Board of Ed Hires Outside Provider to Turn Around Clemente

Monday, May 23, 2011
Christopher Hoffman
The New Haven Board of Education today unanimously approved a contract with Renaissance School Services, LLC to turn around Clemente Leadership Academy, one of the system’s lowest performing schools.
The decision is part of New Haven’s School Change reforms. Under School Change, city schools are ranked each year, and those most in need of improvement are designated “turnaround” schools.
Turnaround schools are reformed through one of three methods: new leadership and a reconstituted staff; the same leadership and staff, but new work rules; or -- as occurred today -- contracting with an outside organization. The district is turning around schools this year using each of the three methods.
The approach is part of School Change’s “Portfolio of Schools,” the concept that one size does not fit all and reform must be tailored to each individual school.
“Clemente is one of the district’s lowest performing schools and must improve,” Superintendent of Schools Dr. Reginald Mayo said. “Renaissance has an impressive track record of turning around schools. The company consistently raises academic performance and improves the learning atmosphere. Renaissance brings broad turnaround expertise and experience to Clemente with the goal of sparking an academic rebirth at the school.
“We are open to all approaches under our School Change reforms. This is Portfolio of Schools in action -- using the best approach for each individual school. An outside organization is the best way to turn around Clemente. Renaissance has shown it can deliver at schools similar to Clemente. Contracting with Renaissance is what’s best for Clemente students and their future.” Dr. Mayo said.
Renaissance, a school management organization based in Califon, N.J., is led by one of the nation’s premier turnaround experts. Renaissance’s partners have worked with both charter and district schools and have revitalized schools in Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts.
Renaissance President Richard O’Neill said, “We are very pleased to be chosen as New Haven’s turnaround partner at Clemente Leadership Academy. New Haven is a national leader in district school reform, and we are excited to become part of its team.
“We look forward to working with the school, families, the community and the district to revitalize Clemente. Our singular focus will be on improving Clemente’s learning environment and academic performance,” O’Neill said.
Renaissance’s partners have participated in 25 turnarounds since 2000, including with their former employer Edison Schools. In 85% of cases where they had full control of school’s management and faculty, they produced substantial gains in student achievement within two years.
Renaissance was hired most recently in 2010 to operate the troubled Lowell Community Charter School in Lowell, Mass. and has already improved the school’s performance.
Renaissance will:
·         Begin meeting immediately with the Clemente’s leadership, staff and parent and assume full control of the school in the fall;
·         Select and employ the school’s principal and other administrators, searching both in New Haven and nationwide;
·         Assess and confer with Clemente’s teachers and offer jobs to those it determines have the desire and capacity to assist in turning around the school. Teachers who do not stay at Clemente would be offered positions elsewhere in the district;
·         Seek to achieve a year and half of academic progress in one year;
·         Set Clemente’s curriculum, school year and school day in consultation with the New Haven Public Schools, building from the school’s existing strengths and weaknesses.
With the exception of the top three administrators, Clemente teachers and school staff would remain New Haven Public Schools employees and members of unions that represent school employees. The teachers union has expressed support for the Renaissance contract.
The district’s agreement with Renaissance is an annual contract subject to yearly renewal and paying the organization about $450,000 a year. The agreement includes a schedule of academic performance and student engagement goals that Renaissance is required to meet. The district and Renaissance expect to see improvements immediately with a full turnaround within four years.
The district plans to use a state of Connecticut School Improvement grant to pay Renaissance.
Clemente is a kindergarten to eighth grade school with about 550 students.
More about Renaissance:
·         Renaissance founder and lead partner Richard O’Neill is on the board of Mass Insight, a national leader in turnaround policy;
·         Renaissance was the first state-approved turnaround operator in Massachusetts, widely regarded as having the nation’s most rigorous academic standards;
·         Renaissance pursues a slow growth strategy and is unwilling to sacrifice quality for growth;
More about Renaissance’s school model:
·         Renaissance’s philosophy is to produce students who are literate, numerate and able to think critically with social skills and personal habits that enable them to become productive, healthy members of society;
·         Renaissance builds upon existing school curricula, programs, and themes;
·         Renaissance starts working with the existing team at the school, restructuring the leadership team with new duties and working with staff through the spring to mutually determine fit in the new program; 
·         Renaissance works extensively with designated leadership staff on achievement data and school operations;
·         Renaissance encourages comprehensive social service support in and out of the school, partnering with community providers to provide after-school programs, counseling, and mental health support;
·         Renaissance works closely with parents, strengthening communication and encouraging, tracking and supporting parental involvement.