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Since joining the North Haven School System in 2012, Assistant Superintendent of Schools Melinda McKenna has helped form a strong team of educators as she works on developing the district’s ever-evolving curriculum. (Photo courtesy of Melinda McKenna )
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With a focus on consistency and teamwork, Assistant Superintendent of Schools Melinda McKenna strives for student success in the North Haven School District.
“My favorite part of this role is having the ability to work with so many talented teachers, coordinators, and administrators in North Haven and being able to impact instructional change across the district that improves student achievement,” Melinda says.
“Additionally, working collaboratively with our superintendent is a partnership that I value and that allows us to continue to move the district forward,” she adds.
Among her many responsibilities, Melinda serves as a resource to school principals and the superintendent. She oversees teaching and learning in all grades and helps develop the district’s curriculum, especially as it aligns with state and national standards.
“A goal is really trying to make sure that our curriculum is constantly changing to meet the needs of the kids,” Melinda says. “Back in the day, curricula [were] something you put in a binder and revisited every 10 or 15 years…Now it’s very organic.”
Melinda and a team of coordinators and teachers regularly revise the district’s curriculum to keep pace with new technology or ideas.
She is ever mindful that “teachers need a voice in the curriculum writing…We need to have our own teachers believing intrinsically in the work we are doing.”
The integration of writing workshops in the classroom is one of the first initiatives that Melinda led upon being hired in North Haven.
This year, the focus is on units of phonics for the K-5 classrooms.
“It’s a slow implementation, so teachers have a lot of support to do it,” Melinda says.
Teachers also receive professional development instruction from Teachers College of Columbia University about five times a year.
Facilitating support for all teachers and “creating equity across the four elementary schools” is important, she says.
“We are really cognizant [that] when we bring in new materials…that we do that for all four [elementary] buildings so that they are all reaping the benefits. That has been a huge piece of my work since I first started. We are really seeing a nice consistency,” Melinda says.
For grades 6 to 12, Melinda is working with a team to incorporate social and emotional wellness teachings into a student’s day.
“We’re really at the infant stages…[of] beginning to move this work forward collaboratively,” Melinda says.
Yet the premise is that “it has become as important as math and reading and writing…Kids need to know how to regulate themselves [with the] stresses of life,” she says.
Another focus area for Melinda this year is development of a strategy that defines a core skill set for North Haven High School graduates.
“I have been working very collaboratively with the high school on Portrait of a Graduate,” Melinda says. “That is what we want kids to know and be able to do when they leave our schools.”
The tenets of Portrait of a Graduate were developed by Battelle for Kids, a national not-for-profit organization based in Tucson, Arizona. It provides resources and tools to guide a school system through a process that helps analyze and define specific goals for individual learners and the overall student body.
This year, the district and community came together to establish the following areas to focus on and with which to measure student success: communication, collaboration, informed thinking, and problem solving.
Other areas include self-direction, compassion, perseverance, emotional intelligence, empathy, and work ethic.
“We want them to be strong in whatever capacity…wherever they end up,” Melinda says. “We need them to be able to communicate…collaborate…problem solve. Those pillars, anchors, will help our students to tackle whatever is before them.”
Melinda started in the North Haven School District in 2012. She was previously principal for Bethlehem Elementary School in Bethlehem.
Melinda sees the parallels between teaching in the classroom and being a principal or administrator.
“When I was a principal, the staff members almost become like your class. They each have different needs…each require different resources,” said Melinda. “I have taken that philosophy with me to the next level.
“We have to see how we can support the people that work for us because we are a team—nobody can do it alone,” she continues.
Melinda’s team-first attitude and passion for developing initiatives or programs that help students progress, propels her own success.
“I have a lifelong love of teaching,” Melinda says. “I purposely keep a high number of teachers that I evaluate myself because it keeps me honest…[it] gives me a reason to stay fully connected to [the] teaching and learning pieces of it.”
After graduating with a bachelor’s degree from Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts, one of Melinda’s first jobs was as a reading recovery teacher.
“As a classroom teacher, I could see that so many students were struggling learning to read,” Melinda says. “They needed to be able to unlock reading to be successful in school.”
As a teacher, Melinda and a reading team worked with struggling 1st-grade students.
“To watch them get to the level where their peers were…their confidence blossoming right in front of you…[was] very rewarding,” Melinda says.
Melinda earned a master’s degree in remedial reading from Central Connecticut State University. She also has a sixth-year degree in educational leadership from Southern Connecticut State University and certification in reading recovery from the University of Connecticut.
When Melinda isn’t putting the skills that she learned in her educational and professional career to good use, she loves spending time with family and traveling.
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