Parents, students and teachers found themselves doing the “wobble” on the green of Lincoln-Bassett School. The dance wasn’t planned—but the effect of the dance was.
The adults wobbled at a “party with a purpose” that took place right before Lincoln-Bassett opened for a new school year with a new principal and a new “turnaround mission.”
Principal Janet Brown-Clayton took the microphone at the Aug. 22 party to thank parents for their record turnout. “Can I get a ‘whoop whoop?’” she called out.
Some 75 parents, students and teachers eventually responded by wobbling on the school green—although some first needed a tutorial from the principal herself.
The dance, like the event, had a point: In seeking to turn around a struggling school, Brown-Clayton decided to start the year by making parents and teachers and kids all feel like part of one community, part of the same family.
“Once you can condition the climate for people to feel comfortable and relaxed, you can elicit more,” said Brown-Clayton (pictured).
After negative state audit results in January, Lincoln-Bassett became the third city school to agree to a state-sponsored “turnaround,” in which they use state money and support for a major makeover. Brown-Clayton is leading the Newhallville school in a two-part experiment, the first of which authorizes her to re-format school policies and reconstitute the staff. Before her July 1 start date, she had to began building a new team by replacing 20 of 27 teachers, making use of one of several tools turnaround principals are given to try to change how their schools are run.
The second part of the experiment offers students optional before and after-school programs, potentially expanding the school day by four hours. On Tuesday, 20 students showed up to the cafeteria for the first day of before-school activities, which lasted from 7:30 a.m. to 8:20 a.m. Paraprofessionals oversaw the kids in reading and arts exercises. On Oct.6, Camp Antrum Community Program will take over management of the morning activities, while the Connecticut Center for Arts and Technology (ConnCAT) manages the after school program. The after-school activities will include adult education classes and workshops for parents, to “stimulate parent-student interaction.”
Walking through the halls this week, Brown-Clayton pointed out handmade signs and decorated bulletin boards that showed the blend of “personality with pedagogy.”
Jeff Fix, a new second-grade teacher, drew on his background as a former baseball coach to seek to motivate students. He said the “party with a purpose” in August showed him the extent of community support for the school’s success, as various local organizations sent representatives to the event.
In one fourth-grade classroom, a poster with the heading “What kind of teacher do you want this year?” featured student responses in orange marker. One student wrote about wanting a teacher “I can tell my problems to.”
“Sometimes teachers also have to be diagnosticians,” Brown-Clayton said.
Classes are capped at 22 students for kindergarten through second grade and 24 students for third to sixth grade, as opposed to 27 or 28 students in other schools. The new principal aims to bump last year’s 88 percent attendance rate to 95 percent and increase retention rates, especially in third grade and up.
“At the rate we’re going, we’ll be adding a classroom each year. We want to encourage students to come to this school,” she said.
As the principal toured the school, one student called across the hall: “Ms. Clayton, don’t you live near me?”
“I live a couple of blocks away,” she called back as the little boy scurried on his way.
Brown-Clayton grew up nearby, in the former Elm Haven projects (now the Monterey Place development) on Ashmun Street, and returned to teach in New Haven after college. She taught in Lincoln-Bassett for a year in 2012, before heading to West Rock’s Brennan-Rogers School, which had undergone a successful turnaround effort of its own. Her relationships with her students’ families span decades.
“I had their parents as students, and I grew up with their grandparents,” she said. Her goal now is to reinforce that ideas as family.
Going forward, she hopes to draw on those links to pull family members into their kids’ educations, on and off the dance floor.
Previous coverage of the Lincoln-Bassett turnaround:
• Principal Cleans House, Charts Turnaround
• 7:20 To 6” School Set To Launch
• At Lincoln-Bassett, A Fresh And Colorful Start
• ConnCAT Signs 3-Year Deal To Help Steer Lincoln-Bassett “Turnaround”