What's New this Fall in the West Hartford Public Schools?

An update from Dr. Karen List, Superintendent of Schools.

It seems like graduation season — the end of the 2010-11 school year — was only yesterday. Summer has flown by, as it has a way of doing, and the are preparing for a successful opening this Thursday.

Patch sat down last week with Dr. Karen List, Superintendent of Schools, to find out what can be expected when the opening bells ring on Thursday morning.

There have been a number of personnel changes in the school system, both at the teacher and administrator level. “We have about 60 new teachers starting this week,” said List. That number is greater than originally anticipated, primarily due to a large number of retirements over the summer, several relocations, the creation of a third full team at , and the addition of two reading specialists who will be shared by four elementary schools.

On the administrator side, Paul Vicinus, a former assistant principal at who returned from service in Afghanistan earlier this year, has been named Director of Teaching and Assessment. This position is directly involved with the schools’ standards, curriculum, instruction, and assessment.

Julio Duarte, who has been serving as interim Assistant Principal at Conard during Vicinus’ deployment, has officially been named to that position. At , West Hartford veteran teacher Patrick Gustafson has been named Assistant Principal, returning to the district after spending two years at Irving A. Robbins Middle School in Farmington.

Catherine Buchholz is returning to West Hartford as English Department Supervisor for and King Philip middle schools and . She had been English Department Supervisor at Sedgwick and Conard before leaving to become K-12 Director of Language Arts and Reading for the Glastonbury school district.

Last Friday, it was announced that Juan Melián would take over as Principal at . He had been Assistant Principal at Sedgwick for the past three years, and prior to that was a world language teacher in West Hartford.

In addition, Haig Shahverdian, a long-time teacher and administrator with the West Hartford Schools, quietly retired at the end of the 2010-11 school year. Although Shahverdian will remain active with Hall’s immensely successful program that he has been involved with since the mid-70s, he will otherwise relinquish his role to new Department Supervisor of Fine and Performing Arts Andrew Mayo.

Mayo is a former teacher of the year who has been the instrumental teacher at . “He certainly has big shoes to fill,” List said. “Haig’s advocacy for the arts is second to none, and his legacy, the sign of a true leader, will live on. West Hartford is unique in its expectations for the arts program. It’s used to an international reputation, and Andy will continue that,” List said.

In addition to personnel changes, other significant developments in the school system should be noted.

In terms of the curriculum, “we’re working on developing ‘Common Core Standards’ for the district, to be in line with Connecticut’s recently-adopted Common Core State Standards,” List said. This year will be spent studying the new standards, and planning adaptations to the curriculum in advance of the new assessments that will take the place of the CMTs and CAPTs beginning with the 2014-15 school year.

Students entering kindergarten this fall will be the first third grade class to take the new assessments, and the incoming class of 8th graders will take the CAPT their sophomore year in high school, as well as end-of-year course assessments, similar to the Regent’s Exams given in New York, when they are juniors.

“We are being very deliberate, and approaching these changes in a very planned way, beginning with our curriculum leaders,” said List.

Teachers in schools throughout the district should be pleased with some of the technology improvements that were made over the summer. “It is really significant that we will have high speed Internet service in place at all schools by the start of the school year,” said List. She credits an outstanding partnership with the for being able to implement this.

The school system has also switched over from Lotus Notes to Google Apps for Education, which should enhance the ability of staff members to collaborate on documents online. “We are also shifting over to a new web provider – SharpSchool – which will change the look of the whps.org website, making it more collaborative and user-friendly.”

Another technology resource, which was rolled out late last year and is familiar to many parents, is PowerSchool. It’s just used for attendance in the elementary schools, but on the secondary level, the “Parent Portal” allows parents or guardians to have online access to class assignments, attendance, and grades. Although List said that some of her discussions with last spring’s graduating seniors brought out concerns about helicopter parenting as a result of , she thinks it serves the benefit of promoting dialogue. “It’s another way to keep parents informed.”

An Information Technology Blueprint is in the works to improve technology resources and services throughout the district. “I’d love it if West Hartford could have WiFi everywhere, but we have issues of security, especially in the public schools. The Center for Educational Leadership and Technology (CELT), in cooperation with the Gates Foundation, is currently exploring this issue.

As the new school year begins, the high schools are preparing for accreditation by NEASC. Both Conard and Hall have developed new mission statements as part of the process, and List is pleased that both high schools have independently come up with similar statements which are in lie with the mission framework of the district as a whole.

“Raising the bar and closing the gap continue to be key components of our mission framework and development goals,” List said. She was thrilled with the district’s and scores this year, which were the strongest ever. “We have amazing teachers.”


Throughout the school year, West Hartford Patch will continue to provide updates about individual schools as well as changes that affect the entire district. We will also provide ongoing coverage of Board of Education meetings.


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