Aspiring City Principals Dispatched To Amistad

Melissa Bailey PhotoSchoolteacher Jenny Clarino led eight kids to “silent admin lunch” at Amistad Academy—then considered bringing that practice back to the New Haven Public Schools (NHPS) when she returns as the leader of her own school next year.

The no-fun lunch detention took place the other day in Clarino’s third month of an official residency at the newly revamped school at 130 Edgewood Ave.

Clarino is one of five “residents” in a pilot program that seeks to be a national example of how a charter school company can work with a public school district to share best practices. (The official name: “The New Haven Public School-AF Residency Program for School Leadership.”) Residents are spending the first half of this year at schools run in the Achievement First (AF) charter school network, and the second half paired with strong principals at New Haven Public Schools.

Clarino and company are the first wave learning a new language at a new model of public school.

The $941,000 program aims to move past historic charter-district tension to create strong leaders who will drive transformations as leaders of their own schools in New Haven’s district next fall. Most of the funding comes from a $575,000 grant from the Buck Foundation—Click here for a breakdown of the budget; and click here for a grant application outlining the program.

Last Thursday morning took 30-year-old Clarino through a series of classroom and hallway scenes, where she sought to try out new techniques, learn from successful practices, and consolidate those into her vision of what her future school might look like.

Her day began at 7:15 a.m., at the entrance to the elementary school, where Clarino is working as one of three deans of students serving grades K to 4.

Clarino, who was raised in East Haven public schools, stood tall in 4-inch wedge heels and greeted students as they poured into the hallway. As they passed by, she stopped one boy to slip off his hood, which is part of a strict dress code. She counseled another about a pushing incident on a bus: “Don’t let it ruin your day.”

“Good morning, scholars,” Clarino sang in a sunny tone, using the charter school’s lingo with ease.

Before joining Amistad this year, Clarino spent eight years teaching at the New Haven Public Schools, first as a classroom teacher at Worthington Hooker, and most recently as a literacy coach. Like fellow residents, she has some leadership experience and an administrative certificate that qualifies her to be a principal. At Amistad, she’s picking up a new set of tricks, and a new form of communication.

Besides calling students “scholars,” Amistad has a system of hand signs, claps and chants to build motivation and control behavior. It’s part of a “common language” that Clarino sees as one of the strengths of the school.

The day starts with “morning motivation.” Students channel positive vibes with slogans like “We control our destiny” and pumping their fists in the air. (Click on the play arrow to watch teacher Francis Giesler lead her class through the ritual.)

Clarino has been studying these rituals and rules as part of her project for the residency. Along with two other deans of students, she’s working on updating The Amistad Way, a guide to how the school handles everything from bad behavior to attendance.

And she’s creating her own guidebook of sorts of to how she’d like to run her school. If the residency goes well, Clarino and her fellow aspiring leaders will be tapped as principals or assistant principals at one of New Haven’s new “turnaround” schools next fall. Those are the few schools each year, such as Brennan/Rogers and Wexler/Grant, where the district calls for a major staffing overhaul after years of poor performance.

Clarino has an online binder in which she puts ideas she’d like to bring to her own school, as well as those she wouldn’t. The aim of the residency is to figure out what goes in that binder, as well as develop broader leadership skills.

The second quest took Clarino to the ground-floor classroom of Sara Lang around 9 a.m. As part of the residency, Clarino is coaching two classroom teachers. So after four years of coaching teachers in literacy, she’s branching out to coaching in math. She visits Lang’s class a couple times a week. Clarino had two goals when she sat down behind the rows of 19 students in the 4th grade. First: Make sure the teacher tests kids’ level of knowledge before diving into a subject. Second: Try out “scripting,” transcribing dialogue as a way to better observe a class.

Clarino sat in the back of the room and opened a laptop computer as Lang, a dynamic 36-year-old math teacher, taught the lesson. First Lang went over one student’s homework on a projector in front of class.

Lang held the class’s attention with a powerful stage presence, a dash of humor, and a demanding pace.

“Shakira! My heart’s pitter-pattering!” Lang declared as she turned over the homework page. She commended the student for setting up a “fact triangle” of numbers—then asked the class to help correct an addition mistake.

Clarino later commended her for creating an environment where a student feels safe to take a risk—even if she gets an answer wrong in front of 18 peers.

“Giraffe necks!” the teacher exclaimed at another point. That’s a code word for “turn your head around and look at a poster in the back of the room,” which states the aim for the day.

Clarino typed out the dialogue. She kept typing as Lang led the class through a lesson on the Venn Diagram.

“I’m going to write something on the board, and you tell me if it’s something you’ve seen before,” Lang said before drawing two overlapping circles.

That later earned her a check mark for her teaching goal: “pre-assessment” complete.

Lang rolled through the Venn Diagram, then paused when a student declared, “I’m confused.” She went back and explained the concept in a way that’s slower but easier to grasp, using pictures instead of numbers.

Clarino later sat down to look over the notes she transcribed. They gave evidence for a “great joy factor” in the class. When the two meet for a coaching session, she’ll discuss those high points—as well as a strategy for how to give students a bit of relief from the intensity of the lesson.

Transcribing the lesson is one tactic Clarino is trying out as part of her own professional development. As part of the residency, she’s being coached by Matt Taylor, a former Amistad principal. She’s also being coached by the current principal at Amistad Elementary, Amanda Alonzy.

“It feels like you have a team rooting for you,” she said of the program. Residents also meet weekly as a group for professional development.

From Lang’s class, Clarino headed down the hall to the classroom of a teacher who’s new to Achievement First. That teacher’s focus is classroom management, specifically: Making sure 100 percent of students comply with directions immediately. And making sure “silent means silent.” Clarino found herself stepping in to model how to give clear directions, as well as how to “break the plane” of the front of the class and check in with students by walking near their desks.

When it came time to grab a reading book and sit on a rug, one student ignored three commands to do so. When students got to the rug, some kept fiddling. Clarino interjected.

“I’m going to give everyone a second to rest,” she said. Students took a breath.

After she left the class, Clarino said she’s working with the teacher on how to give very clear directions with time limits and clear consequences.

Just an hour later, she found herself practicing what she preaches. At Amistad, all administrators also teach. Clarino fills in for other teachers and also runs two daily groups for students who need to work on reading aloud.

At the end of a lesson, she counseled two students who had acted out at lunch that week. Both students would be sent to “admin silent lunch,” a consequence for acting out in the lunch room two times in a week.

“It makes me sad to see your names on that list,” Clarino told the duo.

Using a style she calls “warm demanding,” Clarino expressed her disappointment as well as love. And she strategized with the kids about how they can avoid getting into trouble in the future.

While lunch detention is not a new concept in New Haven Public Schools, Clarino said silent lunch is something she’d consider implementing if she becomes a principal in the district.

In general, she said, she’s learning from Achievement First about the big picture—how systems are managed with consistent rules and maximum accountability. For example: When a classroom teacher has a question for an administrator, there’s a clear mechanism for getting it answered. The grade level teachers meet together and pass on the questions to a team leader, who passes them along to administrators at leadership meetings. The whole process is well-defined and well-documented.

After studying at Amistad for half a year, Clarino will transfer in February to the Davis Street Magnet School, to learn from the example of achievement gap-busting Principal Lola Nathan. Davis Street is a top-performing “tier 1” school under the city’s new grading system.

Gemma Joseph Lumpkin (pictured with Matt Taylor), executive manager of leadership development for the New Haven Public Schools, said that second half of the year is crucial to the residency. When she presented the program before the city school board, she was hit with a criticism from teachers union Vice President David Low: Why are we looking to Amistad when there are so many great things happening in our district?

Lumpkin (who serves on the board of the Online Journalism Project, which publishes the Independent) said the residency also aims to study the things that are working well at some top-performing NHPS schools and spread best practices throughout the district. And she emphasized that the city isn’t looking simply to replicate the methods of Amistad. The school operates under its own charter, outside of the governance of the district school board and outside the bounds of union contracts. Some methods may not work at New Haven Public Schools.

The program is funded by private funds, in large part through a grant from the Buck Foundation. In the grant application, NHPS and AF pitched the idea as a first-of-its-kind-in-the-nation partnership. The application was successful, with three years of funding to seat yearly classes of new residents while continuing to support the past years’ classes.

Taylor, who’s directing the program, comes to the job with 10 years’ experience in non-charter public schools, and eight years with Achievement First, where he most recently served as principal at Amistad Academy middle school. He spent two years teaching with New Haven Public Schools, at Wexler/Grant.

Taylor said he’ll be returning to NHPS schools as the five residents begin their stints there in February. He said he looks forward to what Achievement First can learn from best practices at New Haven Public Schools. He said AF will also get a rare chance to “pressure-test” its own best practices, when new leaders bring them to a non-charter school setting.

“There has been very little cross-organizational exposure,” he said, “and we’re excited to get that started.”


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posted by: THREEFIFTHS on November 21, 2011  10:32am

Schoolteacher Jenny Clarino led eight kids to “silent admin lunch” at Amistad Academy—then considered bringing that practice back to the New Haven Public Schools when she returns as the leader of her own school next year.

I wonder when she gets her own school,Will she being doing this.

Punishment First at Brooklyn Charter School
November 24, 2010

My name is Jasmine Crawford and I’m a parent at Achievement First in Crown Heights. On Monday night, after stories surfaced about dozens of children being mistreated, more than 70 parents came together and attended the Achievement First Crown Heights Board meeting to call for a change to the school’s discipline policies

Read the rest.

Interviews with Parents from Achievement First New York
Posted on October 9, 2011 by Kiersten Marek

This is just the beginning.Next they will be taking space in the schools.

This is a must read.Very powerful.

Aaron Regunberg: The Case Against Achievement First.

I have written once before about Achievement First (AF), the charter management organization trying to set up shop here in Providence, and I don’t want to become repetitive. But there are still a lot of folks in our city who aren’t aware of the situation and how it will affect them. I have done my best to find as much information about AF as is available—from news stories and reports by New York charter regulatory bodies—and

I wanted to use this opportunity to lay out as clearly as possible the arguments against this organization coming to Providence.If you are a Providence parent, student, or tax-paying resident, the Achievement First proposal should matter to you. Here are five big reasons to care:

1. Pedagogy of Punishment
Achievement First follows a harshly disciplinarian “no excuses” model of education that attempts to raise academic achievement through severely punitive measures. During an average day at AF Endeavor in Brooklyn last year, more than one in five (and up to as many as one in three) students were given detention for benign infractions such as dropping pencils or slouching. In addition to being constant, discipline can also be excessive, with a focus on public shaming and even allegations from community members of physical roughness. Unsurprisingly, parents at multiple AF schools have spoken out against this culture as harmful to the emotional health of their kids.

For people who aren’t particularly opposed tosuch punitive treatment of children, there’s another reason to care. This model doesn’t actually produce the kind of academic learning that modern employers and college admission officesvalue.While AF has had significant success in raising students’ math scores (for which they should be applauded), their kids still struggle with English language arts skills. That is because, according to the NY State Education Department’s charter renewal report, AF schools are not effective at developing higher-order thinking and often fail to “present students with the opportunity for thinking critically or expressing their ideas.” While we may think higher-order thinking and student voice are important for our kids, it is clear from their record that Achievement First does not.

Read the rest.

posted by: FairHavenRes on November 21, 2011  11:44am

Threefifths, what is your point?  The links/articles you provided do not sound anything like the disciplinary approach of Ms. Clarino; did you read the NHI article?  Why are you then attempting to make a connection between the two?

posted by: The Rev. Mr. Samuel T. Ross-Lee on November 21, 2011  11:46am

If the Charter Schools are doing no better, and in some cases much worse, than the Public Schools at achieving the desired learning results we seek to close the so-called “achievement gap“, how does one determine which “practices” in the Charter Schools are “successful” and to what end are we applying that concept in the first place, i.e. successful at what?!?

The fact that urban school children are put into these militaristic environments and made to behave like non-expressive robots, who will atrophy into non-creative thinkers and learners as a result, is no indication that they are better learners, or will become better citizens.  They simply will be better “controlled”.  Is that what we want for our children, stilted students instead of intellectually creative thinkers and doers? 

Further if these “practices” are so great, why don’t we hear about them being implemented into schools and academies that have proven records of academic success?  Or do we reserve this kind of mind and body control for urban kids and their parents, fearing, inherently, the social contexts from which these students emerge?

This program and this publication’s constant hyping of Charter Schools are mere indications that we have given up on asking the tough questions and demanding the right answers about the take over of public money for private purposes in education in this city, state, and nation. 

Teach of America started, as far as I can tell,  the trend of dipping into the resource of the public school more for the sake of the dippers than for the students being used there.  And now the Charter School phenomenon has taken that to a different level, as they are not affected just a few urban students in a limited number of class rooms, but they are being allowed to redefine the entire system, making it a two-tier reality whose harm will be noticeable to even the most casual observer when it may be too late. 

All of those involved in this take over, capitulation, or mere silence while this is happening will have to answer for this in years to come.  The sad thing is few are demanding answers for it right now. 

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

posted by: Jeff Klaus on November 21, 2011  12:28pm

As 3/5 details, a Mr. Aaron Regunberg wrote a piece in the Providence Journal making a case against bringing an AF school to Providence.  He made his “observations” without having stepped foot in an AF school.  Mr Regunberg has subsequently visited Amistad Academy and while I don’t know if he has changed his position or some of his assumptions, one has to admire him for actually taking the the time to do first-hand research.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on November 21, 2011  12:35pm

posted by: FairHavenRes on November 21, 2011 10:44am
Threefifths, what is your point?  The links/articles you provided do not sound anything like the disciplinary approach of Ms. Clarino; did you read the NHI article?  Why are you then attempting to make a connection between the two?

Look at who she is geting train by.Look at there record.Did you read the links.

posted by: To Sir With Love on November 21, 2011  1:57pm

Sounds to me like the teachers in the NH school system function more as social workers than they do as dispensers of knowledge.  The parents of most of these students have poor parenting skills, so the teachers are called upon to teach the kids how to behave appropriately.  Jenny Clarino must have a lot of patience, maturity and stamina. 

The school system in NH will never really improve unless the parents of these kids step up to the plate.  The “mentality of Southern poverty” must be broken, but most parents have no clue how to do that.  The families of these kids have lived north of the Mason-Dixon line for three generations now, but still little progress has been made on eliminating that mentality.

posted by: Rev Mr. Samuel T. Ross-Lee on November 21, 2011  2:07pm


It’s a shame that you keep putting forth the suggestion that one has to take a tour of your school(s) in order to get “first-hand” information about some of the things that go on there. And the suggestion that not taking a tour means we have no bases to critique your school(s) or this two-tier school system. 

Finally, consider this: If your tour changed the views of Mr.

While a tour might be helpful in sampling the meals you serve at lunch or appreciating the color scheme of your walls, it will not, inherently give one a better understand of the practices and policies you have in place, and certainly not the thinking behind such. 

A tour will not give us an understanding of why your scores are no better than those of the Public Schools.  And a tour will not explain the motivation you and others have for taking public money to fund private institutions available to a select and selected few. 

So, stop trying to insult our intelligence or the intelligence of the people who read these blogs. Visiting your school for you to give us a self-interested tour will show the PERSONALITY of the school.  A tour, however, will not give us an in-depth look at its CHARACTER.  For that we need independent and objective information, the exact kind of information that one does not get on a tour. 

Finally, consider this: If the tour changed the mind or perspective of Mr. Aaron Regunberg, don’t you think he would have said as much?  As far as I can see from his writings, he seems like a reasonable, fair, and intelligent person.

posted by: Eric Smith on November 21, 2011  2:11pm

While I can’t speak for what goes on at AF schools in other cities, I can speak for what goes on at AF schools in New Haven.  I have a son and a daughter who have been in New Haven AF schools since middle school.  Their approach to discipline is fair and highly collaborative with parents.  My son, who is in the 11th grade, scored at the highest end of the advanced range on all areas of the CAPT test.  My daugher, who is in the 10th grade, will take the test this year.  Both of them can think critically and have many opportunities each day to creatively express themselves verbally, in writing, and in other ways.  AF schools in New Haven aren’t perfect, but they are preparing my children for academic, professional, and personal success.

posted by: The Rev. Mr. Samuel T. Ross-Lee on November 21, 2011  4:45pm

It’s a good thing, Mr. Smith, that you have the wherewithal (academic preparation, etc) to keep your child in a school where others are dismissed because they or their parents can’t keep up. 

The well-heeled are surely able to benefit from almost any program of learning as many are aware that most of our children’s actual learning will take place at home,  anyhow. 

We do, however, depend on the Public Schools to be accessible to the THE PUBLIC, and not just that part of the public that really doesn’t need them in the first place to foster the kind of creativity that a child should develop in their youth. 

AF is not helping to close the so-called achievement gap by gladly maintaining students who wouldn’t fall in that gap in the first place, regardless of what school they attended.

posted by: Teachergal on November 21, 2011  4:54pm

Sounds to me like the teachers in the NH school system function more as social workers than they do as dispensers of knowledge.  The parents of most of these students have poor parenting skills, so the teachers are called upon to teach the kids how to behave appropriately.  Jenny Clarino must have a lot of patience, maturity and stamina. 

Jenny C must have more than patience, maturity, and stamina, more like she must have excellent connections to have taught her first years at Hooker and then becomes a literacy coach. Now, off to Davis to get her administrative modeling from none other than Lola Nathan. Isn’t she special. It sickens me that other more experienced teachers are not given these opportunities to become leaders. At 30 she should still be working on getting teaching experience NOT evaluating other teachers. Give me a break!

posted by: Angelo's Homegirl on November 21, 2011  5:46pm

@To Sir With Love

I am a parent of an Achievement First student and for you to imply that I have poor parenting skills because I CHOSE to send my son to an AF school is downright insulting and degrading. My son is an honor student at the high school in New Haven because he worked very hard to get there. Prior to that, he was a good student at the middle school, even though he never made it to the honor roll. I work very hard to ensure that my son has a place to study quietly each night, that he has a hot meal in his stomach, and he has a comfortable bed in which to sleep in every single night. I make sure to check his homework to ensure its top quality work. Discipline in my household has varied meanings but my son doesn’t feel threatened or abused by my methods, and I don’t beat the living crap out of my kid either. My son also has a father who instills in the him the necessary discipline and guidance a teenage boy needs in today’s society. Yes, it’s easy to blame the parents, or blame the school system, or blame the President but if students, parents, AND teachers don’t work together to ensure that everyone is on the same playing field, then problems will always arise. Please “To Sir With Love” don’t be so quick to say we don’t discipline our kids, because some of us actually do. AF is the ONLY system that has proven to work for MY son. I can’t speak for EVERYONE else…I can only speak for ME. Please “To Sir With Love” only speak for yourself.

posted by: ElisaQ on November 21, 2011  6:36pm

Why are we allowing AF, a school system that frequently hires uncertified administrators, have any say in the NHPS leadership training?

Also, Mr. Klaus, I have been in your schools (one middle and one high school). I saw angry, repressed students. I heard teachers expressing frustration that they could not get their students to “think instead of just do” (despite clinging to an instructional model that encourages students to do exactly that). I saw one administrator literally throw her hands up in the air because she did not know what to do with a student she was trying to help. I did not see anything resembling a school that I would want my own—or anyone else’s—children to attend. It was a sad, chaotic mess with excellent public relations.

posted by: Elizabeth Aiken on November 21, 2011  7:34pm

I am stunned by the negativity and hostility of the comments about this article. I have worked with children from different schools in the New Haven Public School system. Anyone interested in education should be excited that all avenues to improve our schools are being pursued. Why are people so threatened by Achievement First Schools? They, like the rest of the New Haven Public Schools, are trying to educate children and enable them to succeed. Shouldn’t we all be sharing ideas?

posted by: Eric Smith on November 21, 2011  8:17pm

Rev. Mr. Ross-Lee, you made quite a few assumptions that I won’t bother to address other than to say you don’t really know me, my kids, or our history, but I will address factual errors you made.  My kids and I are just as much a part of the public as anyone else.  To assume we’re part of the public that doesn’t need good public schools is plain and simply wrong.  Furthermore, AF schools are accessible to all.  I didn’t go through any process that’s different than anyone else to get my kids into the school.  I went to Meadow St., filled out the same forms, and waited for the lottery results just like everyone else.  Finally, AF is helping close the achievement gap and my kids have to deal with the same risks as everyone else.  If not for AF public, charter schools, I might still be fighting the traditional public school that wanted to put my son on Ritalin.

posted by: LOL on November 21, 2011  10:33pm

@teachergal—You’re so right.  Further, I’d love to see these teachers at Hooker, Edgewood and Hale come teach a year in some of the city’s toughest schools.  They wouldn’t last a month!

posted by: ElisaQ on November 21, 2011  11:14pm

@Elizabeth Aiken:

An exchange of ideas between AF and NHPS could be very productive. AF is not, however, interested in an exchange, which demonstrates a hubris that deeply concerns me.

If they were reaching impressive heights, I might see their point. Instead, their CMT and CAPT scores have been declining for years, and they have a disturbingly high turnover rate for both students and teachers.

But are they curious about what Cross does to get great AP scores? Do they want to know how Sound and Co-Op improve achievement while respecting their students as individuals? Are they interested in the engaging curriculum at Betsy Ross? Sadly, no. They just want to continue proclaiming that they have the answers, despite considerable evidence to the contrary.

posted by: To Sir With Love on November 22, 2011  12:41am

@ Angelo’s Homegirl: I wasn’t trying to paint everyone with the same brush.  I didn’t say ALL parents are derelict in their duty, just MOST of them. Joe Clark would congratulate you on creating a home environment for your son that is conducive to learning.  If only more NH people followed your example.

Most kids going to Hillhouse HS don’t care about schoolwork, as I found out when I tried teaching there a few years ago.  Half the students don’t even graduate.  How could that happen if their parents were on the ball?  They need to stress the importance of school from an early age, but apparently they don’t.  Otherwise the graduation rate would exceed 50%.

posted by: The Rev. Mr. Samuel T. Ross-Lee on November 22, 2011  1:24am

Mr. Smith,

I don’t presume to know you, your kids, or your history. Any assumption I made about you was limited to the obvious fact of your ability to write in a straightforward and cogent manner, which I presumed is the manifestation of a quality education, something not afforded a number of parents whose children are in the public school system, charter or otherwise.  Beyond that assumption, I make no others.

Further, I did not say that you (or anyone else for matter) do (does) not need the public school.  What I suggested is that there are those of us who do not need the public schools to “foster the kind of creativity that a child should develop in their youth.” That’s my direct quote.

While many of us may need and make use of Public education, there are also some who do not sit around and wait for the school system to encourage our children to be intellectually creative or free thinking.  I suspect that you might be one such parent.  My apologize if I’m wrong about that. 

Finally, you are completely wrong that “AF schools are accessible to all.”  The very fact that there is a lottery system to get in disproves your point on this.  But the lottery situation is not even the problem, as the CHANCE at getting into an AF school is accessible to many.  The problem, and documented fact, is that AFTER one has “won” a chance to attend an AF school there are several avenues by which students are dis-invited, dismissed and sent packing from AF Schools back to the traditional public schools from which the AF schools was suppose to be saving them.

Whether you are aware of it or not, it is a proven and provable fact that AF receives kids (and families) into their schools through the lottery-assisted front door, and ushers out those that they can’t deal with, and who might threaten to bring down their test scores, through its school assisted back door. 

I’ve talked to too many parents in my church, too many teachers who have had dealings with AF schools, and too many others who have access to this information, e.g. the released students are transferred to their schools around test time, to disbelieve that this is true.

We cannot claim the beneficially of Charter schools like AF by pointing out the problems within traditional public schools.  The antebellum discrimination that African-Americans experienced in the North is not excusable because we were experiencing slavery in the South.  The deviancies of one group, does not justify the sins of the other. 

If a public school teacher attempted to put your child on medication, that is wrong, but a private company creating a two-tier school system using public money for institutions that are not accessible to the entire public is not right either.  The system needs to be reformed and critiqued constantly, as does any human institution.  And as one who is seriously concerned about the education of our children and the uplift of our community, I will not fail to look closely at one part of the system, simply because it presents itself as a savoir from the other part.

posted by: trainspotter on November 22, 2011  5:19am

What if the parents of these kids are lacking in parenting skills? Does it make any sense to perpetuate this or abandon them? How does society benefit from that? Schools have been using lunch detentions as a soft form of discipline at least as far back as the 60’s when I went to school. Kids should have consequences and that is hardly abusive. What do you propose? Ignoring it? Expulsion? What would be the correct discipline in your mind?

posted by: brutus2011 on November 22, 2011  8:24am

Here is what I see from this article:

Another attempt to see what works with our kids by those who are the top education executives.

Okay, you say, at least they are trying, why the negativity?

Nothing has worked for 2 decades…20 years…what makes you think things are going to turn around now?

Same or similar people doing the same or similar things are going to lead to different results?


Where is the accountability for those whose very well-paid job it is to get results?

Propaganda will not affect the motivation of our student population.

But it will keep the high salaries, and even higher pensions, of those who do not produce intact.

Unfortunately, our voters are either apathetic or ignorant to how to change this system that only truly benefits those at the top and their “friends.”

And Rev. Ross-Lee, if you know someone at the top of NHPS, please ask why things are the way they are? I’d be interested to hear what your take might be.

posted by: Eric Smith on November 22, 2011  10:16am

Rev. Mr. Ross-Lee,

The fact that there’s a lottery system doesn’t mean the school isn’t accessible to all.  It just means there is high demand for a limited number of seats and a fair way to dole out the seats has to be utilized.  The same process is used for magnet schools.

You can talk to as many parents, teachers, and others as you like.  I’m talking about my direct experiences with both a student who is excelling and a student dealing with challenges.  In every instance AF has been supportive, collaborative, and fair, while providing internal and external resources to assist those who succeed and those who struggle.  There is a back door for those who seek it, but it certainly isn’t school-assisted.  If anything, it’s school-resisted.

I’m also not interested in lifting up public charter schools at the expense of traditional public schools.  They can learn from each other.  What I am against, however, is attacks on a system, i. e. AF schools, that is working.  Especially when some of those attacks are based on second-hand misinformation.  As I said before, AF schools aren’t perfect and I’m sure you will find parents, teachers, and students who aren’t happy with their experiences.  However, the fact that so many students seek seats in AF schools and so many students are thriving in their environment speaks to the success of their model.  It only makes sense to learn from what they are doing right.

Also, as a side note, sarcastic comments about what kind of parent I might be aren’t helpful to constructive dialogue.  I believe those kinds of comments are the kind that keep people who might have good, constructive opinions from commenting in on-line periodicals.

posted by: ElisaQ on November 22, 2011  1:07pm

@Eric Smith:

“the fact that so many students seek seats in AF schools. . .speaks to the success of their model.”

The high number of students and teachers who leave AF each year is more revealing than the high number that sign up for the lottery before experiencing the model in action.

Just over twenty students graduated from Amistad High last year, and the vast majority of students who left their system between elementary school and twelfth grade returned to public schools. Of all the students who enrolled in AF schools, less than thirty stayed with them for the duration of their education—clearly, there is a problem.

As for the “attack,” I think you’d find that if AF were interested in an exchange of ideas, fewer people would be so frustrated with them. Instead, though, they hold themselves up as model schools despite considerable concrete evidence that they have a long way to go. If they are then judged according to the standards they have set, that only seems reasonable.

posted by: jon valente on November 22, 2011  1:58pm

@LOL and teachergal:
Ms. Clarino was a middle school literacy coach at King/Robinson, Truman, Clinton Ave. and Clemente. Just and F.Y.I to stop all the hating on Hale, and Hooker teachers :)

posted by: Jeff Klaus on November 22, 2011  3:02pm

ElisaQ - As it relates to AF/charters you certainly have an impressive noise to knowledge ratio! 

First do you have any idea how many teachers leave AF in a year?  And when they do leave, why do they leave? How many move away with their spouses vs leave for another in-district school? How many are asked to leave Amistad vs how many are asked to leave in the New Haven district?  How do their climate satisfaction surveys match up with New Haven’s?

How many students leave AF schools?  What is the ratio between students and families seeking to transfer TO AF vs transfer FROM AF?  And why when AF students leave AF you call it “kicking kids out” or “creaming” while at the same time when NHPS students seek to transfer from NHPS to AF they are simply “exercising their right to school choice”?

posted by: Teachercross on November 22, 2011  3:04pm

What makes Mrs Lumpkin qualified to “train” admin. leaders? Was she a principal or a teacher?

posted by: LOL on November 22, 2011  4:42pm

@jon valente—Thanks for the laugh.

Listen, I’ll stop “hating on Hooker and Hale teachers” when those schools stop bragging about their scores and achievements.

Come teach a day at some of the toughest schools in this city, then see how you feel when people from Hooker, who enjoy a student population from professional parents (including some from NHPS management), brag about their achievements.

Further, it’s sickening to hear staff and administrators at those schools claim they face the same challenges as Tier III schools.  Puh-leeze.  Not in a million years.  Like I’m sure there’s daily fights, chair-throwing and swearing at Hooker and Hale. :)

Again, I challenge the NHFT and NHPS to form a contract mandating that the staffs at Hooker, Hale and Edgewood be switched with those at Tier II schools.  I guarantee the scores won’t significantly go down at the Hookers or significantly up at the Tier IIIs—which is what the district implies by giving autonomy to the Hookers and Hales.

So, if those schools’ TEACHERS are so great, then shouldn’t they be in the Tier III schools with the city’s neediest kids?

posted by: Jeff Klaus on November 22, 2011  5:09pm

Jon Valente and LOL,

Wait a minute!  According to Rev. Ross-Lee, all true public schools in New Haven except for Amistad et al. take ALL children!  Yet your side conversation is inferring that within the district there are not homogeneous populations at every school??

Btw, Rev., how do you explain that the old Urban Youth school was a place for the district to send their toughest cases?  Isn’t that what you might call “dumping”? Now ironically, that school is run by a charter group! 

Also, what historic role has Adult Ed. played for the district to manage out thousands of its students?

posted by: ElisaQ on November 22, 2011  5:16pm

@Jeff Klaus:

“How many students leave AF schools?” Well, hundreds went in and just over twenty came out. The math is not complicated.

As for why the students and teachers leave, my visit made it pretty clear to me why they would and those who have come to NHPS after AF have confirmed those reasons. The kids are taught to do not to think. Teachers aren’t allowed to question an obviously flawed instructional model. Everyone is so busy “sweating the small stuff” that the big picture gets lost.

As for your second point, when you use quotes, Mr. Klaus, please make sure that you are actually quoting someone. I have to wonder why you need to put words in my mouth instead of addressing the information—not noise—that I included in my post.

You have claimed that one needs to visit AF to understand it. Well, I visited, and I have reported what I saw and heard. When are you coming to NHPS? Who is really making assumptions here?

posted by: Teachergal on November 22, 2011  5:47pm


And Jon, who’s hating….just pointing out a fact that needs to be made. If Miss Clarino is so great she should have her own classroom and share her wealth of best strategies with kids and those teachers who need support.  This whole coaching thing is a joke. The ones I know don’t coach just evaluate and facilitate testing. That is not coaching, atleast not my definition. Coaches should be modeling lessons for new teachers not observing and evaluating experienced teachers, that is the job of administration. You don’t see all this going on in the suburbs and their test scores are still higher than NH’s. But let’s not blame high class size, poverty, lack of discipline, and lack of parental
support….we all know the problem, ITS THE TEACHERS! What a crock of bull!!! Rotate the teachers every three years and put all these expert coaches back in the classroom where they belong and then let’s reevaluate!

posted by: The Rev. Mr. Samuel T. Ross-Lee on November 22, 2011  7:17pm

Mr. Smith,

You’re absolutely right.  I CAN talk to as many parents, teachers and others as I like (frankly, I don’t need permission to do so).  But besides talking with them, I can ALSO report what I have learned from them.  Just as you can use your personal experience to defend your personal position.  That’s what freedom is speech is all about.  I’ll put forth my views; you put forth yours.  And we’ll let the readers/public decide with is more credible and useful. 

It is also your prerogative to be “against attacks” on anything you want to be.  You’re being against it, however, does not mean that those “attacks” won’t continue to occur, that people won’t take them seriously, or that the “attacks” are not valid, legitimate, or appropriate to begin with.  Again, that pesky First Amendment thing.

You and Mr. Klaus can also continue to deem which statements about AF are worthy based on your “you haven’t been there” premise too. (Your 1st Amend. Rights). But, again, I’ll make my statements based on what I think is credible information and let the reading/listening public decide if they are worthy (MY 1st Amend. Right).

I’m not interesting, particularly, in your characterization of my comments as “sarcastic”, but, again, your right to do so.  But if you’re going to leave the discussion that’s your business.  I won’t yield to subjective characterizations of my comments or my tone.  If you don’t or others don’t want to post comments here because of that, that’s your business. 

Mr. Klaus,

You of all people should know that I do not need YOU to make my argument for me.  I challenge you to copy and paste from ANY comments typed here by ME the same statement that YOU said I said. 

Further, it may satisfy your inability to defend AF’s practices of getting rid of students that you can’t handled (I’ve NEVER used the word/term “dumping”) by comparing it to other programs/schools that do something you say is similar, but MY position here is not to defend bad practices in traditional public schools as a way to critique/criticize AF-style charter schools. 

If what AF is doing is good for students, the school system, and society, then you should defend THAT.  But don’t create straw men as representations of MY position so that you can have something to knock down easily.  And don’t attach my argument with others, because you can’t face the hard facts presented by me.  If you want to debate me, debate ME. 

In the South we have a phrase for going through a secondary statements to get at the primary one.  It’s called: hitting a straight lick with a crooked stick.  And in case you don’t “get it”, we view that as disingenuous.

posted by: mom of 4 year old on November 22, 2011  11:38pm

@LOL - Nice assumptions.  There are teachers who have taught at both tier 3 schools and Hooker/Hale.  Unless you talk to all the teachers in either school, you don’t know the experience each individual brings to the school.  There are few ‘lifers’ in NHPS; most staff have multiple school experiences. 
Why don’t you ask why the tier 3 schools have trouble keeping quality staff members?  For most, the students are NOT the reason to leave.

posted by: brutus2011 on November 23, 2011  10:54am

to “mom of 4 year old:”
You posted:

“Why don’t you ask why Tier 3 schools have trouble keeping quality staff members? For most, the students are NOT the reason to leave.”

Could you please explain further? How do you know?


posted by: LOL on November 23, 2011  11:47am

@mom of a 4—I AM a teacher at a Tier III school. I was asked to stay by my principal because I am dedicated to my students.  I choose to stay because my students need me.  However, I resent the district officials and outside agencies holding me and ONLY ME accountable when: a.  A teacher needs support from parent, administrators willing to lead by example instead of barking downtown’s message and walking away, and paraprofessionals in all K-1 classrooms EVERYDAY—not pulled to be substitutes in other grades.

I also resent the Hookers and Hales bragging about achievements when those schools have parent and student demographics largely different than most Tier III schools.  As I said, there is not chair-throwing students or illiterate parents at Hooker or Hale.  The district then turns around and rewards those schools and tightens the clamps on Tier IIIs—WITHOUT HOLDING PARENTS ACCOUNTABLE.

@ The Rev.— Dude, step down.  You’re full of hot air.  You can talk all you want.  As a teacher in the trenches, I can assure everybody you know nothing regarding NHPS.  For example, why doesn’t Hale or Hooker or Edgewood take the “behavior challenged” students who are routinely dismissed by Amistead and Elm City?  Why are those students added to already troubled Tier III schools?  Don’t tell me they’re not because they are.

posted by: Eric Smith on November 23, 2011  12:28pm

Rev. Mr. Ross-Lee,

Most of what you said in your most recent comments are irrelevant to this issue, but you’re missing the focus of my comments on the issue.  I don’t have a “you haven’t been there” premise as you stated.  A person doesn’t have to have been somewhere to critique it, if the facts they have as the basis of their critique are accurate.  That’s where the focus of my comments begin.  Some of the alleged facts are inaccurate and my “my kids and I are there” premise is meant to refute some of the alleged facts that I know, based on experience, are inaccurate.

posted by: The Rev. Mr. Samuel T. Ross-Lee on November 23, 2011  2:42pm

Mr. Smith,

I find much of what you have to say here very relevant, even if it is limited to your personal experience.  The fact that you think that what I have offered here is irrelevant might just be a big part of the problem with the positions taken by AF-style Charter school advocates. 

Institutional critique, internal and external, is always good and necessary.  Even if you don’t agree with the perspectives presented, it might just be good to understand why persons think/feel the way they do about your organization. 

The “issue” here is my dissatisfaction with a program that has operated in a way that is unfair and unequal to some of its students and parents.  To suggest, as you seem to do, that because YOUR experience is different from what I’ve offered or that my facts are merely “alleged” and not real, is to say that the parents and students who have had a different experience than yours are fictional, unreal, made-up, figments of the imagination, or are just plain liars.  Choose one. 

I think it is rather arrogant to suggest that your having “been there” experience trumps the experiences of others who have also “been there” and have a different story to tell than you,  or that your personal experiences trumps the re-telling of different experiences by those of us who may not have been there.

Your set of facts are not the only set of facts to be considered here.  It is great for you and your family if you’ve had a good experience at AF-style Charter schools.  But it is not so great for students and parents who do not share your experiences due to the policies, perspectives and problems with the structure, foundation, and the operation of the school itself.

Again, I will let the reading public decide what is relevant here or not.  If they decide that the limited experiences of those people who have made AF-style Charter schools work for them are all they need, so be it for them.  But if others decide that broader and more objective information (based on research and known facts) which decidedly contradicts limited, personal, and subjective experiences, is useful information to have before they engage, enroll, or support these type of schools, then that is the information that they should and will seek out and use. 

My strong suggestion to either group or side, including and especially the tax-paying public, - CAVEAT EMPTOR! (Buyer Beware!).

posted by: mom of 4 year old on November 23, 2011  3:17pm

@Brutus, you’re going to have to draw your own conclusions. But if it’s not the students, who’s left?

@LOL, of course the city brags on Hale, Hooker and Sound too for that matter.  They have to point to the positive and hope no one looks too closely at the Tier 3.  And you know as well as I New Haven is no different in this regard. Every town is fast to point out their most successful programs/schools.  Tier 3 schools will always be considered a ‘work in progress’ and be pressed to improve.

Where we both agree is parent involvement is the school and in the child’s education is the missing element. Parent/Teacher conferences took place this week.  How many parents made it in at Hale, Hooker and Sound and how many showed up at the Tier 3 schools?  Therein is the difference.

posted by: Eric Smith on November 23, 2011  4:08pm

Rev. Mr. Ross-Lee,

Again, you’ve missed the point of what I’ve said.  The irrelevant part was relative to “your most recent comments,” which were a nice lesson on 1st amendment rights, but did not address the issue of AF charter schools.  Your other comments were fine and relevant.

Perhaps a large part of the problem, and I would say this problem exists on both sides of the discussion, is the failure to truly hear what people have said instead of reading other thoughts/opinions into what they’ve said.

For example, you said:

“To suggest, as you seem to do, that because YOUR experience is different from what I’ve offered or that my facts are merely ‘alleged’ and not real, is to say that the parents and students who have had a different experience than yours are fictional, unreal, made-up, figments of the imagination, or are just plain liars.”

I didn’t say any of that in any of my comments.  That’s you reading a meaning into my comments that isn’t there.  I simply shared my experiences as food for thought on the other side of the broad, negative characterizations of AF schools that others have offered.

As I’ve said in my other comments, AF schools aren’t perfect, but they are making a difference in many childrens’ lives.  To doubt that fact is as bad as doubting that some parents and children have had negative experiences.  Our going back and forth on this in this forum isn’t going to accomplish much, other than to entertain some and enlighten others who may read our posts.  In the end, the public will decide.  If AF charter schools are bad for children based on real experiences, then parents will stop sending their children to them and they will close.  But if AF charter schools are good and truly helping to close the achievement gap based on real experiences, then they will grow and multiply.

posted by: brutus2011 on November 23, 2011  4:47pm

Most of my teaching experience was in “tier-3” schools-both middle and high school. Contrary to what many seem to think, most “tier-3” parents are hard-working, decent folks who want the best for their kids.

I think it is natural but a mistake to point to the parents, the kids, and their teachers as the causal factors in poor student outcomes.

I believe that no where near enough scrutiny is placed on those whose job it is to evaluate the “educational need landscape,” devise effective policy, hire the necessary staff, and see to it that the job gets done.

Given that nearly one-half of municipalities budgets are spent on education, it would seem that many citizens would be clamoring for better results, and be looking to those whose job responsibility it is to lead our schools.

But instead, the scrutiny has somehow been reversed to focus almost solely on those on the bottom of the hierarchy-not at the top of the management model where it logically belongs. 

Look, the public education funds pie has become enormous. Those in the private sector want in and those in the public sector want to keep as much of the gravy (pork) for themselves.

Meanwhile, the kids keep either dropping out and those who do graduate have to take remedial classes before they receive college credit.

And, we keep having this public opinion merry-go-round while the education executives keep hiring their friends and sailing on toward
their city-budget busting pensions as they keep “kicking the can down the road.”

Look at the aspiring principal featured prominently in this article. I’m sure she is very nice, intelligent, and means well.

I would also wager that she is well-connected downtown and figures prominently in the future plans of those top educrats who have not produced the student outcomes that they themselves have set forth.

Remember the saying, “You can fool some of the people all of the time, all of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.”

I’m beginning to think that here in New Haven (and elsewhere)that no longer holds true.

posted by: The Rev. Mr. Samuel T. Ross-Lee on November 23, 2011  6:39pm

Mr. Smith,

The sentence of mine that you quote is certainly my impression of what you said.  You got that right!  Where we disagree is that I think it is an accurate impression; you don’t.  But I won’t go into explaining my conclusion on this again.  I’ll let those following this extended discussion re-read what I’ve written and what you wrote and draw a conclusion about the accuracy of my reading (and commenting on) your statement.
While I might somewhat disagree with you on the previous point, I will strongly disagree with the following statement of yours: “I simply shared my experiences as food for thought on the other side of the broad, negative characterizations of AF schools that others have offered.” If by, “I simply shared my experiences”, you mean you ONLY shared your experiences, because, as any reader here can see, you did far more than that.  What you ALSO did was to say that the facts that I offered were not “accurate” as they are not, according to you, based in “first-hand experience” and that my facts were merely “alleged”.  My push-back to you was and is on this point of contention and at least one other. 

The other, and greater, point of contention is this: While AF-style charter schools might be making “a difference in many children’s lives” (including your children), they should not be allowed to do even that at the expense of creating a quasi-private school with public money that many in the public do not have access to or control over. 

While I cannot document the specifics, I believe I can say without fear of successful contradiction that many of the Southern segregated White-only schools produced some very fine students, academically, students who went on to great academic and professional success and achievement.  That said, who of us would condone what was done during that era within the separate and vastly unequal segregated school system.  Who of us would want to go back to a two-tier school system where public resources and money are available to a few citizens but not all, and where some citizens are denied access on the whim of someone private business plan: i.e. if the AF-style Charter can show “success” with a cherry-picked group of students, then they can expand their business by building more schools, in more districts, in more states, across the country.  I would defy the AF people to deny this business model. 

Martin Luther King, Jr. famously said “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”.  If it is unjust for AF-style Charters to use the fact that “some” students are being helped, as a foundation and justification for dismissing other students from their rolls, then It is a threat to justice to support them in doing so.  The “some students are being helped and that’s good enough for me” doesn’t work here, for me.  And ultimately, it won’t work for the community at-large. 

I also disagree with your theorized notion that AF-style Charter schools will close if they are bad for children.  There are, in fact, (real, not alleged) parents who have taken their kids out of these schools.  But there are also just enough who feel hopeful that their children will succeed that they will re-fill the enrollment list.  If your theory were correct, fast food restaurants would have closed long time ago.  As long as there are enough people who are willing to support AF-style Charters, they can stay open.  But supporting these schools based on personal advancement should not over-ride what’s good for the public writ large.  I do not believe that closing the “achievement gap” is the ultimate goal of these schools and I do strongly believe that they are using urban children to set the perception that the “achievement gap” is their focus, when if it were, they would not be trying to get rid of their toughest academic or social challenges among their student body.  Many things in this country have grown and multiplied though they were/are not “good” or “truly helping”. Again: Think Fast Food Restaurants. 

Finally, just so you know, I’m perfectly fine with people being “entertained or enlightened” or both by this “back and forth”.  As long as they are paying attention to this important issue and refuse to allow our public school system to be high jacked by private businesses, I don’t care why they read this.

posted by: Eric Smith on November 24, 2011  4:16am

Rev. Mr. Ross-Lee,

All you continue to offer are alleged facts and a clear misunderstanding of what was said couched in civil rights era style rhetoric.  It’s pointless to continue.  Peace!

posted by: LOL on November 24, 2011  12:00pm

@brutus—I agree with much of what you said.  However, I think parents are more culpable than you believe.

As a primary school teacher in a Tier III school, I have never had more than 60 percent participation in parent-teacher conferences.

This, despite advising parents of upcoming conferences weeks in advance, sending home weekly written reminders leading up to the conferences and adding afternoon conference hours for parents’ convenience.

Worse, not only do nearly half of the parents fail to show, they don’t even have the courtesy to inform me that they can’t come and ask to re-schedule.

At any level, this should be considered inexcusable, but espcially so at the primary levels, where the foundation is set. These parents should be held accountable.

posted by: brutus2011 on November 24, 2011  1:18pm

to “LOL”

I respect your posts (and “teachergals”) because it is apparent that you are thoughtful, have a servant’s heart,and do your job.

I guess I go after administrator’s because I have run a business in a previous life and have been fortunate to have worked with some very successful people in science and industry.

The level of corruption and lack of competence in NHPS upper management is astounding. So much so as most intelligent people simply can’t comprehend how much nonsense goes on. How much alcoholism plays a role in what goes on and how much political patronage and cronyism is endemic to our school staffing from the instructional coach level on up.

In addition, the superintendent has much discretionary spending and chooses to do so in such a manner as to starve those “in the trenches” of vital resources such as paras, substitute teachers and school supplies.

Almost every classroom in our district needs at least two qualified adults working together to maximize instructional time. Period.

As you have said many times, consultants retained by NHPS (well-paid, I might add) do not impact the bottom line-our student population needs quality learning environments (building-wide and then individual classroom) and as much instructional time as can be provided. Period.

Granted the money has to come from somewhere.

It is the responsibility of top management to see to it that the allocation of funds goes to the most efficient place to teach our kids.

There is so much that can be done to improve our schools even with perhaps less than desired parental involvement.

I believe it starts with the top and with that I’ll stop.

posted by: LOL on November 24, 2011  6:52pm

@brutus—Well said.  Happy holiday!

posted by: The Rev. Mr. Samuel T. Ross-Lee on November 26, 2011  1:43pm

Mr. Smith,
Just note, I’m not going to debate the merits of what Achievement First does for/with your kids when I believe its system is essentially corrupt.  Your telling of “success” stories doesn’t persuade me in the least, as “good” things coming out of a corrupt system does not “balance” out the picture, or balance out the discussion.  By focusing on the so-called “good things” coming out of AF-style schools, you are merely rearranging the furniture on the Titanic. I’m interested in getting people off of a doomed ship. 

“Success” stories in a fundamentally flawed system merely give people the impression that that system is not “all bad”, when in fact the system is rotten at its core. 

The system of slavery did not do “some good”, because a handful of slave holders treated the enslaved Africans better than most.  A segregated school system did not do “some good” because some white or black kids did well academically in and perhaps beyond those school years.  The Death penalty system in America does not do “some good” because some of the condemned are later found innocent and are not executed.  These are systems that were/are fundamentally flawed, no telling or re-telling of their “success” stories changes that. 

Finally, maybe one should ask WHY I’m using “Civil-Rights style rhetoric”.  As Arsenio Hall would say, “Things that make you go, ‘hmmmmm’”.

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posted by: janyce on November 27, 2011  11:44pm

Worthington Hooker teachers are a dedicated lot, no doubt about it. Smart, devoted…just like teachers all over this city.
People have the right to work wherever they want, don’t they? Would you like it if a ditch digger demanded you trade in your teacher job for, say, a slaughterhouse? Working behind a deli counter? ...
Lastly: are you saying you would, out of principle, refuse a job at the so-called “higher performing” schools?

posted by: Teachergal on November 28, 2011  10:52am

Jance, you must not be a teacher if you think that NH teachers have any choice in where they work. Some schools, like Hooker, are very hard to get into for obvious reasons. We need more schools like Hooker which would mean diversifying the populations all over the city. But, I’ve always felt that the city should circulate teachers so that all NH teachers could experience all of what NH has to offer. Then, when teachers receive staff development we know what’s happening throughout the district. This would provide for equality which is much needed in NH. I say this because I have sat through many professional developments where teachers brag about their successes at their “boutique” schools while the rest of the staff are working equally as hard or harder and not making those same successes. This is due to many factors the least of which is the teachers.