There is a lot of exciting news and progress on many fronts at New Lebanon School in the Byram neighborhood of Greenwich. While some residents will remember years of public meetings and hearings about where to situate the new school, it was built right behind the original miniature 1950’s era building it replaced.
Children have fond memories of watching the building spring to life, and construction was on time and on budget.
The new building opened in Feb 2019 and longtime Principal Barbara Riccio retired at the end of that school year. Alexandra Michaelson started as Principal that July and Lindsey Eisenstein was named assistant principal in summer 2020.
Time has flown and the school’s forward-looking leadership team is focused on community engagement and high expectations for all learners.
Principal Michaelson and Assistant Principal Eisenstein sat down this week with GFP to share trends and accomplishments at the school – attracting magnet families, enrollment, and the success of a focused and implemented data-driven School Improvement Plan.
They explained that families in Byram who traditionally had magneted out or enrolled at private schools are now choosing New Lebanon School.
Currently the school enrolls 346 students, including 46 children in the three Pre-K classes who live both in Byram and other neighborhoods. Michaelson said many who choose to stay in the building after pre-school.
“Once they’re here two years they often choose to apply to our magnet program and want to stay here because they feel at home and embrace the culture and vision of the school,” Michaelson said. “They’ve seen the growth in their children and want them to continue on that trajectory and trust our teaching staff to implement that.”
A third source of new students are children of both New Lebanon School teachers and teachers across the district – both tuition and non-tuition magnet students.
Today all the classrooms at New Lebanon are full. There are three classes in each grade, from Pre-K through grade 3, and two sections each in grades 4 and 5.
Next year they anticipate adding a fourth grade section, and in two years there will be three sections in fifth grade. At that point every grade will have three sections.
Ms Michaelson said parent feedback indicates that while many attend the traditional magnet school open house, those who take a private tour indicate have indicated that was their first step to building a relationship with school leadership and the reason they chose New Lebanon School.
Michaelson said anyone in the community who would like a tour is able to have one. Simply reach out to the school.
More good news abounds. Not one but two New Lebanon staff were among the six Distinguished Teachers for 2023: First grade teacher Erin John and Carol Pugliano-Martin who is an ALP/Language Arts teacher at the school and is also the lead grant writer for the school’s performing arts grant through the Greenwich Alliance.
Through the Alliance grants the school has been able to hold a “declamation contest” where children memorize and recite a script in front of a panel of professional judges. It has also made possible in-school theater residencies and field trips to playhouses to watch professional plays. And of course the school musical performed by students has been made possible by the Alliance grants.
Four years ago the duo of Michaelson and Eisenstein hit the deck running.
“Our partnership has been instrumental in meeting the goals of the building and in our School Improvement Plan,” Michaelson said of her team approach with Ms Eisenstein.
Thanks to the Greenwich Alliance and a grant called “Families As Partners in Learning (FAPL), they began working with educational consultant Patti Jomo, an expert in building and strengthening the relationship between families and schools.
Outgrowths of that grant included the decision to pilot a second annual parent teacher conference, with one in December, followed by one in March.
The conferences take a unique approach.
They conducted a pre-survey and a post survey both for faculty and staff, and for families. A pre-conference questionnaire helped guide parents to start thinking about of topics to discuss and gave teachers ideas ahead of time to be better prepared.
They also piloted “welcome calls” where every teacher was responsible for calling every child’s “grown-up” at the beginning of the year to introduce themselves, welcome their child to the classroom and hear their hopes and dreams. The teachers were trained the teachers in these methods.
They also held family nights in English and Spanish parents to learn how to be a partner in their parent-teacher conference.
Further, they worked with their after school partners including Horizons at Brunswick and Family First at Family Centers, to hold parent development sessions to prepare them to be active participants in their parent-teacher conferences as well.
“When we saw the data from our end-of-year parent survey, New Lebanon had the highest satisfaction rates results, district wide,” Michaelson recalled.
“I’m glad ours is the highest, but we strive to push ourselves with new metrics and goals,” Eisenstein said.
Tests: Smarter Balanced Assessments
Eisenstein added that at the beginning of this school year, SBA data was released for students who attended New Lebanon School for six years (K – 5th grade) and the results were extraordinary.
“We came out fourth in the district out of all the elementary schools,” she said.
More good news.
Eisenstein recalled a moment when Ms Michaelson was on maternity leave and Eisenstein was interim principal, getting some surprising news.
“We were in a principals’ meeting, and they announced, ‘Now we have the Connecticut Schools of Distinction Awards.’ I didn’t really pay attention, and then Jen Lau (the district’s research manager) said the school I was most proud of, New Lebanon School, was being recognized for growth among high needs students.”
“High growth with high needs students in ELA – that’s the hardest. That means we push you,” Eisenstein said. “Whether you are an ELL, have a 504, have an IEP or receive intervention services, it shows that with those students we have made such an impact. We have high expectations for all learners.”
Michaelson also recalled that phone call.
“Lindsay called me and said, ‘You won’t believe what happened – that it had been announced we were Connecticut School of Distinction for high growth of high need students. I told her I wasn’t surprised because that was the focus on our School Improvement Plan.”
School Improvement Plan
Michaelson said an important part of “meeting the students where they are” was lowering student-teacher ratios, which is part of the School Improvement Plan.
“When you walk through the school, it’s not uncommon to see teachers come into a grade level and pull children into small groups. If you’re reading above grade level, at grade level, or below grade level, every single student is in a small group – in a ratio that can be 1-1 all the way to 5-1.”
Michaelson said the low student-teacher ratios were made possible through Title I funding and keeping a flexible eye on the master schedule.
“This allows us to bring in reading support and interventionists who are meeting the needs of our students.”
Every six to eight weeks, grade level teams meet and specialists meet to analyze student data to see how every student is progressing and what the next move is instructionally for each of them.
“The goal is to regroup them and make a new plan for the next 6-8 weeks,” Eisenstein said.
The key is never to stop striving for improvement, to continuously collaborate and refine the approach.
Eisenstein lights up when she talks about the Lexia, a computer based reading program.
Lexia is an adaptive program that accelerates the development of literacy skills, providing educators with ongoing student data to address students’ needs.
“We say first and foremost, the best strategy we have for teaching reading is really strong certified teachers and matching students with the teacher that meets their instructional needs,” Eisenstein said, adding that the school has been complimenting their reading instruction with Lexia in a variety of different approaches.
“We’ve extended the day to add an extra hour for students from 3:00 to 4:00pm for students identified as needing extra help in reading by the Lexia metrics,” she said. “And we’ve partnered with Family First who have incorporated the program in the building during the after school program. We’re reaching approximately 150 kids between the before school program, the after school program and Family First.”
Eisenstein said she was almost incredulous to hear Lexia announce Greenwich Schools was the best district in terms of implementation of the program and that New Lebanon students had the most growth in the district.
“You’re saying we’re the best? I said, ‘Show us!'”
Eisenstein said 35% of students started in or above grade level material and now 85% are on or above grade level material, with an increase of 51% since September. Comparatively, the Northeast region had 41%, which was slightly behind the overall U growth percentage of 44%.
Among all the good news is some bittersweet news. Michaelson is leaving for California at the end of the year to take a position as principal of the independent school she attended as a child in Los Angeles.
See also: PHOTOS: “New” New Lebanon School: Now We Are Living the Dream February 2019