On Thursday, Sept. 1, just two days after the 2022/2023 school year officially commenced, the Cheshire Board of Education convened to hear Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jeff Solan’s opening of school report, which recapped the first day’s events before turning to discussion of issues related to goals, curriculum and enrollment.
After a brief recap of the District’s Convocation Ceremony on Aug. 25, where Para-Educator of the Year Jodi Dutchyshyn and Teacher of the Year Dawn DeMeo were announced, Solan spent time laying out the enrollment numbers for Cheshire to start the year. Enrollment, Solan explained, fell largely in line with projections, as Doolittle, Highland, Dodd Middle and Cheshire High Schools and Darcey School pre-K all had enrollment slightly over expectations, while Darcey kindergarten, and Norton and Chapman Schools came in slightly less than forecasted.
The discrepancy was most acutely felt at Highland, where projected classes of 801 total students actually ended up being 841 enrolled students. This led, in Solan’s telling, to the need for adding a first-grade and a sixth-grade section.
School leaders also had to transform part of the library space into a first-grade classroom. Two additional teachers were added to the staff to accommodate the growth in student population.
Board Chair Tony Perugini asked what the capacity of Highland was, with Solan responding that the actual capacity is only around 820.
In sum, the district had projected 4,170 students in all buildings. The actual total ended up at 4,195. BOE member Tim White asked whether the lower numbers for kindergarteners had any special significance. “We’re talking about school modernization, population increasing — are we way off the mark on that, are we on target? Is there any trend that you see?”
“I think it’s premature to draw any conclusions from it,” answered Solan. “We have a number of houses coming online, and some of our youngest students are out of the country. I would want to wait until next year, when we would have a better sense of what is the trend looking like (including analyzing birth-rate data).”
Solan went on to discuss the District’s strategic planning initiative, whose mission statement reads, “The Cheshire Public Schools, in partnership with families and the community, will prepare all students to meet the challenges of a(n) ever-changing global society by providing high-quality educational opportunities that inspire lifelong learning and service to others.”
One major focus has been implementing social-emotional learning into the curriculum. To that end, around 200 teachers participated in focused training over the summer. S-E, as it is known, promotes an emphasis on “self-awareness, self-management skills, cultural awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making.”
Solan highlighted other key skill sets for Cheshire students, such as complex thinking and reasoning, inquiry, problem-solving skills, and the exploration of ideas. These, he said, will help keep Cheshire students competitive in the 2030s when some of them are to graduate.
Although quantitative measurement is not as important as developing individual students to the best of their capabilities, according to Solan, comparative results do yield a picture of success for Cheshire schools. He presented slides showing student achievement in several areas, alongside performance of students in comparable districts. Using one statewide metric called Smarter Balanced Assessment (SBA), Cheshire public schools ranked 11th best in the state, while also ranking second behind Greenwich in terms of similarly-situated districts.
While measuring student performance is obviously an important aspect of the job, Solan also noted the fiscal efficiency of the School System. According to District data, Cheshire also spends considerably less on a per student basis, with a PPE (per pupil expenditure) of just over $18,000, compared to over $24,000 in Greenwich and nearly $27,000 in Redding, for comparable examples.
Asked about some of the qualitative goals in the strategic plan, Assistant Superintendent Marlene Silano elaborated on the District’s multifaceted approach to assessing performance, saying “There’s so many things that go into a successful school system. We have surveys to look at the culture and the climate of our buildings. We have data points on discipline and we can further look into what types of discipline was it, and how are kids treating one another, and are they being kind, and are they being responsible, how are kids managing their time, what is their decision-making like. A lot of this comes out in surveys that we do, and it comes out in work that students do, it’s reflected in the characteristics of successful learners that are baked into our elementary report cards. I would never want to see us just latch onto one thing.”
Solan finished his presentation with plans for 2022-23 and beyond, including a recommendation that the Board of Education adopt a 5-year, rather than a 10-year, plan, and a pledge to “share our performance publicly on the annual targets we establish.”