By ARIELLE LEVIN BECKER And DAGNY SALAS | Courant Staff Writers
August 26, 2008
Mrs. Rubb ushered her 16 pupils to the rug, helped them practice saying "good morning" to one another, then pulled out a book: "The Night Before Kindergarten."
"How many of you had trouble falling asleep [last night] because you were excited and you couldn't wait?" she asked.
Some hands shot up. Others rose slowly. Finally, 16 small hands were in the air. Sue Rubb, a 15-year teacher beginning her first year in Hartford, raised hers, too.
Monday marked the first day of school for children across Hartford and in many cases, a day full of new things in a school system undergoing major changes.
There are six new elementary schools in the district this year, including the Global Communications Academy where Rubb teaches kindergarten. Other schools have been shut down because they were deemed too low-performing.
The city's three traditional high schools also are undergoing changes, opening Monday with new, smaller academies, some with specific themes like culinary arts or green technologies.
The changes are part of an overhaul of the school system, intended to transform the perpetually low-performing school district into a system of high-performing schools that prepare all their students for college.
Officials reported no major problems Monday, though there was some confusion about uniforms and other first-day glitches.
Superintendent of Schools Steven J. Adamowski said the opening day "exceeded expectations." Adamowski said his office received calls from residents praising how students looked in uniforms.
Some people who live near Bulkeley High School, which began requiring uniforms this year, even called to say they cheered on students as they walked to school, praising the uniforms, he said.
Not everything ran smoothly. Adamowski reported a couple "minor glitches" in transportation. Milly Arciniegas, president of the PTO Presidents' Council, said she visited three schools and found students wearing ties when they weren't supposed to, parents complaining about pricey blazers, and a shortage of uniforms available for parents who had bought the wrong color to exchange.
Arciniegas said uniform banks, which district officials said would be available for families who could not afford uniforms, were not set up in every school she visited.
David Medina, a spokesman for the school system, said Monday that the uniform policy does not have to be firmly in place for another week, though schools should have uniform banks.
Global Communications Academy, where Rubb spent the day helping her pupils learn the routines of school, is based on the international baccalaureate model, a program used worldwide that focuses on teaching children about global issues. Children begin learning a foreign language in kindergarten and have the option of learning another one in high school.
The school began this year with a kindergarten, first and fifth grades; it will add grades each year until it runs from prekindergarten through high school. It is open to children from anywhere in the city, part of a choice system that will expand to all schools next year.
Rubb came to Hartford after teaching in Brockton, Mass., Willimantic and Manchester. She liked the academy's philosophies and the idea of helping start a school from scratch. "It's not an opportunity a lot of teachers get," she said.
Pupils will be prepared for college starting in kindergarten, said Principal Darlene Pugnali, who previously served as an administrator at an international baccalaureate school in Mexico City.
The school is run in partnership with Say Yes to Education, a national foundation aimed at increasing high school and college graduation rates among city students. Rubb's kindergartners will visit colleges this year, and if they graduate from the academy, will receive scholarships to college from Say Yes.
Say Yes works with pupils on everything from academics to bone density and vision exams, said Connie Coles, director of Say Yes's Hartford chapter. "We don't want there to be any excuse or any reason why you won't get a good education," she said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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