Article Posted in Fall 2019 Edition of The Open Journal
Our Students & the Community We Serve
By Abby Dolliver, Superintendent of Norwich Public Schools
Norwich Public Schools includes two preschool centers, seven elementary schools (grades K-5), two magnet middle schools (grades 6-8), a Transition Academy for 18-21-year-old students, and a Regional Adult Education Center. For grades 9-12 students can attend a variety of high school options, although Norwich Free Academy is the district's designated high school where most students attend. With the growth of school choice in the state and country, students have school choice opportunities, at all grade levels. We, at Norwich Public Schools, work to provide students with the best educational experience possible.
As a life-long resident, born, raised, and currently living here in Norwich, I can tell you that our Norwich community has changed dramatically over my lifetime; drastic changes can even be noted over the past several years. In order to most effectively serve our community, it is critical that those providing essential services understand and embrace the evolving mosaic of Norwich.
The shifting job market in the region has resulted in residents accessing much lower wage jobs than in previous decades. Many families in the region are classified as ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed), based on a 2016 United Way report. Forty seven percent of households, in fact, have working adults in the household who are unable to afford basic needs. These struggles and changes are now evident in our schools. Our teams work to ensure adequate wraparound services for our students so we, along with other local community agencies, can ensure our students basic needs are met, they are entering school on a more level playing field, and we are giving all students the opportunity to learn and thrive in Norwich Public Schools. We provide this support to students and families through our school lunch program, our school attendance teams, our support for English Learners and Special Education students, and a daily commitment to supporting the whole child.
In the 2017-18 school year the Norwich Public School District provided free lunch to 71% of students who qualified based on family income, compared to 2008-09 data where only 66% of students qualified for free lunch. This is an increase of five percentage points over the past 10 years. Because of the ever-increasing number of students qualifying for free lunch, the district will be providing free breakfast and lunch to all Norwich Public School students beginning in the 2018-19 school year. By implementing a universal free breakfast and lunch program, parents will no longer need to submit paperwork to prove a financial burden and qualify for free lunch, which can make many feel uncomfortable needing to ask for support; and students will not be subject to receiving an "oops meal" (a different, less expensive meal than the standard offered lunch) should their lunch account balance be depleted. In addition to breakfast and lunch, our district will continue to offer the free supper program to students enrolled in after school programs and will continue the summer meals program. The summer meals program served 39,000 breakfasts and lunches to students 18 and under throughout our community at 33 locations such as schools, playgrounds, and Otis Library. Federal funding supports all free meal programs in the district.
Norwich Public Schools families have a high level of transiency and chronic absenteeism. Last year, 12.2% of students were chronically absent from school (missing 10% or more of their days enrolled), and 30% of students enrolled in the district either began or ended the year in a school different than where they began. To maintain a level of consistency for student learning, our district has invested in staff to address issues of chronic absenteeism and has worked to provide a consistent curriculum throughout our district to ensure students attend school more regularly and remain on target when moving between district schools throughout the year.
ENGLISH LEARNERS & DISPLACED STUDENTS
Norwich Public Schools is extremely linguistically diverse. Our students and their families speak over 30 languages. English is not the primary language spoken in the homes of over 600 Norwich Public Schools students. This number increased during the 2017-18 school year when over 80 students came to us after being displaced from Puerto Rico last year. For some, this was a temporary move as their families rebuilt and for others, the move was permanent. Regardless of the family's long-term plan, we work to provide each student with consistency and support to transition to Norwich Schools.
Over 130 students with special needs are enrolled in specialized programs outside of Norwich while we service approximately 1100 in district. As of February 28, 2018, we have approximately 100 more students identified with special needs than we did October 1, 2016. The needs are growing. Over 275 of Norwich's preschool eligible students are currently being serviced at Bishop Early Learning Center. On average 40% of students are identified with special needs.
The Norwich Public School community includes all students, families, staff, and community members. We believe that coherence is built from a unified mindset in all that we do. Our practices are grounded in our shared philosophies and guide the essential work we do with students. We cultivate a safe and positive school environment where we build a strong community through collaboration, communication and commitment. We are dedicated to advancing students academically and socially in preparation for success in school and beyond. We build positive and effective partnerships committed to the success of all students. We honor each other's contributions to ensure a positive school community that fosters consistent communication and positive relationships. We believe all students can learn at high levels.
We look to each of you as our partner and together it is our responsibility to care about and provide for our students, families and community.