After rolling out a new model for running a school, Principal Robert Hawke is moving from one New Haven charter building to another this coming year, and returning to more traditional methods.
Robert Hawke is the principal of Achievement First’s Elm City College Prep Middle charter school. Hawke and Elm City College Prep Elementary Principal Andrew Poole reported on their midyear successes at an Achievement First board meeting last week as they plan to merge their students into one “school of the future” on James Street next year.
The two principals this year piloted a new school model called “Greenfield,” designed by the company that developed Apple’s computer mouse, which gives students more autonomy over their learning and incorporates real-world activities into an academic curriculum.
Hawke had a rocky beginning with his students, leading them in a two-grade school in a newly leased building at 495 Blake St. The long school day — from 7:15 a.m. to 5 p.m. — was tiring out both students and staff members. The large number of new teachers affected the consistency of class quality. Plans for full-day real world “expeditions” had to be shortened or cut.
Just as his school is running more smoothly, he is leaving to become principal of 7th and 8th graders on Dixwell Avenue, using a traditional educational model.
Achievement First charter network officials decided not to expand Greenfield to 7th and 8th grade, since it was running better in kindergarten than the middle school grades. Instead, they decided to expand it from grades 2 through 4, and combine all of the Greenfield grades into one school.
Elementary Principal Poole will lead the new K-6 school at 407 James St., which will undergo renovations this summer to get ready to accommodate hundreds of more students. The current principal of Elm City College Prep 7th and 8th graders, Chris Friedline, is moving to Chicago.
Hawke said at the board meeting this past Wednesday night that school culture in the 5th and 6th grades has grown stronger since he last reported in November. The percentage of students on task at any given moment has dramatically increased.
Building leaders decided to shorten the school day, to end at 4 p.m., instead of 5 p.m. They also hired a behavioral specialist and focused on professional development for teachers to clarify “what it means to be truly warm and demanding,” meaning classes are more consistent, Hawke said.
The school has also finally started its “Dream Team” meetings, part of the Greenfield model, in which students lead family and friends through explanations of their academic accomplishments, Hawke said. Students are “feeling wildly empowered,” he said. “Teachers are feeling very good about it.”
Fifth and sixth graders also finished their second full found of expeditions last week, which provided time for students to spend full days on arts and science activities. Some performed scenes of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, others learned new instruments, others practiced photography with Chris Randall of the I Love New Haven website.
Principal Poole is leading Greenfield in the kindergarten class this year, as well as grades 2-4 in the traditional model. He said he has 96 percent teacher retention in the whole elementary school for next year, with 46 out of 48 staying. The other two are leaving the teaching field altogether. “I’m excited at the prospect to retain and build on talent here in the building,” he said. All of the Greenfield teachers are staying.
“We are very understanding and accomodating when it comes to staff members entering at different phases of life,” Poole said, explaining how they managed to retain staff, often a challenge at Achievement First charter schools.
The James Street building will be small for seven grades next year, but “we’re going to make it work,” he said. The summer renovation will allow the school to add “enrichment facilities,” including a science and technology lab.
Next year, K-5 students will be divided into homerooms with 30 students in each. The sixth graders will be divided into homerooms of three groups of 24 students. Within homerooms, students will be split into smaller groups ranging from six to 15 students.
The cost of the renovation has not yet been determined.