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REFLECTIONS FROM OUR FIRST YEAR TOGETHER, A MESSAGE FROM DR. ESTRELLA


Posted Date: 07/01/2021

REFLECTIONS FROM OUR FIRST YEAR TOGETHER, A MESSAGE FROM DR. ESTRELLA

When I joined Norwalk Public Schools as superintendent in July of 2020, we faced the critical task of ensuring the safety of our students and staff, while providing a quality education that NPS students deserved.  Throughout a year full of uncertainty, our students and staff rose above each challenge, showing more perseverance, grit, creativity and determination than ever before.

On September 8, NPS was one of the only public school districts in the area that opened for in-person learning across all elementary schools. Middle and high school students had the opportunity to learn via a hybrid schedule or remotely. Norwalk’s plan for a safe return to school, and our commitment to providing in-person instruction, have been held up as a model for others throughout the state. We look forward to the 2021-22 school year, and returning with full in-person learning across all grades.

We could not have maintained a positive learning environment for our students without the hard work of so many NPS staff and community members. Throughout the pandemic, teachers and staff remained encouraging, creative, flexible, and supportive, adapting to scenarios that we never before thought possible. Thanks to the help of the City of Norwalk, Chartwells and NPS food service workers, students had access to food for themselves and their families. Approximately 4200 meals were served a week across the district. NPS nurses were at the frontline for staff and students, reinforcing Covid protocols and mitigating measures, working with students to maintain a healthy environment, utilizing isolation rooms when necessary, distributing PPE and volunteering at vaccine clinics. Every NPS nurse was a critical part of the contact tracing team. The custodial and maintenance staff worked tirelessly to prepare classrooms for students and implement critical cleaning and disinfecting protocol each day. Our bus drivers transported over 8,000 students on a daily basis up from 5,600 pre Covid. The NPS Technology team made sure that NPS students were provided with a laptop or mobile device and internet to equal the educational playing field. A tech depot and online help desk were also created for families. Additionally, supervised learning pods were established for students who were on hybrid schedule and needed academic or technical support when not in school.

Addressing the impact of learning loss from the Covid disruption is and has been Norwalk’s most important priority. We have a moral obligation to our children to do everything possible to mitigate the impact of the pandemic. To bring our children up to grade level as quickly as possible, we worked within the confines of the 2021-22 budget to support literacy and math, increase social-emotional resources, provide programs and supports and target stimulating learning opportunities to promote academic growth.

As a district, we recognized early on during the health crisis the critical importance of social emotional health, integrating life skills into every day curriculum. Making sure that our students feel safe, acknowledged and supported continues to be a priority.

Despite the continuing realities of our collective pandemic experience, the district’s work on planning for the future continued forward. Following the expiration of the Board of Education’s 2016-2019 Strategic Operating Plan, Norwalk Public Schools and the Board of Education began the necessary work to develop a new Strategic Plan to guide learning and district operations for the next three to five years.

Working with the Connecticut Center for School Change, we developed a strategic plan task force to gather input from students, teachers, staff, parents and community members. We reviewed equity and disproportionality, special education, as well as the overall structure of our organization to better understand what we need to do to become future ready for all NPS students. We also updated our comprehensive facilities study to identify school building renovation and construction needs. Our task force developed a new mission, vision, values and strategic priorities that will drive our focus moving forward.

Together, we launched a comprehensive initiative designed to examine and address educational equity in Norwalk. Partnering with Temple University Associate Professor of Urban Education and Policy Dr. Edward Fergus on an eight-month project, we reviewed school district disparity patterns, social justice root causes, and discussed equity and culturally relevant practices in education. Recommendations from the work were used to plan a year-long program of professional development for employees focusing on strategies for reducing implicit bias-based beliefs.

Over the summer, I encourage students to find the time to reflect on the growth that was made personally this year in facing adversity. In learning to handle hybrid and remote learning, our students displayed courage in facing challenges, persevered to solve problems and developed resilience to recover from setbacks. Our school communities joined together to support each other during unprecedented times.

My family and I are extremely proud to be a part of the vibrant Norwalk community.  As your superintendent, I am excited for the work ahead of us. It is an honor to have the critical support of the Board of Education, Mayor Rilling and so many in this community. Thank you, parents, for your commitment to our students and the great work being done to strengthen our schools. Together we will provide a fair and equitable education for students and prepare them for future readiness and excellence.

I hope you have a terrific summer, whether your plans involve Summer Academy, summer camps, travel or just relaxing.

We look forward to welcoming you back this Fall.