Dr. James P. Longo
From all of us at Ashford School to all of our students
and their families!
Safety at Ashford School
One of the most sensitive and emotionally charged topics of our lifetime has been the dialogue initiated by the tragic attack on the students of Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown. We have been emotionally scarred by the thought of those helpless children and their families. Beyond the sadness, the empathy, and the realization that the world can be a mean and unfair place, comes a call to action. As the superintendent of schools in Ashford it is my job to respond to the situation in a way that helps secure the safety of our students. I have convened meetings with the administrative team and the teachers to discuss security at Ashford School and how we could improve upon it. We also discussed it at the December 20th Board of Education meeting.
We are initiating several immediate steps to improve security, and have proposals for some long-term changes in the facility that will contribute to security improvements. First, we do keep the doors locked, and we have adults at every entrance during arrival and dismissal time. We will be adding more staff to the entrances beginning immediately to support policing of arrival and dismissal times. We also are making changes in the classroom locks, all-call intercom system, and other changes in the facility to be both preventative and helpful should a crisis arise. We will continue to conduct periodic lock down drills to teach everyone how to react if there is a crisis in our school.
We will also convene our school safety team and continue to look for ways to bolster our school security and protect our children. I would like to assure you that we take security seriously and that everyone at Ashford School is on alert and trained to protect our students.
Developing Our School Budget
December begins the process of developing next year’s school budget. On December 6th of this year the process officially began with an opportunity for the public to speak to the Board of Education and present their budget ideas.
Developing the annual Board of Education budget is a complex matter. Teachers are surveyed to find out what they believe we need, and what our priorities should be, then the administration proposes budget items that help them meet their goals for school improvement, and finally, the superintendent collates all of this, along with his ideas, goals and understanding of the school’s needs, to develop a first draft proposal for the coming year that is presented to the board of education in mid January.
Because of the current economy, this draft proposal will not have too much discretionary spending. The bulk of the budget is contract negotiated salaries for faculty and staff, contracted costs of medical benefits, heating and vehicle fuel, and other fixed expenses that are not entirely under our control. After those items are computed we look at the needs of the curriculum and the teachers’ books, supplies and equipment needed for instruction.
The superintendent’s initial proposed budget is reviewed, and changes are made by the Board of Education. Once the BOE has a budget that they believe is in the best interest of the community and the students, they bring it to the Board of Finance. After the Budget has been reviewed by the Board of Finance changes are made and an agreed upon budget proposal goes to a town meeting and then a referendum.
Here are the dates for the budget process…
January 17 – Review of the Superintendent’s proposed budget by the Board of
Education (7:30 PM)
February 7th and 14th – (7:30 PM) BOE review of the budget and development of the
first draft of the Board of Education budget.
March 7th - BOE budget presented to the Board of Finance at the BOF meeting
March 14th and 21st the Board of Finance reviews budgets to decide what they believe the proposal to the town should be.
March 28th – Board of Finance adopts a town budget
April 9th – PUBLIC HEARING for the town budget which includes the BOE budget
April 23rd – annual town meeting for town budget
May 7th – budget referendum
The above description and schedule of the budget process is an outline that does not do justice to the complexity of what it takes to develop a school budget. The thing that we ask everyone to consider is that the budget is built to provide services to the children of Ashford. Because we are part of Region #19 and our students attend E.O. Smith High School with students from other communities, particularly Mansfield and Willington, we build our budget with an eye toward providing similar or equal experiences that send our children off to high school equipped to compete.
It should also be noted that we never are going to get enough money to do all of the things that we want to do, or believe would improve our school, but we try our best to use the resources granted us to run an effective school and provide the children of Ashford with the tools that they need to compete in high school, college and the globalized, diverse workplace.
Ultimately, the school budget is best when everyone supports it. If employees, parents and community members feel that the school budget has been developed with the best interest of the children of Ashford in mind we are bound to be more successful and have better budgets.
In the final analysis the school does better and is most likely to effectively educate your children when you are involved in the budget process, let your feelings be known, and are there when it is time to vote.
More About Teacher and Administrator Evaluation
By now most people have read about the Governor and the Connecticut State Department of Education’s plan to completely change the way teachers and administrators are evaluated in Connecticut. I, along with our new principal, Mr. Hopkins, and a group of staff members have been attending sessions at our regional education service agency, (EASTCONN) to participate in training sessions that are intended to help us meet mandates of the state’s new guidelines.
The new teacher evaluation plan is designed to be based 45% upon student academic performance, and 55% a mix of administrative observation, community or peer input and the meeting of performance goals.
This is an innovative and groundbreaking approach to evaluation of certified staff. We are all wondering how it will work out and what form the final evaluation plan mandates will take, but no matter how you look at it, it is a major change intended to improve the quality of the teachers in our classrooms and the administrators in our offices.
About School Climate
In the Fall Superintendent’s Corner I presented our school district goals, one of which is devoted to building a positive school climate. We have asked every teacher and staff member to join us in meeting this goal and we are beginning to see a real positive improvement in the feeling around the school. Improving school climate is a sensitive issue. We do not want to imply that the climate was poor or unacceptable before, but we want to make it a priority as we seek higher performance in all areas of our school community. Some may ask what I mean by “school climate.” Simply put, I am hoping that Ashford School can be the happiest, healthiest, safest and most effective learning environment possible. I want to see smiles on peoples’ faces as they teach or learn. Everyone has to be part of the effort. I have asked bus drivers, clerical and custodial staff, cafeteria staff, teachers, administrators and paraprofessionals to put forward their most positive self when they enter our school. I have long believed that if adults feel good about school and positive about coming to work, that those good and positive feelings will carry forward to our students and their families.
So far it seems to be working. There is a noticeable improvement in the school climate and we are all on board to make it even better.
You, as a parent and community member, can participate in this effort and also be a positive influence upon the climate in our school. It is a subtle influence, but the way you feel about Ashford School has an influence upon your children. If you are not satisfied or happy with our school let us know. You can e-mail or meet with one of us to share your feelings so we can consider ways to better meet your expectations and perhaps even improve our school in ways that we had not thought of.
A positive school climate is an amazing influence upon student learning. It is important that all of the adults realize that it is their attitude and the way that they conduct themselves around school and the value of education that makes learning fun and children happy.
We all must do our part, be positive, and remember that everything that we say within earshot of our children has an effect upon their attitude toward learning.
How Can Parents help build a positive School Climate?
It is clear that parents influence children’s attitudes toward learning and school much more than most parents realize. They hear you and watch how you react to things as they develop their opinions and attitudes. You may not realize how much you influence your child’s attitude toward school. So, we ask that if you feel positive and comfortable with Ashford School you let it be known around the house. Being positive will contribute to our effort to have a happy and safe school. If you have concerns contact us minimizing how much your child hears about that dissatisfaction. We can get things done without adversely affecting our student’s perceptions of our school.
It is certainly not my intention to interfere with how you run your family, but I do wish to enlist your participation and assistance in making Ashford School a better place. I invite you to join us in pursuing a safer, happier and more effective climate at Ashford School.
I close this winter issue of the Superintendent’s Corner with a statement about the importance of communication between the school staff and the parents of our students. You should be hearing from your teacher periodically about the progress of your child in school. It should be more than just report cards and mid-quarter reports. I believe that communication should be constant, and that every time a child has difficulty or performs beyond expectations the parents should know. Please let your teachers know that you value the communication and prefer more contact than less contact.