Brennan/Rogers Prepares For Turnaround

Melissa Bailey Photo When her teacher held up a free ticket to Six Flags, Jonysah Bouknight reached both hands as high as she could.

Her principal is hoping that enticements like roller-coaster rides, combined with dramatic changes in the classroom, will bring a greater reward—turning around one of the district’s lowest-performing schools.

Bouknight, a sixth-grader (at left in photo), was reaching for a reward at a recent ceremony honoring kids who behaved well at the Katherine Brennan School.

Karen Lott is the principal of the Brennan/Rogers School, which includes Katherine Brennan (grades 3-8) and Clarence Rogers (K-2). The two sit across the street from each other on Wilmot Road in the West Rock neighborhood.

Brennan/Rogers was designated as one of two “failing” New Haven public schools in March, when the district graded schools as part of an ambitious new citywide reform drive aimed closing a gaping achievement gap. The other one was Urban Youth. The so-called “turnaround schools” will be closed at the end of this year and reconstituted in time for the fall.

How they seek to “turn around” will differ dramatically at each campus—and offer some early answers to the national quest about how to revolutionize public education.

Urban Youth will be reopened under new management by a charter school group called Domus. Brennan will continue to be run by the public school system. Unlike at Urban Youth, the Brennan/Rogers principal will stay at the helm through the turnaround process.

Lott (pictured), who just started her job last August, has the task of coming up with a new way to boost her students’ attendance, engagement, and test scores.

Plans are shaping up quickly. Lott is scurrying to hire new teachers before a June 30 deadline.

Under the terms of a landmark teachers contract approved last year, teachers who want to work at Brennan/Rogers have to waive standard union work rules.

New work rules call for the school day to be lengthened to eight hours for students, and eight and a half hours for teachers. Teachers will receive 10 days of professional development before the school year begins, two extra days during the year, and and two days of “reflection” at the end.

Current teachers at Brennan/Rogers weren’t guaranteed their jobs for next year. They had to reapply, or else get transferred to another school within the district.

Of the 35 teachers, only 18 reapplied to keep teaching at the school. Of those, 13 were offered spots, Lott said.

Lott said she hopes she can add 10 new teachers and coaches to her staff. So she’s looking to fill a total of 45 positions.

Amid a national shortage of teaching jobs, and excitement surrounding the reforms, applications have flooded in, Lott said. She got 300 applicants for 32 open positions. At the first open house, 125 people descended on the school looking for jobs. Another 105 were expected at a second open house this past Saturday.

Co-Teachers Sought

Lott aims to use a couple of teachers to add two classes of students next year, bringing the enrollment from 400 to 444. The rest, she hopes, will be used to drive down the student-teacher ratio in the middle grades.

The average class size at Brennan/Rogers is 23 students. Paraprofessionals help out in kindergarten and first grade. Grades six and up get split into academic subjects, driving their ratio down to about one teacher for every 14 kids.

That leaves teachers in grades two to five with the largest number of kids to manage, alone.

Lott proposes to send some relief by hiring two “co-teachers” for classrooms in grades two, three, and four. Each would be a full-fledged, qualified teacher; they would share a class of about 23 students.

With such a large pool of applicants, Lott is setting a high bar for the new round of teachers.  At an interview, she asks them to bring three things: One “rigorous” piece of student work; one piece of data they used in the classroom; and one idea for how they’d like to take a leadership role in the school.

So far, most applicants have pitched ideas for boosting parental involvement, Lott said. She said she won’t hire any teachers without seeing them teach a model lesson as well.

Other plans include overhauling the math curriculum, and adding more classes to fill the longer school day, such as photography and arts.

On the side, coincidental to the reform drive, Lott has applied to the federal government for Brennan/Rogers to become a magnet school for media and communications.

To that end, Lott said she’s hoping to get more technology put in the school, so kids can start video-conferencing and making short movies. Rebuilt 10 years ago in the early stages of the school construction program, Brennan/Rogers lags behind some newer schools in its technological offerings, she said.

Order In The Halls

Lott came to the West Rock school after a career in her native Springfield, Mass., where she was principal of a K-8 and a high school. At Brennan/Rogers, at the foot of boarded-up and torn-down housing projects, she found herself in an isolated area hit hard by neglect.

Katherine Brennan has been a “pillar of the West Rock community” since 1956, Lott said. Two generations ago, it was the site of an ambitious experiment of a different era: the launching in the 1960s of “community schools” that stay open into the night for kids and their parents to use.

In recent years, the neighborhood has changed around it. Two of the three West Rock housing projects were leveled to the ground; they sat abandoned for years as the housing authority cobbled together money to replace them. Construction began in February on the new new Brookside and Rockview housing complex. Neighbors are due to return when that complex opens in the fall of 2011, but as of now, only 50 students come from West Rock, Lott said. 

The community, on the outskirts of New Haven, remains isolated, Lott observed. “People feel kind of forgotten and disenfranchised.” She said when she started work in August, she noticed that some of that feeling had spilled over into the school.

“Even the staff felt like they had been forgotten out here,” she said. Phone lines didn’t work. Curriculum materials were missing. There was a lack of “presence from central office,” she said. She went about restoring a sense of order to a school that had seen many changes in leadership.

Her most pressing task was to get kids’ behavior in line, she said. With two different principals last academic year, discipline had been inconsistent. Kids didn’t have clear expectations for how to behave. When kids sat down to take the Connecticut Mastery Tests, for example, some would get frustrated and throw their books on the ground.

Lott brought in a new behavioral management system called Positive Behavior Support (PBS), which is based on positive feedback. (Click here to read about how the method is working at the Betsy Ross Arts Magnet School.)

Lott said the key is using consistent language and expectations. Kids are taught to respect themselves, others and the school.

Every two weeks, teachers pick kids who follow these rules and honor them at a ceremony in front of the entire school.

Last Friday was the last ceremony of the year. Students filed into the school gymnasium and sat quietly in folding chairs. They listened when teachers called on their peers for outstanding behavior, and academic work. Kids were honored for asking great questions in science class, singing on pitch, meeting a math goal, and “having a great attitude.”

Between awards, kids sang along to snippets of hip hop tunes played by a school deejay. Students from grades three to eight listened, high-fived, cheered and sometimes gloated as they got certificates. Only a couple were too embarrassed to go up to the front and grab their recognition.

For most of the school year, all the kids got at the ceremony were certificates announcing “Way To Go.” Friday, Lott rolled out a new component—a raffle with giveaways such as bouncing balls, sidewalk chalk, UNO cards, and the tickets to Six Flags. She also gave everyone popsicles to mark a year of hard work.

Asked if they wanted tickets to the amusement park, kids thrust their hands into the air. While only one lucky winner walked away with the tickets, Lott said she’s offering a trip this month to sixth and seventh graders as a reward for doing well in school.

Lott has sprinkled these trips throughout the school year as enticements for working hard. It’s part of the positive behavior model. Next year, she plans to beef up the rewards program so it’s more like the one at Betsy Ross, where kids earn points throughout the day, then redeem tickets for swag at the school store, or to enter a schoolwide raffle.

As Lott walked through the halls after Friday’s ceremony, the positive energy buzzed.

“Congratulations!” said one third-grader. Lott, and several teachers, had received certificates from their students, too.

“You’re special,” one young girl told Lott.

“No, you’re special,” Lott replied with a smile.

Another leaned into her ear and asked a question: “What can I do to get a Six Flags ticket?”

“You never know,” the principal replied. “I have more.”

Post a Comment

Commenting has closed for this entry


posted by: Michael J. Cox on June 14, 2010  1:13pm

People have been trying to educate these kids for years. They give them all sorts of programs and it never works.. and never will. It’s the same thing when they bus inner city kids to suburban schools.. it doesn’t work. These people do not take into account that when these kids come home from school, it is a different world. Crime, drugs, shootings, absent parents etc etc. Do you think education is pushed in these areas? They learn to get free rent and food and expect everything for free.

posted by: Hmm on June 14, 2010  2:19pm

What are you trying to say Michael? We shouldn’t try to teach inner city kids?
I’ll have you know I grew up with drugs and crime all around me, in my own home, and education saved my life.
I grew up on welfare and wound up with an Ivy League education because I worked my butt off. What about all the wealthy kids who get whatever they want just by asking their rich parents? Do trust funds breed a solid work ethic Michael?
Is Paris Hilton a shining example to our nation’s youth?
I, like a lot of kids who grow up on social services, started working and earning my own at age 14. A lot of kids started even younger. You clearly have no clue how hard poor folks work and how much we can achieve with the right support.
These young people can do whatever they set their minds to and with the right education they will.
Keep striving kids!

posted by: eastie on June 14, 2010  4:13pm

“Cox” is correct. For every “Hmmmm” there is 5,000 prison inmates. And for every “Cox” there is often a more qualified applicant that was denied admission to make room for “Cox”.

Not to mention the free rides given out.  SOMEONE is paying for that free ride.

posted by: urban ed on June 14, 2010  4:34pm

So Michael, what is the alternative? Shoot ‘em in the head? Because w/o the outlet that education offers, more of them will be doing that to us.

We get the kids we get. Our obligation is to reach ‘em and teach ‘em. That’s what we signed on for.

And yes, it’s resource-heavy, expensive work. How could anyone think it would be otherwise, given the obstacles that you so eloquently identified?

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on June 14, 2010  5:53pm

eastie is right.

I think Michael’s point was that the problems we need to address are largely not within the schools but are in the homes and the neighborhoods of these kids. What good is a great education if you wake up several nights a week to gunfire? What is doing all your homework at an after school program worth, if on your way home a bully crackhead steals your backpack?
Lots of kids get great educations in the city and others. The problem is that a lot of kids get influenced outside of school, and the kids that do get that good education tend to .leave and not come back to the city.
Most of New Haven’s inner city neighborhoods were originally built around either rail road tracks of factories which employed nearby residents. Since the second world war all those jobs are gone. That is the central problem that needs to be addressed.

posted by: anon on June 14, 2010  11:22pm

Jonathan is correct.  The resources and time being put into our schools are completely useless unless problems like constant noise, trash and broken glass everywhere, disorderly traffic, and crime are addressed. 

Has anyone walked around the housing across from Union Station lately?  Do you seriously think a new school program will help our city when that’s what the environment looks like?  At best, a slightly larger fraction of kids will be able to succeed, go to UConn and move out… but then, where does that leave the neighborhood that remains?  How many of the (tiny fraction) of kids who graduate from UConn actually come back to Church Street South to begin their lives?

We need a place-based approach, led by the community, not a “let’s pour everything we have into the schools because it makes our test scores look better even though we know that strategy will have no impact on the success of our neighborhoods” approach.

posted by: Teacher Gal on June 15, 2010  6:15am

Hmmmm….you have to give NH credit for trying. But only time will tell. I’d like to be an optimist and say that the all the extras will help but I also feel that the outside negative influences that these children face daily have a tremendous influence on their lives. They ar in school for 30+ hours a week and the rest of the hours are in the neighborhood. While in their neighborhoods they are not getting the modeling and support they need to be successful. Education cannot just occur in school during the 6+ hours they attend. It has to be supported and monitored at home….homework time, dinner time, bedtime, sharing, discussions, etc. have to occur within the family for change to occur. That is not just my opinion, read the research.

That being said, I hope that Katherine Brennan improves in their mission to turnaround the school. Those kids deserve every advantage they can get. Co-teachers fantastic! Let’s give every low performing school co-teachers, I’ll bet we’ll see a difference in all of them. And
guess what 23 students is still too many when you consider the needs. Take a ride over the bridge, 23 is considered large, and they don’t have half the needs that our students have in NH.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on June 15, 2010  10:11am

posted by: Michael J. Cox on June 14, 2010 2:13pm
People have been trying to educate these kids for years. They give them all sorts of programs and it never works.. and never will. It’s the same thing when they bus inner city kids to suburban schools.. it doesn’t work. These people do not take into account that when these kids come home from school, it is a different world. Crime, drugs, shootings, absent parents etc etc. Do you think education is pushed in these areas? They learn to get free rent and food and expect everything for free.

Sometimes resources Can help What would you call this..

I wonder how many of these students are in the same boat.

posted by: hmm on June 15, 2010  1:27pm

I agree that communities need to be developed as a whole, but I disagree that that was Michael J. Cox’s point. His talk of entitlements reveals a disdain for the poor that is all too prevalent in our society.
Eastie is also missing a major point when they bring up 5,000 prisoners for every poor child who makes it to the Ivy league. the majority of those people are in jail because of the racist, profit driven prison industrial complex which is fueled by unbalanced nonsensical organization of drug penalties that disproportionately affects poor communities of color and many of them never received a quality education either.  These aren’t inner city kids going to suburban schools etc. These are kids who have been consistently failed by the system.  This of course effects the ability of many inner city youth to reach their full potential when a father or mother is jailed for long periods of time, drug abuse inevitably worsens because a) drugs are easier to get in prison and b) we invest resources in prisons instead of drug treatment centers. I can testify to this because it is the story of my childhood. 
The fact is that the majority of people in jail are there for drug offenses and not violent crimes and the majority of people in jail for drugs are there for possession not sales. 
So yes a good deal of these young people may end up in jail rather than the Ivy league, but it has a lot to do with these ridiculous policies that dump talented young people down the toilet in an endless cycle that lines the pockets of a few greedy profiteers.
Also, the absent parents Michael is talking about, some may be in jail or using drugs, but there are others who are actually working 2-3 jobs to keep their families afloat. If we had a living wage, of course parents would spend more time with their children, but if it comes down to feeding your children or reading to them, I bet a lot of you would choose to work 3 jobs too.
My point is that it is unfair for Michael and eastie to characterize to poor as lazy and “entitled” and suggest that educating inner city children is a waste of resources.
People who have experienced poverty first hand can tell you that low income people, including people who receive social services, are some of the hardest working people you’ll meet. It also doesn’t necessarily take hard work to be wealthy in this country, just look at all the failed banking executives with their massive government bailouts and enormous bonuses? Talk about entitlements.
My point is that communities do need to be rebuilt, but if it’s not lead by the people who live in those communities it will amount to little more than relocating the problem as we’ve done for decades (ie gentrification). Education is the key to developing these young people into the change they’ve been waiting for.
I doubt any of you are arguing that the schools inner city kids attend compare to suburban schools in terms of quality. Charter schools are proving these young people can be taught no matter what they go home to and there’s nothing charters do that public schools can’t. Putting more resources into their education (carefully budgeted and appropriately targeted of course) is a wise investment in the future. Continuing to dump resources and young talent into the black hole of the prison system? Well we’re seeing how that works out first hand in New Haven.
This is a much more complicated issue than Michael and eastie are making it out to be, but I agree with everyone else, a lot needs to be done to bring us to where we need to go.

posted by: Stop Blaming Teachers on June 15, 2010  1:56pm

Right.  Because the teachers are what’s wrong in these schools.  Give me a break.

posted by: Kris on June 15, 2010  4:42pm

HMMMM,you talk about a living wage…I’m just curious,what hourly rate would you consider a living wage?Please tell me what hourly wage you would pay for each level of education completed?Do we pay high school drop outs hour,H.S. grads 50. and so on for college educated or does everyone make the same?...

posted by: hmm on June 15, 2010  7:15pm

In answer to your question, I believe that a person who works full time (ie 40hrs/week) should earn a salary that would allow them to provide for themselves and their family based on the cost of living in their area. It would still be possible under these standards for people who have higher degrees to make higher than a living wage (again, just look at the bonus happy execs at Bank of America etc.)
I hope you are not about to allege that people who go to college make a sacrifice and therefore deserve to make more money and people who don’t deserve to suffer, but in case you are, I will also go on to say that I believe education should be accessible to all. If it was and if people had a living wage and more people could spend time with their children and bring them to a point where they will graduate high school ready for college, more people would make that same sacrifice.
I don’t buy the zero sum game line that tells us that if someone else gets more we have to get less. Its just not true. The idea of scarcity we try to force down people’s throats is imagined. There is enough food to feed everyone on earth 1.5 times over. We waste enormous amounts of food and clothing every day. If you work 40 hours at a job you should be able to feed your family. Period.
If we were able to raise the standard of living for more people and raise the level of education for all students we all benefit. That’s more doctors, more scientists, more teachers, fewer criminals, inmates, etc.
I can’t for the life of me figure out why so many “middle class” people fiercely defend the status quo as if they benefit from the suffering of the poor. You don’t. You pay for it whether through social services, emergency room costs for people with no insurance, police salaries to patrol low income crime stricken neighborhoods, prisons that actually make crime worse, etc. The rich benefit from having a class of people they can squeeze higher profits out of by using their labor for less. And they still ship our jobs overseas to exploit people abroad at alarming rates.
There are a million ways you will pay to subsidize the lifestyle of the wealthiest 2% who can afford to live at a safe distance from the crime that results from poverty while you live with it or near it. 
People always tell me that inequality some how encourages people to work hard to bring themselves up. That if we had a living wage, people would become complacent and not strive for a better life. Frankly that doesn’t stand up to reality at all. 1) The same people who tell me this complain about how lazy and complacent the poor are and 2)people who know that working hard wont pay their bills are more likely to live at the same standard on social services or turn to selling drugs or other elicit (but profitable) occupations. Common sense tells us that rewarding people for a hard days work encourages them and their children to keep working hard.

posted by: hmm on June 15, 2010  7:26pm

I also want to add that the U.S. Congress votes to give itself a raise every year and the national minimum wage has been raised at such a slow pace that, adjusted for inflation it is actually $2.50/hour less than it was in 1968 and that is after four years of steady increase.
Check out the link, for 10 years the minimum wage remained stable while inflation soared so when adjusted it was declining rapidly.

posted by: Tom Burns on June 16, 2010  12:02am

Hey three-fifths—-give me a call 860-227-6668—I have some info for you

and Hmmmm—-everything you said was good until your statement that everyone would agree that our schools quality doesn’t compare to suburban districts or charter schools——-are you kidding?—-we have the most talented teachers imaginable and hardworking central office staff as well as a Superintendent who is second to none———-The programs we offer are the envy of the suburbs and that is why so many suburban kids choose to come here for their education—-do some research on our programs and our teachers——both, you will find are amazing and unmatched anywhere in CT—-I too came from a poor family and education was my vehicle out of that existence——many of you who post understand that it takes all the players in a childs life to make a difference—-but in the end it is the childs choice to succeed or take the easy way out——we must inspire every child, especially those with the least supports to be the best they can be and to tell them “If it is to be, it is up to me” and “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, either way you are right”—we make too many excuses for our children—-when my two daughters fail to learn, I don’t blame it on the teachers or school system—I blame it on them——-and they will be better for it——All you parents in New Haven, I beg you to follow my lead, and if you do I can promise you that your progeny’s existence will benefit greatly—-Together—Together—-w/o blame—the results will be amazing——Thanks for listening—Tom

posted by: FIX THE SCHOOLS on June 16, 2010  7:23am

Kris,  Over time, people aren’t compensated based on their education level.  People earn their money based on how well they do their job.  To the extent that advanced degrees help professionals do their job better, it follows that an aspiring professional would want to continue on with advanced education. 

However, in the teaching profession, the correlation between the number of degrees and effectiveness in the classroom seems not to be a particularly strong one.  This is especially true in urban education where there are so many children who are far below grade level.

Arthur Levine said “There is a chasm between what goes on in the university and what goes on in the classroom,”. (And this from the head of America’s most prominent teachers college!)

There is reason however for an optimistic view that the profession is starting to change, as this recent New York Times Magazine article illustrates.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on June 16, 2010  9:35am

posted by: FIX THE SCHOOLS on June 16, 2010 8:23am

Kris,  Over time, people aren’t compensated based on their education level.  People earn their money based on how well they do their job.  To the extent that advanced degrees help professionals do their job better, it follows that an aspiring professional would want to continue on with advanced education.

So fix would you say that the hedge fund vampires and Banker vampires who we always must remember do not operate from a moral platform use there high education level to make money, that slides within the law, even if it means cheating people out of their life’s savings.

However, in the teaching profession, the correlation between the number of degrees and effectiveness in the classroom seems not to be a particularly strong one.  This is especially true in urban education where there are so many children who are far below grade level.

But he is the reason why in urban education where there are so many children who are far below grade level you don’t talk about.Look at suburban schools VS urban schools. The urban areas face many problems; poverty, unemployment, illiteracy, health risks, and crime.  All issues that suburban schools students never even see. The strength and success of the suburban schools is they don’t have to supervise many of the issues that inner city schools deal with.

You talk about the teaching profession, the correlation between the number of degrees and effectiveness in the classroom seems not to be a particularly strong one.

But check this some of the report.

    Unfortunately teachers don’t want to teach at schools where the classes are overcrowded; they have outdated resources, aren’t paid well and aren’t received well. So many teachers move to the suburbs, where the salary is increased and working conditions are better. Teachers want to teach their students and feel that they are being appreciated, and many times you can’t find this in city schools. Another issue is that parents are more involved with their students in suburban schools. Because most children living in the suburbs come from financially secure homes and their parents don’t have to work multiple jobs they can be more drawn into their child’s life and education. When parents aren’t able to contribute the teacher often has to take on this role, and it is just another drawback for teacher. For these reasons urban schools are in high demand for teachers, while suburban schools never have problems finding teachers to fill positions.

This is especially true in urban education where there are so many children who are far below grade level.

But what about this.

There are many reasons why students in affluent suburban schools perform at higher levels than urban students. One reason is because suburban schools are provided with all the resources they need. Textbooks are always new, there is usually at least one or two computer labs in the school and tutors and counselors are always present to support students.In suburban schools the focus from freshman year to senior year is graduating and going to college. Counselors are appointed to students and do everything they can to ensure that their students have a secure future. However in urban schools this usually isn’t the case. Most educators have to concentrate on getting their students to come to class and hopefully graduating.  Unfortunately because of this teachers in city schools can’t direct as much attention on the materials and helping students succeed. And do tell me about the charter schools doing the job because the do it on a small level.In fact I wonder if the Charter Schools here in this stateis doing this.

There is reason however for an optimistic view that the profession is starting to change, as this recent New York Times Magazine article illustrates

You are right the profession is starting to change.