William S. McKersie, Ph.D.
Superintendent of Schools
November 1, 2016
My opening essay for the school year challenged readers, and myself, to consider the true meaning of “The Weston Way.” (The Weston Way: A Fresh Look, July 1, 2016, http://www.westonps.org/page.cfm?p=4053). I committed to searching out the Weston Way in my first year as Superintendent and providing periodic updates on what I discover. November is upon us, with roughly 10 weeks of school completed. I am ready to share my first reflection on the Weston Way, as I have witnessed it in our schools, classrooms, lunch rooms, gymnasiums, art and music rooms, conferences, athletic fields, and offices.
What stands out from the first two full months of school? Six short vignettes reveal what I have observed about our teachers, administrators, student leaders, and parents.
First, I prompted interesting reactions by touting the Weston Way in my July 2016 essay. For some, it is an apt moniker signifying that this is a unique district. For others, it carries a message of elitism. These reactions speak to a school district with a critical ear for the way words and phrases carry meaning that can range from inclusive to exclusive. My take-away: Weston has an uncommon ability to be self-reflective.
Second, teachers and teaching are at the heart of any good school and school system. While a truism, it bears repeating and certainly is a signature for Weston. The beauty of leading Weston, with all schools on one campus, is that nearly every day I can visit a school and drop in on classrooms. These wanderings, as I call them, have repeatedly shown me that Weston teachers are top-notch in what scholars describe as essential to teaching excellence: content expertise, pedagogical depth and relational acumen. Weston teachers know their material, they know how to teach it in ways that engage students, and they value knowing their students well. Most imperative, our teachers act on the belief that better always is possible—they constantly seek critiques of their craft in order to improve.
Third, connections for students are essential to success. In the opening Convocation, I quoted scholar David Kirp, who writes that “the most effective [schools and classrooms] foster bonds of caring between teachers and their students.” I have seen that Weston educators, in nearly all cases, care about and know our students. The evidence has emerged most profoundly when working with several parents this fall who have expressed concerns about their student’s experiences. In each situation, when I turned to administrators and staff for insights, the particular student was well known and well understood by multiple professionals in the student’s current school, as well as by administrators or teachers in the student’s previous Weston school. It is remarkable, and rare, for a public school system to have such extensive knowledge and insight of its students. My take-away: we will have times when students or families may have concerns, but we are uniquely positioned to tackle problems and issues.
Fourth, Weston has a talented group of school administrators. The four principals and their administrative teams evidence uncommon dedication to knowing and guiding their staff and students. Our school administrators are supported by a lean and expert team of central office professionals, each dedicated to serving students and staff. Extensive, productive hours of work result in good planning, smart action, and effective interventions to improve practice or behavior. Echoing our teachers, Weston’s administrators know that they can always do better; they regularly seek feedback for the sake of improvement.
Fifth, student leadership and activism is essential to vibrant schools. I already have witnessed that Weston, especially at the high school, has strong student government, with leaders balancing their academic, athletic, cultural, and social demands to organize a wide range of student activities, as well as give constructively critical voice to concerns facing their peers. The student government is tirelessly coached and monitored by faculty, who allow the students to lead, but with healthy guidance on ideas and implementation.
Sixth, Fairfield County superintendents share the understanding that a key to the success of our districts are our parents, who are uncommonly dedicated, involved, and active. Weston may well set the pace. In every building this fall, I have observed parents volunteering at book fairs, for field trips, at Homecoming events, and for athletic and cultural events. The PTO presidents and members in each school have provided me early guidance and feedback. Social capital is solid in Weston, making a daily difference for our students and staff.
In sum, ten weeks into the year, the observations are inspiring. I believe in leading with what is good. At the same time, I bring a constructively critical eye to my work. I will be sure to pull together the best talents of Weston to address immediately and over the long-term issues of concern. Fortunately, we are well positioned to push for even greater accomplishments, thanks to our teachers, administrators, student leaders, and parents.
Over the next several months, between now and my next Superintendent Essay, I will be focused on four questions, each essential to the district’s strategic goals and priorities, seeking to understand to what extent we are:
- Preparing our students to be Global Citizens?
- Providing a Healthy Learning Environment?
- Gauging Student Progress with valid, reliable, multiple measures?
- Utilizing Digital Learning and Technology to advance teaching and learning in all our schools?
Cross-cutting my attention to these questions will be the development of an efficient and effective Operating and Capital Budget for 2017-18 (to be submitted to the Board of Education in early January 2017). And, of course, every day, with a big kick in my step, I will give first attention to the management of the district so that all students and staff are safe, secure, and learning.