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What's New This Fall in West Hartford Public Schools

An update from West Hartford Superintendent of Schools Dr. Karen List.

The clock is ticking down the last few days of summer vacation for students.

Teachers report for work this morning, and after gathering for convocation at , will be heading to their own schools to prepare for the arrival of students bright and early Wednesday morning.

Patch met with West Hartford Superintendent of Schools Dr. Karen List a few days ago to find out what changes students – and teachers – can expect from during the new school year.

Although the total number of school employees has remained about the same, 55 new teachers will greet their students on Wednesday morning. List said that hiring is taking place up until the very last minute, as classroom sizes and employment decisions are finalized. Most of the personnel changes are due to retirements as well as teachers who are relocating or leaving to care for their families, and some leave to assume leadership role in other districts.

List said that this year there are many Hall and Conard graduates among the new teachers. "It's great to see the people who come back and want to be part of our school district. We are cultivating the next group of teachers," she said.

New adminstrators include as director of elementary education and as assistant principal at Conard. Wright is taking the place of , who is now principal of . Brian Cohen takes over as department supervisor for Technical Education, following the retirement of Pat Drago.

In addition, Jared Morin has just been hired as director of information technology, a brand new role that supports the schools as well as the Town of West Hartford. Morin is currently director of technology for Middletown, but is a West Hartford resident.

In his new job, one major task facing Morin will be overseeing the installation of WiFi throughout the school district. "He is so energetic and enthusiastic, and we have great confidence in his ability to do it."

List said she had hoped to have the wireless network in place for this fall, but the project has been delayed and is just getting started. The elementary schools will be the first to receive full wireless capability, followed by the secondary schools. List said they are waiting to do the secondary schools until all scheduling is complete, so as not to disturb that process.

"We hope to have the WiFi up by January or February, and work will be going on after school hours to get it done," she said. Infrastructure replacement in and the addition of wireless access points is currently taking place.

Most of the other capital improvement and construction projects that were taking place over the summer have been completed.

Part of Conard's roof was being replaced, a project that went much more slowly than anticipated. "The team is working around the clock so it will be ready for the start of school and we expect it to be completed by opening day," List said.

The asbestos abatement project at Sedgwick suffered some delays as well, but was completed as of the middle of last week.

Repaving and reconfiguring the driveway to the south parking lot at was completed over the summer, and the entrance is "much safer," List said.

The district was anxious to get the high school repairs done this year, prior to visits in fall 2013 as part of the high school NEASC accreditation process. Last fall, the for both schools.

"A lot of time will be spent on mandates," List said. The adminstration has been gearing up for the adoption of new , and will be phasing in some new units this year.

Although the process of revamping large segments of the curriculum might appear onerous, "What the standards are giving us the opportunity to do is take some things away, weed out the curriculum, and work for rigorous, indepth understanding," List said.

In what List called the "West Hartford way," more than 60 teachers volunteered to help share and define the new teacher evaluation plan, another state mandate. The state has set the guidelines and core requirements, but West Hartford is able to create its own rubric for the observation piece of the plan. A lot of professional development will take place throughout the district so teachers have a thorough knowledge of the evaluation plan, and so leaders can implement it effectively, she said.

As for total enrollment, those numbers won't be finalized until a few weeks after school begins. List said the overall numbers don't appear to have changed much, although a fifth kindergarten section has been added at and has also seen an increase in enrollment.

List is looking forward to the new school year. "I'm eager for the kids to get here, and eager to see the teachers. We all feel their passion, their great ideas."

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