New Deans Start Turning Hillhouse Around
by Melissa Bailey | Apr 7, 2011 12:02 pm
Posted to: Schools, School Reform
“Radio to all deans,” said Young, pulling out his walkie-talkie. “We’re on the hunt.”
Young, who’s 41, broke into a stride in a second-floor hallway of Hillhouse High School as he delivered that message Wednesday morning.
The subject of his search was a junior boy whom Young affectionately calls Songz, after the rapper and heartfelt singer Trey Songz. Hillhouse’s 15-year-old Songz has a great singing voice, Young said—a voice he could develop further if he didn’t miss so many sessions of music class.
Larry Young was a singer for a band and a Hillhouse student, too, before he took a long, circuitous route that led him back to his alma mater.
Now the Newhallville native is leading a team of deans at the 923-student school on Sherman Parkway.
Kermit Carolina, Hillhouse’s new principal, is counting on Larry Young not only to bring kids back to class, but to help turn around a school that’s been cited for years as one of the nation’s “dropout factories.” A full-time employee at the school for 10 years, Young stepped into his new leadership role in February, when the head of deans and longtime Hillhouse “father” Tom Fleming passed away.
Young leads a team of deans who grew up in the neighborhood, some from the same housing projects where the students live. The modest wages of the four deans reporting to Young—as low as $12 an hour for an official total of 19 1/2 hours a week, though they put in considerably more time—come from a $2.1 million federal School Improvement Grant designed to transform the country’s lowest-performing schools.
Early results have been promising: Suspensions are down, attendance is up, and the culture of the school is changing. Carolina, a longtime Hillhouse basketball coach who took over the school this year, said the new deans are establishing a new culture in the school, restoring order to the hallways, and helping quell disruptive behavior.
The job involves a mix of mentoring, mediating conflicts, calming down parents—and looking for kids like Songz.
The student, who’s in his third year at Hillhouse, had been absent from class this year through a series of in-school and out-of-school suspensions. He showed up Wednesday morning to a 90-minute geometry class, where students were taking a third-quarter assessment.
While other students scribbled answers, Songz put his head down on his desk.
He “refused to complete any part of the assessment,” reported teacher Erin Petruzzelli.
Then he asked to go to the bathroom. Petruzzelli said no.
“I repeated myself and he said he was leaving anyways,” she said.
Petruzzelli gave that report on a Level I discipline slip, which is used to report minor incidents in class. She handed it to Young at 8:35 a.m.
Young greeted her wearing a striped tie, a button-down shirt with silver Tiffany cuff links and loafers, though he usually wears sneakers to cover more ground. He agreed to help track the kid down.
“Young to all deans,” he said through his radio. “Be advised, deans, I’m looking for [Songz].” If anybody sees him, Young directed, “please give me a radio check.”
“It’s Where I Grew Up”
The radio waves hit the walkie-talkie of a man named Paul Brock, who’s one of the new deans but also a familiar face at Hillhouse.
Brock (pictured), a large man wearing tinted eyeglasses and a long, black overcoat, was stationed at the back entrance of the school, checking in students who came in late. Brock, who’s 43, grew up in the Brookside projects and in Newhallville. After graduating Hillhouse in 1985, he kept strong ties to the school: Of his 10 children, nine have attended Hillhouse. One is still a student there. Brock, a retired correctional officer, said he started showing up at the school last year as a parent volunteer. “I felt I needed to know what my son was doing,” he said. “It turned into a job.”
Brock mans the “tardy” entrance in the morning, checking in late students. Then he supervises the in-school suspension room, where seven to 12 kids report each day. He’s pictured in the cafeteria, where he doubles as lunchtime emcee, making announcements about LEAP and test prep with a wireless microphone.
“I’m into it,” Brock said Wednesday morning, reflecting on his job between checking in students to his suspension room. “I love it here because this is where I grew up.”
Brock is the first face kids see when they return from out-of-school suspension. Under a new system of interventions, kids now get at least one day of in-school suspension when they’re returning from out-of-school suspension. That’s supposed to acclimate them to the school environment again. Once the students are back in class, the deans keep an eye on them.
The “Honest Hat”
Young found Songz during second period. It turned out the boy wasn’t roaming the hallways, after all—he had gone to see his social worker instead. The social worker sent him to Young’s office on the second floor.
Young and Songz sat down in a so-called “refocus room” to talk about what happened that morning in geometry class.
In some ways, Young was looking at a younger version of himself. As a kid, he used to sneak out of his house at night and go sing at clubs in Waterbury, he said.
After graduating Hillhouse, Young made some “left turns” and spent time in jail. He turned his own life around. He became active in the NAACP, worked in prison reentry at Project M.O.R.E., and organized the Freddie Fixer parade for six years.
Songz pulled a chair up to his table, keeping his plaid backpack on his back.
“Let’s put our honest hat on,” Young told the kid. “Have you been in my office a few times?”
Yes, murmured Songz, hiding his face in his hands. The student has been through after-school detention, in-school suspension and out-of school suspension.
“We’ve been through the whole thing,” Young said. This time, he suggested the two just “have a conversation” about Songz’ behavior.
The student admitted putting his head down in geometry class during the test. “I didn’t know anything that was on [the test],” he explained, “because I wasn’t in school.”
He said he put his head down because “I didn’t want to disrupt the class.”
“Wouldn’t it probably have been better if you had sat up in class?” Young suggested. The student agreed the behavior was a form of “insubordination.”
“I’m trying to do right,” he said, “it’s just two classes I don’t like.” They talked about strategies for getting caught up in math class. And they settled on a resolution to that day’s problem: Apologize to Ms. Petruzzelli.
With those orders, Young sent him on his way. On the way out, he added a reminder: “Pull your pants up.”
The “refocus room” is part of a new system of interventions Hillhouse is trying out this year. Before, kids would get sent to an assistant principal if they acted out in class. If the administrator wasn’t available, the kid would roam the hallway. Now, they get sent to the refocus room, where they talk out the problem with a dean. Often, they cool off in about 10 to 15 minutes.
There’s one refocus room for each of the four “small learning communities” that Hillhouse is now divided into, as part of this year’s changes. One is for freshmen; the others are themed by academic subject.
If the refocus room doesn’t work, students are next sent to “after-school reflection,” then in-school suspension, then out-of-school suspension. Some offenses, such as starting a fight in the cafeteria, call for skipping to the extreme of that spectrum, but most can be dealt with in-school, Young said.
The goal is to have fewer kids missing school. When kids get suspended out of school, they rarely get any work done, and it tends to lead to “educational neglect,” Young said.
The new system—a small learning environment where teachers and deans have closer personal relationships with the kids—is leading to a drop in suspensions, according to Principal Carolina.
Carolina said the school has focused on the ninth and tenth grades, because that is where most of the “negative data” tends to pop up. So far this year, the percent of kids who’ve been suspended for at least one day has gone down in each grade compared to last year. The number dropped from 33 percent to 13 percent in the ninth grade; 21 to 8 percent in the 10th; 21 to 2 percent in the 11th grade; and 13 to 2 percent in the 12th, according to Carolina.
Attendance has gone up from 83 percent to 90 percent in the freshman class; 87 to 89 percent in the 10th grade; 90 to 91 percent in the 11th grade; and 91 to 92 percent in the senior class.
Carolina said the deans have been central to that improvement. They’ve also helped lessen the burden on assistant principals, so the school can focus on its primary goal for the year—improving the quality of instruction in the classroom, he said.
Mission’s Not Done
“Hi, Glamber!” Young called out to a freshman girl in the hallway. He greets almost everyone in the school by name, often by nickname. Amber, whom he affectionately referred to as a “fashionista,” earned her nickname as by neglecting the school’s dress code. As part of the new school culture this year, all freshmen now have to wear khaki pants and a blue polo shirt with a Hillhouse logo. The nickname is a gentle reminder—followed by instructions to change her clothes.
Instead of staying in his office, he spends most of his day having interactions like those, as he “floats” around the school. “I like to be visible,” he said.
In the school cafeteria, he opted to push around a garbage can, accepting students’ empty paper plates. He doesn’t have to do that, he said; kids can get up and go to the trash themselves. He does it because he wants the kids to know he’s there, to talk to him—and so he can “intel” on any disagreements or inappropriate conversations, and cut them off before any problems arise.
In the cafeteria Wednesday, he spotted his buddy Songz. Between that moment and the meeting earlier that day, Young had received some new intel, from Songz’ band teacher. The teacher had come up to him and reported that Songz hadn’t been in class for the last three months.
This time, Young put his arm around the kid and led him to a quiet place.
“Let’s talk,” he said.
Post a Comment
posted by: streever on April 7, 2011 12:14pm
Wow. This is what we need more of. If this is part of NHPS school reform, it is certainly a great part. I’m really happy to see this type of one-to-one relationship being cultivated.
Dean Young sounds like an inspirational, ambitious, hard-working man. I’m really glad to see him in this position, where he can have a huge direct impact on the lives of kids.
Great Job Mr. Young. What I like best about this story is that Mr. Young has gone from Jail to Dean. I love it, this is an example of second and third chances in life. This should give hope to other offenders, that if you can get focus, and with a little help and a chance from others, they too can be the next Mr. Young.
It seems that Hillhouse it making some positive strides around meeting the kids where they are at.
I can relate to how Songz must have felt when handed that math assessment after having not learned any of the material. I probably would have put my head down too out of embarrassment. He probably should have not been put in that position to begin with. Also, I loved this part: “Songz settled on a resolution to that day’s problem: “Apologize to Ms. Petruzzelli.” WOW!, novel idea. This makes kids accountable for their actions. Where I work, when kids are sent to the office for misbehaving, they are made to sit at a table, I rarely see anyone talking to them and when I ask them what happened they tell me “nothing”, and then are sent to the next class…no consquences, no resolution,no accountability and definitely no apologizing.
I love that folks from the Hillhouse community who are working in the schools, building relationships with the kids, and trying to help them out. This is how change will occur. Relationships, relationships, relationships….that’s what these kids don’t have and really need.
Kudos to the staff at Hillhouse and keep up the good work!!! We need more of this in all schools.
Everyone is talking about moving over to Hillhouse. Getting in on that community seems to be the buzz. Getting out of the negative ... well ... let’s leave that there.
What an informative, uplifting story, Melissa. Excellent job.
Dean Young, God bless you. The world of education needs more people like you. If you’re not an inspiration to the students of Hillhouse, then who is?
Keep up the great work and THANK YOU.
@teachergal—Very well said. Sounds like the district could use more teachers like you; your heart sure seems in the right place and you don’t sugarcoat what truly goes on.
And great job by the Independent. Truly. This paper covers ALL angles and gives ALL parties their say ... the way a news outlet should be!
Reports on this website this school year suggest a renaissance at Hillhouse High School, but I don’t see much about Wilbur Cross High School. Are there any plans for an article on that school’s progress?
As a teacher at Hillhouse, I can confirm that the deans have made an incredible difference as compared to past years. Thanks for covering this.
If a student has been out of school for several days, why test him? Isn’t testing supposed to be linked to learning, not shaming? I’d want to leave the classroom too, if unprepared. Yes, I know, it is this student’s responsibility to come to school. Yes, I know this teacher is supposed to be testing on a schedule. But, let’s all step back from our assumptions, and really look at this young man’s needs/interests & how to effectively (re-)engage him in learning.
I am sorry to have to post this, but does anyone wonder why any sensible parent would ever want to send their kids to NHPS. I have no doubt Mr Young is doing the job to the best of his ability, but it seems more like a prison wardens job than an educators. I have both friends and relatives in the sworn services in New Haven, and I can’t blame them for living in the suburbs so their kids can avoid this. There are no metal detectors in suburban schools and none of this kind of intrusive security. Teachers are very motivated and text books are in reasonable condition and free of pornographic graffito. Our kids do well on the CAPT and other tests. Our schools are old and worn, but at least clean and safe. The state should look into the results of Sheff vs O’Neill and put and end to this. My state taxes have been misused in paying for excessive new school buildings and other expenditures in New Haven that are against the public interest of those in its suburban towns. The responsible politicians need to be held responsible and voted out of office.
I am so glad to hear about the good things that are happening at James Hillhouse High School Kudos to all of the staff at the school.
To Hillhouse Family
Living in the suburbs does not guarantee a child’s safety, drugs use and other ills that society has to offer. Speaking from a parental background; all three sons have attended and graduated from Hillhouse High School. Son #1 was 16 as a Senior went on to NNonfatalMount Hermon for a PG year then graduated from Amherst College in 4 years; son#2 also attended NNorthMount Hermon PG year, graduated form Wesleyan University in 4 years the all time leading scorer in Basketball;son#3 attended CCheshireAcademy PG year and ggraduatedfrom RRhodeIsland in 4 years. Hillhouse has will be a great academic institution for our students and I support everything they are doing. Again as a parent no one has ever taken the time to ask what has made these three beautiful young as successful as they are. But, news do not sell positive stories; also the ironic thing about this is that they went to all NEW HAVEN PUBLIC SCHOOLS!!! God BLESS KERMIT and the ENTIRE STAFF
Sorry: I completely understand why you would ask such a question. Here’s why I teach in New Haven and plan to send my son to NHPS schools when he gets to age….
New Haven’s schools and staff are more diverse than suburban schools. My child will learn more about working, playing, and living with people different from himself.
While the worst schools are really bad, our best schools are among the state’s best.
As an involved parent (and as a veteran teacher), I know that my involvement in my son’s education has a far greater impact on his success than any other aspect of his schooling.
Once he gets to high school, he will be able to take classes for free at Yale, which no suburban school can boast
I hope New Haven Promise is still around when he graduates.
When my son graduates from high school and applies to college, he will have a slight edge in the college selection process, being a student from an “inner city public school.”
Not every parent is like me, so I know that my choices are not the same as someone else would make. I just wanted to give you a valid answer to your very valid question.
I am surprised that a person who has been to JAIL is even allowed to work in a school around children.
It’s wonderful to see so many young African American young men working in NHPS as Deans and Principals! I do hope Mr. Young will be even more of an example and obtain his degree and maybe become a classroom Teacher. The need for a more diverse teaching staff in NHPS is great! In addition, I strongly believe there is also a need for female Deans in NHPS also! So, I hope Hillhouse will consider females for next school year! Young ladies need polished female professionals to guide and direct them too! All areas of NHPS need more diversity… there are to many of the good old boy males/females still running many of the departments as coordinators, and supervisors! Stop over looking talented people and put them in positions. Keep up the good work Hillhouse! Kudos!
I’m actually a student at Hillhouse, and a student of the Geometry teacher mentioned in this article. I would just like to say that she is probably one of the best math teachers at our school. She goes above and beyond what most teachers do in all of CT. She travels hundreds of miles just to teach at this school because she loves this school. What happened with that student was HIS fault. If you don’t go to school everyday and then show up at a math assessment of course you’re going to fail at it. It’s common sense. Her job is to teach who is there in her class and she does that extremely well. You can’t teach an empty seat, and she refused to. Hillhouse gets a horrible reputation but it’s not a bad school at all. Don’t believe the hype because none of it is true. These media outlets don’t care about the truth, they just dish out more of the same.
First off what does the article have to do with what the deans are wearing. you just wasting paper writing that. Second, she is a good teacher and she actually teaches my trigonometry class very well and i get everything she teaches. It is his fault if he didn’t know the material not hers because he chose not to come to school and learn so i don’t even know why this article is even up here. Can’t nobody come at her side ways if you never had her and if you did and you didnt learn the material thats your fault because she will go through hell and high waters to teach every kid and she stayed after school so if he need to learn thats when he could have came. I don’t respect him at all for that because he said all of that stuff and didn’t even bother to appolapologizethe rude comments.
This is a refreshing article and clearly an attempt to soften the perception of Hillhouse High School. The school often gets a bad rap due to poor academic performance and the occasional violent event which gets magnified exponentially in the media. Hillhouse has always been home to a solid group of serious scholars. I’m a proud young alum under Age 30 with Master’s degree and I can name at least 15 classmates who have accomplished the same if not MORE! This article shines a light on what the new administrative team at Hillhouse is working towards (not just Mr. Carolina, but others like APs Mr. Nguyen, Ms. Gannon, Dr. Carberry and the ever present Ed Scrapa).Hats off to Mr. Young and his efforts. He was a worker during my years at Hillhouse and children gravitate to him. Please use this leverage to stress to Hillhouse students the importance of their education. We’v got to be honest with our children and convey the face that without a serious education they severely handicap their future ococcupational oportunities. Congrats Hillhouse family!
posted by: Surprised on April 8, 2011 10:29am
I am surprised that a person who has been to JAIL is even allowed to work in a school around children.
What better role model for the students at Hillhouse? Many of them live in crime-plagued areas and some of them already have made serious mistakes/crimes. What better way to show students that, despite their current circumstances, they can make something of themselves; that they must pay for their mistakes/crime and then go on and make a positive difference in life?
How come there hasn’t been an article about the disbanding of the Cross Activist group?
Young leads a team of deans according to this article. The principal wants Young to bring kids back to class & help turn around the school.
What is the job qualifications for this DEAN position? What are the job duties? What training or education do the deans have to deal with this students.
It seems to me if the deans are succeeding
in reaching the students then New Haven should question why they are spending so much on the outrageous salaries to the top heavy adminstrators at this school.
While I too laud Hillhouse for its efforts at reform, I think you inadvertently prove its detractor’s main points. It is great that your three sons attended Hillhouse and went on to successful college careers, but the fact that all of them attended another year of school before going to college makes it seem as if Hillhouse was not in fact doing an adequate job of preparing them for college. It does not seem as if this was your point, but I think it is fair to say that if a high school is doing what it should be doing, then a student (especially one with an obviously caring and involved parent) should be ready for college upon graduation…
Again if you read the posting correctly I did state that my sons did a PG year because they 16 as Seniors. A PG year means a Post Graduate Year in which a young person can be away from home and experience what college would be really like. Academically it can help, but that was not themain reason
I went to Hillhouse at around the same time Larry Young and Paul Brock went there. Matter of fact, I went to Troup with Larry. I work in a similar capacity at my children’s school in Sacramento, CA. My official title is Campus Monitor. The school I work at is a charter school on a converted all-girls Catholic school that is now a K-12, so I get to interact with the whole gamut of students and make sure they’re making all the right choices. I applaud the effort my old classmate is doing at Hillhouse. I remember when anyone got in trouble in school, that person went to go see whatever assistant principal was available-usually it was Hunt (RIP).