Business community key to city’s learning academies
By Greg Bordonaro
June 29, 2009
In an effort to grow the city’s work force from within and narrow one of the widest academic achievement gaps in the country, Hartford next fall will open High School Inc., an insurance and finance academy for high school students.
The school represents a unique partnership between Hartford’s public school system and the city’s business community, which is not only helping to fund the academy but will also be a driver in its curriculum and day-to day activities.
High School Inc. is one of nearly a dozen or so new career-themed academies in the city, which is switching to an all-choice system so students can determine the school they want to attend.
The major transformation aims to curb decades-long academic underachievement by allowing students to engage in subjects that interest them. It also gives Hartford’s business community the opportunity to develop its next generation of workers.
“A big part of why the insurance school was developed is because Hartford is considered the insurance capital of the world,” said David Medina, a spokesperson for Hartford Public Schools. “There is a need among employers to develop an educated work force from within. Hartford is not the kind of area that lures the kind of talent employers are looking for in great numbers.”
High School Inc. is a four-year college prep school with an industry-vetted curriculum and project-based learning. Students will work as business people developing insurance or financial plans or investment strategies for clients. A core curriculum including science and social studies still exists, so students will be prepared for institutions of higher learning.
In its first year, the school will enroll 200 students from grades 9 and 10, and then will expand to 400 students over the next few years.
Courses will include an introduction to financial services, securities, international business, banking, and insurance.
But the school’s link to the city’s business community will be just as important as lessons learned from a text book.
Corporate partners will play a key role in shaping the school’s curriculum and connecting students to the real world through job shadowing, brown bag luncheons, tutoring and mentoring.
Seventy paid internships will also be available to students.
Travelers is the academy’s biggest partner, and has invested $330,000 for start-up costs at the school, which will have an operational budget of around $2 million for year one.
Other prominent companies in the region have also pledged support including Wachovia, Webster Bank, The Hartford, and Franklin Trust Federal Credit Union, which will open a branch at the academy on Asylum Street.
Michael Klein, president of Travelers’ commercial accounts, is a co-chair on the school’s advisory board and says High School Inc. is an important investment for the city.
“We view it as a down payment in our potential future workforce,” Klein said. “We want to help build a pipeline of talent.”
Terrell Hill, the principal of High School Inc. said the real-world experience that students receive will allow them to understand the relevance of their coursework, making them more engaged in what they are learning.
As students meet with corporate leaders, they will also be able to develop mentoring relationships, which could lead to future internship and job opportunities.
“In business, it’s not always what you know, but who you know,” said Hill. “Many of these kids don’t have those types of connections.”
High School Inc. is an offshoot of the National Academy Foundation, an acclaimed national network of 500 high school career academies predominately based in urban districts.
NAF was founded by Sanford I. Weill, the former chairman of Citigroup Inc. Its academies have a 90 percent graduation rate and more than 80 percent of those graduates go on to college, said Andrew Rothstein, NAF’s senior director for curriculum and academics.
“We are hoping this is part of a revival of Hartford,” Rothstein said.
High School Inc. is part of a larger reformation trend in Hartford, which according to the most recent census, on a per-capita basis, is America’s second poorest city, in the country’s second wealthiest state.
At the same time, Connecticut has the widest academic achievement gap between poor and non-poor students of any state in the U.S., according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
From 1993 to 2007, for example, the average achievement gap between Hartford and the state average measurably widened — by 5.2 points, for instance, between Hartford fourth graders and their peers statewide, according to the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now.
In an effort to change the trend, the city adopted the all-choice system, which includes the creation of nearly a dozen career-themed schools including engineering and green technology, nursing, and journalism and media academies.
Each academy has its own staffing and autonomy, but schools whose students do not perform at a proficient level are subject to intervention and could be replaced.
The all-choice system just completed its first full year and the academies have been popular. Some now have waiting lists, along with requests from suburban families who want to enroll in them. They have also sparked academic improvements.
In 2008, 2.4 percent more elementary students in Hartford met their goal on the Connecticut Mastery Test compared to the state’s 0.1 percent decline.
Hartford also beat the state average for performance gains in elementary and middle school, increasing the average score by 3.5 points, compared to the state’s 1.9 point increase.