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Commentary: Making purposeful, deliberate decisions – together

Commentary: Making purposeful, deliberate decisions – together

Happy New Year. We are looking forward to the continuation of positive growth and change in Regional School District 13 as we begin 2020.

There will no doubt be references to 2020 being the year of “perfect vision.” As a dynamic organization we want to be sure that changes made are those that improve the learning and living in our district. Our collective effort has been dedicated to making purposeful, deliberate decisions that are aligned with our mission. 

The past several years have been marked with significant growth as evidenced by increases in opportunities for students and student academic performance. Addressing increasing curricular demands and accountability measures while responding to significantly declining enrollment is a challenge faced by our district and school districts across the state.

Several years ago, the Board of Education made a commitment to responsibly address the impact of declining enrollment including the process of careful study of our school buildings, critical infrastructure and capital assets and needs.

The board’s responsibility includes the mutual consideration of recommendations of administration regarding academic programming and the existing physical plant options. Both are considered within the context of the towns’ “ability to pay.” Decisions are made to direct the district’s resources to the areas that most significantly and positively impact students and student learning.

This consideration led to the decision to move to close the John Lyman School building and create a primary, intermediate, middle and high school grade configuration at Brewster, Memorial, Strong and Coginchaug, in a single academic approach model with full implementation slated for Fall 22-23. 

The next steps in this process involve moving sixth grade to Strong Middle School and third grade from Brewster School to Memorial School beginning in Fall 2020.

Additionally, academic and experiential changes will continue as they do each year. We will continue to meet the requirements as dictated by content standards, graduation requirements and other accountability measures as well as continuing our Portrait of a Citizen process that involves explicitly stating where and in what ways students at all levels will be supported in achieving and strengthening the skills and attributes identified in our Portrait document. (This document can be accessed on the left side of our district homepage. Please take five minutes to provide feedback on this document by responding to two questions in our Thoughtexchange survey.)

Elementary and middle school students and parents will be receiving a letter next week that outlines information on transportation, master schedules (including time dedicated to lunch, recess and physical education), student support services, course offerings including general music, band, chorus and world language, and teacher/team structure.

We know that parents have specific questions and encourage them to reach out to their child’s principal with any questions that are not addressed in the letter.

From John Lyman School we understand there are specific questions about maintaining the multi-age classroom design and whole school assembly programs once the grade reconfiguration occurs.

Currently our intention is to offer the multi-age option at both schools and have an assembly design at both the primary and intermediate school once the reconfiguration is complete.

The integrated day philosophy and higher order thinking approach that characterize the John Lyman School design and academic approach are being used in the design phase of our Portrait of the Citizen work.

Teachers at Brewster and Memorial have participated in HOT approach workshops and both schools have received HOT approach grant funding for school-based programs this year to begin the process. The projected time frame indicates full implementation of the grade reconfiguration plan in the Fall of 22-23. 

Board Chairman Rober Moore and myself are attending PTO meetings and scheduling times at the elementary and middle schools for parents to drop-in for informal conversations in January and February. Additionally, a Community Conversation with district administrators will be held in March to discuss the most recent programming information relative to the grade reconfiguration.

The involvement of students, staff, parents and community members make RSD13 a positive and unique school district where the district mission can be realized by all students. Through engagement in authentic learning, all Regional School District 13 students are empowered to thrive and contribute as global citizens.

Finally, a reminder that a referendum will be held on Tuesday, Feb. 11. The purpose of the referendum is to vote on the two proposed amendments to the Final Report: Temporary Regional School Study Committee (Plan of Regionalization) that was created in 1967.

The proposed amendments include changes to the term and manner in which board members are elected in the town of Durham and the language describing the board’s authority to determine the programs and facilities required to serve the students of the district, including the alteration, expansion or closure of district school buildings. 

Kathryn Y. Serino
is Superintendent of Schools, Regional School District 13.