At Hartford Public High, Reforms Creating Positive Change
Hartford’s New Schools: Law and Government
By JODIE MOZDZER
October 06, 2008
This year, several Hartford schools have seen major changes under Superintendent Steven J. Adamowski's district reform plan: Some underperforming schools were shut down, new schools were created and other schools have been restructured. This series looks at individual schools that have undergone major changes this academic year.
During the fifth week at Hartford Public High School's Law and Government Academy, the halls were silent as the day's second class began.
"Last year this time, there would be kids all over the place. It was hard to keep track of them all," teacher Bob Abate said. "We called it 'the mall' instead of the hall."
Students in class: It's one of the changes teachers and students are noticing as they settle into the smaller academy.
Hartford Public High School was split into four academies this year as part of a districtwide reformation of the school system. Each academy at the high school has its own principal, dress code, guidelines and theme. Each is on a separate floor of the school on Forest Street.
The students who attended Hartford Public last year were able to apply for the academy they wanted to attend this year. Next year, under a new school choice program, all high school students in Hartford will have the opportunity to apply to one of the academies.
Although many teachers said there have always been examples of success at Hartford Public, the changes are helping to calm some of the problems that have plagued it and other schools in the district.
At Law and Government, the students dress in business attire — shirts with ties, dress shoes and slacks. Violators have to borrow uniform pieces from the school's wardrobe. Tardiness and excessive absences will result in Saturday detention, where one of the tasks is washing those uniforms.
The dress code and closer atmosphere add more accountability, said Bridget Allison, an international business teacher and the academy's dean for curriculum. She and Principal Adam Johnson said the staff hopes to effect a culture change at the school.
"We want to create an environment where rigorous expectations are the norm," Johnson said, "create the expectation that there is no choice but college."
The problems are not completely gone. Throughout the morning, students strolled into school late, with various dress code violations. Allison said some don't show up at afternoon or Saturday detentions, and she still spends about 50 percent of her time acting as a social worker for students with problems apart from school. And only five weeks into the school year, it's too early to see whether test scores and graduation rates will improve under the new academy system.
But the attendance rate was 89.7 percent for the four academies at Hartford Public during those five weeks, compared with 81.9 percent during September last year.
And students and teachers said they notice a change in attitude. Students at the academy said there haven't been any fights yet this year, and they feel more compelled to come to school every day. "It's because people feel smarter," senior Tianda Hendricks said. "It's more professional now. Last year, it was ghetto. Nobody really cared about school last year."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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