40 East Rockers Say No To “Hooker Or Bust”

Melissa Bailey PhotoAs Britt Anderson prepares to send her daughter to a reborn East Rock Community Magnet next fall, she has found 40 other families open to making the same leap rather than competing for cherished slots at the neighborhood’s marquee K-8 school.

Anderson (pictured), who lives on East Rock’s Eld Street, announced that number Monday night, as part of a new campaign to change the neighborhood mentality of “Hooker or Bust.”

That mantra refers to the Worthington Hooker School, a K-8 neighborhood school split between buildings on Canner Street and Whitney Avenue. Hooker is seen as the holy grail of city public schools: Families have been known to buy homes in East Rock and even stake out the superintendent’s office to get their kids in.

Anderson is focusing on drumming up interest in the neighborhood’s stepchild—the East Rock Community Magnet School on Nash Street. East Rock kids get preference in the magnet lottery there, but interest in the school is low: Enrollment is virtually guaranteed for neighborhood kids, yet only 15 percent of students there hail from East Rock, Anderson said.

East Rock lags behind Hooker not just in perception, but also in student performance. When the city graded all its schools based on test scores and school climate, East Rock scored a middle-performing “Tier II” while Hooker earned a top-performing Tier I.

Newman ArchitectsAnderson and her East Rock Parents group now aim to launch a revival at East Rock coinciding with the construction of a brand new school. The city tore down the old cement “prison” that housed the school, and began building a $45 million light-filled replacement set to open in early 2013. Kids have been commuting to a Hamden swing space while construction is underway.

At a meeting of the East Rock Community Management Team Monday night at the “little Hooker” building on Canner, Anderson unveiled early results of an online survey her group has conducted. The survey, passed around through neighborhood email networks, gauged neighborhood interest in the oft-overlooked school. (You can still take the survey here.)

“Would you be interested in enrolling your children in ERGM if you knew that there was a strong parent network, and strong local community enrollment and involvement in the school?” one survey question asked.

In response, 40 families said yes. Another 34 said maybe. And 11 said no.

Adding up the number of students per family, over 100 students had parents who said they’re open to sending their kids to the school, according the Anderson.

And 31 families said they’d be willing to volunteer at the school or “support more neighborhood involvement” there.

Those responses come from a pool of parents who are almost all (93 percent) from East Rock, Anderson said. Only two currently send their kids to East Rock Magnet. Most will have a chance to do so for many years to come, because they have children in kindergarten or younger.

Anderson called the results “encouraging.”

She said she plans to send her 4-year-old daughter to kindergarten there in the fall. On Friday, she plans to start volunteering with the kindergarten and first grade to get a feel for the school.

She said she’s working to get as many parents familiar with the school before Feb. 17, the deadline for the magnet lottery. The school will have about 540 seats. Unlike at Hooker, East Rock families won’t have a hard time getting in. There’s a neighborhood preference, Anderson said, and most students currently live outside the neighborhood.

On Nov. 16, she led a group of 20 East Rock parents to the swing space on Leeder Hill Road in Hamden to check out the school. On Monday, she relayed what she learned from a Q & A with Principal Michael Conte. (Some responses are paraphrased below.)

What are the class sizes and teacher/student ratios?
For the first time, the school will be offering a pre-K. The number of spaces has yet to be decided. Classes are limited to 26 kids in grades K-2 (with one teacher and at least one aide) and 27 in grades 3 to 8.

What’s the teacher turnover rate?

Very low. “In fact, no teacher has transferred or left if there was a position for them at East Rock.”

What volunteer opportunities are available at the school?
At the moment, only 8 parents volunteer at the school. Some college students volunteer, too.

How many kids live in East Rock?
About 15 percent.

What are the boundaries for the East Rock School neighborhood?
The streets are listed on a spreadsheet here.

Does the school aim to increase the number of students enrolled from the East Rock community?
Yes. “More neighborhood enrollment is desired and welcomed.”

Are East Rock families guaranteed a spot?
East Rock residents who put the school as a first choice get “preferential enrollment” for all vacant spots. There’s also sibling preference. Seats are doled out through the magnet lottery.

Parents also learned about the curriculum at the school, which uses the Comer Method and is introducing Singapore Math. They learned that the population is transient, but that kids who stay at the school for many years perform well on standardized tests.

Anika Singh-Lemar, one of the East Rock moms on the tour, said the visit reinforced her commitment to send her 2-year-old, Sahil, to the school for kindergarten.

“That’s our neighborhood school. We’re committed to the neighborhood, and we’re committed to the school,” she said.

She and her husband, state Rep. Roland Lemar, have been encouraging other parents to make the same move.

“Part of what I’d like to see is all of the kids on my block at that school,” Singh-Lemar said. Neighborhood schools, where kids walk to class, make for stronger neighborhoods, she argued. “It’s too early to see” if that will happen, she conceded.

Lemar said the teaching quality is just the same as at Hooker. The difference, he contended, is “parental engagement and ownership over the school.”

“We can do that” at East Rock, he declared.

Lemar, who worked on the school design during his time as an East Rock alderman, called the new school the most “important infrastructure development in this neighborhood in the next 50 years.”

In a discussion by the management team Monday night, Debbie Rossi pointed to the school’s negative reputation. She said when she looked at the school for her own children 14 years ago, the perception was that East Rock was “a dumping ground” for students with disabilities and English-language learners.

Anderson said the district has since relocated the English as a Second Language program to Fair Haven. The school does have a higher-than-average number of students with disabilities: It has 16 percent, compared to 7 percent at Hooker and 12 percent district-wide.

Another neighbor asked if it’s possible to turn East Rock Magnet into a neighborhood school.

It’s possible—warned Kevin McCarthy, a legislative aide at the Capitol who chairs the management team—but “the state would want its money back.”

The state spent $39 million on the school with money earmarked for magnet schools, Lemar said. But, he offered, the school could effectively become a neighborhood school if enough neighbors simply sign their kids up.

If that happens, it will be a boon not just for the school, but for the neighborhood, Lemar and Anderson argued.

Anderson said one of her neighbors left Eld Street just to move into the part of East Rock that lies inside the Hooker school boundaries.

“It was a loss for the neighborhood,” she said. Good neighborhood schools retain homeowners and boost property values, she noted.

She said convincing the first group of East Rockers to commit to the school is the hardest part. “People haven’t gone there because people they know didn’t go there,” she said. “Nobody wants to be the groundbreaker.”

She said so far, she has found a handful of families who’ve committed to sending their kids to kindergarten next year.

Anderson remained optimistic about finding more local kids to enroll at what will be the newest school facility in the city.

“I can envision in three years, it will be a school that’s very hard to get into.”

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posted by: emcee on November 29, 2011  10:48am

Excellent. Nice initiative, Ms. Anderson & co!

posted by: East Rockette on November 29, 2011  10:58am

This is so encouraging! A truly great thing for both the neighbourhood and this brave little school that has waited a long time for a leg-up and some extra love.

As Margaret Mead may or may not have said: never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed it is the only thing that ever has.

If I wasn’t leaving town, I’d be there with bells on - but I look forward to cheerleading from a distance.

posted by: Westviller on November 29, 2011  12:13pm

Edgewood School in Westville provides a precedent for this campaign. Over a decade ago or so, a local parent, Jim Owen, one of the neighborhood’s unsung heroes, polled neighborhood families, won commitments to send their children to the school, and began the process of re-establishing Edgewood as the strong, neighborhood-centric, diverse school it is today. If a core group of local families commit to sending their children, the school will rapidly transition for the better.

posted by: bebe1222 on November 29, 2011  1:31pm

Student performance is a collaboration of parents, teachers, community, home life, and students.This collaborative effort is what gives schools a reputation.  Hopefully by these parents taking that leap of faith they will turn East Rock around and make it into a tier 1 school.

posted by: Morris Cove Mom on November 29, 2011  2:34pm

The lack of parental involvement is one of the biggest issues I’ve seen in New Haven.  I have 2 kids in 2 different schools.  I moved 1 because of academic and principal issues, but saw that parental involvement was lacking, too.

When did we get so lazy that we cannot participate in our children’s schools?  In their education?  In their lives?  At the last few PTO meetings I’ve attended (at these 2 schools), out of 300+ families in each school, only 6-12 moms attended each meeting.

I hope that the energy and attitude of these families in the East ROck neighborhood is contagious.  We need more at PTO, at Scouts, at fundraisers, at school plays and events.

posted by: Toddler's Mother on November 29, 2011  3:02pm

Makes me think of the book “How to Walk to School” (http://howtowalktoschool.com/).  My son will be the right age for preschool in 2013, and East Rock is our neighborhood school.  I’ll have to think about it.

posted by: True story on November 29, 2011  3:10pm

This school shouldn’t be built. We no longer have the number of students we thought we would when the school construction program starred over a decade ago. The Mayor tried to cancel all outstanding school construction projects in 2008 but then-alderman Lemar, along with alderman Perez cut a deal to support the mayors budget only if he went through with buildign hill central academy and this school.  All other new schools were cancelled, because Lemar and Perez were only looking out for their neighbors.

posted by: Greg on November 29, 2011  3:48pm

I don’t see Matt Smith’s name in this article.  I know that he’s been working to make the new East Rock Magnet School a good one, with a reputation on par with the Hooker School.

[Editor’s note: Smith is quoted extensively in this article on the same topic: ]http://www.newhavenindependent.org/index.php/archives/entry/east_rock_revival/]

posted by: gary highsmith on November 29, 2011  4:51pm

This is an interesting article.  It is worth mentioning here that, irrespective of neighborhood, when parents are actively involved in the education of their children, their children will learn at high levels.  It is my hope that these parents will continue to recieve the type of quality instruction my two children received when they were students there.  While no teacher or administrator is perfect, I can speak from experience regarding the positive atmosphere, wide-range of learning opportunities, and hard working adults in the building.  It is highly inappropriate to compare one school to the other for reasons too numerous to write here.  Suffice it to say, however, that an empowered community of adults can bring about great results for children.  Finally, keep in mind that there are currently active parents at East Rock.  It is possible to infer from the article that there are no parents currently engaged in the school.  While we always want more parents involved, believing that there are none at the present time would be a huge mistake.

posted by: Britt Anderson on November 29, 2011  7:44pm

I’d like to thank the East Rock Community Management Team for inviting me to present last night and for the engaging discussion that followed. Thanks also to the NHI for continuing to cover this topic. 

For those interested in getting involved or for more information, please contact me at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)


posted by: East Rock Parent on November 29, 2011  8:40pm

East Rock Magnet School is a failure (Tier II) due to leadership failure.  So long as leadership stays the same (Principal Michael Conte), the school is doomed to failure irrespective of parental involvement. 

If you truly want a new and revitalized school, the first thing you must do is sweep out the failed leadership and find a new leader. 

Until that happens, I cannot send my kids to that school.

posted by: sandra on November 29, 2011  9:26pm

@gary highsmith—very true. one of those active parents was at the first meeting of the group, representing the PTA and other parents who are involved in the school. she was very helpful and welcoming of more neighborhood and parent involvement.

posted by: Paul Wessel on November 29, 2011  9:36pm

Congrats to all involved.  This kind of collaborative school re-development is exactly what our kids, the neighborhood and the city need.

posted by: LOL on November 29, 2011  11:01pm

Be wary of Conte’s “at least one aide” in grades K-2 comment.

Some school administrators use aides as substitute teachers—REGULARLY—meaning the K-2 classes are loaded with 26 kids and NO AIDE on many days.

I know for sure that this occurs at three different Tier III, K-8 schools.  Sad, because these schools have some of the neediest students in the city.

posted by: Ben Berkowitz on November 30, 2011  12:56am

This makes me happy.
I want to send a kid or two to this school someday.

posted by: Tom Burns on November 30, 2011  2:19am

Thank you Ms. Anderson, Mr. Highsmith and others——the staff at East Rock is exceptional and believe that all kids can learn at a high level—and those of you in the neighborhood better get on board the East Rock train for it can only make your child the best he or she can be—get in while the getting is good—Tom

posted by: Jack on December 2, 2011  2:30pm

Britt Anderson’s idea is more brilliant than she probably knows. The strength of Hooker over the years has always been its diversity—racial and ethnic, sure; but also economic and class. Plus, of course, heavy parental involvement at every level. These days, Hooker has been trending toward an unusually homogeneous student body, looking less and less diverse and more like a private school. It may well be losing that intangible quality that made it the Hooker so many parents wanted for their kids. That fabulous mojo looks to be heading to ERGM.

posted by: Mikey on December 2, 2011  7:16pm

East Rock is a great school with committed staff. It is unfortunate that they are considered a stepchild.Hooker has an untouchable reputation because the parents have special treatment from the city. We don’t want to ruffle the feathers of the Yale parents! Hooker has the luxury of a particular population while other schools deal with students from many disadvantaged backgrounds.

posted by: Janyce Murphy on December 8, 2011  12:17am

I have two children at Worthington Hooker. I’m not a Yale alum, and I don’t have untold riches. I did not twist anyone’s arm, pass a bribe, or get—what did you call it? oh yes—“special treatment” to enroll my daughter 9 years ago. I simply moved from a rent on Cottage Street to one on Orange Street.
It’s called hard work and dedication. You should try it sometime; it’s a nice substitute for mud slinging and sour grapes.

posted by: Goatville mom on December 8, 2011  10:00am

@Janyce—your plan might have worked 9 years ago, but not today, necessarily. This year several IN-district kids did not get into Hooker’s K. At least 2 were offered slots in October, more than a month into the school year. The others, not sure.
I agree that it’s not necessary to knock Hooker or its parents. The point is that the neighborhood can and should have 2 good schools. ALL the schools in New Haven should be good, given what we pay for them.
That said, no reasonable person can deny that the Hooker population is not the same as the rest of the city. Take a look at the State Dept of Ed web site and look at the percentage of free /reduced lunch eligible kids, for one. http://sdeportal.ct.gov/Cedar/WEB/ResearchandReports/SSPReports.aspx?type=SSP
45% at Hooker vs. 83% for the district, on average. Same story for each of the Indicators of Educational Need.
What these ER School parents are doing IS hard work and dedication, no?