Board of Ed Chairperson Tara Ochman’s 2019 State of the Town Address

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The Board of Education and the school district hope to get rid of the portable classroom buildings at schools in town and early reports say the new school psychologists at Darien elementary schools are helpful, Tara Ochman, chairperson of the Board of Education said Monday night.

Ochman also said the proposed teacher contract, negotiated between the Board of Education and the Darien teachers union “respects our teachers, and initiated workload changes which will provide the town with both immediate and long term savings.”

Tara Ochman SOTT 2019

Photo from Darien TV79

Tara Ochman, chairperson of the Board of Education, delivering her State of the Town address.

The contract, which increases the workload of middle school and high school teachers from 4.5 to 5 classes at any one time, increases teacher pay by a total of just over 11 percent over three years. The proposed agreement is expected to go before the Representative Town Meeting in December for a vote in January.

The contract would be the biggest part of the town education budget (making up about half of it), and the education budget itself takes up two thirds of town spending.

In her speech, Ochman also praised Alan Addley, the new superintendent of schools, ran through a list of education initiatives started or continuing this year, and said the board and administration are starting a strategic plan for the district.

Full Text, As Prepared

Here’s Ochman’s speech, as prepared. (You can see the entire speech and this year’s three other State of the Town addresses in the Darien TV79 video below.)

Good Evening Mr. Moderator, members of the RTM, fellow elected officials and all those in the community, both here and watching on Channel 79. On behalf of my colleagues from the Board of Education, it is my pleasure to update you on our work for the children, families and taxpayers of Darien.

While I may be a familiar face, I again stand here to introduce a new Superintendent of Schools.

New Superintendent of Schools

Last year the Board of Education completed its highly competitive National Search for a new superintendent. The amount of strongly qualified applicants is a testament to this community, and its reputation for supporting strong public schools. At the end of a rigorous and thorough process, we were proud to announce that Dr. Alan Addley had accepted this essential position.

Dr. Addley is a native of Northern Ireland, and began his career as a mathematics teacher. He has thirty-five years of administrative and teaching experience in private and public schools in the United States and Ireland. Prior to arriving in Darien, Dr. Addley was Superintendent of Granby Schools for eleven years.

Our schools help make Darien a destination. A place where families grow, graduate and as many of you know return. Our last three years of budgets have shown the smallest percentage increases compared with recent history and compared to many other mill rate impact areas.

— from Ochman’s speech

A highly respected and exceptional school leader, Dr. Addley is a Governing Board member for the national superintendents ’association (AASA) and a Past President of CAPSS and the Hartford Area Superintendents ’Association. He was the recipient of the 2017 UCONN NEAG School of Education Outstanding School Superintendent Award and was the 2019 Connecticut Superintendent of the Year.

Along with his strong resume, strength of character and passion for his profession, Dr. Addley stressed to the Board his long term commitment to Darien and its children. Please take a moment in the coming months to introduce yourself and get to know Alan. The Board is sure you will be pleased to have done so.

Enrollment

Currently 4,656 Children are enrolled K-12 in the Darien Schools, with another 100 children in our ELP program. Our most recent enrollment study, by the independent firm Milone & MacBroom, projected out to 2029-2030 noting a slight decline of about 100 students by that time. As the Commissioner of Education noted at a recent meeting here in Darien, we are a high growth and high achievement district.

Our current average cost per pupil is $21,930, which has grown, but still places us squarely in the median range in our comparable district reference group.

Budget Initiatives 2019-2020

When we last met, the RTM approved the 2019-2020 budget. We would like to take a moment to update you on some of the work that your votes made possible.

At the Elementary Level we are implementing:

—Math in Focus (also known as Singapore Math) in grades K-4. This has been a very successful rollout

—New STEM units at our elementary schools- facilitated by our DHS students who come into the classroom to work with their younger counterparts as role models in learning.

—Wilson Fundations- a systematic program in critical foundational skills, emphasizing phonics, reading fluency, handwriting and comprehension strategies.

—The Responsive Classroom Model.

Also, the addition of a second psychologist to each elementary school was an important and often discussed initiative. While we are only three months into the school year, early reports from building administrators show service goals to meet student needs are being achieved.

As a Board we look forward to a comprehensive update on this addition in the future. Also, as we continue conversations around the State we find we are not alone or unique in seeing a rise in requests for staffing related to mental health, especially at the primary level.

At the Secondary Level we are implementing:

—Health and Wellness/Social Emotional Learning curriculum

—New STEM program with the implementation of the Project Lead the Way (PLTW)

—CAPSTONE project beginning in 6th grade and carrying through until 8th grade graduation.

District-wide:

—Our students now have access to technology from home to school in grades 5-12 with our 1:1 initiative. Students in grades K-4 have access to technology in their classroom setting.

—The district is now maintaining a digital warehouse for curriculum across departments, grades K-12.

—Students have a very clear support model for structured intervention when needed across English/Language Arts, Mathematics, and Social Emotional Learning, which includes benchmark assessments and a data system (for content areas)

—We have exciting new units of study in social studies and science that are aligned to the frameworks and Next Generation Science Standards.

—Teachers and Administrators participate in learning rounds as a mode of providing formative feedback as we support our highly-qualified teachers.

—We continue to invest significantly in offering the most qualified intervention staff.

Student Recognition

It is most important to note some of the impressive work of our students. A brief and never complete list includes:

—National Merit Program (NMSQT) : 9 Semi – finalists and 28 Commended Scholars

—65 Athletic Teams in 22 Different Sports, with both FCIAC and CIAC championships won this Fall

—Student Artists from across the District were exhibited in Town Hall for their exceptional work

—Theatre 308 put on an Exceptional performance of Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime this Fall, and Chicago last spring

—Students ’performance across standardized and non-standardized assessments continues to be exceptional

—Our Middlesex Quizbowl team has been successful in Championships once again

—And we are proud to report that U.S. News & World Report named Darien High School the #1 Public High School in Connecticut (2019), and Newsweek named DHS one of the 100 Best STEM High Schools in the Nation (2019)

Looking Forward to the Next Level of Work

In the new year we will work with both the [RTM] Education Committee and the Finance & Budget Committee to communicate the details of the teachers contract. At the high level, the BOE successfully negotiated a contract that respects our teachers, and initiated workload changes which will provide the Town with both immediate and long term savings.

The Board feels that investing in our teachers is an essential investment for our students. It allows us to attract and retain dedicated professionals. They play a vital role in the daily lives of our children all day, 5 days a week. The value of our human capital cannot be underestimated. We look forward to continue this conversation with the RTM.

The Board of Education is engaging in strategic planning and some of you may be asked to participate. The Board and the Administration firmly believe it is time for a Strategic Plan that will help set the course for the future and provide a road map for the community as the Board moves forward with our goals, objectives, and capital projects.

We thank the Board of Selectmen, and the RTM for their support of the new Ox Ridge Elementary School. We have been encouraged by the strong work of the Building Committee. This is the type of thoughtful collaboration Darien can be proud to engage in.

The Board is beginning to plan for the removal of portables across the district. These temporary solutions have stood in place for far too long, and in today’s changing world, bring concerns of safety and security, and educational best practice.

Access for All Students

Students are always our top priority. We plan for all children and their educational needs. Our job is to educate all of our children as they come to us. It is important to remember that all students are general education students first, and those that receive services do so…in order to access their education.

Student identification is rising across almost all districts. It is a reality.

At a recent Legislative breakfast Dr. Addley and I, along with many Fairfield County Districts implored our state representatives to look again at appropriate funding mechanism for education and specialized grants for student services.

The Complexities of Federal and State funding are detailed and can be unpredictable. I believe that once again this year you will hear robust conversations related to funding, and especially Excess Cost Reimbursement.

Concluding Remarks

As we head into budget season, I leave you with a few overall thoughts. Budgets engender important practical and philosophical debate; and, it is true that the School budget is a large portion of the overall tax base.

However, our schools are an essential community service. Robust, strong schools are a generational investment. They drive residential real estate markets, and related commercial economic growth.

Our schools help make Darien a destination. A place where families grow, graduate and as many of you know return. Our last three years of budgets have shown the smallest percentage increases compared with recent history and compared to many other mill rate impact areas. We carry no debts or surpluses. Any unused funds are returned to the town [government] to benefit the overall financial wellbeing of the town.

As a community, we have a proud tradition of delivering financial responsibility and educationally sound school budgets, it is our calling card.

We support our counterparts on the town side in bringing forward innovative, thoughtful initiatives. We will continue to do the same, and we look forward to working with you all to keep Darien vibrant and our children’s future at the forefront of our decisions.

On behalf of the entire Board of Education I thank you for this opportunity, wish you a happy holiday season, and look forward to engaging you in the New Year.

_____________________

Ochman spoke from 24:28 to 35:01 in this video:

RTM – State of The Town 12-9-19 from Darien TV79 on Vimeo.

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