Messages from the Superintendent:

August 28, 2015

 

Dear Parents, Staff and Concerned Citizens:

I hope this message finds you and your family having experienced a successful first week to the new school year.

Within the next few weeks, the annual Open House programs will be held at each school.  The schedule for these programs are as follows:

September 3 - Pine Grove School, all grades, see below for times

September 3 - Roaring Brook Sch, all grades, see below for times

September 8 - Thompson Brook School, Grade 5, 7:00 - 8:00 pm

September 9 - Thompson Brook School, Grade 6, 7:00 - 8:00 pm

September 10 - Avon High School, all grades, 6:30 - 9:00 pm

September 15 - Avon Middle School, Grade 7, 6:30 - 8:30 pm

September 16 - Avon Middle School, Grade 8, 6:30 - 8:30 pm

 

Pine Grove School:

Kindergarten -  6:30-7:00 pm

Grade 1 - 6:30-7:00 pm

Grade 2 - 7:40-8:10 pm

Grade 3 - 7:40-8:10 pm

Grade 4 - 7:05-7:35 pm

Specials - 7:00-8:00 pm

Special Education

Ms. Carson - 6:35-7:05 pm

Mrs. A. McCarthy - 7:10-7:40 pm

Mrs. Rafferty - 7:00-7:30 pm

Mrs. Sokale - 7:00-7:30 pm

 

Roaring Brook School

Pre-K - 6:45-7:15 pm

Kindergarten - 6:35-7:05 pm

Grade 1 - 6:00-6:30 pm

Grade 2 - 7:45-8:15 pm

Grade 3 - 6:45-7:15 pm

Grade 4 - 6:35-7:05 pm

Specials - 6:45-7:45 pm

Special Education

Mrs. Butwill - 6:45-7:45 pm

Mrs. Dabney - 6:45-7:45 pm

Mrs. DeVitto - 6:45-7:45 pm

Mrs. Polinsky - 6:45-7:45 pm

Mrs. Vick - 6:45-7:45 pm

School Psychologists - 6:45-7:45 pm

 

All district staff look forward to welcoming you to each Open House.

 

I thank you again for the privilege of serving you and your children.  Please accept my best wishes for a good weekend.

 

Very truly yours,

Gary S. Mala

Superintendent of Schools

Avon Public Schools

gmala@avon.k12.ct.us

 

 

August 26, 2015

 

Dear Parents, Staff and Concerned Citizens:

I hope this message finds you well having had your children enjoy the first day of the new school year.

As with any new school year, there are parts of the district operations that sometimes require adjustments to reach peak efficiency.  One of these areas is the district transportation system managed by Specialty Transportation.

If you need to reach a representative of Specialty regarding a transportation matter, please continue to use the established hotline at (860) 471-5981.

If you have concerns about other school based operations, please contact the Principal of your child’s school.

I look forward to communicating with you again very soon and I thank you again for the privilege of serving you and your children.

Very truly yours,

Gary S. Mala

Superintendent of Schools

Avon Public Schools

gmala@avon.k12.ct.us

 

August 25, 2015

Dear Parents, Staff and Concerned Citizens:

I hope this message finds you well as you prepare for the first day of the new school year.  I send this letter as a follow-up to my earlier message sent on August 19th regarding the technology used within our schools.

The School Counseling Department at Avon High School was among the first departments to receive a Chromebook cart for instructional use.  In tandem with the curriculum development and revision process, school counselors have incorporated this technology in their practice and they are looking forward to continuing to expand the use of Chromebooks in delivering school counseling planned curriculum this year.  During 2014-2015, our first year with Chromebooks, students used the devices in both small group settings and planned individual meetings.  Freshman Transition meetings, early in quarter two, were an opportunity for counselors to work with students to complete a freshman survey, and to log onto the Naviance program as well as PowerSchool.  The counselors engaged students in small groups of five to seven students so that they could become more familiar with the devices and our commonly used for school counseling resources and programs.

Course selection provided another opportunity which our high school students logged onto Chromebooks to support future planning.  During these individual meetings, counselors discussed appropriate courses that would appropriately challenge each student and position them for success. Junior planning requires the use of our Chromebooks as students engage side-by-side with counselors in completing journal entries, Naviance surveys, and honing research skills as they apply those to the college search process.

This year, with new curriculum underway, counselors will move away from relying upon the district computer lab and will move to larger classroom lessons using the Chromebook cart in the students' classrooms.  This serves multiple goals, among them, preserving lesson time by going to the students rather than waiting for them to arrive, and providing counselors the opportunity to work more collaboratively with faculty in their classrooms as they deliver the lesson.  This year's first larger lesson will take place in senior English classes at which time counselors will present a new lesson tied to fine-tuning resumes and beginning work on the Common Application.

We are excited in the various ways technology is enabling staff to work with students in mobile learning settings as well as advancing new learning opportunities for our students.

I look forward to communicating with you again very soon.

Very truly yours,

Gary S. Mala

Superintendent of Schools

Avon Public Schools

gmala@avon.k12.ct.us

 

August 24, 2015

Dear Parents, Staff and Concerned Citizens:

I hope this message finds you continuing to enjoy the end of the summer break with family and friends. 

The Nutrition Services Department is enthusiastically ready to begin the 2015-2016 school year.  We will continue our Shared Services Program, sharing Director of Nutrition Services, Maggie Dreher, with Regional School District 10 and Canton Public Schools.  This program, now in its third year of operation has offered Avon Public Schools the opportunity to purchase food and supplies through a cooperative that is comprised of ten school districts.  This cooperative/shared services effort allows the district to secure unprocessed foods at much lower pricing than if we purchased them as an individual school district.

The Nutrition Services Department has also been approved to receive $30,000 in Department of Defense funding to be used to purchase fresh produce.   A cycle menu has been created with the students’ favorite meals as determined by surveying students last school year.  Fresh fruit and vegetables will be served in abundance.  Deliveries of fresh peaches and apples from our local farmer, Hayward Orchards, have already arrived.  The staff at each of the schools will be cooking from scratch daily with fresh, unprocessed foods whenever available. 

This year also has us piloting a new process at Roaring Brook School.  Taking advantage of the well equipped kitchen at Avon High School, hot lunches for Roaring Brook School will be prepared at Avon High School and transported to the school in a vehicle using insulated containers.  The students will have their lunch served in the cafeteria as always. 

Efforts to establish a breakfast program at Pine Grove Elementary School were very successful last year.   A similar program will be expanded to Roaring Brook Elementary School shortly after the school year commences.  Research shows that eating breakfast regularly can have significant positive implications for student behavior, academic achievement and school learning.  Breakfast matters! 

Student pin numbers and meal pay information have been sent electronically to all families of elementary school students.  Free and reduced meal applications, meal pay information and menus can be found on the district website under the Nutrition Services tab. 

Please remember, to receive free or reduced meal benefits, it is required that a new application be completed for the school year and each subsequent year your child/children are enrolled in your schools. There is a thirty (30) school day grace period to submit an application to receive meal benefits, giving parents time to complete the form. 

The hard working Nutrition Service Department staff is looking forward to providing the students of the Avon schools fresh, nutritious, great tasting meals.

I look forward to communicating with you again very soon.

Very truly yours,

Gary S. Mala

Superintendent of Schools

Avon Public Schools

gmala@avon.k12.ct.us

 

August 20, 2015

Dear Parents, Staff and Concerned Citizens:

I am again pleased to have this opportunity to communicate with you.  The purpose of my communication is to inform you of some important developments regarding the curriculum within our district. 

Beginning in August 2012, the Avon Public Schools embarked on a formalized curriculum review process to update the district curricula utilizing the Understanding by Design curriculum framework.  The approach taken to accomplish this massive task has been to involve all of the teachers that teach each particular grade level or content area.  To date all K-6 classroom teachers; secondary English Language Arts, mathematics, science, social studies teachers; 6-12 school counselors; and K-12 Spanish and wellness teachers are involved in a formal review and revision of their content area.  Informal curriculum work has begun in preparation for the formal review and revision process by all art, library media, music, technology education and the other world language teachers. 

As the district continues to review and revise the district curricula, the quality work of the teachers is beginning to earn national recognition.  In 2013 the district’s Performance Expectations for English Language Arts and Literacy by Grade Level Bands (K-12) was selected and used as an exemplar curriculum document at an ASCD Professional Development Institute on the Common Core State Standards.  This two-day institute, Common Core and the Understanding by Design Framework: Planning Units with the End in Mind, was designed to enable educators to more deeply understand the Common Core State Standards and create high-quality curricula and assessments to prepare students for the demands of college and the workplace.  The institutes were held in four locations across the country as far away as Honolulu, Hawaii. The Avon document demonstrates how communication tasks, also known as performance tasks, can have a common definition and structure with increasingly more sophisticated performance expectations in each grade band.  

In a 2015 publication, Learning Personalized: The Evolution of the Contemporary Classroom written by Allison Zmuda, Greg Curtis and Diane Ullman, Avon’s curriculum processes were highlighted. As the authors illustrate the essence of personalized learning, Avon’s K-12 Science Long-Term Transfer Goals were shared as one of three illustrative examples of how districts use long-term disciplinary outcomes to emphasize independent application outside the school setting, establish purpose and relevance for learners, and create coherence across grades within a subject area.

In January 2015, Avon Public Schools received a Connecticut State Department of Education/RESC Alliance grant to review assessment practices in the area of writing, identify areas for reduction or revision of writing assessments and strengthen the overall structures used for assessing writing.  The grant supported the creation of district writing and presentation rubrics for all grades that align with the Connecticut Core Standards and district writing expectations.  As a result, Avon’s rubric design which uses key criteria, reflective questions and accessible descriptors was cited as an exemplar assessment tool that promotes the collective evaluation of student work by both teachers and students in Alan Blankstein and Pedro Neguera’s book Excellence through Equity: Five Principles of Courageous Leadership to Guide Achievement for Every Student.

In addition to these elements of Avon’s curriculum and instructional practices that have received national recognition, Dr. Donna Nestler-Rusack, Assistant Superintendent for Teaching and Learning, and Jodi Kryzanski, Program Director, were invited to present at the Annual ASCD Conference in March 2015.  The session, Breaking Out of Isolation to Create a Culture of Collaboration, was designed to share with other districts nationally, as well as with educators across the globe, how Avon administrators and educators who teach in a district known and recognized for high levels of student achievement broke a long-standing culture of isolation within school buildings and transitioned to a culture of collaboration within and among schools using a continuous improvement model to guide curriculum and instruction. The session was well received, as the two Avon educators presented to a capacity audience and engaged in meaningful discussion with other educators faced with similar challenges and goals.

Finally, following the ASCD Conference, co-author of Understanding by Design, Jay McTighe wrote, “I have been collecting models of noteworthy curriculum designs from districts and schools around the world and positing them online for others to emulate.  I would like to include a sample of your work – with full attribution to Avon Public Schools, of course.  Specifically, I would like to share the Communication Performance Task set since this offers a wonderful model of the kinds of recurring tasks needed for students to achieve the College and Career Anchor Standards specified by the Connecticut Core Standards.”  In closing McTighe stated, “I recognize that creating such an overarching curriculum framework is demanding, long-term work, and I commend all of the district staff involved in producing it.”

I am appreciative of the efforts our administrators and teachers have dedicated in establishing Avon as a district known for its exceptional curriculum and thank you for the continued opportunity to serve you and your children.

I look forward to communicating with you again very soon.

Very truly yours,

Gary S. Mala

Superintendent of Schools

Avon Public Schools

gmala@avon.k12.ct.us

 

August 20, 2015

Dear Parents, Staff and Concerned Citizens:

I am pleased to have this opportunity to communicate with you once again.  The purpose of my communication is to provide you with the specific information regarding a number of Capital Improvement projects that were undertaken over the summer to improve the facilities of Avon Public Schools.

Worn carpeting was replaced with tile at both Pine Grove School and the High School.  Over 30,000 square feet of worn carpeting was replaced in the classrooms, choral room, and administrative offices of the High School.  The carpeting in the band room was also replaced with newer carpeting.   Over 30,000 square feet were replaced at Pine Grove School.  Total cost for these two projects was budgeted at $225,000.

Also at the High School, the concrete front entrance, sidewalk, and steps were replaced.  This has greatly improved the appearance and the safety of the High School.  The budgeted cost for this project was $50,000.

At Roaring Brook School, a number of rooftop air conditioning units had exceeded their useful life and were replaced.  The new units will provide both heat and air conditioning, adding to the comfort of the staff and students at Roaring Brook.  The new units are also more efficient and will produce benefits in energy conservation, reduced refrigerant costs, and decreases in service and maintenance costs.  The overall budgeted cost for the new units was $170,000.

In addition to the above facility upgrades, a new activity bus was purchased.  The old bus had reached the end of its useful life and was no longer considered economically repairable.

With appreciation to the efforts of our new Director of Operations, Myles Altimus, and our facilities staff, these projects are in their final phase and, if not already completed, will be completed prior to the start of the new school year.

I look forward to communicating with you again very soon.

Very truly yours,

Gary S. Mala

Superintendent of Schools

Avon Public Schools

gmala@avon.k12.ct.us

 

August 19, 2015

Dear Parents, Staff and Concerned Citizens:

I am pleased to have this opportunity to communicate with you once again.  The purpose of this message is to inform you about the work that was completed by the district’s Technology Department in preparation for the new school year.

The Office of Technology has had an amazing summer adding technology tools, enhancing the infrastructure and performing general maintenance on all current equipment.

Thirty Chromebook carts, containing a total of 780 Chromebooks with mice and headphones, were assembled, configured, inventoried and deployed to the schools across the district. Combined with the Chromebook carts deployed last school year, a total of more than 1,500 Chromebooks are now available for teachers to use for instruction and assessment with their students. As a resource to manage these devices at the classroom level, teachers will be provided with Hapara, an add-on to Google Classroom, that allows teachers to manage their electronic resources, send documents to students, collect papers digitally, provide comments electronically, etc.

The addition of 1,500 Chromebooks, required reinforcing the existing wireless infrastructure across the district. 153 additional wireless access points were added to the 104 in existence to ensure that teaching and learning will thrive in a wireless environment. To support the additional access points, 19 switches and ancillary hardware were also added.

In order to leverage the teaching and learning process, every certified staff member is provided a laptop computer to allow for greater mobility. This is in addition to their classroom desktop computer that is connected to a projector and Smart Board.  The only exception to this is at the high school, where teachers elected to have only a laptop that connects through a docking station to a projector and Smart Board.  Over the summer, as part of the new general maintenance plan, all of the high school laptops were updated and reimaged plus most of the desktop computers and projectors throughout the district were cleaned.  Finally, 18 of the computer labs in the district were cleaned and updated.  In many cases, it was the first time that these items have been cleaned.

The hardware acquisitions (e.g., laptops, Chromebooks, desktops) of the district are acquired by using a reverse auction process to ensure the district receives the lowest price. The equipment is paid for over a four-year cycle, staggering a new acquisition each year as an old acquisition is paid off. This creates capacity and doesn’t create a funding “cliff” where massive amounts of technology would need to be purchased in a single year. The hardware is under warranty during the entire funding cycle.  As part of the reverse auction, a vendor requirement is that staff and families may purchase the same hardware secured by the district at the same heavily discounted prices.  Additional information will be provided in the near future should you wish to access the offer to purchase electronic equipment at district pricing.

Should you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.

I look forward to communicating with you again in the very near future.

Very truly yours,

Gary S. Mala

Superintendent of Schools

Avon Public Schools

gmala@avon.k12.ct.us

 

August 16, 2015

Dear Parents, Staff and Concerned Citizens:

I hope this message finds you well after having enjoyed a good weekend and looking forward to a successful school year.

As you know, U.S. News and World Report has become one of several organizations that utilizes a variety of data sources to rank and identify “America’s Best High Schools” on an annual basis. Scores are largely determined by a metric known as the College Readiness Index which is generated from student Advanced Placement (AP) Test performance. Rank is also determined through analysis of student performance on mandated state tests.

In regards to AP, the two factors that calculate this score are student participation and student performance. While we have an incredibly high pass rate (95% in the recent U.S. News poll), we have had a relatively low participation rate (46% in the recent U.S. News poll). With this information we can make the assumption that more students could be successful if they participated in an AP course during their high school experience.

In addition to the College Readiness Index, student performance on state mandated tests (CAPT, SBAC) are also metrics factored into the ranking. The 2015 ranking was based on 2012-2013 CAPT performance data.  In this area, Avon High School scored in the 98 and 99 percentile for reading and math respectively. Our performance here is impressive, but exposes a gap in high level of student performance with a relatively low level of participation in AP courses.

We are fortunate to be regularly featured among the best in the nation according to the metrics used by U.S. News, with Avon High School earning a silver medal designation in 2015. We also know, however, that our ranking has declined over the past several years. As state mandated testing data will be less available for several years, our College Readiness Index will be increasingly important in our standing with the U.S. News ranking.

We can conclude that it will be necessary to increase our AP participation in coming years. This is not only to improve our ranking, but is primarily because we know more of our students can successfully complete AP level work. Successful completion of an AP course is a sign of readiness that our students can be successful with college level coursework. We believe students are ready.

In order to create additional opportunities for our students, we added three additional AP courses commencing in the 2015-2016 school year. We are pleased to announce that the addition of AP Psychology, AP Economics, and AP Government and Politics has resulted in a 35% increase in AP enrollment. We will continue to review our course of studies and create additional AP opportunities for students that are appropriate for Avon High School. Additionally, we will continue to encourage students to explore the possibility of an AP course to help prepare for their college experience if that is the path they choose.

If you would like additional information on the U.S. News and World Report survey or how results are calculated by RTI International Statistics, please feel free to visit the FAQ resource at: http://www.usnews.com/education/best-high-schools/articles/rankings-faq#5

As always, I thank you again for the privilege of serving you and your children.

Very truly yours,

Gary S. Mala

Superintendent of Schools

Avon Public Schools

gmala@avon.k12.ct.us

 

August 11, 2015

Dear Parents, Staff and Concerned Citizens:

I hope this message finds you well and continuing to enjoy the summer with family and friends.

I am again pleased to have this opportunity to communicate with you.

The purpose of my communication is to provide you with specific information by answering some of the questions, and correcting some of the misinformation, that continues to circulate in the community about the administration’s decision to employ school psychologists in place of school social workers commencing in the 2015-2016 school year.  My hope is that this communication simplifies and provides some clarity to what is a complex issue.

1.  Why would a school district administration make a decision that is not in the best interest of all students?

Response:  Simply put, it wouldn’t.  One of the many commitments made by educational professionals is making decisions that are in the best interest of all students.

2. What specifically was recommended and implemented as a part of the approved 2015-2016 operating budget?

Response:

  1. Replace full-time social worker position at AHS with a full-time school psychologist
  2. Increase .87 social worker position at AHS to a 1.0 school psychologist
  3. Replace full-time social worker position serving AMS (3 days per week), RBS (1 day per week) and PGS (1 day per week) with a full-time school psychologist
  4. Replace grant funded home-to-school liaison position serving primarily non-resident, Hartford students with a full time school counselor.

3.  The decision was made for budgetary reasons.

Response:  This is not true.  A review of the information above shows the district actually slightly increased the staffing to provide additional academic, social, emotional and behavioral services and supports for students.

4.  How many students were identified as receiving services from district social workers in the 2014-2015 school year?

Response:  Approximately 45 students or 1.35% of Avon’s 3,300 students (2.8% of Avon’s 1,611 secondary students) received social work services during 2014-2015 school year.

5.  What are the specific reasons for the decision to replace school social workers (2.87 full time equivalent positions) with school psychologists (3.0 full time equivalent positions)?

Response:

  1. Provide a more inclusive, efficient and comprehensive staffing model to address the academic, social, emotional and behavioral needs of all students in Avon
  2. Address overall recommendations to develop a stronger continuum of services based on data reviews from the Futures Report (a third party independent evaluation of the Pupil Services Department) completed in May 2013
  3. Utilize the training and skill set of school psychologists that provides more versatility and allows for a more comprehensive approach than school social workers in terms of identifying and providing services for students experiencing academic, social, emotional or behavioral issues
  4. Intervene with students earlier, in collaboration with classroom teachers, to provide support(s)/intervention(s) within the least restrictive settings (Scientifically Researched Based Interventions requirements and tiers).  Given that school psychologists can both assess a student and provide direct services, they are able to intervene sooner than a social worker who primarily work with identified, disabled learners
  5. Provide greater alignment between practice at elementary and secondary levels.  School psychologists presently deliver the majority of counseling services at the elementary schools. In 2014-15, the social worker at the elementary level only provided oversight for the Section 504 plans for students requiring accommodations (students not identified as disabled learners)
  6. Serve more students up front rather than at the point of special education evaluation and direct service
  7. Reduce Special Education referrals and identification, especially at the secondary level
  8. Respond to increased demands for evaluations conducted outside of the umbrella of services provided by the school district (e.g., Functional Behavioral Assessments, Ecological Assessments, Behavior Support Plans)
  9. Meet the increased demands of Federal and State laws for accountability and documentation of student progress

6.  What can social workers do that cannot be done by school psychologists?

Response:  Nothing.  Similar to social workers, school psychologists establish liaison relationships with family and community partners, explicitly model and teach social skills and effective learning strategies, provide individual and group counseling sessions, and intervene in crisis situations.

7.  What services will school psychologists provide that school social workers did not previously provide?

Response:

  1. Conduct Functional Behavioral Assessments
  2. Develop comprehensive, data driven Behavior Support Plans and monitor implementation
  3. Assess levels of cognitive, academic and social/emotional functioning
  4. Conduct ecological assessments
  5. Evaluate student performance through direct observations and analysis of work products
  6. Design and implement academic and behavioral interventions
  7. Collect, analyze and interpret Scientifically Researched Based Interventions data
  8. Develop appropriate data collection tools
  9. Train teachers and para-educators in implementing interventions
  10. Provide Planning and Placement Team and 504 teams with progress updates – including use of data
  11. Provide parent training

8.  What information can the administration provide to support the aforementioned decision?

Response:

  1. “Connecticut is a state that recognizes local management and decision making and while different districts may do things in different ways, each has the privilege of developing their own resources to address the federal and state requirements around meeting student needs” (Scott Newgass, MSW, LCSW, CT State Department of Education)
  2. “We also believe that local districts should have the ability to make staffing decisions based on the unique needs of their respective communities” (CT Association of School Psyhcologists, 2015)
  3. “School psychologists are highly trained professionals who are uniquely positioned to provide a comprehensive range of mental and behavioral health services in schools” (National Association of School Psychologists, 2015)
  4. School psychologists are recognized as “school-based mental health service providers” in the No Child Left Behind Act (20 U.S.C. Sec 4155 et seq)

 9.  Students will receive less services than in the past.  What counseling services will be lost because of this change in staffing?

Response:  In reality, students requiring support services will have access to more personnel and time than in the past.  No services will be reduced or removed from any students as school psychologists are trained and skilled in delivering counseling previously delivered by school social workers.

10.  Is there a preferred method and staffing pattern, one endorsed by all professional organizations representing social workers and school psychologists, to best meet the academic, social, emotional and behavioral needs of all students?

Response:  No.  Professional organizations representing both professions endorse a multi-dimensional approach to meeting the needs of students so they are successful in the school environment.  More complex cases require collaboration between school personnel and clinical professionals who practice outside of the school environment.

While I recognize that some who will read this communication will continue to disagree with the decision as it now stands, the district continues to believe that the hiring of school psychologists, for all of the reasons stated in this communication, is in the best interest of all students.

As always, I thank you again for the privilege of serving you and your children.

Very truly yours,

Gary S. Mala

Superintendent of Schools

Avon Public Schools

gmala@avon.k12.ct.us