, the industry: product ratio is so favorable, I will devote my October and November essays to the news.  This month, I will start with what I am seeing in several schools.  Next month, I will follow with more school news, as well as several examples of district-wide industry and product.

Academic excellence requires close attention to positive relationships—student to student, student to teacher and teacher to teacher.  Cos Cob School this year is emphasizing Responsive Classrooms, a focus it launched on August 21 with special professional development for all teachers.  Principal Gene Schmidt notes that all Cos Cob staff have implemented the "Morning Meeting,” which includes the Greeting, the Sharing, the Activity and News and Announcements. Teachers and students are actively involved in this step to bolster academics with attention to social-emotional learning.

North Street School also has pushed the essential link between academic excellence and positive relationships, but they expanded the fostering of relationships to include families. Principal Jill Flood reports “a terrific start to the school year with a real sense of community and positivity. The best early moment was the overwhelmingly positive response we had to the "Thinking Outside the Box" Art Challenge. Families, students, parents, and friends worked together as innovative and creative problem solvers to transform recycled boxes (from matchbook size to refrigerator size) into 3-D sculptures. We now have over 100 sculptures that will be on display at the school through this week and during Open House.”

Assessment results matter to us as a measure of student academic progress.  While multiple measures are the state-of-the-art approach, single measures are revealing.  North Mianus School deserves to point with pride to its most recent CMT Science results, which saw 94 percent of their students scoring at the goal level and 75 percent at advanced.  Most impressive, in just one year the percent of students at the advanced level jumped by 18 percentage points (57 to 75 percent). We will be conferring with Principal Angela Schmidt and her staff to gather insights to help our other elementary schools have similar success in science.

Digital learning is a major priority for the Greenwich Public Schools.  We are entering the second year of a comprehensive process to transform teaching and learning by providing teachers and students with the digital tools necessary to personalize instruction and accelerate achievement.  This fall we are providing all sixth grade students with Chrome Books.  Last spring, all sixth grade teachers received their Chrome Books, as well as in-depth professional development from November Learning (our professional development partner for Digital Learning).  Central Middle School Principal Shelley Somers reports that “the consistent Digital Learning professional development that teachers have been offered has paid off. My teachers tell me that they are, "...ahead of where they thought they would be!"

Western Middle School's industry was strong this summer, with 30 teachers coming together to develop plans for advancing three priority areas for improvement: increasing the rigor of instruction, deepening parent engagement, and offering a robust extended day program. Regarding Digital Learning, Western Middle School Principal Gordon Beinstein echoes the good reports from Central Middle School, highlighting that the November Learning team has been very well received by Western staff during the Chrome Book roll out. 

Tradition and beginnings matter greatly in effective schools.  Julian Curtiss School has the long-standing tradition of “The Ringing In Ceremony” for kindergarten students, an opening ceremony in which each kindergartener rings the school bell to signify their induction into the school community.  The entire school community is present to welcome the new students to the school.  Principal Trish McGuire sent me the following description for this year’s program, highlighting the international and domestic diversity that is Julian Curtiss’s hallmark:

At the beginning of Fridays ceremony, Principal McGuire introduced each of the four kindergarten teachers. As each teacher waved to the crowd, hundreds of students and parents cheered and whistled. Amid the earnest faces, McGuire read Maya Angelous poignant words. It is time for parents to teach young people early on that in diversity there is beauty and there is strength. At JC we celebrate the diversity of our languages, our cultures and our traditions, McGuire continued. These children will work together, learn together, and become friends, she said of the students who speak Spanish, Japanese, Italian, Greek, Chinese, Portuguese, Russian and Bulgarian, among others. They are the hope of our town and the future of our country.

Accelerating achievement and compassion are big priorities for the Greenwich Public Schools (Superintendent Essay, September 2014).  Greenwich High School already has examples this year of notable achievement and compassion.  Headmaster Chris Winters reports, “Academically, we are very proud of our latest Advanced Placement (AP) results. The data show that, while participation in AP has more than doubled over the past 10 years, the mean score has remained at a high rate. These outcomes counter a normal trend where increases in the number of students taking high level classes and exams typically result in a decrease in the scores on the exams. Over 57 percent of the GHS seniors take and pass at least one AP exam during their four years at GHS.”

Compassion also runs strong at Greenwich High School.  One of the highlights of the year so far was the effort to involve all students and staff in GHS’s annual food drive on 9-11, known as “One-For-One on 9-11.”  The goal is for each member of the GHS community to bring in at least one non-perishable food item—ideally reaching a total that honors the equivalent of each life lost on 9-11. Over 3,695 items were donated this year, surpassing the goal. 

We are a busy district, driven by many hopes and promises. We have our expectations as highly dedicated educators.  We have the aspirations of our energetic and inquisitive students.  We have the dreams of families, rightly wanting the best for their children. We have goals and targets set by the Board of Education.  We have standards, assessments and other policies and procedures required by the State of Connecticut.  To succeed, our modus operandi has to be lots of industrylots of product.  I will be back in November with even more examples of our industry and product.

 END

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

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)



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