Superintendent Arlington's Op-Ed

Superintendent Arlington's Op-Ed
Posted on 09/23/2022
Kyle Arlington

Audio Version of this Op-Ed

 

I love playing around with innovative technologies, but I always keep a pen and notebook handy to jot down notes and ideas. It just works for me. 

 

I recently revisited the journal I used in March 2019, my first month as superintendent of the Kenilworth Schools. I reread my notes regarding conversations with parents, teachers, and community members. These eye-opening exchanges with dozens of people helped me learn about my new district and set an unwavering trajectory for enhancing the reputation, academic standing, and sense of community of the Kenilworth Schools. 

 

When I arrived at Kenilworth, I already had strong instructional opinions and firm beliefs about what schools should be like for kids.  However, a new leader doesn’t succeed simply by imposing their visions onto a new district. Instead, I discovered ways to blend my ideals of a high-performing school district with the hopes of parents, students, and other citizens with whom I met in my early days here. I felt fortunate to see many parallels between what people said they wanted from the Kenilworth Schools and the work I was passionate about leading. 

 

I knew I was in the right place.  

 

We heard you 

 

Kenilworth community members felt strongly about the goals they expressed for their school district. They were keenly aware of the status of surrounding districts and wanted to make our schools just as competitive through continued improvements. It was reassuring to hear that residents believed in Kenilworth schools and their students. These are the needs they emphasized: 

 

  • Stability. School stakeholders welcomed me warmly but with some skepticism about my long-term intentions. They expressed frustration over turnover in the district’s top role. 
  • A leadership team that is committed to achievement, inclusion & empathy. Many wanted the district’s key leaders, including principals and the director of student personnel services, to create a unified team that listened to parents and viewed them as partners in their children’s school lives.  
  • Greater academic achievement & better rankings. Although achievement is measured in many ways, higher performance on standardized measures such as state tests was seen as a priority.
  • Greater emphasis on technology. In 2019, we were still playing catch-up by talking about how to embrace 21st-century skills as part of teaching and learning. 
  • An innovative vision for the future. People were fond of their small-town school district but longed for more. Residents wanted our district to provide the right opportunities for students to have big, bright futures. Residents yearned for Kenilworth to be more than just a small district with a big heart.  

We laid the groundwork, now let’s move mountains 

 

We have made much progress on the community’s initial wish list with the collaboration of board members, administrators, teachers, and parents. We revamped our literacy curriculum and have seen measurable gains in reading achievement. We invested in modern technologies, maker spaces, and Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education. We increased professional development for teachers and initiatives to meet the social and emotional needs of our students. 

 

Now is the time to continue building the landscape as we ask the community to vote on the future of Kenilworth schools on Thursday, Oct. 6. The Board of Education has put forth a fiscally responsible bond referendum that could help our community reach new heights. The plan was thoughtfully designed to target district priorities and streamlined to cut initial project costs by a third.  

 

The proposed projects in the referendum include expanding Brearley to create a true middle school experience for students and a high-tech STEM wing for the high school, modernized auditoriums, expanded space for pre-K, HVAC upgrades, and stadium projects, including a replacement track. Are they all necessary? Yes. These projects are not simply nice-to-have luxuries. They are must-haves in innovative, high-performing districts; they are must-haves in districts with high property values. 

 

I want more for the children of Kenilworth. All our students, from pre-K through high school, deserve to have high-quality facilities that support innovation, a rigorous education and enriching experiences. Property owners also would benefit; there are few factors that influence home values more than the desirability of the local school district.  

 

There always will be those who say to wait. But, what are we waiting for? Our students deserve for us to enact a strong, progressive vision for teaching and learning now. Our community deserves these things now. Now is the time.  

 

Looking back, we’ve always looked forward  

 

Kenilworth residents have always been visionaries of what the district’s future holds. About 100 years ago, our community knew overcrowding would be detrimental to the students at the McKinley School. Our proud Kenilworth residents decided the students deserved better and determined construction would begin on Harding Elementary School in 1923. 

 

In 1997, the Kenilworth community fought to reopen its high school under local control, giving residents more say over their children’s education. 

 

Even a pandemic did not detour us from our vision. By opening our buildings in September 2020, we had the vision to know what others only realized in hindsight: Children needed to be in school.  

 

Like many of our teachers, I do not live in Kenilworth. But I feel strongly connected and devoted to this community. I bring with me everyday to my work a deep responsibility to our students.  

 

Kenilworth is and has always been about community. We enjoy seeing residents walk or jog along Brearley’s track every day. Community members attend sporting events, show up for school plays, and attend back-to-school nights after a long day of work. Our PTO volunteers stand in the rain at a food truck festival to support our students. They feel welcome at our schools, and they should – the schools belong to the community.  

 

A bond referendum is not a political choice, it is a way for our community visionaries to make a generational investment in our schools.   

 

On Oct. 6, I will have my pen and notebook ready to record my thoughts about the future of the Kenilworth schools. But it is the community who will write the next chapter. 


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