Vernon Board of Education re-ups Alliance District plan

By Steve Smith - Staff Writer
Vernon - posted Fri., Aug. 30, 2013
Superintendent of Schools Dr. Mary Conway outlines some of the changes for the second year of the Alliance District plan for Vernon schools. Photo by Steve Smith.
Superintendent of Schools Dr. Mary Conway outlines some of the changes for the second year of the Alliance District plan for Vernon schools. Photo by Steve Smith.

On the cusp of the new school year, the Vernon Board of Education officially renewed the Alliance Grant, along with new amendments, which enables Vernon to receive funding from the state, along with several improvement-making caveats.

The Vernon school district was termed an “Alliance District” in early 2012, under Gov. Dannel Malloy’s new education reform, and when it was determined that Vernon was among the 30 lowest performing districts in the state. Since then, many changes have taken place.

At the board meeting on Aug. 26, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Mary Conway said that she recently took part in a conference call (along with Assistant Superintendent Jeff Burt and Director of Personnel and Student Services Patricia Buell) with state BOE officials to refine details of amendments to the contract. Conway also gave an overview of how the Alliance funding will be used.

The Year 2 Application – required of the Alliance Districts – asks the schools to show how progress is being made in three focus areas: transition to Common Core Standards, educator evaluation and support and interventions in low-performing schools.

Conway said Vernon has improved in all three focuses, and that all-day kindergarten and math interventionists were especially key in the low-performing schools, and that all of the initiatives Vernon began a year ago are continuing, and nearly all are expanding their breadth.

“There are no new initiatives,” she said. “We are expanding. One we’re not expanding is a behavior initiative, but the others we are expanding.”

Conway said teacher collaboration – part of the Common Core focus – will see a boost this school year. “Specials” including art, music, library and physical education instruction for elementary students, will be conformed to 40-minute periods in which all students of the same grade will be in that instruction at the same time, providing teachers time, on a daily basis, to plan collaboratively.

Per a request by board member Kyle Percy, the implementation specialist for the Common Core Standards will report to the board on progress.

A School Governance Team will also be implemented at all seven schools. Conway said the district is working with the Vernon Education Association on training, and will consult state officials for bringing in another trainer to get the teams in place.

A new, comprehensive data management system will be implemented by the district, with a goal of being in place by next July. The data will help the district’s Building Leadership Teams – assigned to grade levels and departments – track progress of the district goals. 

An important part of reaching the goals is feedback. Conway said that opportunities for administrators and teachers to receive feedback from students, parents and peers have been taking place, but that more formalized opportunities will be implemented over the course of the upcoming school year.

Conway said students should be provided with means of evaluating courses after they are completed and to give feedback to teachers on the course’s content and activities as they apply to the Common Core as well as the teacher’s ability to facilitate learning, and that parents should have that opportunity at least once per year.

“It’s been difficult at the high school level, because a student may have eight different teachers,” Conway said. “Certainly it should be available for parents to give feedback on those kinds of things, because it’s the implementation of what you’re doing. It’s not an evaluation of the person. It’s implementation of the Common Core, and what’s going on in the classroom.”

The Board voted to approve the Year Two Amendment, by a unanimous vote.

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