Guv: End Social Promotion

Melissa Bailey PhotoWhen Gov. Dannel P. Malloy popped by New Haven Tuesday to check out an experiment in how kids get through high school, he saw a germ of an idea he’d like to take statewide.

Malloy paid a visit Tuesday morning to High School in the Community (HSC), a 240-student magnet school on Water Street that’s reinventing itself under new management by the local teachers union.

Malloy was checking in on a new investment he’s made: The state chose HSC as one of the first four schools in the “Commissioner’s Network.” The schools get extra guidance, scrutiny and money from the state in exchange for agreeing to launch certain reforms. The state has released an extra $1.5 million to help HSC this year; another half-million dollars are on the way to repair the school building and boost social services.

In a meeting in the school library, Malloy heard from school and union staff about the plans for the state money.

One of the most “groundbreaking” experiments, he said, is the school’s effort to end social promotion.

As part of its turnaround, HSC is getting rid of the “factory assembly line” of high school. First-year students entered a new world in which they aren’t called “freshmen” anymore—they will stay at the “foundation” level of learning until they prove they have the skills to move up to the next year.

In the new system, building leader (aka “principal”) Erik Good (pictured) explained, kids could take three, five or six years to finish high school—as long as it takes to master the material. Kids can no longer scrape through high school with D minuses.

HSC is the first public school in the state to make the jump to the new system, called competency-based learning, according to Larry Schaefer, a senior staff associate with Connecticut Association Public School Superintendents (CAPSS), which has been training Connecticut schools in how to implement the method.

Between half and three-quarters of classes, including all first-year classes, have implemented the new system at HSC in this pilot year, Good said.

After a tour of two classrooms, Malloy applauded HSC for making the switch. Doing so “takes a lot of bravery,” he said.

Proving mastery of skills is “very important,” Malloy said, as the state shifts to a new Common Core State Standards, by which kids will be tested on their understanding of a new, national curriculum.

“We’ve got to get away from the concept of [getting promoted based on] time in seats,” Malloy said. “That’s not a measurement of success. It’s a measurement of time.”

Malloy was asked if he aims to replicate the method across the state.

“Yes,” he replied. “Ultimately, we’re going to have to get to that at the state level. We absolutely have to get away from the concept that we socially promote.”

Malloy clarified that he wasn’t accusing any district of pushing kids through high school; he means that the state should start measuring “the understanding of the concept” instead of “measuring time” spent in high school.

The $1.5 million has paid for HSC to hire teacher Chris Kafoglis from Wilbur Cross High School as a new “academic coordinator”; and create a new position for magnet resource coordinator. The school plans to hire a parent liaison to tackle its truancy rate: Last year, four in 10 HSC students were “chronically absent,” which means they missed at least 10 percent of school.

HSC is on tap to receive another $100,000 for “wraparound services,” according to state education Commissioner Stefan Pryor. The money will pay for the school to hire a full-time social worker. The state has earmarked another $497,000 for capital improvements at HSC; the money should be approved by the state bonding commission by early January, according to Pryor.

HSC was last renovated under Mayor John Daniels’ administration, before Mayor John DeStefano’s effort to rebuild or renovate every city school, according to DeStefano.

Pryor said he noticed the building has deteriorated since he did his student teaching there in the mid-1990s. “The level of upkeep is not sufficient,” he said.

Building Leader Good said he suspects the quality of the building was a big factor in one category of student feedback on school surveys: only 40 percent of students said they care about the school. Good said after the $43 million new Metropolitan Business Academy opened in 2010, students began to see their “sense of importance” slip in comparison.

“This building isn’t terrible, but it doesn’t compare,” Good said. “We really want the kids to start feeling like there’s an investment in the way the building looks.”

Asked about the condition of the building, Malloy downplayed the issue.

Malloy noted that he just came back from China. “People in China would literally die to have a building like this,” he said.

“There’s almost no correlation of the quality of the building” and learning outcomes, Malloy added. His statement directly contradicted an argument DeStefano has made for years, to justify his $1.5 billion school rebuilding project. DeStefano recently touted a study by Yale researchers that claimed to support his argument.

HSC was the first of two Commissioner’s Network schools Malloy planned to visit Tuesday.

He headed out the door of HSC around 11 a.m. and got into his Lincoln Towncar, which was illegally parked in the fire lane outside the school for 90 minutes he spent at the school.

This time, unlike during an unlucky visit to the Q Club last year, Malloy didn’t get a parking ticket.

Asked why his car was parked in the fire lane, Malloy said, “I don’t know. I don’t park the car.”

His driver said the car had to be close to the school in case Malloy had to make a quick getaway.

Asked for comment, Malloy spokesman Andrew Doba replied, “We don’t comment on the governor’s security protocols.”

Previous Independent stories on High School in the Community:

History Class Hits The Streets
• “Misfit Josh” & Alex Get A 2nd Chance
Guess Who’s Assigning The Homework Now
On Day 1, HSC Students Enter A New World
Frank Reports Detail Experiment’s Ups & Downs
School Ditches Factory “Assembly Line”
State “Invites” HSC To Commissioner’s Network
Teachers Union Will Run New “Turnaround”

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posted by: PH on October 16, 2012  4:23pm

I can’t believe that where the Governor parked is given any semblance of a headline on the front page of the NHI.  It is tabloid-esque, to have that as a highlight of an article that talks about a serious and important experiment in school operations.  Good for HSC, I hope all the attention comes to a positive outcome.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on October 16, 2012  5:24pm

Malloy noted that he just came back from China. “People in China would literally die to have a building like this,” he said.

May be if the United states did not borrow money from china for the two wars we could fix the building.Dan Malloy talks about ending Social Promotion.Hey Dan how about ending political patronage starting with state education commissioner Stefan Pryor who is a lawyer not a educator.

posted by: Noteworthy on October 16, 2012  9:12pm

Malloy’s response is typically arrogant and clearly he doesn’t believe the rules apply to him. Kind of reminds of his wife, but he’s not driving a shxxy car.” As for the driver? He may have to make a fast getaway, well, this fits in with the heightened security, a $300K taxpayer expense and fast get away too. Yeah right.

posted by: Christopher Schaefer on October 17, 2012  7:18am

Malloy: Proving mastery of skills is “very important”… “We’ve got to get away from the concept of [getting promoted based on] time in seats…These are steps mostly seen in private schools and are now turning to our public schools as new beginnings and important experiments for our districts”. It’s taken the public school system HOW MANY YEARS and how many wasted generations to figure this out?! Put your tax dollars in the form of vouchers that a parent/guardian can apply to the school of their choice and EVERY public school would quickly make this kind of genuine reform. Why? By ending their monopoly and introducing competition. Wayne Winsley [Rosa DeLauro’s opponent] understands this, having grown up in poverty and gone through the Cleveland public school wasteland—which is why he is a big proponent of vouchers. DeLauro? Many, many, many decades ago HER parents sent her to private Catholic schools. So her ideas about education—like all of her ideas—are based on “theory” rather than life experience. “Last year, four in 10 HSC students were ‘chronically absent’… only 40 percent of students said they care about the school”. Obviously the students themselves would prefer a better choice! “’There’s almost no correlation of the quality of the building’ and learning outcomes, Malloy added.” Now THERE’S something on which Malloy and I can agree wholeheartedly! “His driver said the car had to be close to the school in case Malloy had to make a quick getaway.” He needn’t have worried: angry taxpayers weren’t given a heads-up about his visit.

posted by: IF_Only_NH on October 17, 2012  8:12am

PH, I wholeheartedly agree with your comment.  Ending the article by pointing out where Malloy’s driver parked the car continues to perpetuate the very culture that we are trying to change. What HIC is putting in place might turn out to be a very successful initiative and we cannot afford to undermine it by adding juicy bits a` la Entertainment Tonight. New Haven Promise is failing (let’s talk about that). We need to give all our kids, not just the wealthy ones, access to good, solid education…
Go High School in the Community!

posted by: MotiS on October 17, 2012  8:33am

To The Editor:

Thank you for covering an important news story on the continued efforts to improve our children’s education.

You do a disservice to the important work that this school is doing as well as your own publication by adding in this irrelevant note on where the Governors car was parked.

Moti Sandman

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on October 17, 2012  12:05pm

Hey Dan try this.

French President François Hollande plans to ban homework

French President François Hollande announced education reform plans that include cutting homework, adding a half-day to the school week, dismissing children earlier

posted by: DingDong on October 18, 2012  6:28pm

I actually think it is relevant where the governor parks.  Like with the NHPD, the Governor’s attitude that he can park anywhere because he is above the law is troubling.  He is the top law enforcement official of the state and he should be setting an example, not breaking laws.  (And I actually like the governor otherwise).