Victoria Kniewel waited at 7 a.m. Sept. 4 in the entryway at Edgemont Junior/Senior High School to greet faculty and staff for their first day of school. Students arrived a little before 8 a.m. and Kniewel, Edgemont’s superintendent of schools, was there to greet them along with the principal and assistant principal.
“I try to greet students, not just at the first week of school. I try to do that on occasion,” said Kniewel. “What I love about Edgemont [is] it’s a very connected community and connections are important to me.”
Later that day, Kniewel would do a walkthrough of the Junior/Senior High School campus and visit the two Edgemont elementary schools, where she drops into classrooms and talks to students and teachers. She also welcomed students at the Greenville Elementary School on Thursday, Sept. 5 and Seely Place Elementary School the next morning.
At dismissal, Kniewel also made an appearance. Because Edgemont doesn’t have buses, dismissal is the perfect time to speak with parents and engage with the broader Edgemont community, she said.
“I always love the impromptu conversations,” Kniewel said about talking with parents. “I believe that by getting out and about in the schools — in the community — I’m able to recognize people and thank people.” She also added that being in the classrooms is an opportunity to see how Edgemont’s educational strategy is actually playing out and making a difference for kids.
Now in her seventh year as superintendent, Kniewel still looks at the school board’s main goal of providing students an “excellent Edgemont education” as a framework. Beyond that though, Kniewel believes that if students connect with their community, then that connection will help when they’re in the learning environment.
“Anytime you’re listening and understanding different perspectives, it just broadens your ability to do better things because you have a bigger picture,” she said.
The district also has big strategic goals for the upcoming school year, which includes keeping curriculum relevant for students and putting a focus on the social, emotional and academic behaviors that promote learning and the well-being for all students.
The district also plans to propose a bond referendum, which is still being defined. If approved, the bond would focus on capital improvements, although no specific improvements have been named yet.
“We put out an RFP [request for proposal] for architectural and engineering services so we can start to craft that,” said Kniewel. “So that’s a very big goal for this year.”
Kniewel said she wants students to have relevancy in their curriculum so they can connect what they’re learning today, with what they should know in the future.
“Sometimes kids don’t see the connection to their learning,” she said.
In addition to relevant curriculum, making sure students are well versed in self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision-making is a major goal for the school year.
“All of those kinds of behaviors, which often times people assume kids have, how do we make sure we’re also teaching those behaviors?” asked Kniewel.
Rather than just telling students to learn content because it’s required, Kniewel wants students to learn how to read deeply, compare and analyze work to help them prepare for the future.
“Research shows that the more explicit it is, the more students will learn and retain it,” Kniewel said about teaching students those behaviors.
Social and emotional learning also includes recognizing and encouraging notable acts of kindness and citizenship. In 2018, the board of education started the Jewels of the Heart initiative, which awards students who have shown exemplary care, kindness and respect.
“We have opportunities to recognize kids for academic pursuits … we have opportunities for our athletes to get recognized, for our musicians, for our drama students, but we don’t have opportunities for the kids who are really good citizens,” said Kniewel. “Everyone can earn that. You might not be a science scholar, you might not be into acting, but everyone can be kind.”
For the Jewels of the Heart program, teachers recommended students for recognition and the honor is awarded to those students at board of education meetings.
To support the district’s expanding curriculum and instruction strategies, Edgemont’s two elementary schools created assistant principal positions for the first time ever.
Marisa Ferrara, previously a teacher at Greenville Elementary School, started in her new role as assistant principal at the school May 1. Julia Huang, previously a third-grade teacher at Edgewood School in Scarsdale, was appointed Seely Place Elementary School assistant principal on June 25.
“They both were hard at work over the summer and have shown themselves to be really hands-on, involved leaders who will be great additions not just to the school but to our whole district leadership team,” said the superintendent.
The assistant principals will also act as instructional leaders and help assist the principals at the schools.
In addition, former math teacher and math department chair Bryan Paul was recommended by the school board in April for an appointment as the probationary assistant principal at the Edgemont Junior/Senior High School.
“Bryan has shown himself through the interview process and through his many years of being here as someone who would really help that administrative team,” said Kniewel. “He’s been a great addition to the team.”
As the school year gets underway, Kniewel said she wants teachers in the district to listen and learn about their students and to make the best instructional decisions for their well-being.
“It’s really about building relationships, building that trust, building that classroom climate,” she said. “If we don’t feel safe and if we don’t feel safe to take risks, it’s hard to learn.”