A struggling Newhallville school may get an influx of extra state money next year as part of a new network of low-performing schools.
The state has invited the school, Lincoln-Bassett, to apply to join the Commissioner’s Network, a group of low-performing schools that agree to undergo an overhaul in return for extra money, support and supervision from the state. (Pictured: a “cultural diversity” session at the school featuring visits by cops who hail from around the world.)
So far, two city schools—High School in the Community and Wilbur Cross High—have joined the network, which serves 7,000 kids in 11 schools. Combined, the two New Haven schools are receiving an extra $1.4 million this year to support improvement plans.
Now state education Commissioner Stefan Pryor is inviting more schools to join.
Pryor asked school districts to write letters of interest suggesting new schools to join the network next fall. After a district writes such a letter, the state must then invite the school to apply for a grant.
New Haven nominated two schools, Lincoln-Bassett and Hillhouse High, to join the network.
The state has officially invited Lincoln-Bassett to apply, schools Superintendent Garth Harries confirmed. Hillhouse High did not make the cut. Harries said the state has suggested other resources to fund its proposal to improve Hillhouse.
The invitation triggers a planning process in which Lincoln-Bassett will form a “turnaround committee” and come up with a plan to “dramatically improve” student achievement at the school. The school is one of the city’s poorest-performing: Only three out of 45 students scored at grade level in reading on last year’s standardized tests for the 3rd grade.
The neighborhood school, which serves about 300 kids, has already been preparing for a transition. A new leader, Yolanda Jones-Generette, took over the school last fall, replacing longtime principal Ramona Gatison. At the same time, the school district eliminated grades 7 and 8 from Lincoln-Bassett amid dwindling enrollment and budget difficulties.
Meanwhile, in last fall’s mayoral campaign, Toni Harp (now the mayor) proposed making Lincoln-Bassett a “6-6 school”: keeping it open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., filled with recreation and educational-enrichment programs (plus additional snacks and dinner) as a model for reviving neighborhood schools. (Read more about that here.) Harp said Tuesday that getting into the Commissioner’s Network would give that plan a “huge boost.” The state offers Commissioner’s Network schools money for “wraparound” services, such as after-school programs and social workers, that help kids’ social and emotional needs. The state is currently spending $400,000 for wraparound services at its 11 network schools, according to the education department. Harp said she plans to work with the legislature to get other state money for after-school and child care programs at the school.
It’s not yet clear what other changes are in store for Lincoln-Bassett. While the state uses the word “turnaround” to describe the changes at Commissioner’s Network schools, that may not mean New Haven’s kind of “turnaround.” New Haven’s teachers union contract has a specific definition of the word: It allows the district to select a few low-performing schools each year as “turnarounds,” in which all teachers in the school have to reapply for their jobs and face different work rules if they stay. That has triggered major displacement of staff at Brennan/Rogers, Wexler/Grant and Roberto Clemente Schools, all of which replaced over half of their teachers.
Teachers union President Dave Cicarella has called for a timeout on turnarounds. He said they are too stressful for kids and teachers, and there’s not enough data yet to determine whether the approach has been successful.
On Monday, Cicarella said he does not support a “full-blown turnaround” at Lincoln-Bassett. “The jury is out” on turnarounds in New Haven, he said.
In the first three years of its own school reform drive, which started in 2010, New Haven’s school district created six turnaround schools. Two—Brennan/Rogers and Wexler/Grant—were kept in-house, run by district staff. Two others—Domus Academy (formerly Urban Youth Middle) and Roberto Clemente Leadership Academy—were handed over to outside management. A fifth school, Hill Central Music Academy, quietly reconstituted its staff when it became a federally sanctioned turnaround in 2010. High School in the Community, a small teacher-run magnet school on Water Street, launched an unusual turnaround in 2012, run by the teachers union.
This academic year, the district backed off of overhauling any entire schools. Instead, it launched a smaller experiment at Wilbur Cross High School, the city’s largest comprehensive high school. The district hired a New York-based organization to help it create an “International Academy” within the 1,400-student school, targeting English-language learners and other freshmen.
On Monday, Harries said the district does not yet have a plan for Lincoln-Bassett. He was asked if the school would become an official “turnaround,” where staff must reapply for their jobs.
“We have to work these things through,” Harries said.
The state’s biennial budget included $27.5 million to expand the Commissioner’s Network to up to 21 schools over two years. How much money each school gets will be “based on the model chosen, number of students served, and selected strategies as outlined in the schools’ turnaround plans,” according to state education spokeswoman Kelly Donnelly.