Executive Summary Community Conversation 101709

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Document explaining the outcome of the community conversation sponsored by the Norwalk Education Foundation
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  1 CREATING A FORMULA FOR STUDENT SUCCESS INNORWALK PUBLIC SCHOOLS A ! Community ! Conversation ! October 17, 2009 Executive Summary The general consensus was that great leadership and vision could foster improvements in the schoolsystem, increase transparency and build a more positive image. Communicating the assets of the systemand demonstrating accountability, as well as increased outreach, could result in engaging more parentsas well as those in the non-educational community.It was recognized that given the current economic situation, the implementation of any new initiatives isvery challenging. The hope is that with increased involvement, the community will respond and supportthe school system in more and diverse ways. Suggestions included using public support to improve theschool district’s image inside and outside of Norwalk, and to identify resources beyond the budget andalternative ways to fund education.There were four major areas that participants felt were important to the success of the schools in Norwalk: !   Leadership !   Communication !   Community Partnerships, and !   Standards/Accountability None of these areas operate in isolation. In fact, the overlap between them was emphasized repeatedly aswell as their influence on other issues discussed such as funding.Key points within each area are: Leadership While the discussions often focused on the position of superintendant of schools, probably because thereis an on-going search, it was also made clear that respondents felt their comments applied to all schooladministrators and teachers. Latino parents also expressed a need for greater Latino leadership withinthe schools.Skills mentioned as important were: !   Good Communicator  !   Motivator  !   Problem Solver   2 !   Open Door Policy/Maintains Transparency !   Has a Vision/Plan and also the Practical Skills for Implementation !   Respectful/Accepting of Input from Others !   Sets High Standards !   Good Manager  !   VisibleDesirable Personal Traits: !   Approachable !   Personable/Warm !    Not Overly Authoritative !   Open-Minded Communication Communication was seen as a necessity as well as a tool to enhance relationships within theeducational/school community itself as well as outside the educational community.Within the SchoolsSchools and other educational groups make tremendous efforts to reach out to all the parents, yet some parents still have minimal contact with schools. Current methods of communication appreciated by parents are regularly sent emails and newsletters.If it were possible to identify different groups among the non-involved, it might be possible to reachmore of them. For example, if the primary reason for non-contact were a feeling of intimidation vs. adifficult work schedule, the approach would differ. A parent-to-parent mentoring system within eachschool and one-on-one contact, either through telephone, email or texting might help to increase contactand involvement among these hard-to-reach parents. To reach out to and include non-native English-speaking families (e.g., Spanish, Creole) translations of all communications as well as a telephonesystem for non-English speakers should be considered.Gathering input from parents using various media on how they feel the school is performing could also be a motivator for more involvement.Outside the Educational CommunityBetter communication is also seen as a tool to increase community partnerships. Participants felt that thenon-educational community needed a better understanding of what the schools are doing (transparencyand accountability) and more information on the schools' successes. As residents gain more confidencein the school system, they, in turn, can help the image of the schools by communicating this to othersoutside of Norwalk. Community Partnerships Respondents felt that it was important to increase the engagement with the community outside of educational groups. Included in an outreach plan should be an explanation of why the non-educationalcommunity members are stakeholders in the system. Examples of groups to approach are: businesses,  3afterschool programs, sports, faith-based organizations, Latino/African American groups, real estateagencies, and civic groups. Increased contact could result in greater coordination with the school programs, more volunteers for educational/mentoring programs, and possibly even funding.Community connections outside of the educational community could also help to engage some of the parents of school children who are not currently active in the school, for example, using non-schoolsports programs to enhance contact between parents and the school.If more of the community felt themselves a part of educational system and felt as if they werecontributing, they would also be a part of the schools' successes. As pride in the school system increases,support and engagement could also increase. Standards/Accountability While there was universal agreement that standards should be high, there was not a broad consensusabout how standards should be defined, measured, and what the consequences should be if the setstandards were not met.Accountability should not just apply to the students; it should apply to the BOE, administrators andteachers. Professional development and on-going training for teachers was considered critical for studentsuccess.Testing was considered important but many felt it should not be the only measure of success. Measuresof success should include improvement from wherever the student starts – regardless of where that is.Rewards for success should be emphasized over punitive measures. The curriculum should bedifferentiated so that all students can improve and be challenged - whatever their level.Best practices should be explored to determine what has worked elsewhere. If astudent/teacher/administrator is not succeeding there should be aid available to help the individualsucceed. Methodology:  Nine small group conversations (10-15 respondents) were held on Oct.17, 2009 at Norwalk CommunityCollege. The groups were led by objective moderators to help facilitate discussion. Each discussion wastwo hours with a half-hour pre and post general session.The diversity in the groups was balanced to the extent possible. There was one group held in Spanish inorder to get input from native Spanish-speaking community members. Participants totaled 121 and werecomprised of approximately 58% parents, 13% students, 12% educators, 9% community service providers, 3% public officials, and 5 % business, retirees and other. Twenty percent of the parents wereHispanic and 14% of total participants were African American.  4 Survey Results: Superintendent Skills Sixty-one surveys were received from 121 participants representing 50% of attendees.Concerning the question “  Please list your thoughts on the skills that the Board of Education should look for in a new Superintendent”, the 61 surveys generated 252 comments on 20 skills or traits thatshould be present in a new superintendent. The table below shows all 20 skills/traits and the percent of the total 252 comments that each received. SKILLS/TRAITS% of TotalComments 1.   UNITE COMMUNITY 122.   LISTENER 93.   LEADERSHIP 74.   TEAM PLAYER 75.   CONSENSUS BUILDER 76.   MANAGEMENT 67.   VISIBLE PRESENCE 68.   VISION 69.   MOTIVATIONAL 610.   CREATIVE/INNOVATIVE 511.   DOER 412.   EDUCATION SKILLS 413.   BUSINESS EXPERIENCE 414.   EXPERIENCE WITH DIVERSITYISSUES/POPULATION415.   WILL BECOME INVOLVED WITH MINORITYCOMMUNITY 316.   MEASURABLE GOALS 317.   ACCOUNTABILITY - FOR SELF AND OTHERS 318.   RECOGNIZED IN NORWALK SYSTEM 219.   SUCCESSFUL TRACK RECORD 120.   PERSONAL STAKE 1100
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