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December 2017

December 2017

Superintendent Dr. Marty Semmel

In August, I shared with everyone who reads this paper that four major themes will persist throughout this school year: School Safety, Social Emotional Learning, Instructional Expertise, and Curricular Alignment and Enhancements. In this article, I wanted to provide a short update on the progress we are making in these areas. You can find a significant amount of detailed information regarding the BOE goals and supporting documents if you go to “District Information” and then “District/School Improvement Plans” on our district website.

School Safety: The 2017-2018 budget included the return of a School Resource Officer (SRO) but unfortunately, the budget reductions that have plagued municipalities across CT have required that this position remain unfilled. However, a number of positive improvements have taken place since the beginning of the school year. At ETJMS, the new entrance on Charles Street has dramatically reduced the safety issues that used to exist when parents, walkers, and buses all tried to use the same space. Now our parents drop off students using the back entrance on Charles Street while our buses use the main entrance to the building. We are working closely with the Plymouth police department and we have made our buildings available for “active shooter” training. “Active Shooter” training provides members of our police department, as well as, area SWAT teams the opportunity to train for worst-case scenarios within our buildings. Additionally, we are looking forward to our K-9 officers coming through the secondary schools to “smell” for contraband. Our district safety committee has met and will continue to meet in order to find additional ways to increase the safety of students, staff and the community. We have also increased our students’ safety on the Internet and the safety of our students’ personal data. We have monitoring systems that pay attention to our students’ work when they are using their district issued chrome book. Our staff passwords require changing each quarter and teacher gradebooks “timeout” after only a few minutes so that students’ grades are not mistakenly seen. We also have a district-wide antivirus and a firewall to protect our students and staff from malicious phishing. These are just some of the additional layers of protection that we have added to or enhanced during this school year.

Social Emotional Learning (SEL): Social Emotional Learning is about knowing who you are as a person and developing your “people” or “soft” skills to find success as an individual and a member of a group. For example, recognizing your strengths, managing stress, goal-setting, teamwork, empathy and problem solving are all elements of SEL. We identified a research-based framework (www.CASEL.org) to guide our work. Training is ongoing to help staff become more knowledgeable in this area. We have established a team of educators charged with developing a three-year plan that embeds SEL into our culture. Presentations have been made to the BOE and in December, we will provide an update. For parents, we have placed resources on our websites and the principals are providing links to materials in their weekly updates. SEL is a topic that deserves prolonged attention. It is not simple, but we believe the benefits of this work will help our students, our faculty and could impact the whole community.

Instructional Expertise: The instruction is “how” we teach. The first step in developing instructional expertise district-wide is to be intentional about what you want to improve, which we have done by identifying BOE goals and indicators for success. The District Improvement Plan (found on our website) captures all of this work in one location. This plan outlines the district’s specific goals, which include such things as improving student’s critical reading, effective writing, and math skills. We also identify areas such as student attendance, physical fitness, and social responsibility. Each principal engages with his/her respective leadership team to ensure success on the goals within the District Improvement Plan. They use researchbased practices embedded in daily instruction, so that students may get the most out of each day. The School Improvement Plan outlines these explicit strategies for each school (found on our website). We also understand the importance of professional development for our staff and as of this publication, we have provided four full days of training to our teaching staff plus a plethora of opportunities throughout the school year. Training on Readers and Writers Workshop, GoMath, and SEL are just some of the trainings that we have offered this year. Our teachers are being provided with the opportunity to come together K-12 to help vertically align our work and expectations in each content area.

Updating and Enhancing Curriculum: The curriculum is “what” we teach. Our work with the new science standards has moved along nicely as our teachers in grades K-3, 6, and 9 are experiencing the new Next Generation Science Standards curriculum documents and learning the shifts in teaching that this curriculum will require. The Social Studies team has made significant movement in our K-3 work at this time. Our efforts to bring our successful Readers Workshop model to grade six has been meeting with positive reviews and we are looking to bring this idea to grade seven in 2018-2019. A significant number of juniors are enrolled in the new Advanced Placement (AP) Language and Composition course and are doing an excellent job. Now, we are considering an Advanced Placement Government and Politics course for 2018-2019.

Although this has been a challenging year given the ever-changing state budget, I am proud that our school system has stayed student-focused and that our goals have kept us engaged with doing the right things for students. 
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