Here’s what you may want to know, and links to what you may need to know as classes resume for students in West Hartford Public Schools on Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2019.
By Ronni Newton
More than 9,000 students will walk through the doors of West Hartford’s public schools Wednesday morning, and as they step onto the newly-waxed and shiny floors, Superintendent of Schools Tom Moore says they will be met with an equally bright and optimistic message from the district’s more than 900 teachers.
As Moore, who is now in his sixth year as superintendent, sat down with We-Ha.com Friday morning, he shared some of what he will speak about at Monday’s convocation to welcome and inspire teachers and kick off the new academic year.
“There is no place in the world for educators to be harbingers of doom,” said Moore. “We need to be the beacons providing hope and a vision for a bright future.”
Moore said that with what has been going on in the world and in the country, he’s worried about the upcoming year, but it’s critically important to for students to know about safety and security, and to feel that things are okay.
“That’s what kids need, and right now I don’t think it’s unknown to anyone that we’re in a time of national division, fears, and pessimism. But we have more than 9,000 kids coming in on Wednesday who we need to be optimistic for,” he said.
Moore said that everyone worries about violence, worries about their kids when they are not in their presence, and when he speaks to parents they often say that they worry when they drop their kids off at school.
“It’s an unfortunate reality,” Moore said. Like other parents, he worries about his own kids when they go to the movies, concerts, and other events.
“[But] when someone asks me ‘Are our schools safe?’ I say my daughter goes to Conard every day,” Moore said.
New teachers and staff
There were 29 teachers, administrators, and staff members who retired from West Hartford Public Schools at the end of the 2018-19 academic year – some of whom had as many as 35 years in the district.
Fifty-two new teachers underwent training last week – replacements for retirees as well as those who have moved out of state or are on leave. The number of new teachers is fairly typical, Moore said, and the largest number of new teachers are in special education.
These are not new positions, he added.
The only new principal this year is at Webster Hill Elementary School, where Melissa Behrens, a former assistant principal at Sedgwick Middle School and interim principal at Bugbee Elementary School, will take over for Jeff Wallowitz who has taken a Central Office position spearheading the pre-k through fifth grade curriculum planning for computer coding.
Behrens, who joined the district in 2004 as a teacher at Smith STEM, will lead the elementary school that she herself attended.
The only other new administrator in the district is Jocelyn Tamborello-Noble, who has been hired as a World Language Department supervisor. She previously served as a district coach for world language and English language learners in Hartford, and taught Spanish in Glastonbury Public Schools.
Tamborello-Noble is also a graduate of West Hartford Public Schools.
Construction and Renovation
“All planned projects are complete and ready to go,” Moore said of the work being done to school buildings over the summer.
Some of the projects are maintenance and/or updates performed on a scheduled basis, like floor replacement and painting at Duffy Elementary School.
Flooring, painting, and electrical upgrades were also made at King Philip Middle School.
Modular classrooms were removed from Norfeldt and Wolcott elementary schools, and new hoods were installed in Conard’s science labs.
The façade at Morley, which had been weakened over time due to rain damage, has been replaced.
The turf field was replaced at Hall High School as scheduled, and graffiti which marred the newly-installed turf just after it was installed in July was able to be completely removed. “It’s all clean and ready to go,” Moore said.
Also at Hall, the brand new science classrooms were completed over the summer and will be in use when school opens this week.
Other recently-completed capital improvement projects are security-related, Moore said, including the reconfiguration of the Conard main office and upgrades to the “man trap” entryway.
Upgrades were also made to enhance security at the main entrances at Aiken and Webster Hill elementary schools. Bugbee’s entryway will be updated over the next few years, and is a much more complicated project requiring relocation of the office, Moore said.
Security, safety, mental health
In addition to physical reconfiguration of entryways, Moore said that the number of security staff has been increased as has the number of cameras.
“Since Sandy Hook [in December 2012], West Hartford has spent millions on security, with bipartisan support [on the Board of Education]. No one has questioned the need, for which I am deeply thankful,” Moore said. “I wish we didn’t have to spend all that money on security.”
As part of additional security measures, the district now holds active shooter training, he said.
“In the past three years we have gone from less than 100 security cameras in the district to more than 500,” Moore said. The cameras have made it easier for police to identify those involved in activities like vandalism on school grounds.
The district has also increased its focus on mental health. The “anonymous alert” system that was rolled out last fall has been very successful, Moore said, with people calling regarding their own needs as well as concerns for others beginning on the very first day that the system was implemented. Even if a call comes in over the weekend, resources from the West Hartford Police Department or other social service agencies can be brought in to assist.
In December 2018, the entire town, school district, and Sedgwick Middle School in particular was left reeling after a tragic incident involving a Sedgwick seventh-grader who fatally stabbed his twin sister and severely injured their mother.
Moore said he’s hopeful that the long summer break has helped the school community heal.
“Everything last year at Sedgwick was affected. I think it was good for our kids and staff to get a break, to be away,” said Moore. “I am hopeful that this year will be a quieter year we we remember what happened but also look forward.”
Moore will address teachers Monday morning at the district’s annual convocation ceremony at Conard High School.
He said he plans to speak about the new coding initiative, which will begin with a year-long study and curriculum development period this fall.
Moore also plans to speak to teachers about how to share a message of optimism, and how to continue to make the district better for our kids.
“We have a great schools system, but I always want to do two things: improve it and protect it,” Moore said.
Other important information
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