MONROE, CT —- A constant updating and fine tuning of curriculum, consistent standards and teamwork, along with a strong focus on social and emotional learning by teachers and administrators of Monroe’s public schools, planted seeds that bore fruit in a big way when third, fourth and fifth graders took the SBAC test last spring.
Superintendent of Schools Joseph Kobza recently announced that, for the first time in the town’s history, all three of its elementary schools — Monroe, Stepney and Fawn Hollow — earned Connecticut School of Distinction status in the same year.
“I’m so proud of our students and staff who have all worked so hard to earn this recognition,” Kobza said. “The past few years have been incredibly difficult, but all of our elementary schools being recognized as Schools of Distinction really shows how far we have come since the pandemic.”
“There are so many great things happening at each school, and I’m even more excited to see what the future holds,” he added.
Though every elementary school earned Connecticut School of Distinction status before, it was never all three in the same year.
In 2016-17 Stepney and Monroe elementary earned recognition. Then in 2017-18 it was Monroe and Fawn Hollow elementary.
For stories on each school, click on the links below:
The Connecticut State Department of Education bestows “School of Distinction” status upon schools meeting the following criteria: the top 10 highest performing on the SBAC test, highest growth, and greatest improvement.
All three of Monroe’s elementary schools excelled at English Language Arts (ELA) and math.
Stepney Elementary School, which has more than a third of the district’s 80-plus students whose native language is not English, also did well due to its English as a Second Language program.
A team effort
Kimberly Nelly, the district’s ELA coordinator for k-5, and Roseanne Haughton, the math and science coordinator for grades k-5, sat around a table inside Stepney Principal Ashley Furnari’s office one recent Friday morning.
“I believe it goes back to the teachers working collaboratively with the reading consultants, interventionists and other personnel,” Nelly said of the town’s three schools earning the Connecticut School of Distinction designation. “I think it’s really a group effort.”
“It’s really that small group, targeted instruction that gives students what they need,” she said.
Nelly said educators in the school district are always communicating and sharing the most effective ways of teaching with each other.
“It’s really just collaboration,” she said. “When you think of Monroe, you think collaboration.”
The collaboration and teamwork is evident and we’re proud of that,” Haughton added.
Furnari credits everyone, including the interventionists, reading consultants, psychologists, counselors, classroom teachers and specialists. “It’s a comprehensive team,” she said.
She also praised Kobza and Assistant Superintendent Sheila Casinelli for making every effort to give the town’s schools what they need for students to succeed.
Get on the bus
Haughton said there has been a stronger focus on social and emotional growth since the COVID-19 pandemic.
The school climate affects the way children feel when they come to school every day, contributing to their availability for learning, according to Furnari.
“It’s that whole child look,” Haughton said.
“We’re learning about emotional intelligence using the RULER approach,” Furnari said.
RULER stands for Recognizing, Understanding, Labeling, Expressing, and Regulating emotions. The evidence based approach to social and emotional learning is promoted by Marc Brackett, founding director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence.
“If you’re not having a good day, there are tools you can use tools to navigate through it,” Nelly said. “It’s not about being happy all the time. It’s about recognizing your feelings.”
On bad days, Furnari said teachers can look to their colleagues and students can look to their teachers and friends to regulate how they are feeling, reducing the negative impact on teaching and learning.
The Stepney Charter Bus, a red school bus display in the school’s hallway, serves as a constant reminder of these goals for students and staff.
Monroe Elementary School’s principal is Kelly Svendsen, Stepney’s is Ashley Furnari and Leigh Ances heads Fawn Hollow. There is a shared sense of pride over the historic achievement of all three schools being Connecticut Schools of Distinction in the same year.
“We work really hard together. We share ideas and we collaborate a lot,” Svendsen said, “and our teachers collaborate together too, so it’s no surprise all three of our schools were recognized.”