Parents Prepare To Help “Govern” 4 Schools
by Melissa Bailey | Feb 16, 2011 8:21 am
Posted to: Schools, West Rock, School Reform
After years of field trips and PTO meetings, a mother-daughter duo is looking to step into a new role—advising a new principal on how to “turn around” the Brennan/Rogers School.
Linda and Martha Moore (pictured from left in photo above) are among eight parents running in an election for seven spots on a new school governance council at the West Rock K-8 school, which comprises Katherine Brennan and Clarence Rogers on Wilmot Road. Similar elections have taken place or are about to take place at Hillhouse High School, Wilbur Cross High, and Hill Central Music Academy.
The election comes due to a new state law, spearheaded by New Haven state Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield, Bethel state Rep. Jason Bartlett and the legislature’s Black and Puerto Rican Caucus.
The law requires low-performing schools to create “governance councils” made up of seven parents, five teachers and two community leaders, all elected to their posts, to advise the principal on school policy. It’s a lesser-noticed piece of broader education reforms that the caucus pushed through the legislature last May.
Based on low test scores in the spring of 2009, the four New Haven schools landed on a short list of 14 Connecticut schools required to set up the councils by a Jan. 15 deadline. Schools on that list scored in the state’s lowest-performing 5 percent and failed to make Average Yearly Progress in math and reading at the whole school level, as defined by the No Child Left Behind Act. The four New Haven schools selected are also amid major changes as part of a federal School Improvement Grant designed to “turn around” failing schools.
While the snow has slowed the process, all four schools are on track to set up the school governance panels before the end of the month: Hillhouse Principal Kermit Carolina said he mailed home ballots over winter break, collected them by Jan. 3, and firmed up the membership before the deadline. Hill Central chose its membership on Feb. 4.
Brennan/Rogers rounded up candidates last week and is planning an election on Feb. 24, according to Principal Karen Lott.
After this initial batch of four schools, another 23 New Haven schools will be required to put governance councils in place by Nov. 1. Those schools failed to make Average Yearly Progress in math and reading at the whole school level.
A New Role
Because of its low performance on test scores in previous years, Brennan/Rogers was also tapped to be the city’s first in-house “turnaround school” as part of a city school reform drive that hit the classrooms in the fall. The school is also in the midst of converting to a magnet school. Amid the changes, Principal Lott enlisted parents to help lift their children’s lagging literacy skills. The school governance board offers another way to get involved with the school.
Not enough parents signed up for the council by the Jan. 15 deadline. So the school waited until report card night last Wednesday to hook the last few recruits.
That’s when the Moores stepped up.
“We put our names down that night,” said Linda Moore.
Linda, who’s 60, and her daughter Martha, who’s 34, live in Westville Manor, a public housing complex in West Rock a short walk away from the school.
By an unusual twist of timing, Linda and Martha are both parents of students at the school. Martha, who attended the New Haven Public Schools, has a son in the sixth grade. Linda, who grew up in South Carolina, has an eighth-grade son—the product of a second set of children she bore later in life. Both of their sons started school at Brennan/Rogers in pre-kindergarten.
Over the past decade, the duo has logged many hours at field trips and parent events.
“They always come to us,” said Linda Moore.
She said she has helped supervise trips for special education students to the Peabody Museum, the pet store and Lighthouse Point Park. She goes to PTO meetings, and this year signed up to represent her school at the newly revamped citywide PTO.
“I goes to all the meetings,” Linda declared with a warm southern lilt. When her son was younger, “I would go into class unannounced. I’m the one that does that.”
Now she’s ready for a new role: sitting on a panel that aims to guide the principal through major decisions of the school. The panels won’t directly manage the school, enter into contracts, make admissions decisions, or get involved with matters governed by union contracts. They are supposed to advise the principal on other policy matters, including how parents interact with and communicate with the school.
Linda Moore said in the new board, she saw an opportunity to “be involved in helping the principal make a decision. That’s the reason I joined.”
As for her daughter?
“She follows me,” Linda Moore teased.
“I put my name down first,” countered her daughter.
The two broke easily into laughter in the kitchen of Linda’s Lodge Street home, where the oven was adding warmth to the room. They took a seat at the kitchen table next to a piece of math homework.
Martha Moore works as a baker at ShopRite in Hamden. She lives nearby on Wayfarer Street, also in Westville Manor; her family has lived in the development since 1987. Their homes are so close to the school that their sons don’t have a bus; they walk or catch a ride from Mom when it’s cold.
As their sons have grown older, the mothers’ role at the school has changed.
“They don’t want us around,” they said, their voices syncing in perfect chorus.
That hasn’t stopped them. They both said they’ve noticed a new atmosphere at the school since Principal Lott took over in the fall of 2008. Lott quelled the rowdy cafeteria and brought order to the halls, they said.
“The atmosphere is as quiet as a mouse,” said Martha Moore.
The women, who are African-American, said they have one qualm about the school’s transformation: A number of African-American teachers left the school.
When Lott started the year as the city’s first Tier III turnaround school principal, she got unprecedented authority in picking her own teachers. All the teachers had to reapply for their jobs. Staying meant undergoing a slew of changes including a longer school day. Of the 35 teachers at the school last year, only 18 reapplied to keep teaching there. Of those, 13 were offered spots, and 12 decided to stay, according to the principal.
Lott hired another 30 teachers from other schools and from as far away as South Carolina.
The result was a team of teachers with just a handful of African-Americans, leading a school that’s predominantly black, the Moores said. The 328-member student body is 76 percent black, according to school officials.
The Moores said in the transition, several of their favorite teachers left the school. Those teachers were African-American, and connected better with parents, they said. Linda Moore said her favorite teachers used to recruit parents to come out to PTO meetings, which are now sparsely attended.
On the school governance council, the Moores would not have a say over who gets hired. But they would have the principal’s ear on general policy matters.
Linda Moore said overall, she’s very happy with the school, but she’s not afraid to point out what might be going wrong.
“Sometimes they don’t like what I say, but that’s my opinion,” she said.
Past stories on the Brennan/Rogers School:
• At Turnaround School, A Reading Push
• In Garden, Teachers Tackle Special Ed Challenge
• Brennan/Rogers Earns Magnet Status
• No Naps For These Kids
• Turnaround Team Sets To Work
• Two Failing Schools Aim High
• West Rock Kids Reap Two-Wheeled Rewards
• Brennan/Rogers Prepares For Turnaround
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Oh great, so the few constantly complaining Cross parents (who are probably from Westville and legally should be going to Hillhouse on that side of the city anyway), are going to try and run the school and push for more AP, and more special treatment for their precious honors kids ... they already treat the school like its their own private school… the councils should be forced to represent the school’s true population…
Sols, while I agree with you that every effort should be made to be sure the councils represent the school’s true population, you are inaccurate on how “Westville” parents get their kids into Cross.
Any parent can put on the school lottery form that they would prefer their child go to Cross rather than Hillhouse (or Hillhouse rather than Cross). That is how “westside” students end up at the “eastside” Cross. If no lottery form is filled out, then the student will be assigned to their high school by their neighborhood.
Oh yes, the last thing we would want would be motivated, achievement driven folks trying to run the show over there. Where do they think these kids are going? College or something? (Tongue firmly in cheek.)
Sols, the school governance councils are open to all parents who are interested in having a seat at the table. There is a process, in which they must be voted in by their fellow parents, in order to participate at their childs school.
Four Schools in new haven were picked. Among them were Cross, Hillhouse, and K. Brennan.
The councils were to be implemented by Jan. 15th of this year. These schools are part of a list of many others around the state, and were picked because they are among the 5% lowest performing schools in the state. Check out the CT Board of Education website to learn more and to see the full list of schools who have to implement them. The remaining schools must have them implemented by November 15th, I believe, of this year.