- North Salem Central School District
- Monthly Updates
November 3, 2023
Dear North Salem Learning Community,
The candy corn is consumed, and a new season is upon us - Feedback Season! As we approach the first report cards and conferences, I invite everyone to embrace this opportunity to reflect on our progress and align on how we can best support our students. Let the insights begin!
Parent-Teacher Conferences and Report Cards: We know growth takes time, effort, and determination. However, specific, actionable feedback accelerates learning. This first round of feedback in report cards and conferences is crucial - there is time to adjust and thrive. Conferences allow parents and teachers to exchange insights. Teachers see learning at school, while parents see it at home. It's essential to help students, especially teens, process teacher feedback and plan next steps. Here are some helpful resources:
- 9 Tips for Parent-Teacher Conferences
- Tips for Talking About Report Cards
- Your Feedback to Me: As I enter my fifth month on the job, I am grateful for the responses you have shared with me to learn, adjust, and grow. Thank you to all who participated in the October Community Conversation. Your input and feedback on the following topics was helpful to me and my team.
- Pre-K in North Salem: We understand the different needs for preschool services and the growing childcare costs. We are still gathering information and will hold more community conversations to plot a path forward.
Long-Range Planning: We discussed previous accomplishments and facilities management. Participants suggested better communication with the public about project updates. We will share more information at the November 29 meeting.
- Communications: We shared the measures taken during the past two years, and we heard that we can do more to communicate our message, including sharing information from board meetings more widely. We also discussed our plans to revamp the website in the new year.
My Feedback to You: I see many positive experiences happening in our schools, showing how feedback can lead to positive change. I have seen our teachers and leaders take feedback to heart and commit to improving. I see parents and faculty working together regularly to resolve conflicts. When explored, we often learn that conflicts start with a misunderstanding or a missing piece of information. The key is to be willing to engage, listen, and overcome our differences to achieve better outcomes for our students.
In the weeks ahead, I will be sharing more opportunities for you to engage with our work, beginning with the next Community Conversation on November 29 at 7:00 PM in the Middle/High School Library.
I wish everyone a safe and happy Thanksgiving.
October 3, 2023
Dear North Salem Community Members,
As your Superintendent of Schools, I am committed to providing a nurturing, protected space for your children to grow and thrive. Since I became an administrator in 2002, I have always emphasized the importance of safety early in the school year to ensure that we are all prepared should a need arise: teachers, students, and parents.
In keeping with this spirit, I propose that October be designated Safety Month in North Salem moving forward. During this time, we can revisit the measures that protect our students from harm and prepare for emergencies. How do we create these efforts? By working with law enforcement, safety experts, and technology to constantly evaluate and strengthen our protocols and prevent threats. And by listening to your concerns and feedback to build an even safer school environment together.
In my brief time in the district, I have been impressed by the schools' safety and preparedness measures already in place. I will discuss many of those efforts in greater detail and encourage you to read any or all of the items that are relevant to you and your family, including:
- Traffic, Driving, and Drop-Off
- Special October Safety Events at PQ
- Smart Pass at MS/HS
- Sandy Hook Promise: Say Something Anonymous Reporting
- Safety Committee
- Risk and Threat Assessment Teams
- Snow and Weather Emergencies
- COVID, Flu and Strep Precautions
- Safety Questions
But before you read on, I want to emphasize the most important safety message: The essential element in any safety plan is not the plan but the willingness of people to follow it.
Safety and prevention begin before your children enter the school building. It starts with the choices we make—as families, neighbors, and community members—to look out for one another. It happens when schools and families build trust through open communication and shared responsibility. Thank you for your partnership as we all work together to provide the safe, supportive environment all students deserve.
Have a productive and safe October!
More about our safety and preparedness measures:
Traffic and Drop Offs: On the first day of classes, former BOE president and NS Police Officer Andrew Brown reminded all of us to drive safely and observe all traffic signs and signals. He also reminded us to take our time. Mornings and evenings can be a rush for our busy schedules, but they are also times of danger for our students getting in and out of cars. Please hear it again from me: it is better to be late and safe than to be in an accident. Every time you drive your children, no matter how young they are, they are watching you, and you are setting an example for how they will drive in the near future. As we enter the second month of bus runs, we have settled into route and routines, and students arrive at school on time. When there is a delay, it is often caused by a staffing issue. We continue to interview and hire to ensure we have a full team of drivers and substitutes.
Special Events for PQ Students: There are several exciting events at PQ to help introduce our youngest learners to important safety skills and the first responders in our community who help keep everyone safe.
- First Responder Friday- 10/13
- Fire Safety Day- 10/20
- K9 Visit- 10/26
- Officer Griesinger Classroom Visits on bus safety
- Junior Officer of the Week - a year-long project
Here are some tips for keeping your family safe that our youngest learners will hear about this month:
- Talk to your family about safety and what to do in an emergency.
- Make sure you know their home address and phone number.
- Have a fire safety plan and practice it regularly.
- Keep your home safe by installing smoke and carbon monoxide detectors and checking them regularly. Change the batteries every six months.
Smart Pass: The Smart Pass system was introduced to the MS/HS campus this past month, and it is already positively impacting student engagement in class. SmartPass acts like a traditional paper pass system but with more retrievable data and shared communication of active passes between teachers, administrators, and school safety personnel. The data will help give us a detailed view of activity and movement throughout the building during the school day and provide real-time access to students' whereabouts in case of emergencies. Students access SmartPass on their Chromebooks.
Sandy Hook Promise: Say Something Anonymous Reporting System linked here
The Say Something Anonymous Reporting System (SS-ARS) is a holistic program that combines education about the warning signs of potential violence or self-harm with the tools to report concerns safely. It is the only anonymous reporting system in the United States that provides training and an anonymous tip management system that is state-of-the-art and supports tip submission via telephone, website, and mobile app. The SS-ARS National Crisis Center operates 24/7/365 and is staffed by a dedicated team of highly skilled and trained crisis counselors who can speak over 600 languages.
The SS-ARS program is based on the evidence-based "See Something, Say Something" approach to violence prevention. The program teaches students and adults to recognize the warning signs of potential violence, such as:
- Talking about hurting themselves or others
- Making threats or plans to harm themselves or others
- Collecting weapons or explosives
- Acting withdrawn or isolated
- Experiencing changes in mood or behavior
If you see or hear something that concerns you, you can report it anonymously to the SS-ARS National Crisis Center. The counselors at the center will assess the situation and take appropriate action, such as contacting the school administration or law enforcement.
The SS-ARS program is also committed to providing ongoing support to schools and communities. This includes training for students, adults, and law enforcement; resources for parents and guardians; and support for schools that have experienced a violent incident.
Later this month, we will announce the “go live” date for the new system for early November. Until then, our current anonymous reporting service is in place and will remain in place until January 1, so we have several months of overlap as the community adjusts to the new service.
Safety Committee: This BOE committee meets monthly with school administrators, community first responders, our SROs, and security teams to oversee all safety measures and activities in the district. Topics of note this year include:
- Implementing the Safety Bond includes upgrades to entry doors, security cameras, and other digital security infrastructure
- The continued training and onboarding of our new SRO team
- Drills and training for students and staff
- The implementation of Smart Pass and Sandy Hook Promise (described above)
Risk and Threat Assessment Teams: Both PQ and the MSHS have teams of clinicians and faculty trained in Dewey Cornell’s Evidenced-Based Behavioral Threat Assessment and Intervention for Schools protocol and the Columbia-Suicide Severity Rating Scale. These tools are considered the current gold standard in the field. The teams work proactively in the schools to ensure the safety and overall well-being of our students, faculty/staff, and community.
Snow and Weather Closings: Toward the end of this month, I will send a separate letter reminding you of our practices around snow closure and other weather emergencies. Our goal is to keep students safe and inform families as quickly as possible about changing conditions and schedules. Our weather updates are sent out through our alert system on our mobile app and through some local news organizations. Please download the mobile app here. As a rule, we inform families as soon as possible about delays, early dismissals, and closures. But weather can change quickly, forcing us to adapt to changing conditions. Please plan ahead and stay in contact with our alert systems throughout the day.
COVID and Flu: We sent home a letter regarding our COVID response planning in September. Since then, COVID cases have remained steady across the district, but not enough to change our plans. As we move into colder weather, it is normal for cases of flu, Strep, and other viruses to rise. In some cases, we update parents about cases in specific classes or grades. Mask-wearing is always permitted as a precautionary measure, but mask-wearing is not currently required.
In all cases, please keep your child home and contact the school nurse when your child experiences a fever greater than 100.0° without taking fever-reducing medications and/or nausea, vomiting, and/or diarrhea within the last 24 hours.
Questions about safety: If you ever have a question about safety, please know there are several ways to reach out. You can always reach out to your child’s teacher, use our anonymous alerts system linked here, or reach out directly to the school office at your child’s school.
September 5, 2023
Between searching the vast aisles of Staples, filling out paperwork for annual physicals, and picking that perfect first day look, September can feel like one endless to-do list. Even evenings are filled with the reintegration of carpools, team practices, homework, and meetings.
Despite the plethora of activities we pack into September, I believe the month holds potential for all of us. At its heart, September is our time for engagement. It is a time when students re-engage with learning, friends, teachers, and all of the possibilities each of those connections holds. Parents may love capturing that energy in those eager “first day of school” pictures snapped before the first bus ride.
While these moments can be exciting, they can also be intimidating for some students. Teaching our children at any age how to engage productively with new teachers and classmates is essential, even if challenging. If you have questions or concerns about how the first few weeks of school are going, I encourage you to contact a faculty member or trusted adult. While time resolves many engagement issues, your perspective early in the year can help us help your child.
Parents provide a strong foundation for their children’s engagement in school through modeling and discussion. For parents of younger students, this includes connecting with their teachers, attending open houses, and talking to your children about their first days at school. Here are 10 questions that can be good conversation starters for students who resist the “What did you do at school today?” interrogation.
For parents of older students, engagement also includes talking with your children about expectations for the year and how they can build connections with teachers and new classmates. For all students, never underestimate the impact of structure and routine to help them be rested and ready to learn every day, to help them find time and space at home to work and read, and to help them talk through the highs and lows of their days.
Beyond the immediate focus of your children, I hope all of you will consider engaging with the many organizations that work tirelessly on behalf of all students to improve their experiences and offer opportunities in our school. Yes, I am talking about those two intimidating words, “Sign Up.” Some of us love and some of us dread being asked to sign up for the activities, projects, and committees in our schools. To that end, allow me to offer some advice from someone inside the system who has sat in your shoes. First, remember that most of this year’s amazing opportunities for your children exist because someone before you “signed up” to make it happen. Engagement is the lifeblood of all communities. Second, start small and commit to a few things at first. Add some events to your calendar and leave room for family time. Bring a friend to take on a task together if it seems too big to tackle. And finally, share your plans with a few other people - maybe even on social media. Taking on a task seems less daunting when you know others are taking it on, too.
In my first year as superintendent, I have pledged to improve communications, forge deeper connections with the community, and help the district plan for the next several years. I will devote much of my time and energy toward engaging with the entire North Salem community- students, teachers, parents, and town residents. Look for me in the coming weeks at the open houses, at athletic events, PTO meetings, and the first board-hosted Community Conversation on October 25.
“A community is a group of people who agree to grow together.”
While I consider myself pretty good at engaging with others at this point in my career, I can't do it without your help. I am seeking your suggestions about places and events where I can connect and engage with the community. Put simply, I need your help to succeed, and we all need your engagement to come up with the best programs, plans, and opportunities for our children’s future.
I look forward to meeting you soon at an open house, in the drop-off line, on the playing fields, or at a board event. Have an excellent and engaging September; at this speed, it may be October before you know it!
Duncan Wilson Ed.D.
Sometimes it is important to look back before you look ahead to the future. In preparing for the new year, I was excited to reflect on the highlights from last year's newsletters. From civic engagement projects to the arts, from middle school engineers to elementary school book clubs, these articles showcase our mission- our students are continuously improving learners who question, define and solve problems through critical and creative thinking. These stories inspire us as we look forward to a new year of achievements, growth, and learning.
Since one of my goals in my first year as superintendent is to improve and enhance communications and engagement, I was particularly struck by the seventh grade project that connects the idea of identity with the skill of communication. For individuals and communities, who we are is shaped by how we connect with others. That is why I invite everyone to help me with a quick and fun survey to help me know who we are as a community. Please follow this LINK to a survey called “Three Words.” How do you describe North Salem in only three words? I have already done this activity with the faculty and will share the results in September.
In mentioning communication as one of my goals, I must acknowledge the first article below which celebrates the hard work of the district’s communications specialist, Sarah Divi. Her hard work this past year has been recognized nationally. I am excited and honored to build on her work as we strive to improve communications and engagement with the entire community.
Please enjoy these articles as you share a happy and safe summer with family and friends. And look for my letters in The Compass each month where I plan to update you on my first year and begin to build our vision for the future. I will see you on September 6, the first day of school!
Join me on Thursday, August 10, at 10:30 AM for children's storytime at the Ruth Keeler Memorial Library. I'll be reading one of my favorite Mo Willems stories.
Dr. Duncan Wilson