Severe winter storms, budget constraints and the unexpected deaths of two employees are some of the challenges Superintendent of Schools Stephen Falcone has faced during his first year helming the school system.

Despite those challenges, Falcone said he is happy with the progress the schools have made and the level of participation on the part of the students he sees in the classrooms.

"Those are the things, seeing kids thinking, participating and happy that generates a lot of positive energy," Falcone said. "We're really missing Paul Engemann and Charlie Spate because those were tough losses to deal with. It's during those times that you realize there are a lot of good people in the district who are will to step forward and help."

Falcone acknowledged there were some difficult times this year, especially when the schools were closed because of severe weather.

"We've struggled through some of the weather which created some choppiness, but people responded well and we got back on track."

One of the areas that has garnered a significant amount of attention this year is the budget. Falcone said his administration took a really close look at what was necessary while still being fiscally responsible.

"Budgeting should be a challenge because a lot of responsibility is placed on to do what is in the best interest of the students," Falcone said. "I feel that the budget will appropriately meet the needs of our students."

Since the budget went before the public this week, Falcone said it is important to be able to hear from the public.

"The people inform what you do," Falcone said. "I haven't heard any questions that unreasonable to respond to. You can't do this kind of work in isolation and I hope people realize how important an appropriate education is for students."

Falcone said he was particularly proud of the scrutiny the special education portion of the budget received.

"We did a very close examination at how we deliver the best services to all of our students," Falcone said. "All of this work is based around student learning and finding out who individual children are."

This year the administration has also been involved in discussions about how to respond to students being overworked.

"Sometimes we have to step back and ask what we want from our kids," Falcone said. "Do we want them to be confident, responsible or trustworthy and how do we measure that progress?"

Ultimately, Falcone said he wants the schools to focus on the students and make sure their needs are being met. He said in a community like Darien there is strong support force which is a huge asset.

"The community as a whole is invested in the schools," Falcone said.

One of the highlights for Falcone so far this year is when he had the opportunity to visit a second grade class where the students were working on strategies to make themselves better readers.

"When students in second grade can articulate to me what strategies they are using to improve their reading, it's pretty amazing," Falcone said. "You see that in classes across the district. The things that I get really excited about are what happens in the classroom."

As the end of the school year draws closer, Falcone said he wants to make sure there is a constant process of evaluating how the schools are doing while finishing up the business of budgets and staffing.

"I had a meeting about literacy and how we are doing and already it's created new questions, new challenges and new ideas to make what we have better," Falcone said. "We're not done."

Falcone said two principals will need to be hired before next year as well as determining the staffing at each school.

"We want to maintain the quality of leadership we had," Falcone said.

Despite a few challenges, Falcone said operations have been able to run smoothly because of the ability to collaborate and problem solve.