WALLINGFORD — While the 2022-23 school year was one of transition from pandemic to post-pandemic normalcy, much was still accomplished, according to Superintendent Danielle Bellizzi.
Bellizzi presented her annual report on the prior school year to the Board of Education at a recent meeting.
“We really went through a lot of changes last year in terms of COVID in really trying to come back to a sense of normalcy,” she said. “We started off with masks and lightened the mitigation strategies as we went through the year. All of our staff worked very hard to continuously work through all of those changes.”
At the start of the last school year, the country was well into the pandemic that killed more than a million people and continues to reappear periodically. But it also was well into the vaccination effort that quelled new cases and brought back a sense of normalcy that people had longed for. While the year started out with masks, that mandate quickly was dropped as the number of cases continued to diminish, but it was still a school year very much affected by the virus.
“Once again, our teachers, paraeducators, clerical, maintenance, IT, nurses, food services, and administrators, and our community demonstrated remarkable resilience, adaptability, and solidarity in the face of adversity,” Bellizzi wrote in the report. “Together, we all came together to successfully meet the academic and social and emotional needs of our students and families. As always, our students were given the best possible care and attention despite the significant needs generated by the pandemic.”
Trying to mitigate the effects of the pandemic on students was the priority, while at the same time doing everything possible to keep them safe and healthy, Bellizzi said.
“Our efforts during the 2022-2023 school year focused on bringing a sense of normalcy back to our students and staff,” she wrote in the report. “We worked very hard to follow guidelines provided by the CDC, state and local Departments of Health, and other local agencies to ensure a safe return to the classroom while permitting as many typical classroom functions as possible. Following this guidance, we slowly relaxed our mitigation strategies, closely monitored case numbers and transmission data, and made an effective use of staffing to ensure that teaching and learning in Wallingford was not interrupted.”
During the school year, the district received grants and donations that helped provide for items outside of budget funding, she said.
“We continue to get donations and we are very appreciative of that,” she told the board. The district received $917,236 in grant money and $78,576 in donations, she said.
“That is something we are very proud of,” she said. “Our staff works very hard to complete the application process so we are very proud of that because it does help us provide additional staff and resources for both our staff and students and our families as we go through the year.”
The district also expanded its professional development in areas such as literacy training, she said. The K-12 curriculum and student assessments continued to undergo revisions, with numerous new courses created at different grade levels. “That continued to be a priority last year and will continue to be a priority this year,” Bellizzi said.
There were 81 students who were inducted into the National Honor Society, and 76 students were recognized as varsity scholars, she said. Several board members noted that it’s a common misconception that varsity scholars are athletes, but instead are recognized both for their grades and leadership, with the honor at one time referred to as scholar leaders. One board member said she asked one varsity scholar which sport they played, and she was surprised when the student responded that they didn’t play a sport.
Board member Ray Ross pointed out that student athletes are honored in their own right. “There’s also a scholar athlete for athletes who maintain a certain grade point average,” he said.
One of the major projects undertaken during the last school year was the renovation of the Sheehan High School track and field, Bellizzi said, which is still underway and is expected to be finished by the end of October. During the construction, both Choate Rosemary Hall and Lyman Hall High School have made their facilities available to Sheehan teams for practices and games, she said.
New security vestibules have been constructed throughout the district and security cameras have been added in several locations, she said. The district also was able to purchase 930 iPads, 100 teacher laptops, 24 desktops and 170 chromebooks, she said, much of it through donations to the district.
The graduation rate at Sheehan High School reached 99.5%, up from 97.4% the year before, while Lyman Hall High School’s graduation rate dipped to 91.8%, down from 95.7 for the 2021-22 school year. Sixty-four percent of all high school students continued on to a four-year college, 17.5% to a two-year college, 10.5% into the workforce, 6.5% to other training programs, and 1.5% joined the military.
“The number of students choosing to attend a four-year college has slightly increased. We see this as a positive result of the hard work of our school counselors and college and career specialists to help students and families make the best long-term decision for students,” Bellizzi wrote in the report. “More students are choosing to attend technical colleges or enter into apprenticeships in fields that have many positions with high rates of pay and long-term benefit.”