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State Board Of Education Approves School Turnaround Plans

By VANESSA DE LA TORRE

August 09, 2012

HARTFORD Four urban schools received approval Thursday to enter the new Commissioner's Network, consenting to three years of state intervention in exchange for millions of dollars to help raise test scores.

The State Board of Education voted unanimously to accept the turnaround plans of Bridgeport's Curiale School, Hartford's Milner School, New Haven's High School in the Community and Norwich's Stanton School.

School administrators said they now need to sign contracts with teachers who agree to the turnaround terms, which include longer days and an extended academic year that begins in late August.

The low-performing schools will share much of the $7.5 million that the state has budgeted for the network's inaugural year, part of education reform legislation that Gov. Dannel P. Malloy signed in May.

"There is great need at each of these schools," Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor said. "I'm just so proud and grateful that we're at this point, that there is a first wave of progress that is ready to happen."

The plans from Hartford and New Haven feature management partnerships that Pryor praised as particularly innovative.

Charter schools have traditionally operated as start-ups, Pryor said, but in Hartford's North End, the Jumoke Academy charter organization is taking on the existing student body and chronic problems at Milner, a K-8 school where the vast majority of children lack proficiency in reading.

"There are many charter organizations in the country that are not undertaking turnarounds," Pryor told the board. "I believe this is a very important transition for the charter school movement."

Milner will remain a Hartford public school but Jumoke plans to implement its own design model, such as scheduling 12 Saturday academic sessions throughout the year. Jumoke also will transfer its principal, Doreen Crawford, and some top teachers to Milner.

At High School in the Community, an alternative magnet school where 20 percent of students have special needs, the New Haven Federation of Teachers will run operations and "refocus" the school into a law and social justice academy.

All four turnaround plans boasted union support, outlined strategies for engaging families in their children's education, called for more resources for teachers and mandated extra time for students in the classroom. Norwich, for example, will implement an additional hour of instruction per day at Stanton School, beginning Nov. 1.

Each network school will receive about $1 million to $1.5 million to help with 2012-13 operating costs, Pryor said. Other school systems, such as Waterbury and Norwalk, might also receive grants to prepare for the possibility of network status in 2013-14. An application process for those planning grants will extend to the fall, state officials said.

Pryor said the state Department of Education plans to request at least $7.5 million for the network in each subsequent year as the initiative grows. Under state law, up to 25 low-performing schools can be selected for intervention over three years.

Bridgeport administrators said they want to create a model at Curiale that can be repeated at the city's other struggling schools. One obstacle, however, is getting students to show up: the K-8 school reported a daily absentee rate of 27 percent.

Plans for Curiale include hiring a home-school coordinator and establishing a partnership with the nearby Southwest Community Health Center which will provide school-based services such as dental screenings and mental health evaluations for students and families.

A new principal, Brett Gustafson, will lead a staff of teachers that have remained at Curiale despite receiving little support from central office in past years. Comparatively, 12 school principals and assistant principals have come and gone over the past decade.

Sandra Kase, a New York City veteran of school turnarounds who is now Bridgeport schools' chief administrative officer, said "there is hope, for the first time in a long time."

But Kase made clear that only "exemplary" educators will remain at Curiale after the first turnaround year. Bridgeport is one of 16 districts taking part in the state's $2.5 million pilot of a new teacher evaluation system that bases performance on several factors, including standardized test scores.

In Hartford, Jumoke CEO Michael Sharpe estimated that only seven out of nearly 90 Milner employees will come from the previous school staff, including four teachers. Many educators transferred to other schools.

"A lot of them chose not to apply," said Sharpe, noting the late hiring process.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
     
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