Since July 2022, Edgemont Board of Education meetings were filled with upgrades and changes to all aspects of the school district. It seemed mundane and routine at the time, but when first-year Superintendent of Schools Dr. Kenneth Hamilton made his inaugural State of the District Address — or SODA — he outlined and boasted what amounted to major philosophical, procedural and educational enhancements that will impact Edgemont for years to come.
And Hamilton, who said he is “fortunate to inherit a dynamic teaching staff, an extraordinary group of leaders and folks who are truly committed to educating our children,” is only getting started.
Board president Monica Sganga, who is finishing up her second three-year term, said Hamilton moved things forward “at a very good pace” this year, but challenged him on one point of his presentation. Hamilton said one of his “lofty” goals toward his “legacy” and an “easy feat” is to get Edgemont from 183rd in national rankings to the top 100, and from No. 19 in the state to the top 10. She said the improved rankings “would not change who we are.”
Hamilton responded, “I think what it does is it creates a vision.”
Sganga wondered what the vision is when the criteria at large is college readiness 30%, college curriculum breadth 10%, state assessment proficiency 20%, state assessment performance 20%, underserved student performance 10%, graduation rate 10%, which she believes is “missing” important factors.
“When you’re talking about a highly competitive group of students — competitive in a good way in that they’re not at each other’s throats — but how are they balancing that stress?” Sganga said. “We don’t want to raise that level of stress as we achieve those goals, if you know what I’m saying, not for the wrong reasons at least. Not just for a number. If the number reflects something we’ve accomplished that we believe in, that’s fine. To me it’s about what do we believe in and what do we want to accomplish and where that lands on the state’s list or Newsweek’s or Westchester Magazine’s, I don’t care — I want to know that we like our own methodology better than theirs.”
Hamilton appreciated Sganga’s focus on “core beliefs” and said her “point is taken.”
Following the SODA, board member Jennifer DeMarrais simply said, “Wow,” appreciating the intense summary of the year’s accomplishments and “road map” for going forward.
“As I was preparing this I was actually surprised at how much we got accomplished this year, to be honest with you,” Hamilton said. “When you’re in trenches and you’re just doing it — you’re just kind of going through the day — you don’t always have the opportunity to reflect, so I actually needed the time to reflect on what we were doing, what we accomplished and where we’re going, and looking at the data that kind of supported what we were doing and whether or not those initiatives were successful.”
DeMarrais asked Hamilton what the “greatest urgency” going forward is, to which he replied, “Curriculum,” calling it “really significant” with “significant gaps” that are beginning to be addressed.
Hamilton has spent the last year since he was announced as the successor to Dr. Victoria Kniewel analyzing and assessing the district from top to bottom and meeting with stakeholders, including students, in group settings and one-on-one.
Board member Grace Lin said she was initially “a little bit fearful” that Hamilton was granting such personal access to himself, but soon saw the value. Hamilton said it was the perfect way to get “a snapshot into the community and that was really my focus.”
“You obviously can’t solve it all, but I think you were very dedicated to listening,” Lin said to Hamilton. “You didn’t necessarily always give people the answers they wanted to hear right then and there, but I think you have effectively incorporated what people have shared with you, if not for immediate use, but perhaps to be put to use in later rounds. It has been very impressive.”
Board member Nilesh Jain lauded Hamilton for the “courage and determination” displayed in making a public “report card.” Jain called it a “fantastic first year” of listening to the community and “achieving success.”
Jain wondered what surprised Hamilton positively or negatively coming into the district. Hamilton said he was “impressed” with the focus of the students, who “value education,” and were not shy in voicing their opinions.
The biggest surprise in Edgemont, which prides itself on being one of the best districts in the country, especially for a small school, was the “gaps” in curriculum and the lack of alignment in instruction and curriculum implementation between Seely Place and Greenville elementary schools, noting that while teacher autonomy is “important,” there also has to be “standards for expectations” in every classroom that can be captured with data.
Hamilton was also surprised at how much community engagement there was, but also at the “apathy” at the lack of attendance for the SODA, as he wants community members to have an active voice in good times and bad.
Though it hadn’t been addressed at a board meeting in depth to this point, Jain asked Hamilton to consider a future discussion on the AI (artificial intelligence) “disruption.” Hamilton was actually ready to begin addressing AI, which he said he has been “very vested in learning more about.”
“I think our kids are going to be significantly ahead of us if we are not very proactive in terms of professional development and identifying how that will impact the teaching and learning process and how those tools will support teachers and use of data in order to prepare our students for it,” Hamilton said. “I do think it’s moving very, very fast, not just Edgemont, but the community of educators are a bit behind in terms of being prepared for that. I’ve been a little consumed with reading about it quite frankly, and wanting to know how we can effectively prepare and get our teachers to a place where they are ahead of our kids rather than our kids being ahead of them.”
Of the 1,952 total students this school year, 249 have classifications. That’s 12.7%, just shy of the state average of 13%.
“I’m a little concerned that we’re approaching the state average when we have traditionally separated ourselves from state standards,” Hamilton said. “This is an area that I think we need to be focused on.”
Hamilton believes changing how reading is taught and catching students who are struggling prior to third grade will have a major impact in lowering the percentage of classified students. It’s also a goal to reduce out-of-district placements to keep students “part of their community.”
Hamilton shared performance data from state assessments to SATs, ACTs and AP exams.
For the 159 students in the Class of 2022, all but two students attended a four-year college. One student went to a two-year college, while one student was classified as “other.”
On the 2020-21 English language proficiency state test for grades 3-8, the range was from grade 7 at 84% high-level proficiency to grade 6 at 96%. For the math exam, the range was grade 8 at 65% to grade 4 at 90%. Hamilton noted the “significant difference in performance” between the two subject tests.
“What this suggests to me is that there is a curriculum issue that we may need to look at relative to how well students are being exposed to content that is actually on the math test and whether or not there are gaps in our curriculum that need to be revamped,” Hamilton said.
On the science test for grades 4-8, eighth grade was at 91%, fourth grade at 99%.
On the algebra and living environment regents exams, the district exceeded state averages “significantly” in proficiency.
The high school offers 17 honors classes and 16 AP courses. For the 2019, 2021 and 2022 exams, more than 80% of Edgemont students scored 3 or higher on the APs, with more than 60% earning 4 or 5.
The Class of ’22’s SAT scores were more than 300 points above the national average at 1,377. The ACT composite score of 28.9 also exceeded the average.
Among the positives and ongoing work for Edgemont:
• Improved community engagement and community to help identify priorities.
• Creation of an app and newly designed website to better provide information to the community.
• A focus on inclusion and instructional parity across the district.
• A better work environment for faculty and staff, including a new process for teacher observations, evaluations and tenure.
• A “deep dive” into curriculum and instruction for grades K-12 (changes to the junior/senior high school math offerings and focusing on early intervention through Math in Focus, Science of Reading, project-based learning, Preventing Academic Failure, The Writing Revolution, Renaissance Star and more).
• Budget process improvements, including budget defense rounds and an audit of current supplies.
• An audit of all board policies.
• An initial look into athletics through an ad hoc committee.
• Abandoning and reassessing the 2021 bond for further review following increased costs, state approval delays and a demographic study that showed lower enrollment and therefore changing priorities in the district.
• Beginning to develop core beliefs that “must govern our work.”
• School safety and security reviews, emergency and crisis training, adding trained, unarmed security personnel, making hardware upgrades with cameras and door opening and closing mechanisms, and introducing a Raptor System to scan worker and student IDs.
• Nonacademic professional development in areas like suicide awareness/prevention, navigating difficult conversations, staff well-being and diversity, equity and inclusion.
• Expanding DEI to DEI+B by adding belonging to the mix to “make sure we are not leaving any student out and when we say, ‘All,’ we mean, ‘All.’”
• Improvements in technology across the district, including increasing bandwidth.
• Curriculum writing for the summer of 2023 to address gaps and delivery of material (ELA grades 7-8, 10; fine and performing arts grades 4-12 orchestra and studio 2D and 3D at EHS; math grades K-8, plus EHS algebra 1 and 2, geometry and precalc; PE 9-12; science K-6; SS EHS department assessment; world languages: world mythology at EHS).
• A new teacher organization to support new hires.
• Assessment of what capital projects will be needed going forward, some of which can be addressed during budget time, other larger projects through bonds.
• More effective practices and software in the business office.
• Transitioning from STEM to STEAM — as arts are “critical” and “often underappreciated” as creativity is “harder to assess” — by adding classes throughout the grades between 2020 and 2026.
• At the elementary level: updating report cards, curriculum maps and pacing guides, assessing field trip experiences and adding Panorama Education to examine social-emotional learning and multitiered systems of support.
• Normalizing students of differing abilities being together and further strengthening of ICAP (Intensive Communication Achievement Program).
• For buildings and grounds, installing more bottle filling stations, installing LED bulbs to save energy and set a good environmentally conscious example, and doing preventative maintenance of facilities.
• Beginning a conversation of what an Edgemont graduate has in their “toolkit,” with Hamilton suggesting to focus on being intellectually competent, having integrity, working toward social justice, being civic-minded and participating in community service.
• Exploring the addition of an International Baccalaureate program.
• Looking at adding Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) to help students reach the next level of success in the classroom.
• Partnering with the Edgemont Teachers Association to develop a leadership academy and succession planning to further the careers of teachers interested in moving to the administrative level.
• Working with the new CHILD Committee on parent workshops and student success.
• Partnering with the Tri-State Consortium for assessment and improvement opportunities.
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