Greenwich’s school year starts with high hopes from educators

Julius Hall was brought to Julian Curtiss School for his first day of kindergarten by his father John Hall and grandmother Magdalena Ivanova. — Ken Borsuk

Julius Hall was brought to Julian Curtiss School for his first day of kindergarten by his father John Hall and grandmother Magdalena Ivanova. — Ken Borsuk

It was a perfect day for a fresh start as sunny skies and warm weather greeted the start of school for Greenwich’s public schools on Tuesday morning.

How long the good feelings will last given that summer vacation is now officially over and it’s back to the grind of homework and pop quizzes is undetermined, but for at least one day there were a lot of smiles and happy thoughts as school resumed throughout the district. Special “welcome back” assemblies were held at the district’s 11 elementary schools, three middle schools and Greenwich High School to greet both new and returning students.

District leadership also made the rounds as Superintendent of Schools William McKersie upheld the tradition of visiting every single school in the district on the first day. He was joined at several of these locations by members of the district’s cabinet as well as by members of the Board of Education, who fanned out throughout the district to make sure the board had a presence all over on the first day. But it was the principals at each school who took the lead in welcoming the students as each of them gave a message to get the year started off right.

That was certainly the case at Julian Curtiss as Principal Patricia McGuire greeted students at a brief outdoor assembly before classes began by announcing that this year the school’s enrollment was 365 students with 30 faces coming in for the first time. She said the school’s staff was “deeply committed to making a positive difference in the lives of our students.”

“We will accomplish this by setting high expectations for all children and providing supportive systems to insure they are met,” Ms. McGuire said. “By addressing school culture and living in our school norms of be here, be safe, be honest, care for self and others and let go and move on, we help to create a safe and positive environment where learning can take place.”

Ms. McGuire pledged that she and Assistant Principal Brenda Brush would set high standards for themselves and the staff and also increase the academic expectations for all students at the school. She said the goals for the year included developing higher levels of thinking and learning while encouraging curiosity to deepen understanding, and encouraged parents and guardians to get involved throughout the school year, which she predicted would be an “outstanding” one.

“Working together we can ensure that the students at Julian Curtiss continue to achieve their highest potential in the classroom, on the playground, through art and music and on the field,” Ms. McGuire told the outdoor gathering of students, staff and parents. “Your involvement, partnership and support are greatly appreciated during the school year as we build and maintain our programs.”

Among the people at the opening of Julian Curtiss was Board of Education member Peter Bernstein, who was not only there as a board representative but also as a parent himself, dropping off his sons Lance and Justin for their first days of fourth and second grade, respectively. This was the first back-to-school event as a board member for Mr. Bernstein, who was elected last November, and he told the Post that only made it a more exciting day.

Ryan and Kai Lammers were set for their returns to Greenwich High School and Central Middle School respectively. — Renee Louise Lammers contributed photo

Ryan and Kai Lammers were set for their returns to Greenwich High School and Central Middle School respectively. — Renee Louise Lammers contributed photo

“I love the first day of school,” Mr. Bernstein said. “I never miss it. It’s great to see all the parents coming into the school. I love to see that as often as I can and obviously the first day is special to a lot of people. I’m excited for every kid in the district. Every kid deserves the best we can give them and hopefully we’re doing that. Every year we’re trying a little harder.”

The Board of Education will hold its first meeting Thursday, Aug, 28, at 7 p.m. at Hamilton Avenue School with a relatively short agenda covering topics like a proposal for new courses and course changes, and an evaluation of the implementation of the digital learning program. Digital learning began last year at Hamilton Avenue and Riverside schools and as part of phase two it will be expanded to the middle schools this year with the goal eventually of a districtwide implementation.

The board has also scheduled a Sept. 4 work session to discuss the recent science score results on the Connecticut Mastery Test (CMT) and Connecticut Academic Performance Test (CAPT). But while the meeting schedule is only now ramping up, Mr. Bernstein said it wasn’t as though he and his colleagues took the summer off.

“This year we are definitely going to work on our strategic planning,” Mr. Bernstein said. “We need to know what our goals are and move towards them. I think work has already started. Work doesn’t stop when you’re on the board, quite honestly. We’re working on a lot of different things and we’re trying to move a lot of things along like digital learning. That’s a big deal. We have a building forming at the high school and that’s quite exciting to see. We’re keeping an eye on the kindergarten at New Lebanon being moved to BANC. They’ve done a lot to that building and we’re hopeful to see that work for the school community.”

But while Tuesday was the return of Greenwich’s public school students, teachers and staff have been at work for a while. Last Wednesday, Dr. McKersie and others formally welcomed them back with the annual convocation at Greenwich High School where teachers, principals and staff from throughout the district gathered to discuss the year’s goals and get a bit of a pep talk from leadership in town.

But despite the fresh start for the new year, Dr. McKersie noted the pall over things due to the recent death of GHS student Emily Fedorko. The 16-year-old girl, who was to be a junior this year, was killed this month in a tragic boating accident, and Dr. McKersie asked for the staff to remember her and use her memory as encouragement to do great things in the classroom and inspire students as she had been inspired.

“She had a vibrancy,” Dr. McKersie said. “She had a great spirit and a love of life. You need to grab that and move forward with that.”

The convocation was also attended by Chief of Police James Heavey, State Reps. Livvy Floren (R-149th), Stephen Walko (R-150th) and Fred Camillo (R-151st), leadership from the PTA Council and the Greenwich Alliance for Education and members of the Board of Education. Board Chairman Barbara O’Neill, a former teacher and department head, thanked all the teachers and staff for everything they had done to prepare for the year while wishing them the best of luck for what was to come.

“No matter what changes come in education or technology, people will always need a teaching professional,” Ms. O’Neill said. “They will always need that extra help that can only come from a professional. We need to focus on our students and help them grow intellectually and help them grow emotionally and socially.”

Ms. O’Neill urged everyone to work collaboratively and look out for each other as they all focused on the goal of improvement for the Greenwich Public Schools. She said everyone in the district was a part of the system and they could all join to make things better and more productive. With 40 years of experience in education, Ms. O’Neill said she knew full well how time consuming and slow change could be but said everyone could make it happen and benefit the students.

There were a lot of words of wisdom throughout the district for all the students as classes started up and Ms. McGuire offered some taken from the pages of Dr. Seuss.

“You’re off to great places, today is your day, your mountain is waiting, so get on your way,” she quoted the legendary author to encourage everyone to have a great year.

 

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