Feds’ $11M Will Turn 4 Schools Into Magnets

Melissa Bailey PhotoA stepchild school with outdated computers will get a major technology boost, thanks to a federal grant to convert four city schools into magnet schools with math-and-science themes.

Celentano Museum Academy, the New Haven public school that has lagged the farthest behind in access to technology, will receive millions of dollars to buy new computers, iPads and smartboards, as well as train teachers and add staff, thanks to the $11 million grant the school district won from the federal government.

Celentano is one of four city schools that will use that money to become official “magnet” schools with a science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) focus. Magnet schools aim to promote racial diversity and school choice by accepting students by lottery, from across New Haven and sometimes from the suburbs as well.

New Haven was one of 27 school districts nationwide that won competitive grants from the federal Magnet School Assistance Program, the U.S. Department of Education announced last week.

Click here to read New Haven’s magnet grant application, which outlines how the money will be spent.

The news met celebration at a press conference Monday. It also raised a question that the school district is trying to answer: How can it ensure that resources flow equitably to stepchild schools that are not magnets? 

4 “Destinations”

The news conference took place at Strong School at 130 Orchard St., where kids lined up on the ground to greet top officials and smile before a TV camera.

Strong School, which serves grades K to 4, is one of three existing schools tapped for the transformation. Strong will become the “21st Century Communications Magnet and Lab School.” The Quinnipiac School, which also serves grades K to 4, will be dubbed the Quinnipiac Real World Math STEM School. Celentano, a pre-K to 8 school that accepts kids from across the city, will become the Celentano Biotech, Health and Medical Magnet School.

New Haven’s grant application also calls for creating the New Haven Montessori STEM Magnet School for grades pre-K to 6. The Montessori school doesn’t exist yet. Superintendent Garth Harries said the school district aims to merge the new magnet with Elm City Montessori School, a first-of-its-kind “local charter” that is set to open in the fall of 2014.

The federal magnet program aims to increase racial diversity in the schools. The schools won’t be state-sanctioned magnets, which must accept 35 percent suburban kids. They’ll be federal magnets, accepting suburban kids through Project Open Choice. Suburban parents who want their kids to attend New Haven schools will apply through a lottery run by ACES, which is separate from New Haven’s magnet lottery. Through Project Open Choice, each school decides how many seats per grade to hold open for suburban kids. There isn’t a fixed percentage of suburban kids, but it’s usually lower than 35 percent, according to Debbie Breland of the school district magnet office. 

New Haven won $11,294,384 over three years to pay for the new magnet themes; the grant will pay $3.7 million in the first year.

The three city schools tapped for conversion are what could be called “stepchild” schools. Strong and Quinnipiac were both first created as overflow schools for kids who who failed to win seats through the magnet lottery and who did not get into their neighborhood schools. Strong is currently at the old Vincent Mauro school, which does not have a functional playground. Strong accepts kids from the west side of town; Quinnipiac serves the east.

Both schools have evolved from “overflow” schools into schools with a stronger sense of identity, Harries said. He said the grant—which will provide extra staff, teacher training, technology, and a new curricular focus on STEM—will help make them “destination schools.”

Celentano Principal Keisha Hannans (pictured) predicted the same trajectory for her school.

Celentano used to serve exclusively special needs children until the 1990s, when it started accepting general-education kids as well. Celentano now accepts students from across the district—including kids who strike out in district’s highly competitive magnet lottery. Celentano is basically an overflow school, Hannans said—it doesn’t have a strong theme that makes families clamor to get in. It doesn’t serve a specific neighborhood. It doesn’t have extra resources that magnet schools get.

As a non-magnet school, Celentano is one of a half-dozen schools that bear the brunt of mid-year transfers—students who change schools in the middle of the year. Over 17 percent of students join the school after Oct. 1. The students join from other magnets, charters, or from out of town—some because of behavioral problems or special needs.

Celentano, which serves 400 students, was farthest behind in getting new technology, according to Assistant Superintendent Imma Canelli. Celentano was the school she most worried about having enough computers to take new Common Core-aligned standardized tests, she said.

The school has “outdated” computers, eight-year-old laptops, and two smartboards—interactive whiteboards that are replacing chalkboards in most schools. With the magnet grant, the school will be able to buy new iPads, interactive “smart tables,” and put a smartboard in every classroom, Hannans said.

“The grant will enable us to upgrade technology and bring us into the 21st century,” Hannans said.

Each of the three schools—Strong, Quinnipiac and Celentano—will implement the new STEM theme this year. They’ll each get to hire two new magnet resource teachers to help integrate the theme into the classroom, according to Canelli. Money will also pay for extra teacher training.

“The quality of instruction will improve,” through the new technology and professional development, Hannans said.

The Broader Magnet Challenge

Hannans sits on an “equity committee” of school district staff and teachers that has been examining the disparities between magnet and non-magnet schools. The group has been looking at the kind of issues that put Celentano at a disadvantage, including high transience and less per-pupil funding.

As a magnet with extra money, Hannans’ school will now cross to the other side of the divide. Hannans was asked about the impact that might have on the remaining neighborhood schools.

“This is a great opportunity for these kids,” she replied. But “the district needs to find a way to fund schools equitably.”

“Schools shouldn’t have to become a magnet school to receive funds,” she said.

Harries, who has put equity at the top of his list as he begins his first year as superintendent, vowed to keep working on the problem.

He was asked if creating more schools of choice would make life more challenging for the dwindling number of neighborhood schools in the district.

“It would, if we weren’t self-conscious about it,” Harries replied.

He said there’s nothing prohibiting magnet schools from accepting late transfers; it just hasn’t been standard practice in New Haven.

“These are issues we’ve got to focus on regardless” of the creation of new magnets, he said.

He said the district’s goal is to lift all schools.

“We need every one of our schools to be one that” families want to send their kids to. “This is going to make them attractive neighborhood options and magnet options.”

The magnet schools will likely still give preference to kids from a certain geographic area. The district hasn’t yet decided where those boundaries will lie; that decision will be part of a citywide redistricting process, Harries said.

A previous version of this story follows.

Melissa Bailey File PhotoFour city schools will take on new science and technology themes, thanks to a windfall of federal money supporting new magnet schools.

New Haven was one of 27 school districts nationwide that won competitive grants from the federal Magnet School Assistance Program, the U.S. Department of Education announced last week.

New Haven won $11,294,384 over three years to convert four schools into magnet schools with a science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) focus. Magnet schools aim to promote diversity and school choice by accepting students by lottery, from across New Haven and sometimes from the suburbs as well. The grant will pay $3.7 million in the first year.

New Haven will create the following STEM-themed magnets: Celentano Biotech, Health and Medical Magnet School (Prek-8); Quinnipiac Real World Math STEM School (K-4); 21st Century Communications Magnet and Lab School (K-4); and New Haven Montessori STEM Magnet School (PreK-6), according to its application.

The Montessori school doesn’t exist yet; it’s set to launch in September 2014 as a first-of-its-kind “local charter”—click here to read more about that.

The New Haven school district plans to announce more details at an 11:30 a.m. press conference at Strong School at 130 Orchard St.

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posted by: Citizen X on September 30, 2013  3:44pm

Does this mean that there is enough money to allow NEW HAVEN students into the magnet schools instead of suburban kids?

New Rule: If you have white-flighted out of the district, don’t feel so entitled to plant your kid in a seat that should be reserved for a New Haven resident. Your selfishness should know some bounds.

posted by: True that on October 1, 2013  2:15am

Here is the paradox:  New Haveners want more New Haven kids in magnet schools, and rightly so.  New Haven is a segregated city.  The super says they may draw from certain geographic areas.  Research shows that Socioeconomically integrated schools improve all student’s achievement. If you draw from certain neighborhoods, and these neighborhoods are segregated, you continue to get segregated schools.  The smart thing to do is to intentionally integrate these schools Socioeconomically in order to improve the students achievement.

Notice that Harries, a Broad Academy graduate, slipped a charter school into the district.  Did the public know anything about this proposal?  Incredible.

posted by: nhstudent4ever on October 1, 2013  6:29am

Hannans is absolutely right, a school shouldn’t have to be a magnet school in order to get the resources it needs. Tying schools to neighborhoods would be a really positive thing for communities.

Harries: If magnets can accept late transfers, then they should really start. That is one of the biggest equity problems. Apparently for high school, “capacity” is determined (or at least was under the Mayo administration) based on average english class size. That made absolutely no sense when there are disparities between class sizes. His argument was that even if a school’s enrollment is “over capacity” it doesn’t matter because not all students show up to school every day. Great! Having a policy that starts out with the assumption of truancy is just ridiculous. I hope Harries can make some positive changes to improve equity.

posted by: formerNhresident on October 1, 2013  12:32pm

Yes, I white-flighted and no I don’t feel entitled to a seat in a New Haven magnet school. I wish not to subject my 6 year old to the societal ills that come from being poor in the inner city: mental health issues, drug abuse,incarcerated parents etc which lead to behavioral problems in school. The suburbs has enough socio-economic diversity believe it or not and I will travel abroad to expose her to cultural diversity, because one faction of a race/culture/ethnic group is not representative of all.

posted by: Rozzy on October 1, 2013  9:11pm

While I am so happy for the schools that got this wonderful grant I am also once again reminded that New Haven schools are a tale of the haves and the have-nots. I am a long time teacher in New Haven and work at a school in which our technology in the classroom consists of blackboards. When we were renovated 11 years ago we were given computers and projectors that are still in use (if they work, which many do not). We make due with what we have. We have no white boards, no laptops and no way of updating our sadly out of date technology. We, too, would like to join the 21st century! Garth Harries needs to visit our wonderful school and know that ALL New Haven children deserve to have access to technology. Each teacher in our school recently received 1 new computer to use for a class of 27 students. I bought my own portable projector and document camera so that my students can learn. That was over $900 out of my own pocket. I am happy to be able to do that for my students because they deserve it. But it shouldn’t have to be this way. This should be a top priority for Harries; to update ALL the schools and not make the few, like us, who get no monies, have to feel jealous of the schools that do.

posted by: Brutus2011 on October 2, 2013  10:18am

I am gratified that “Rozzie” posted about his/her experiences as a long-time educator here.

This is precisely the situation while teaching here in New Haven.

Teachers must spend significantly to try to teach our kids. I too had to buy my own projector, and more, to make the most of each available instructional moment.

Mr. Harries should make sure that all this grant money finds its way to the classroom.

But somehow it never does.

And the beat goes on.

posted by: Blue on October 5, 2013  10:30am

Correction @ Hannans:  CMA had a strong theme ... that of being a Museum Academy.  That was until you took over thanks only to your ties to Reggie Mayo.  Laura Russo was a dynamic principal who believed strongly in the Museum theme, which turned students into docents, explaining their work and why it was important.  Parents routinely visited the school to view and celebrate student exhibits.  That ended when you replaced Russo, who by the way, has become on of East haven’s top administrators.  Perhaps this magnet theme will distract people from the fact that you destroyed the museum theme and haven’t led the school out of Tier III status in your 6 years at Celentano.