School Change Improvment Plans Outlined

3 More Schools Plan “Transformations”
by Melissa Bailey | May 10, 2011 9:37 am
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Kids will choose their own books and join more clubs, and a batch of new teachers will get more training in classroom management, according to new plans underway at three city schools.
Principals from Nathan Hale, Conte/West Hills and Hill Central presented those plans at the Board of Education meeting Monday night.
The schools are among 11 that will face changes this fall as part of the city’s school reform drive. According to the districtwide effort, schools are being graded into three tiers based mostly on test scores, then managed accordingly. Top-performing Tier I schools are given more autonomy; Tier II schools are given mid-level autonomy; and low-performing Tier III schools may face dramatic work rule changes or even be taken over by a charter group. All the schools were graded in January, but the changes are being phased in with batches of seven to 11 schools per year.
The three schools that presented Monday are part of a second batch of schools to make changes. The first batch, including Brennan/Rogers in West Rock, kicked off the process last fall.
Monday’s presentations gave a broad overview of the philosophy behind the improvement plans at each school.
Nathan Hale School, a popular K-8 neighborhood school on the East Shore, scored at the top of the district, in Tier I. Principal Lucia Paolella said one of her goals is to develop parent leaders. The school’s PTO is currently regrouping after its dynamic leader “burned out” and stepped down, leaving shoes that were “too big to fill,” Paolella reported. While she acknowledged not every parent has time to go to PTO meetings, she set a goal that 75 percent of parents will participate in at least one event for their child. Paolella set a goal for students to become more engage, too: 85 percent will be involved in a club or committee, she pledged. Other goals are to develop “project-based learning” units in the classroom and to create student portfolios using the Comer method.
Along with their goals for next year, each school had to lay out how the results will be measured. Paolella chose to set goals for how teachers will fare on various parts of the district’s new teacher evaluation, as well as the Pathways Developmental Survey for students.

Harry A. Conte/ West Hills Magnet School, which scored in Tier II, will develop in each student “the curiosity of an explorer and the creativity of an innovator,” said Principal Dianne Spence (pictured). Spence said students at her school may be reading, but they’re doing so passively. She wants them to chose their own books to read at home, so they can build the “stamina” to become “lifelong readers.” Teachers will create classroom libraries to encourage kids to read more, and adults will model the behavior by becoming more avid independent readers, too, she said.

At Hill Central Music Academy, Principal Glen Worthy (pictured) is already quietly moving forward with his own “transformation.” That’s because the K-8 school was tapped last year for a $1.59 million federal School Improvement Grant designed to transform the country’s lowest-performing schools. The federal government laid out four models by which schools must change their staff or structure in order to accept the grant; Hill Central chose a “turnaround” model, whereby it kept its principal and dismissed 50 percent of the teachers.

Last June, Worthy let half of his 42 teachers go and got to choose 21 new teachers, most of whom are in the first year of their careers. He said the new staff is enthusiastic, and there’s a new energy in the school. Since new teachers tend to be weaker in classroom management, Worthy said he provided training in that area. Next year, as his school becomes a “Tier III improvement school,” he plans to give teachers a refresher in classroom management and Responsive Classroom training for grades K-5.
The school is three-quarters Latino, with a lot of native Spanish-speakers. Forty percent of students listed as English language learners, compared to 12 percent district-wide, Worthy said. He plans to implement a model called Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol, which gives teachers specific guidance on teaching English language learners.
Another focus is parental involvement. Hill Central is a neighborhood school serving the Hill area. While its permanent home on Dewitt Street is being rebuilt, students are studying in a swing space on Quinnipiac Avenue, over three miles away. Parents trek across town to attend school events. The population is very transient, Worthy said: Because it’s a neighborhood school, there is no special lottery to get in, and students join at any point during the school year.
After the presentations, Mayor John DeStefano (pictured) took the opportunity to pose a few questions to teachers from the three schools.
“I think we don’t do a great job engaging parents,” he offered. “What do you think?”
DeStefano asked teachers what their expectations are, and how they aim to engage parents.
Jackie Dunn, a fourth-grade teacher at Conte/West Hills, said she would love it if parents showed up to the PTO meetings, but she understands many are busy. She rattled off a list of expectations for parents: make sure kids do their homework, show up at school on time, and turn up to report card night twice a year.
At Hill Central, a parent liaison has been holding meet-the-principal coffee hours in the Hill neighborhood so parents don’t have to schlep across town, said Tina Mitchell, a bilingual leader at the school.