Education Commissioner Visits District


From Meriden Patch
by Eileen McNamara

State Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor paid a visit to the Meriden school district Monday morning to talk about steps administrators here are taking to improve student performance and how those plans are progressing.

Pryor’s visit was part of the new commissioner’s “Listening Tours” initiative, in which he is visiting various school districts across the state to get their comments and input on educational initiatives.

He met here with numerous district administrators, including Superintendent of Schools Mark Benigni, at the Thomas Hooker Elementary School, which was named one of two top elementary schools in Connecticut this year. Also attending was House Speaker Christopher G. Donovan, D-Meriden.

Benigni gave Pryor an overview of the initiatives the district is taking, including its five-year improvement plan, to improve student performance. He said his leadership approach is one he’s sought to impress on all teachers and students here.

“While we take standardized very seriously, we value the whole child. We like to have a good time, but we’re serious about our work.”

He and other administrators credited the district’s teachers and their union for working collaborative with administrators to improve schools.

“In Meriden you give teachers something to do and they’ll jump on it. It’s impressive,” said Palma Vaccaro, the district’s director of pupil personnel.

“I want you to know, I have a terrific team,” Benigni added. “We’re a very supportive district. We believe everyone wants to do a good job.”

“It’s clear you have a strong team, it’s very impressive,” Pryor said.

Benigni said the state also has been instrumental in helping the district carry out its improvement plan.

“Your staff at the state have been terrific partners.”

Some of the initiatives the district has undertaken to improve student performance include surveys of students that can help counselors identify potential issues or problems with individual children, the creation of data teams that look at test results at the district, school and even classroom levels, peer coaching among administrators and teachers and district assessments that are done 3-4 teams per year and which help administrators provide feedback to teachers on what is or isn’t working in their classrooms.

Part of that assessment, Benigni said, allows administrators to identify specific issues kids could be having.

“That’s fantastic,” Pryor said. “This is an area where we’d love to work with you.”

Benigni said administrators also are considering all-day kindergarten district-wide next year, an initiative that still must be approved by the Board of Education.

“As a district, it’s time,” he said. “We’ve been ready to do this for years.”

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