College Credit Program Stretched

Christopher Peak GraphicLimited staff is constraining a popular program that allows public high school students to get a taste of college seminars, a department head warned the Board of Education.

The popular Independent Study and Seminar Program (ISSP) has allowed high schoolers to sign up for college classes or design their own seminar since 1967. It is trying to keep up with a surge of interest from students while working with a shrinking team.

In a recent presentation to the Board of Education, Julie Reinshagen, one of ISSP’s two full-time coordinators, highlighted the successes the ISSP continues to show after a half century, while also pointing out the serious need to make another hire.

That message resonated with board members who’d graduated from New Haven schools and parents whose children compliment the program. But Reggie Mayo, the interim schools superintendent, said funds simply aren’t available on a tight budget.

“While we both love this work and are incredibly proud of the successes our students are achieving, the workload as it stands is unsustainable at this staffing level,” Reinshagen said, “and we respectfully request the reinstatement of a third ISSP coordinator.”

The department’s most popular offering is “College Before College.” That program enrolls high school juniors and seniors (with a 3.0 GPA and minimum scores on the PSAT) alongside college students at Gateway Community College, Southern Connecticut State University, Quinnipiac University, University of New Haven and Yale University — all at no cost to the district.

The advanced courses not only challenge bright students, but also can save their parents thousands of dollars in eventual college tuition. Over 80 percent of the students complete the work and receive college credit, Reinshagen said, which can mean savings of anywhere from $600 at a community college to $4,000 at a private university, she estimated. “Some students have [graduated] with enough credits to start at the sophomore level,” she added.

Last semester, in Spring 2017, the program signed up 73 at Hillhouse, 62 at ESUMS, 51 at Cross, 50 at New Haven Academy, 37 at Career, 34 at Co-op, 26 at Metro, 24 at HSC, 12 at Sound and 7 at Creed.

ISSP also helps students create independent courses with a certified teacher, so long as they’re on track to graduate and maintains a B average in the area they want to study. The coordinators guide students as they put proposals together, approve the final syllabus and stay on top of scheduling and attendance.

In the past, coordinators have helped set up independent studies on astrochemistry, athletic training, digital photography, Mandarin Chinese, the Holocaust, women’s literature and woodworking, to name just a few. Repeat offerings include automotive technology, advanced calculus, and organic chemistry, Reinshagen said. Last school year, 123 students across all high schools completed an independent study course, she added.

Christopher Peak PhotoThroughout, ISSP coordinators offer students an individualized learning experience and steer them through college admissions and financial aid applications.

The tough part of the job is the caseload. With only two employees, the staff must bounce between high schools. And they can be stretched even thinner if they step up to manage Advanced Placement classes or online learning courses.

“High School in the Community has an in-house Independent Studies coordinator, but the other nine high schools are currently underserved by itinerant coordinators. Only two full-time and sometimes one part-time coordinator have been covering nine high schools since the fall of 2015,” Reinshagen said. “As you can imagine, a great deal of paperwork, follow-up meeting time and individual meeting time is required to assist more than 500 students a year.”

Reinshagen asked for the district to give her one more full-time person, nearing the department’s standard staffing level of 3.5 full-time equivalents. At that support level, each coordinator would be in charge of no more than 1,750 students at three schools, she said. Put another way, with more help, a coordinator could be stationed at Wilbur Cross five days a week, while the department can now only afford to be at the school two days a week.

A new hire wouldn’t come cheap, Reinshagen admitted. “This is not a teacher we can hire straight out of college,” she said. “You need to be familiar with what’s available in the district [and] hopefully familiar with working at more than one place at a time.”

Mayo said that, given the limited funds the district received from the state, he has prioritized beefing up the number of security guards and guidance counselors. He couldn’t promise he’d have dollars leftover to grant Reinshagen’s request.

“We have to do this little by little,” he said.

School board member Darnell Goldson, a Hillhouse alum who took classes at UNH his senior year, said he wants to find the money. “Don’t let us forget when we start our budget next year,” he told her.

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posted by: Realmom21 on December 7, 2017  6:01pm

This is a perfect example f the BOE being top heavy without enough worker Bees. This position is very equivalent to a guidance counselor and equally as important unlike having five different administrative secretaries assigned to one office in which they act as thought hey are doing you a favor by even taking a message. Realistically this individual is guiding child towards a program to grow their education. Something MOST of us WANT and believe to be the primary purpose of the educators and their bosses. So in other words as long as a child is in the bottom tier of things you will pull what every resources from where ever to get them and their educational needs on pare but if your child happens to excel then BOE isn’t worried becseu it just keeps their scores for the district up so we dont have to find money to grow their education?  Ask Hamden about the seven mothers who sought legal council because their accelerated children where not being given the opportunity to LEARN and thrive equally as those who were failing. Hamden was advised to find resources because it would have been a disparity in quality and quantity of education and programs were created for those students.. Heed the warning New Haven bright students are LEGALLY entitled to as much help as under performing children are.
PS stop making pretty buildings that have issues and stop with the fan fair of starting programs and projects that you dont have the means to continue supporting.

posted by: 1644 on December 7, 2017  7:30pm

Most of those “independent study” courses are already offered by one or more of the local colleges mentioned.  Why cannot students just enroll in the regular course?  As for automotive or woodworking, if they are not available at gateway or The Sound School, how about Eli Whitney in Hamden?  Why are we reinventing the wheel?

posted by: newhavenishome on December 8, 2017  10:37am

Julie Reinshagen and the ISSP are gems. NHPS has no idea how fortunate they are to have someone with so much content knowledge who is extremely responsive and truly loves her work. She absolutely is doing the work of 2-3 people. Without ISSP, we would have left NHPS years ago.  If NHPS really are “kids first” and prioritizing college readiness, then they need to invest in ISSP.  Realmom21 is correct, cut some of the bloated administrative staff. Start with the ones that are outright rude and know nothing.

posted by: Jill_the_Pill on December 8, 2017  1:35pm

Agreed, the ISSP program is both fantastic and understaffed.  Hire more coordinators instead of creating new Assistant Superintendent positions.

1644, it would be the ISSP coordinators who enroll them in the classes you mention.  They don’t teach the independent studies, just set them up, whether they’re taught at colleges or in school.

posted by: 1644 on December 10, 2017  12:37pm

Jill:  Thanks.  I thought “independent study” would mean that students studied on their own, rather than in a class with other students, but I guess that’s not what it means in NHPS.