As Waltham public school students hopped off their buses to start the first day of school today, newly-inducted Superintendent Susan Nicholson is looking forward at how to improve the school district.
Previously superintendent of Andover schools for four years, Nicholson said she wants to steady Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System scores, implement technology, and embrace programs that will help Waltham in the federal grant-incentive initiative Race to the Top.
"We have a goal to have all of our students reach proficiency on MCAS, and I think we need to think a lot about technology use in the district and how to increase student learning," she said. "We also have the implementation of a new educator evaluation, a collaborative initiative from last year [for Race to the Top]."
Nicholson said since her induction as superintendent July 1, she has been seeking out suggestions from local leaders, parents, students and teachers on what the Waltham school system is doing right - and what needs improvement.
"Technology is what people are really curious about," she said. "At the high school level, we're looking at infrastructure, and asking if we can we become a wireless community? Or look into club computing? Those are the kinds of conversations we'll be having this year."
Nicholson also said she hopes to collaborate with Boston-area colleges and universities to bring in student teachers for the Waltham kids, she said.
"In the greater Waltham area, I know we have students from both Brandeis and Bentley in our schools, so we'll be looking for additional outreach with those schools and other colleges and universities that have programs that would meet our needs," she said. "We're looking at ways to work with higher education, and complement the needs of both the district and the colleges."
Although the district will not compile student enrollment trend data until Oct. 1, Nicholson said she saw significant enrollment in Waltham schools this summer.
In addition to a busy student registration summer, the district took on a new elementary principal, a new assistant principal, and a team of young administrative professionals, Nicholson said.
"One of our goals this year is to build a team of administrators in our district," she said. "We hired seven new administrators last year. We had a two-day 'Administration Institute' in early August, which was spent on team building, getting to know members of the administrative team, their style, and how we work as a team because we bring something new to table."
Ever a challenge, Nicholson said one of the biggest hurdles in the upcoming year could include balancing the complicated Waltham district's budget.
"I think that this is a solid budget here in Waltham, and one of the things people are proud of is the community support for the budget," she said. "But the economy is not terrific, so I think in education we always worry about the impact of the economy - local, state and federal - and its impact on budgets in cities and towns."
Nicholson said the school could receive less funding or overspend on an underbudgeted item, which provides the school district with a challenge.
One of the ways Nicholson might seek to gain extra funds in the long-run is by hiring a grant writer to apply for financial awards from outside agencies, a position that would probably start out as part-time, she said.
"Im not saying I would support it at this point, but after having conversations with people in the district and support from staff, I would think about it, providing the grant writer would be bringing enough money in to justify the salary," she said.
Overall, Nicholson said she looks forward to the new school year.
"I'm very excited about being the superintendent in Waltham," she said. "I have met very welcoming parents and staff members, and I am very impressed with their commitment to the students in this district."
Students will attend school for full days today and tomorrow, with Friday and Monday off due to the holiday, Nicholson said.
Visit the Waltham public schools' website for a district calendar and other information.
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