Principals Add Honors Track, Summer School
by Melissa Bailey | Jun 15, 2010 7:30 am
Posted to: Schools, Edgewood, Newhallville, School Reform
Tracey (pictured above), who runs the King/Robinson Magnet School, was one of two principals who showed up at the Board of Education’s regular meeting Monday to reveal plans to shake up the way they run their schools.
King/Robinson and the Edgewood Magnet School were among a first batch of schools to be graded into three tiers this year as part of the city’s nascent school reform drive. Monday night they detailed new initiatives they plan to launch this summer and fall.
Tracey, who lifted her school off of a federal “failing” list after four years of double-digit gains on test scores, was graded in the middle tier. That means she’ll make changes to the curriculum and staffing, with permission from central office, and within the constraints of a union contract.
On Monday, she revealed a handful of new plans that aim to reallocate staff time, give students more academic choices, and get behavior under control.
Plans include introducing a new honors program for grades K to 8.
The new program aims to supplement, or replace, the district’s Talented and Gifted program (TAG), which recently fell prey to budget cuts. TAG is an enrichment program for qualifying creative kids in grades K to 8. Students are taken out of their classrooms and bused to central location for weekly TAG sessions.
TAG got the axe when Mayor John DeStefano slashed $6 million from his budget proposal for the fiscal year starting July 1 in response to outcry from taxpayers over rising tax bills. He proposed cutting the program in half, a $800,000 reduction. School officials announced they would eliminate the program for grades K to 3, but keep it intact for grades 4 to 8.
Parents mobilized to rescue the program. Then the Board of Aldermen passed a final budget that cut school board funding by $3 million. Aldermen urged the school board to preserve TAG, but lawmakers have no power to control line-by-line education spending.
Fourteen TAG parents showed up to Monday’s school board meeting to make their case, a second time, for saving the program. Superintendent of Schools Reggie Mayo said he was not swayed: The district would go ahead with the cuts, but the TAG director would work hard to keep as much of the program intact as possible.
While the parents decried a loss, Principal Tracey set to work on a backup plan.
As a mom approached the podium with her daughter in tow, Tracey chatted with TAG teacher Doris Suarez (pictured with her back to the camera at the top of the story), who was standing in the back of the room. Five of the 11 TAG teachers who run the program will be reassigned to classroom duty, according to Mayo.
“Come work with us,” Tracey urged.
She gave the teacher her name and her number at the school. Suarez, who teaches grades two and three, eagerly accepted the paper.
“I was recruiting—right on the spot,” Tracey said afterwards. “You always have to look out” for opportunities, she said.
In a subsequent interview, Tracey said she sees her honors program as having more of an academic focus than the TAG program. She said about 10 of her students currently attend TAG, and they love it. The honors track would serve both TAG and non-TAG kids, she said.
Tracey stepped up to the microphone with an aura of determination and a huge smile. (“I’m always pumped up,” she later explained. “If you can’t motivate yourself, you can’t motivate anyone else.”)
Before laying out plans for the future, she shared how far the school has come.
She became principal in the fall of 2005, when the school was formed through the merger of Martin Luther King and Jackie Robinson.
Test scores had hit rock-bottom: only 9 percent of students scored “proficient” at reading and math on the Connecticut Mastery Test. Under Tracey’s watch, the school posted double-digit gains for the past four years. Last year, 59 percent reached proficient in reading, and 79 percent in math, she said. Also last year, after nine years on the federal government’s “failing” school list, the school proudly shed that label.
Tracey’s task will be to continue to boost scores for her school, without incurring more costs to the city’s $173 million general fund contribution to the education budget.
As she looks ahead, she sees one challenge in the lunch room.
Next year, her school is growing to 600 students, with three classes per grade level. She’s planning to break them up into four lunch waves and bring in more staff to keep behavior under control. Currently, Tracey and only one other staffer supervise about 100 kids per lunch wave—too many kids per adult, she said.
The lunch room is a key part of a school’s culture, she argued: It’s worth having order there, even if it means spending extra staff time.
“If it’s crazy in the cafeteria, it will be crazy in class,” Tracey reasoned in an interview outside the board room. She proposed reshuffling teachers’ schedules so they spend time supervising their students in the cafeteria. According to union work rules, teachers would still be guaranteed their own, child-free lunch break, she said.
The idea was inspired in part by the new plans for a Tier III school, Barnard Environmental Magnet School, which will require teachers to eat lunch with their students.
Another challenge Tracey faces is in curbing the number of suspensions, which she said have been on the rise.
“Even though it brings some peace of mind if Johnny isn’t there,” she argued, suspending a kid from school isn’t the answer: “We’re playing with people’s lives.”
She said kids are “confused” about discipline, because rules vary from classroom to classroom. The school needs a uniform language to talk about behavior, she argued. To that end, she’s turning to a new point-based rewards system that’s gaining popularity in other city schools. The program is called Positive Behavior Support. Click here to read about how the method is working at the Betsy Ross Arts Magnet School.
Tracey also rolled out a couple of ideas to prepare kids for high school and college, one of the school reform drive’s major goals. She plans a college prep course for grades seven and eight. She plans to invite alumni back to the school, so staff can reconnect with them and see how they’re doing.
Tracey also plans to bring in rigorous math classes based on the national Singapore curriculum, and a “data day” every marking period where staff analyze student test scores, based on a model at the Achievement First charter schools.
Across town, Edgewood Principal Bonnie Pachesa (pictured at right with Assistant Principal Medria Blue) aims to infuse more creativity into her classroom of high-performing kids. Edgewood was one of two schools that ranked the highest, in Tier I, when the city graded seven schools earlier this year.
That distinction gives Pachesa more autonomy and a freedom to do less teaching to a test. She’s bringing in an arts enrichment program for grades K to 2. The program will be run by Yale’s British Art Center (BAC), which has already worked with several schools outside of New Haven and is piloting a program at Edgewood this year.
The BAC won a grant to expand the program to four city schools next year, including Edgewood. The program, called Visual Literacy, uses art to get kids writing and reading. The BAC will welcome students on field trips, and train teachers on how to integrate the arts into everyday classroom learning. Students will learn how to read a painting, discuss what it means, and write about it. The program aims to activate kids’ senses, teach them to think critically, and make learning more fun, Pachesa said.
For the first time, the arts-inspired fun will spill over into the summer, she revealed. Edgewood is planning an optional, one-month summer program at the school. The program will be a first-ever collaboration with the Davis Street school, the other top-performing Tier I school. Students from both schools will get together for the month of July and focus on reading, jazzed up with lessons in music and dance. The program will be geared to students who read on a “low-proficient” level, she said.
Other plans include a workshop for parents on how to help kids transition from middle to high school, and a career day for students in grades 6, 7 and 8.
With each proposed change, principals had to provide a “rationale for change,” research that supports that change, and a way to measure the impact.
After the presentations, teachers union Vice President David Low issued a note of caution: If these changes are made without teacher input, he said, teachers could feel “bought out.” In order for the plans to work, he said, school leadership needs to “make sure teachers are empowered to make decisions.”
Post a Comment
This is what the reform initiative is all about? This is called innovative? I call it best practices. Go to the suburbs, it’s part of basic day to day operations. Cutting edge? Give me a break!
posted by: Tom Burns on June 16, 2010 12:12am
Kudos to Ms. Tracey and Ms. Pachesa—-keep doing what you are doing and lead the way in our efforts to have every child reach his/her potential——-you and your staff do a great job serving all children under your tutelage—-Our districts reform movement is second to none and is the beginning of the end for the business take-over of public schools—-goodbye to vouchers and goodbye to a proliferation of charter schools who don’t work under the same conditions as we do——-New Haven will be the beacon for other urban districts around the nation to follow——-I am as excited as Ms. Tracey and Ms. Pachesa as we move forward—-Tom
Two excellent school leaders. And even MORE impressive in many respects than their high quality counterparts in charter schools. Why? Because in most charter schools there are no union work rules. Just dedicated adults, sharing one child-centric mission, and getting the job done. But in these two schools, the principals have been successful DESPITE the honerous inflexible measures of the collective bargaining agreement.
Probably these principals are just great leaders who have gained the confidence of the teaching staff and as a result have been afforded a lot more flexibility from the union. (This is also a testament to the teaching faculty who are obviously dedicated and trusting enough of their principals to put aside the work rules and just get the job done for kids)
But what happens if even one teacher complains to the union about the violation of a work rule at a particular school? And if the teachers are willing to set aside the inflexible work rules in some schools, why not in others?
Question: How much more will it cost to schedule teachers in the lunchroom if they are also “guaranteed” a lunch free from the children? And why would the union demand that its members have lunch apart from the students in the first place? This seems like an odd requirement from a union that “loves” the children as the union rep. has claimed in the past.
Also the note of caution at the end is interesting from the union guy.
I hope the NHI follows up on how cooperative the union is in implementing these out-of-the-box configurations. These two principals are too smart to publicly throw the union under the bus by complaining about the work rules. But it would be interesting to study the differences between a school that lives by the rules and a school that doesn’t.
Great work, Principals Tracey, Pachesa and teachers.
Adults working a full time job in this country are given a lunch break. For a teacher, that (in my building, 25-minute) duty-free lunch break would mean not gobbling a sandwich at the same time you keep a food fight from breaking out at the next table. One of the ways we keep loving children for year after year is to know our limits - when we need to not be surrounded with kids. If teachers are skilled professionals, their focus should be on teaching and learning first; lower-paid and trained teachers’ aides and security guards can do a great deal to help order in lunchrooms and hallways. We teachers share the load of hall duty, lunch duty and bus duty so that everyone does some and has some of the preparation time they need.
As to how I spend my palatial, 25-minute contractually mandated lunch break on a typical day? 14 minutes - walk to lunchroom and eat, walk back. 4 minutes - bathroom. 3 minutes - talk to a student who needs to talk one-on-one without lots of peers around. 4 minutes - transition my classroom setup for the class immediately following lunch. Other slacker activities include calling parents, sending and answering emails, finishing and duplicating that last-minute handout to address a weakness I noticed in class yesterday,
You seem to think we are all lazy union hacks. A handful are, and I cannot WAIT to see them dismissed using the new, more valid and reliable procedure being implemented. Have you actually met any NHPS teachers and talked to them?
If the TAG Program is canceled what happens to the monies that were contributed by individuals to this program. Years ago I taught with Rhoda Spear. When she died she left a large endowment to the TAG Program. What became of that and possibly other individual financial contribution to the program?
NHPS Teacher, It sounds like you do not hide behind the contract and you do what needs to be done and you don’t take a lot of time for your self until school is out. But let’s face it, your school day is only 6 1/2 hours long.
My question is if you can’t wait until the bad teachers are weeded out, then why do you wait? Why pay money to a union that works against your best interests by protecting the worst teachers at the expense of the best? Why not write a letter and turn in your union card? You are sending your pay to protect teachers that you can’t wait to see go. Not only is that union stance harmful to you as a dedicated educator, but it continues to reflect poorly on the entire teaching profession.
And did you know that some of your dues go toward professional lobbying against charter school growth? What in the world do non-unionized charter schools have to do with your classroom and school environment? Why are you financing the effort to put these schools out of business when they are having great success in teaching children who choose to go there?