Dr. Serio's testimony regarding Senate Bill 786, a proposed bill to modify 10-34 a statute that protects us as an independent Town Academy.
March 6, 2017
Chairman Fleishman, Chairwoman Slossberg, Chairwoman Boucher, Ranking Member Lavielle and Committee Members:
My name is Dr. Anthony Serio. I am Superintendent and Head of School for The Gilbert School in Winchester. Thank you for allowing me to speak on behalf of our school, which has become a center of academic excellence for 7-12 grade students in Winchester, as well as a prime example of the benefits of an independent town academy education.
I wish to speak to Senate Bill 786, An Act Concerning Education Mandate Relief, Transparency and Regional Incentives, specifically lines 385-445. This proposed legislation contains some language concerning independent town academies such as The Gilbert School, which causes me some concern, and I will speak to that.
Since 1895, The Gilbert School has proudly served as the high school for Winchester's public high school students. And since 2011, we have welcomed the town's 7th and 81h grade middle school students.
These past few years have been amazing times for The Gilbert School. We are the home of the 2016 Connecticut Principal of the Year, Alan Strauss, with whom I have worked side by side in my five years since coming to Gilbert. Mr. Strauss was also one of five semi-finalists for the National Principal of the Year, and our middle school was a finalist in 2016 for Connecticut Middle School of the Year. On Thursday, last week, Lt. Governor Wyman and the Arts Council for excellence in arts and music honored our music director, Adam Atkins.
Over these past few years, The Gilbert School has seen a marked increase in SAT scores as well as AP Test scores, and has seen our graduation rate rise from the mid-70s to now more than 95%. Last year we were honored with two additional national distinctions - a Silver Medal Award from U.S. News and World Report, and we were also named by Newsweek as the top "Beating The Odds" school in Connecticut.
We have nearly 500 Winchester students at Gilbert as well as a highly successful International School on our campus, which welcomes and houses more than 80 students from Asia and whose tuition payments allow us to keep our per pupil expenditure as one of the most affordable in our region. What's more, we have an active and dedicated team of parents who commit themselves, through volunteer efforts, to our school on a daily basis.
The success of Gilbert is similar to that of our fellow independent town academies in Norwich and Woodstock. We are all long-established, well-respected educational models and are rich, vital parts of each town's heritage.
Senate Bill 786 sections 385 to 445 seems to be an effort to have the state be involved in successful independent academies, such as regulating our teachers, regulating how we are governed, regulating where we send out public financial documents, and requiring certain procedures on how we communicate those budget documents with the members of the public and local board of education with which we work. The Gilbert School meets most of these requirements already and believes that this language is overly broad and could restrict the future success and growth of our school. We request that this committee change or remove this language that attempts to regulate an already successful school doing most of these requirements. Further, the way that I read Section 11 (b ), it provides all Connecticut statutes concerning education apply to endowed academies. That is a very broad reference to a great number of statutes. We're very concerned about future interpretation of that broad language and its impact on our school, in my opinion, this requires a lot of clarity and further study.
At The Gilbert School, the Town of Winchester is well represented on our governing School Corporation, as it should be, given how much the town relies on us to educate its children. Our budgets are presented every year with full transparency and opportunity for input from the citizens of Winchester. This is a priority of mine-we don't just want the input of our townspeople when we craft our annual school budget, we need it.
In closing, thank you again for allowing me to speak before you today. While these sections of Senate Bill 786 are well intentioned, they are unnecessary given our school's track record of transparency and inclusion. We have no greater priority than the education of the children of Winchester, and that is demonstrated through positive results every single day.
I am now happy to answer any questions you may have.