Spared from the worst of Hurricane Irene, Suffield schools are ready for the first day of school with no delays. New superintendent Karen Baldwin is ready for the beginning of the school year and poised to tackle the long-term needs of the school district.
"Schools are perfectly operational, no leaks, no damage," she said.
Baldwin anticipated no issues arising from the storm. She took on the position of superintendent on August 8 of this year and is excited to get started.
"I am ready to go," she said. "You can only anticipate it and plan for it for so long. A lot of preparation has gone on in the summer."
She noted that construction projects including the Agriscience building and the concession stand at Suffield High School were both proceeding and nearing completion. The roof project at the Middle School was completed over the summer.
Baldwin said the first order of business was to work with the Board of Education on defining the system of shared governance. Defining the relationship of the administration and the board to achieve the goals of the school district were of paramount importance.
Strategic planning will begin in the second half of September. The process involves stakeholders in the community and the plan will define the goals for the district for the next three to five years. Student learning and outcomes are the chief priority of the plan, but Baldwin also stressed the importance of forging a connection with the community at large and assuring that the schools better serve the town.
Upgrading technology and adapting a digital learning environment will be a key component of the strategic plan. She wants to get an assessment of the current technology available in the schools and focus on giving students access to the latest devices and applications necessary for digital learning.
"Public schools in general are stuck in a sort of industrial age model, however we live in the information age," she said
Baldwin wanted one to one access to robust pieces of technology for each student, citing iPhones and tablets as the future of connectivity. She believes the use of computer labs in need of constant upgrading falls under an obsolete model of technological use and anticipates the strategic plan will address more direct, individual access to technology.
While she believes the district has a strong curricular foundation, many areas need to be upgraded to more recently adopted common core statewide standards. Revisions in the language arts, mathematics, social studies, and science will be made to conform with 21st century learning standards.
She is pleased with the shift of focus by the Federal government from the No Child Left Behind policies to the new "Race to the Top" idea of introducing competition among schools. Under the program, school districts are rewarded with Federal dollars for introducing innovations in teaching methods, technology usage, excellence in leadership, and competition.
Noting that most school districts will likely fall short of No Child Left Behind standards, Baldwin believes the new model will prove more productive.
"Focusing on sanctions and punitive measures isn't the answer," she said. "The answer is to focus on best practices, high quality teachers, teacher preparation, school leader preparation and innovation in classroom and structural practices."
The search for a Latin teacher proved unsuccessful, so the district is moving to an independent study for interested students. Though the district has a virtual learning classroom, it does not have the capability to assist with the Latin program.
She said the school may want to look for a different world language, perhaps Chinese, as a substitute which is more reflective of the changing society.