When Gov. Dannel P. Malloy popped by New Haven Tuesday to check out an experiment in how kids get through high school, he saw a germ of an idea he’d like to take statewide.
Malloy paid a visit Tuesday morning to High School in the Community (HSC), a 240-student magnet school on Water Street that’s reinventing itself under new management by the local teachers union.
Malloy was checking in on a new investment he’s made: The state chose HSC as one of the first four schools in the “Commissioner’s Network.” The schools get extra guidance, scrutiny and money from the state in exchange for agreeing to launch certain reforms. The state has released an extra $1.5 million to help HSC this year; another half-million dollars are on the way to repair the school building and boost social services.
In a meeting in the school library, Malloy heard from school and union staff about the plans for the state money.
One of the most “groundbreaking” experiments, he said, is the school’s effort to end social promotion.
As part of its turnaround, HSC is getting rid of the “factory assembly line” of high school. First-year students entered a new world in which they aren’t called “freshmen” anymore—they will stay at the “foundation” level of learning until they prove they have the skills to move up to the next year.
In the new system, building leader (aka “principal”) Erik Good (pictured) explained, kids could take three, five or six years to finish high school—as long as it takes to master the material. Kids can no longer scrape through high school with D minuses.
HSC is the first public school in the state to make the jump to the new system, called competency-based learning, according to Larry Schaefer, a senior staff associate with Connecticut Association Public School Superintendents (CAPSS), which has been training Connecticut schools in how to implement the method.
Between half and three-quarters of classes, including all first-year classes, have implemented the new system at HSC in this pilot year, Good said.
After a tour of two classrooms, Malloy applauded HSC for making the switch. Doing so “takes a lot of bravery,” he said.
Proving mastery of skills is “very important,” Malloy said, as the state shifts to a new Common Core State Standards, by which kids will be tested on their understanding of a new, national curriculum.
“We’ve got to get away from the concept of [getting promoted based on] time in seats,” Malloy said. “That’s not a measurement of success. It’s a measurement of time.”
Malloy was asked if he aims to replicate the method across the state.
“Yes,” he replied. “Ultimately, we’re going to have to get to that at the state level. We absolutely have to get away from the concept that we socially promote.”
Malloy clarified that he wasn’t accusing any district of pushing kids through high school; he means that the state should start measuring “the understanding of the concept” instead of “measuring time” spent in high school.
The $1.5 million has paid for HSC to hire teacher Chris Kafoglis from Wilbur Cross High School as a new “academic coordinator”; and create a new position for magnet resource coordinator. The school plans to hire a parent liaison to tackle its truancy rate: Last year, four in 10 HSC students were “chronically absent,” which means they missed at least 10 percent of school.
HSC is on tap to receive another $100,000 for “wraparound services,” according to state education Commissioner Stefan Pryor. The money will pay for the school to hire a full-time social worker. The state has earmarked another $497,000 for capital improvements at HSC; the money should be approved by the state bonding commission by early January, according to Pryor.
HSC was last renovated under Mayor John Daniels’ administration, before Mayor John DeStefano’s effort to rebuild or renovate every city school, according to DeStefano.
Pryor said he noticed the building has deteriorated since he did his student teaching there in the mid-1990s. “The level of upkeep is not sufficient,” he said.
Building Leader Good said he suspects the quality of the building was a big factor in one category of student feedback on school surveys: only 40 percent of students said they care about the school. Good said after the $43 million new Metropolitan Business Academy opened in 2010, students began to see their “sense of importance” slip in comparison.
“This building isn’t terrible, but it doesn’t compare,” Good said. “We really want the kids to start feeling like there’s an investment in the way the building looks.”
Asked about the condition of the building, Malloy downplayed the issue.
Malloy noted that he just came back from China. “People in China would literally die to have a building like this,” he said.
“There’s almost no correlation of the quality of the building” and learning outcomes, Malloy added. His statement directly contradicted an argument DeStefano has made for years, to justify his $1.5 billion school rebuilding project. DeStefano recently touted a study by Yale researchers that claimed to support his argument.
HSC was the first of two Commissioner’s Network schools Malloy planned to visit Tuesday.
He headed out the door of HSC around 11 a.m. and got into his Lincoln Towncar, which was illegally parked in the fire lane outside the school for 90 minutes he spent at the school.
This time, unlike during an unlucky visit to the Q Club last year, Malloy didn’t get a parking ticket.
Asked why his car was parked in the fire lane, Malloy said, “I don’t know. I don’t park the car.”
His driver said the car had to be close to the school in case Malloy had to make a quick getaway.
Asked for comment, Malloy spokesman Andrew Doba replied, “We don’t comment on the governor’s security protocols.”
Previous Independent stories on High School in the Community:
• History Class Hits The Streets
• “Misfit Josh” & Alex Get A 2nd Chance
• Guess Who’s Assigning The Homework Now
• On Day 1, HSC Students Enter A New World
• Frank Reports Detail Experiment’s Ups & Downs
• School Ditches Factory “Assembly Line”
• State “Invites” HSC To Commissioner’s Network
• Teachers Union Will Run New “Turnaround”