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Weston Schools Superintendent reflects on year of many changes

Weston Schools Superintendent Colleen Palmer

Weston Schools Superintendent Colleen Palmer

As the 2012-13 school year draws to a close, the time to reflect settles in. This was Colleen Palmer’s second year as superintendent of Weston schools and one that presented much adversity. “It has been a very challenging year,” Dr. Colleen Palmer said.

That is putting things lightly.

The school year saw the unthinkable and the unimaginable, but Dr. Palmer recognizes that it is time to move forward and better prepare ourselves for the future.

The year started off with a bang from Superstorm Sandy, marking the second year in a row that a storm devastated the area in the fall. “People are joking that we have a week off in October every year now.” Dr. Palmer said.

Due to the storm and the numerous snow days over the winter, the district was forced to ask Weston High School seniors to come in during February break for a technology workshop. “I thank the senior class because we had a day that we asked our senior class to come in over February break to serve as buffer to make sure our graduation ceremonies were in the third week of June,” said Dr. Palmer.

Newtown

The storms made the school year difficult, but nothing can compare with the tragic event that took place on Dec. 14 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in nearby Newtown. With that, all thoughts of snow days and Hurricane Sandy were quickly pushed aside.

“All superintendents changed course in terms of the amount of school security,” Dr. Palmer said. The school district began hiring new security guards and a much bigger police presence was felt on school grounds.

Looking to the future, Dr. Palmer hopes to make continued improvements to school security. “We want to make sure that we have state-of-the-art communication in the district and with the Weston Police Department. There will be upgrades to our facilities to ensure that the perimeter of our school is more resistant to intruders,” she said.

An increase in surveillance in terms of the camera system on campus is expected. “Communication, physical security of school and ensuring that we are able to see what is happening in our schools will serve us well to keep our students and staff safe,” Dr. Palmer said.

On Monday, June 10, the Board of Education made a request to the Board of Finance and Board of Selectmen for additional supplemental funding to upgrade security measures in the district.

After meeting in executive session, the finance board and the selectmen voted to approve $434,732 for school safety initiatives.

Changes to legislation

There will be changes to standardized tests beginning in the fall of 2014. The school district will be saying good-bye to the Connecticut Mastery Test (CMT) and the Connecticut Academic Performance Test (CAPT) and welcome a new test called the Common Core. It is a test that has been adopted by 46 states. The test standards are designed “to be robust and relevant to the real word, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers,” Dr. Palmer said.

The superintendent has high hopes for the new assessment. “It will allow our students to make sure they are college and career ready,” she said.

The new test will be administered online, thus eliminating the typical paper and pencil test. The results will be available in a few short days rather than waiting months for the results.

Changes are also coming to the way teacher and administrator evaluations are done, which will rely more heavily on how students perform on academic assessments.

“There has been tremendous work to ready ourselves for the new plan to have student outcome as part of teacher evaluation,” Dr. Palmer said.

The new standards will be implemented July 1.

North House

With all the chaos that has been the 2012-13 school year, the question of what to do with the underused North House on the Hurlbutt Elementary School grounds still lingers.

“We continue to monitor our student enrollment and how we are using our facilities. We actually will be working with a consultant this summer to do an entire assessment of our facilities and how we would anticipate our future needs with our predicted enrollment,” Dr. Palmer said.

The superintendent acknowledged “it makes sense that if we do have extra space and the town can use that space” then it should be used to the town’s advantage. However, Dr. Palmer does not want the town’s use of space to compromise “the safety and security of our students.”

Weston First Selectman Gail Weinstein has started a Global Facilities Committee that has participation and membership from both the town and the Board of Education to look at joint facilities of the entire town. The first meeting of the new committee was held on Monday, June 10.

Overall, the year was hectic with many twists and turns.

“There was a convergence of some anticipated and some unanticipated significant events that hit our district this year that really asked our staff to address extraordinary issues that we didn’t plan for,” Dr. Palmer said.

She is happy with how the school district handled the obstacles thrown their way. “I am very proud of the entire district. Every person stepped up to meet the challenges of caring for the safety of the students and addressing the disruptions to our school calendar.”

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