NH Schools Launch Next Stage of School Change Initiative

Monday, March 21, 2011
Christopher Hoffman


                 The New Haven school system today launched the next stage of its School Change Initiative reforms, announcing improvement plans for five city schools that received low grades in recent rankings.

                   The changes at Clemente Leadership Academy, Wexler-Grant School, Hill Central Music Academy, James Hillhouse High School and Wilbur Cross High School range from new work rules to replacement of leadership and reconstitution of staff. The schools were chosen based on their rankings and current suitability for significant reform.

                 The reforms are consistent with the landmark 2009 teachers contract that allowed the system to make sweeping changes at schools most in need of improvement.

                 “This is the next step in fulfilling our goal of making New Haven the best urban school district in America,” Superintendent of Schools Dr. Reginald Mayo said. “We are working in close partnership with teachers, administrators and parents to fix schools that need fixing. Change comes from the bottom up, which is why we are reforming school by school.

     “These changes are intended to underscore the collective responsibility of teachers and administrators to better educate children. When staff excels, children excel, and all of us win. We want excellence for students, teachers and administrators, and we will strongly support all in achieving that goal.”

     The biggest changes will come at Clemente Leadership Academy and Wexler-Grant School, which are being designated turnaround schools. At Clemente and Wexler-Grant, staffs will be reconstituted and work rules rewritten. Staff who choose to leave or are not asked to return will be given other jobs in the system.

     Clemente will also have a new principal starting next school year.  The new Wexler-Grant principal, who started this year, will remain.
     Other changes include:

·         Clemente Leadership Academy will institute additional planning and preparation time for teachers and additional student advisory responsibilities during the school day;

·         Wexler-Grant will focus on entry and dismissal and other transitional periods to ensure that students arrive in classrooms focused and ready to learn. Staff will also have extra coaching and training time;

·         Hill Central Music Academy will build on reforms started last year by adding 60 to 90 minutes a day of planning and preparation time for teachers and administrators; teachers will eat lunch with students and be required to use a set of standard lesson plan templates. The school will also consider curriculum changes;

·         Wilbur Cross and James Hillhouse high schools began their improvement efforts this year with new principals and reorganizations into small learning communities to make these large schools more personal and accessible to students and staff. Next year, the schools will introduce additional measures, including class schedule changes to make more productive use of student and teacher time.

     The reforms’ larger purpose is to impart that every aspect of school, including lunch, and the daily opening and closing of school, is critical to learning. Each moment and interaction of the school day should be geared toward learning or creating a nurturing environment for learning. 
     To that end, changes across schools include:

·         Greater focus to the school day: Increasing teacher responsibility for transitional periods, including student entry, dismissal, lunch, and other transitional times, to ensure student days start and finish well and focus on learning throughout the day;

·         Expanding responsibility for and relationships with students: Having teachers eat lunch with students and participate in various forms of student support extends the classroom and teaching relationship beyond the classroom and strengthens the learning environment;

·         Encouraging teachers to work together: For students to have a coherent experience, teachers need time to plan and work together. This collaborative time is critical for school administrators to coach teachers, prioritize and coordinate instruction and lead in a consistent direction.

     Under the School Change Initiative, city schools are ranked each year, with schools from each tier instituting improvement plans.

      Tier I (the top tier) schools are allowed to make rule changes with minimal input from the central office. Changes at Tier II schools are subject to moderate central office scrutiny and input. The central office plays the lead role in determining and implementing Tier III (the bottom tier) school improvement plans.

    The School Change Initiative has three goals: close the achievement gap with suburban students, halve the dropout rate and assure all students are academically and financially prepared for college.

     Complementing the reforms is New Haven Promise, which will provide free or reduced college tuition to students living in the city who graduate from high school with a 3.0 or higher grade point average, maintain a clean disciplinary record, attend school at least 90 percent of the time and perform 40 hours of community service.