Shelton schools open this week for new academic year

Shelton Public Schools will open their doors to welcome about 5,200 students on Tuesday, Sept. 3.

The 2013-14 school year will bring continuing security improvements to the city’s eight schools, focusing primarily on building access issues. The city has applied for a state grant to help with some of these upgrades.

Students will be transported to and from school in new buses that run on propane, under the stewardship of a new bus transportation company, Landmark.

Fire code violations at Shelton High cited in a state Fire Marshal’s Office report continue to be rectified, with the assistance of the city, according to School Supt. Freeman Burr. “There’s a renewed commitment from the city to address these,” Burr said.

Technology changes

There also will be improvements in technology, with the expanding use of Promethean boards in classrooms and the movement toward implementing a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy.

With more young people now owning portable communications devices, such as computer mini-tablets, notebooks and smart phones, BYOD would enable students to use their own devices in school under specific guidelines.

Instructional approaches, teacher evaluations

Instructional approaches will be influenced by the transition to the new state common core curriculum. “We’ve been working the last three years to develop our curriculum,” Burr said of the transition.

Another change will be a teacher evaluation system being implemented as a pilot program at elementary schools, part of another state-mandated initiative.

The district will continue to help teachers with training, Burr said, covering such areas as the new curriculum, effective instructional techniques and the use of technology.

Shelton has five elementary schools and one upper elementary school, intermediate school and high school. The system employs about 650 people, including 385 teachers and other certified staff.

Growing diversity

Shelton’s schools have been growing more diverse in recent years, which Burr said is a development that should serve students well when they eventually seek jobs as young adults.

“This is a reality of the global world of the 21st century,” he said. “When they get out into the real world they will have to work and interact with people of diverse populations.”

Partly due to the slow economy, the number of students who are eligible to receive free or reduced lunches in Shelton has increased from about 12% to 18% during the past four years, Burr said.

“Shelton is not the only community in the region that has experienced this,” Burr said. “The working class has been impacted by the economy.”

BYOD is coming

The Shelton Board of Education has voted to  enact a BYOD policy for the schools.

“Use of technology in school is a privilege which comes with great responsibility,” states a draft version of BYOD guidelines.

Students and a parent or guardian would have to sign an agreement form to participate in BYOD. Students violating the policy could lose the right to use their personal technology in school and face other disciplinary consequences.

“We understand the many positive educational benefits of using technology in the classroom and importance of the integration of technology in our curriculum,” states the draft.

The draft policy prohibits checking personal email, socializing via texts or instant messages, “or otherwise engaging in personal pursuits ... during the instructional day.”

No personal privacy expectations

On campus, only the “Internet gateway” provided by the school would be allowed to be accessed. Students would not have an expectation of personal privacy in the use of personal technology at school.

“The district’s network administrators have the ability to identify users and monitor all BYOD devices logged on to the network,” states the draft.

Using technology positively

Burr said while schools once tried to keep students from bringing cell phones to class, the approach is changing with the popularity of smart phones and other small devices that allow youngsters to access information.

“Five to 10 years ago, we we’re telling kids to turn off and put away their cell phones or we would take them,” Burr said. “Now, we’re trying to figure out how to use this technology as a medium to develop instruction, do research and complete projects.”

Part of the process will involve providing devices to students at school who, for economic reasons, don’t have access to them.