Limited 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.
Throughout, 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.