Redding resident Pauline Smith, a native of the United Kingdom and a former Kendall Elementary School special needs teacher, will begin serving as director of special education and pupil personnel services for Norwalk Public Schools on July 1.
Smith, holder of two master's degrees in special education and a 15-year veteran of Connecticut's school districts, said in an interview with the Citizen she will be --¦looking at the system in place and will then build upon it with my own expertise."
Citing necessary collaborative efforts with incoming Superintendent of Schools Susan Marks, district teachers and administrators, Smith will look to put her finger on the pulse of the district to enhance "communication, compliance and consistency," as outlined by the Capital Region Education Council (CREC) report.
That 2008 report criticized, among other things, inconsistent leadership, "outdated" special ed job descriptions, a lack of a strong philosophical statement and a decentralized structure within the district that has become corrosive to the overall goals of special ed programs in Norwalk.
Smith said one of her first priorities will be to evaluate what has been accomplished thus far in regard to the CREC report, and what still needs to be done.
"It needs to be a well-integrated system," she said. "Special education is not a stand alone unit."
Pulling from a long background in personnel services and special education, Smith is poised to build upon the special ed foundation that has been constructed in Norwalk. She currently serves as director of special services for the Brookfield school system, where she recruits and evaluates staff and serves as the district Title IX coordinator.
She has also created new staff development initiatives in Brookfield, including the Aspirant Leadership Program, Level 1 Certification in Wilson Reading and a multi-year program for preschool staff development.
The Aspirant Leadership program is designed to encourage and support district faculty interested in developing their leadership and administrative skills. Educators working on their state administration certification will be provided opportunities to work with current district administrators in a mentor/mentee relationship.
Level 1 Certification in Wilson Reading is a scientifically research-based reading program designed to meet the needs of students with significant reading challenges. Special education and remedial reading teachers at all grade levels were given the opportunity work with a Wilson trainer to learn how to deliver this structured program to students with dyslexia.
Prior to her term in Brookfield, Smith was a special ed teacher at Cider Mill Elementary School in Wilton. She received the Norwalk Board of Education's Meritorious Service Recognition Certificate in 1983, and the CT Association for Children with Learning Difficulties Appreciation Certificate in 1983.
Smith said she will work with Marks to ensure the district's special needs programs are being administered appropriately.
"I really want to make sure the staff members are given the opportunity for the appropriate professional development," she said.
And of course, once she begins her job here in Norwalk, Smith will face the daunting reality of a harsh economic climate that mirrors similar situations in school districts nationwide.
Still, she said, she will seek out all prospects for funding -- funding that could ultimately go a long way toward helping all of Norwalk's students.
"I have to look and make sure Norwalk is getting everything it's entitled to," she said.
Changes in the way the district looks at developing its talent -- like online training courses, for example -- could help loosen the economic stranglehold on education funding, she added.
"I'm going to see where we are currently, and then how we move forward in providing dynamic programming for all of our students," she said.
"I just love working with children with special needs. And one of the most important parts of this job is acting as a team to give them the help they need."