New Norwich superintendent outlines plan for the new school year

Norwich — New Superintendent Kristen Stringfellow was preparing for the start of school staff convocation and trying to arrange for the traditional “inspirational” guest speaker when someone changed her plans.

“The feedback I received was: ‘Kristen, you are the new superintendent, your staff wants to hear from you,’” Stringfellow said.

So on Monday, Stringfellow summarized the comments and advice she received in her initial tour of the district and classrooms in May and June. And over the summer, Stringfellow met with dozens of city and school leaders, area superintendents, NFA leaders and civic groups in what she called a “listening and learning” phase of her first 100-day plan. She learned that among the district’s “treasures” were students, teachers, diversity and the Norwich community.

Not surprising, finances was the top of the list of district struggles, along with the need to “keep great teachers,” diversify the workforce and better communicate with leaders and the public.

She received the most enthusiastic applause from the hundreds of staff gathered Monday when she said that people want to see the return of instrumental music, middle school sports and world languages for all students.

“The finance piece, it’s going to be a longer than a one-year fix,” said Stringfellow, whose expertise in education finance helped her land the Norwich position. “I believe in a partnership, a true partnership with the city and with the educational stakeholders and taxpayers is what is going to transform our budget.”

She urged teachers and staff to take the leadership in a social media campaign in the coming school year to better communicate the successes in the classroom to the public. Since the district has no money for a public relations campaign, she asked staff to start professional Twitter accounts and post photos and comments about school achievements.

“In order for taxpayers to fully understand why they need to fund our education, they need to believe in it,” Stringfellow said. “They need to believe we are doing great work and using their hard-earned money fiscally responsibly. And you are doing amazing work, but nobody seems to know about it, and that’s a shame.”

She will launch coffee hours with teachers, support staff, parents and community leaders throughout the year to hear about trends, problems and successes. Teachers and staff will receive a survey questionnaire this week to start the communication process.

Stringfellow also launched three new monthly recognition programs for teachers, support staff and for students, with nominations coming from within each school.

Staffing and program audits to be done this year will lead to a long-term five-year strategic plan for the school district. This year, in the classroom, there will be strong focus on reading and writing and STEAM education.

“You’ll notice we want to ensure our most struggling learners have the most highly qualified certified instructors providing focused, explicit instruction to them,” she said. “You’re going to see a focus on increasing our support to our English language learners and students with special needs to close the achievement gap and to close the equity gap, and a focus on accelerating achievement for all students.”

Stringfellow is one of 49 new staff members in the school district this year, including two new principals — Sarah Duso at Wequonnoc Arts & Technology Magnet School and Peter Fragola at the Samuel Huntington School.

For the second straight year, Norwich will have a staggered start to the school, with the two middle schools starting on Wednesday, elementary schools on Thursday and the two preschool centers opening on Friday.

Assistant Superintendent Thomas Baird said staggered starts were done for the first time last year to allow the two new middle school magnet programs an extra day for orientation. This year, Baird said, the elementary school teachers will get one additional professional development day prior to the start of school.

The staggered start also allows for a smooth orientation to the school bus transportation system, Baird said, and likely will become an annual practice. The staggered start also means a staggered end to the school year to ensure all students have the same number of school days.

c.bessette@theday.com

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