SEYMOUR — Administrators of the town’s four public schools presented their school improvement plans to the Board of Education at a special meeting on Monday, October 21.

Associate Superintendent Vonda Tencza opened the meeting with an overview of the Smarter Balanced Assessment results, which show the student body’s academic strengths and weaknesses based on Common Core standards.

The district is on par with the state overall in terms of the number of students meeting or exceeding their score goals. Students, on average, perform better in English language arts than in math. Students also achieve higher in ELA than in math on the SAT, reflecting a statewide trend.

One concern is that Seymour Middle School students consistently perform below the state benchmark in math.

The high-needs subgroup, including special education students, free and reduced-price lunch students and English language-learners, showed strong growth and met their targets.

Mrs. Tencza noted that many students come to Seymour because of its successful programs for high-needs students.

She said the main takeaway is that students are growing and achieving, though growth is not consistent. The middle school is the main focus, though she seeks improvement all-around.

Mrs. Tencza then explained the purpose of the night’s meeting: for administrators to show the board strategies for success they are trying that might be new or different; to identify last year’s goals and explain if and how they achieved them; and to identify this year’s goals and how they have been working toward them so far.

She emphasized the “strong mind, strong body, strong spirit” philosophy — indicating strength in academics, athletics and social-emotional intelligence — as a common thread throughout the plans.

She said presentations should be “elevator pitches” that administrators and board members could share when community members ask what the schools have been working on. The full, detailed documents are available on Seymour Public Schools’ website.

Principal Jim Freund, Assistant Principal Paul Lucke and Assistant Principal and Athletic Director Ernie DiStasi of Seymour High School presented their plan first.

They began their school improvement plan in May, which, among other items, focuses on improving students’ SAT scores, increasing parent communication and reducing chronic absenteeism.

They identified three areas on the SATs where students did not outperform the state: words and context, algebra and advanced math.

Mr. Freund said students did not achieve SAT performance goals last year. Score goals were 533 in ELA and 523 in math; actual scores were 511 and 493, respectively. SAT score goals for this year are 526 for ELA and 509 for math.

To achieve this, teachers are developing strategies to improve performance, like using BetterLesson virtual coaches for math and integrating writing assignments and academic vocabulary into subjects like art, music, science, physical education and technical education.

They’re also looking to improve physical education, since students who met the standard for all four of the physical fitness assessments decreased from 68 percent in 2016-17 to 58.8 percent in 2017-18.

Mr. DiStasi said he is looking at data and strategizing ways to reinforce skills, one being setting goals for the pacer test in the months leading up to the spring assessment.

Further, the school did not achieve its goal of 75 percent of parents responding to a survey that they agree or strongly agree that they feel well-informed about what is going on in school. Instead, only 64 percent of parents agreed. Mr. Freund said they should ensure all parents’ emails are accurate so they are kept updated.

Mr. Freund said chronic absenteeism has worsened. Data indicates that 142 students — 21.2 percent of the student body — were chronically absent in 2018-19, an increase from 15.9 percent the year prior.

Of them, 63 were seniors, nine were AP students and two were AP scholars. Some board members suggested that AP exams might demotivate these students from showing up to school.

Mr. Freund said they’ve been responding with letters to parents, home visits by the school counselor and calls to the state Department of Children and Families if no progress is made.

He said that in most cases, after a second letter and home visit, the chronic absences stopped, so he will continue to deal with the issue in this way.

Next, Seymour Middle School Principal Jodie Roden and newly appointed Assistant Principal Kathleen Freimuth presented their plan.

Mrs. Roden said the school will focus on improving reading and math performance and will continue to foster the social, emotional and disciplinary needs of the students.

For reading, mean MAP (measures of academic progress) assessment scores increased in grades 6 through 8, but did not meet projected goals.

For math, mean MAP scores decreased in grade 6 and increased in grades 7 and 8; grade 6 and 7 did not meet their projected goals, but grade 8 did.

To improve scores, administrators are working with teachers on goal-setting and data collection, using technology to prepare for assessments, setting goals for student discourse and creating a variety of formative assessments.

On the social-emotional aspect, Ms. Freimuth said the PBIS (positive behavior interventions and supports) Committee was rebooted and is aiming to meet monthly.

Pop-up rewards have been implemented as well as a Culture Club and Friday phone call of the week, when Mrs. Roden calls the parents of one student who did well that week to inform them of his or her hard work.

Principal David Olechna and former Assistant Principal Freimuth spoke on Chatfield-LoPresti School students’ achievement on assessments and outlined plans for maintaining and improving scores.

Mr. Olechna reported the majority of students were meeting or exceeding their goals on all assessments in both math and reading, barring some scattered inconsistencies.

The school has made gains in reading performance recently, but still has room for improvement. 

Sixty-eight percent of all CLS kindergarten through grade 5 students met and/or exceeded their projected growth targets in ELA. This is expected to increase to 70 percent next year.

Over the past several years, Smarter Balanced data for math has consistently shown growth over time for grades 3, 4 and 5 in the percentage of students scoring at level 3 and 4. 

But in the 2018-19 school year, fourth graders showed approximately the same results as they had in grade 3, and the percentage of first- and second-grade students meeting their projected RIT scores was not as high as the previous years.

Overall, 63 percent of all CLS kindergarten through grade 5 students met and/or exceeded their projected growth targets in math, expected to increase to 65 percent next year.

A new, bi-monthly Math Olympiads after-school program for fourth and fifth graders was implemented this year as well as a Math Workshop for teachers. 

Further, teachers are in the “beginning stages” of developing a phonics program for students in kindergarten through second grade. 

They will continue to encourage independent reading and do one-on-one conferences with students.

Principal Mary Sue Feige and Assistant Principal Lauren Reid were the last to present, and their goals to improve math and reading scores aligned with the other schools’. 

Five out of the six grades met or exceeded the mean score goals as measured by the spring 2018 to 2019 MAP assessment, and four out of six grades met or exceeded those for math.

Some strategies the school will take to improve performance include implementing small, flexible groups on specific skills in the classroom and encouraging students in all grades to set their own goals.

Strategies will be shared with all staff, but each teacher will also develop his or her own action plan.

Faculty will foster a positive learning environment by implementing behavior plans; school counseling curriculum will take place ten times a year and teachers will share at-home strategies for reading and math with parents.

Overall, the school aims for responsive classrooms and encourages peer feedback.

The meeting closed with Superintendent Michael Wilson presenting his goals with a document outlining a strategic plan for the year.

His goals focused on rigorous curriculum, social-emotional learning, communication and collaboration between the board and the schools.

The document was still provisional, and members of the board agreed he should re-word some of the items as actionable goals rather than statements of philosophy.

Mr. Wilson said he would take feedback into account and make changes for the board to review at its next meeting. The goals will then be posted online.

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