A Turnaround Timeout Floated

Melissa Bailey PhotoAs the school district released report cards for its 43 schools, the teachers union president called on the superintendent to “take a breath” before restructuring any more low-performing schools.

New Haven Federation of Teachers President Dave Cicarella (pictured) made the remarks Monday night at the regular Board of Education meeting, where the school district announced the latest results in an annual effort to grade each school into three tiers and manage them accordingly. In this second year of the new report cards, all schools remained in the same tier, except High School in the Community, which slipped from Tier II to Tier III, the lowest rank.

Click here to read a presentation on the latest report cards. Scroll down to the bottom of the story to view the rankings.

Cicarella said it’s a “nervous time” for schools staff, who are awaiting the next step: After all schools are graded, a small batch each year is chosen to become “transformation” schools, selected to implement changes based on how they fare. In the past two years, a couple of low-performing schools each year have been tapped as turnaround schools, where principals have the power to implement dramatic changes, including extending the school day and shedding the teaching staff.

The changes are particularly sensitive for teachers at turnaround schools because they have to reapply for their jobs. The principal—or an outside management company, as the case may be—has the power to get rid of existing staff and hire replacements; teachers who don’t make the cut are sent elsewhere in the district.

“We’ve gone through an awful lot of change” in the first two years of the citywide reform effort, Cicarella noted.

In those two years, district has created four official turnaround schools. Two—Brennan/Rogers and Wexler/Grant—were kept in-house, run by district staff. Two others—Domus Academy (formerly Urban Youth Middle) and Roberto Clemente Leadership Academy—were handed over to outside management. A fifth school, Hill Central Music Academy, quietly reconstituted its staff when it became a federally sanctioned turnaround in 2010.

Cicarella said teachers did agree to a small number of turnarounds. They did so when they overwhelmingly ratified a new labor contract in 2009 that allowed the district to change the work rules and governance of some low-performing schools.

On Monday, in the second year of the implementation of these changes, Cicarella bid the district to slow down the process.

“We have an awful lot going on,” Cicarella said. “We need to look at how these turnarounds are doing before adding more turnaround schools.” 

While he complimented the principals leading the reforms, Cicarella said there’s no data yet to show if the turnarounds are working.

In the first year of the turnaround at Brennan/Rogers, third grade reading scores fell from 21.2 to 13.0 percent proficient. The West Rock school was one of just a few schools to show declines across the board in reading. Test scores at Domus Academy were difficult to compare to the previous year, because so few students took the test at Urban Youth Middle. Test scores from the first year of the next two turnarounds—Wexler/Grant and Clemente—won’t come out until July.

“The first year’s a little tough” in any turnaround, responded schools Superintendent Reggie Mayo, “but I think we have some positives, too.” He noted that the school culture improved significantly at Domus Academy and Brennan/Rogers, which became city’s first two turnaround schools in the 2010-11 academic year.

“Brennan didn’t get the results that we wanted” on standardized tests, Mayo said, but it did improve by other measures: It posted the highest parent participation in the district on a school survey, which is considered a key sign of parental engagement.

“At turnarounds, you have a lot of new teachers,” Mayo added. “It takes a long time to gel.” Brennan/Rogers took a year to improve school culture, and is now “projected to do double-digit gains this year,” he predicted.

Cicarella said one year isn’t enough to get meaningful data on whether a turnaround is working.

“Because it’s so stressful on the school system,” he said, “we’re hoping to see some empirical data over three years” before adding more turnarounds.

“Our position is we need to hold off,” Cicarella said. The district needs to “take a breath.”

Mayor John DeStefano, who launched the school reform drive and sits on the school board, acknowledged Cicarella’s concerns but called for the district to proceed on its course.

“There’s no correlation” between turnarounds and improving test data, he conceded. “Your concerns are fair and on target.” He emphasized that the teachers union has been an “incredibly important partner” in launching the reforms; the partnership continues to be recognized nationally.

However, DeStefano endorsed moving forward.

“I would hope we’re going to have several turnaround schools” this year, DeStefano told Mayo earlier in the meeting.

Mayo replied that he will analyze the data and determine whether it makes sense to reorganize any of the schools.

“We may not have several [turnarounds],” he replied, “but we’ll do the best we can.”


The city’s 43 schools were graded into Tier I, II or III based on absolute performance on scores, growth on tests, and school climate surveys. In high schools, the graduation rate and graduation “trajectory” played a factor. too. In determining the tier, Mayo also took into account the population of each school, including the number of special education and transient students—click here and here to learn how the grading works.

Mayo stressed that many schools showed improvement, even though they didn’t move up a tier. (Read highlights of the schools that improved in this document.) The grades are based on scores over the course of three years; Mayo said he’d watch how the schools fared for “a couple more years” before placing them in a higher tier.

That news brought disappointment from Kim Daniley (pictured), who teaches at Celentano Museum Academy. Taking the podium in a public comment session of the meeting, Daniley said when the school was ranked in Tier III last year, the stigma prompted some students to leave.

This year her school, despite being the fourth most-improved school in the state according to the education watchdog group ConnCAN, remained in Tier III. She said she is “heartbroken” and “disappointed” about the school’s status. Meanwhile, the school received “no additional resources” for being in Tier III, she protested.

Mayo pledged to address her concern. He said Celentano is one of four schools with a disproportionately high number of special education students, another being Brennan/Rogers. He said has already been in discussions about “equity” in how the district treats those schools. As a traditional school, Celentano gets less money than magnet schools, Mayo acknowledged.

“We’ll see about spending more attention” on Tier III schools next year, he vowed.

Report Cards

Here are the rankings:

Elementary/Middle Schools:
Tier I:
Betsy Ross Arts
Davis Street
Nathan Hale
Worthington Hooker

Tier II:
Benjamin Jepson
Bishop Woods
Clinton Avenue
Conte-West Hills
East Rock
Engineering & Science (ESUMS)
Fair Haven
John C. Daniels
Lincoln Bassett
Ross Woodward

Tier III:
Augusta Lewis Troup
Domus Academy
Hill Central
John S. Martinez

High Schools
Tier I:
Sound School

Tier II:
Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School
Hill Regional Career
Hyde Leadership
Metropolitan Business
New Haven Academy
Riverside Academy

Tier III:
High School in the Community
Dixwell New Light
James Hillhouse
New Horizons
Polly T. McCabe
Wilbur Cross

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posted by: cedarhillresident on January 27, 2012  11:44am

Sound school rock! I really think it is because the teachers have a bit more freedom, to
1) teach a way that kids want to learn and know more.

2) teachers to not have the fear of the rath of parents in this school. Where I have noticed in others they have to fear (getting sued and even harrassed over the not doing the parents job as well as there own)

3) judgement and difference at the most are left at the door the day you sign up to be in this school. (no time or room for that here).

Side note my kids literally had to get dirty as part of the interview. (because aqua and argra are dirty courses) which meant fashion is out the window and old clothes are totally OK. So that social pressure is totally removed.  And because it is aqua and agra team work is also a good part of a regular day.

Just things I noticed and loved when my kids went there.

posted by: DavidK on January 27, 2012  12:21pm

If we “took a breathe” and waited for New Haven schools to improve, we would be dead.

posted by: Stan Kontogiannis on January 27, 2012  12:33pm

As a parent and PTA member at the Davis Street School, I want to once again express my heartfelt congratulations to the administration and especially the teachers for their dedication and excellence. Also, many congrats to all the parents and the PTA for being an integral part of the school’s success. The challenge now is to remain a Tier I school. I ask all the parents of all schools to get involved with their schools PTA to be part of the schools success. Wishing every school success.

posted by: Cross Teacher on January 27, 2012  2:23pm

“We’ll see about spending more attention” on Tier III schools next year, he vowed.

Are you flipping kidding me?  A Tier III school should be considered a crisis that needs to be reformed drastically immediately. 

He’s not even vowing to pay more attention to Tier III schools.  He’s vowing to “see about it.”  Gad.

posted by: Name Witheld on January 27, 2012  2:54pm

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. I don’t know how Mr. Mayo still has a job.
If the mayor were serious about school reform, he’d let Mayo retire and bring in a national figure to work on the schools. Keeping the very person who has been presiding over the failure that is the NHPS for 20 years simply makes NO. SENSE.
In what other line of work could you fail for 20 years and then get put in charge of turning that failure around?

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on January 27, 2012  6:51pm

Notice Brennan-Rogers and Domus Academy.I told all of you that they were going to Fail.He is what is going to happen.Domus will lose the contract and another husler will pick it up.The same will be for Brennan-Rogers Read John Marsh Book Class Dismissed: Why We Cannot Teach Or Learn Our Way Out of Inequality.


posted by: LOL on January 27, 2012  7:00pm

Let’s be clear about Celentano’s improvement: The school had nowhere to go but up after the principal ... stayed one year and then retired.

I point this out because district officials complained to the NHI for allowing the same people to post under multiple names, thereby creating the illusion that many people felt a particular way on a given subject.

Fair enough, but the district also has to put things in its proper perspective as well.

posted by: LOL on January 27, 2012  7:08pm

Mayo pledged to address her concern. He said Celentano is one of four schools with a disproportionately high number of special education students, another being Brennan/Rogers. He said has already been in discussions about “equity” in how the district treats those schools. As a traditional school, Celentano gets less money than magnet schools, Mayo acknowledged.

“We’ll see about spending more attention” on Tier III schools next year, he vowed.


Does anybody at the State Department of Education have a brain?

How is it possible for a superintendent to act so nonchalantly when it comes to his district’s most troubled schools?

How Mayo still has a job is beyond me.

I can vouch for Ms. Daniley’s claims about the lack of resources.

Believe me, Tier III schools are virtually ignored when it comes to receiving supplies and support staff.  Observations from department heads and CALI and Cambridge ARE NOT SUPPORT.  Tecahers at these schools don’t need five adults in the room distracting our already ADHD, ADD, (you-name-it) afflicted kids.

Our needy kids deserve and NEED better.

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on January 27, 2012  7:26pm

Take the student populations from lowest performing Tier III schools and switch them with the student populations of the highest performing Tier I schools and see what happens after five years. The performance levels with follow the students, not the schools.
Reform needs to be entirely reconceptualized and refocused towards classroom resources, a challenging curriculum, and maintenance of school buildings and facilities. Addressing the social atmosphere of schools is not something that can be done effectively by importing outside experts into the BOE or to administrative positions within schools. That has to come from the homes and neighborhoods of school children. The city can play a part in creating a framework for this, but ultimately it is up to residents to rebuild their civic organizations, public gathering spaces, networks of commerce, and strong community ties that are conducive to raising confident, informed and engaged children.

posted by: to Cross Teacher on January 27, 2012  7:29pm

Wilbur Cross is not being “reformed drastically immediately”???

The superintendent assigned you an authoritarian principal who shuts down all dissent.

You have 8 principals who make 6 figures and don’t teach.

The feds are giving you $2.1 million to hire consultants to restructure your school.

Are you saying this strategy is not working?

posted by: brutus2011 on January 27, 2012  7:37pm

This article is astounding!

The quote I like best is when the mayor addressed NFT Union President Dave Cicarella’s position by saying that the teacher’s union has been “an incredibly important partner in launching the reforms.”

Yes, it has.

By acquiescing the NHPS stealth policy of age discrimination.

By looking the other way while mayoral patronage administrators are protected while allowing teachers to be punished to cover their ineptitude.

By allowing administrative costs to remain unchallenged while teachers struggle with inadequate school supplies.

And perhaps most importantly, by not leading teachers to demand, yes DEMAND, that school-wide learning environments be changed which is the job of the building and district administrators.

This is not about educating our students.

This is about politics.

And money.

This is shame, a low down dirty shame!

posted by: Teachergal on January 27, 2012  9:47pm

The old regime reigns supreme making mucho dineros on the backs of NH’s failing students. It no longer amazes me that our ineffective superintendent continues to keep his job. Parents appear to love him despite his inability to improve the schools. Much like the Mayor.

posted by: Esteemed Contextual Objectivity from Afar? on January 28, 2012  12:52am

A ‘Venus de Milo’ moment:


.....quiting NOT 5 minutes before the miracle.

posted by: Concern Parent! on January 28, 2012  11:28am

My son with autism may attend Clarence Rogers (Brennan-Rogers?) next year as a kindergartner because that is the school that most children with autism attend.  Young children with autism in New Haven are often self-contained (though sometimes included for an hour or so a day with typical peers) at Clarence Rogers, and this should be taken into account when looking at the data! 

Did anyone see the data on the report.  Brennan-Rogers services the greatest number of children with special needs (21%).  That’s because most children with special needs are still expected to take the standardized test, and it seems that Clarence Rogers warehouses children with autism—not really including them in the Least Restrictive Environment like the law says.  It seems that the data is very skewed because of this.

And of course Clarence Rogers has high parent involvement; children with special needs need a great deal of attention, and we work hard to stay involved so that our children can progress.  Of course, I’m not saying that parents of typical children at Clarence Rogers are not involved, but parents of children with special needs MUST be involved when creating and implementing and IEP.

Based on my experiences trying to educate my son and asking for more services/more inclusion, I believe children with autism are not progressing to their greatest potential because of the way the New Haven Public School “system” works.  When children with autism first enter pre-K, they are put into a self-contained classroom.  They rarely learn with their typical peers. They are not given any other options but self-containing even if a child is verbal (like my son), is fully potty trained, and can learn next to typical peers with support. Then NHPS transfers our children to an elementary school like Brennan-Rogers that also self contains them with little involvement with other peers; they are warehoused throughout their lives!  They do not learn next to their peers, which has been shown to help children with autism make great gains.  And even if our children get into a magnet school, parents are often discouraged from having our children go to those schools because “the resources are really not available.”  Doctors at the Yale Child Study Center have suggested that my son have his own paraprofessional, yet the schools suggest that this is not available and that more services are available at Brennan-Rogers. Parents are told that services are not available, and we have to sue in order to get what we’ve been told by doctors is needed for our children to succeed.  We must think to ourselves “Is the fight worth it?” Our children are not given services unless parents take on the fight (and let’s face it, parents in New Haven don’t have the money or time to fight), yet our children with autism are often still expected to take the test which measures the success of a school?!?!  Of course, Brennan-Rogers is in the Tier III category and needs change…but so does the system that attempts to service our young children!

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on January 28, 2012  1:33pm

Brennan didn’t get the results that we wanted” on standardized tests, Mayo said, but it did improve by other measures: It posted the highest parent participation in the district on a school survey, which is considered a key sign of parental engagement.

“At turnarounds, you have a lot of new teachers,” Mayo added. “It takes a long time to gel.” Brennan/Rogers took a year to improve school culture, and is now “projected to do double-digit gains this year,” he predicted.

You want to bet.Again nothing more then Three Card Monte.


posted by: Teachergal on January 28, 2012  4:02pm

So, we turn around schools to increase parent participation? I thought it was to increase test scores.  This guy is really something. He only wants parent participation if it serves his interest which it does now as the scores aren’t going up.

posted by: Charter revision on January 28, 2012  11:04pm

The truth about New Haven’s so called reform is slowly emerging.  However, I will Not listen to the union president who was just fine with the reform at the beginning when he was quoted in papers both locally and nationally.
The truth is that there is no reform.  Fro. The out set, this entire experiment was about headlines and the Mayor’s self-promotion.  How could anyone expect to see any kind of reform with Reggie Mayo at the helm.  He clearly has no idea about what is needed to reform schools.  For example, he said I the New Haven Advocate several years ago that he was trying to learn “about this data stuff.”.  In this article, he says that he will “see about spending more attention to tier III schools.  I thought the purpose of tiering the schools was to provide more resources to those most in need.  Clearly, that was not the case.

The real purpose of tiering is to simply reinforce what people already know:  schools with students that come from higher socioeconomic status will do better than their less well-off peers.  New Haven’s tiering system simply reflects demographic patterns.  Anyone with a working knowledge of new haven schools could have done the ranking without seeing any data other than the average family income, addressed and education levels of the parents.

Reggie Mayo is a poor excuse for a superintendent.  He is without knowledge, without ideas and without even an ounce of courage.  He represents everything that is wrong with public schools and needs to resign or be fired immediately.  After more than 20 years in the position, the superintendent has nothing of value to show his worth.  our children and teachers deserve better than Reggie Mayo.

The district need not take a breath from transformation - it should completely asphyxiate it.  There is no evidence anywhere In the US That the transformation model actually works.  Absent evidence, all we have is a wish and truthfully, a wishbone is no substitute for a backbone.  I feel for the teachers because they were led by their leadership to believe that the contract with it’s management heavy handedness was actually a good idea.  They were blinded by a 3% raise and did not read the fine print.  Now you are stuck with this, because New Haven cannot change for fear of losing the headlines.

Let’s have a transformation model for the superintendents position.  And for the Mayor’s job too.

posted by: LOL on January 29, 2012  10:47am

The principal at Celentano has always screamed NO EXCUSES at teachers who complained about the lack of support staff and resources to assist the very needy student population there.  In fact, a NO EXCUSES banner hangs in the school’s main office.

So it seems a little ironic—if not fishy—that one of the principal’s favorite teachers would attend a BOE meeting to complain about the lack of resources and support staff ... now that the school once again has been classified as Tier III.

NO EXCUSES ... or is there?

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on January 29, 2012  3:44pm

@ Charter revision.Keep exposing these charlatans.In fact read this.This is whatis gping to happen here and around the country.

Why Is Congress Redlining Our Schools?

Linda Darling-Hammond


posted by: Voice of Reason on January 29, 2012  11:34pm

Funny how we no longer get to read any more glory stories about Brennan principal Lott and her hand-picked staff.  Where are the improvements?  Numbers dont lie.

posted by: anon on January 30, 2012  8:34am

Compared to the student body, what % of teachers in NHPS are Black or Latino?

What % of teachers and administrators lives in New Haven?

How many students live in overcrowded housing conditions, and how does that compare to the administrative staff?

This turnaround work attracts a lot of press and $$$$$$, but as JH points out, will do nothing in the long term. The only way to fix this is through equity focused policy change (and I don’t mean the kind of equity Mayo refers to between Celentano and Davis).

Also, changes in test scores are irrelevant unless you look by cohort. And test scores are manipulated because poor performing students are “allowed” (using disability reasons) not to take the test.  Virtually 100% of the “improvement” is due to fewer test takers.

posted by: brutus2011 on January 30, 2012  10:49pm

“anon” makes several excellent points.

1. the issue of evaluating student achievement by cohort is absolutely true. No real indication of negative, neutral or positive slope can be done unless you track CMT scores for at least 3-4 years. This is because every cohort is different for the obvious, although overlooked by education pseudoscience, reason that human beings develop at different rates and times.

2. The term “turnaround” is a business management buzz word. Failing corporations are often taken over by a management specific to restoring profitability. This kind of top down strategy is often effective in a private sector business model. It is not transferable to the “business” of educating our future populace. There is no proof that turning our schools over to business managers will educate our kids better than the corrupt public school bureaucrats are doing now.

3. This issue of the % minority teachers in NHPS is something I have often wondered about.
Overall, my experience has been that our kids generally fare better with those of their ethnicity. I must say, however, that I have served with some excellent and dedicated teachers who did not share my heritage. Please I mean no offense to anyone.

4. I am more and more convinced that the financial incentive provided to ed managers, both public school and charter school, is what is driving this whole school transformation movement. This is why teachers have to be perceived as the obstacle to reform. Once the ed managers, both public and charter, get the law solidly on their side to arbitrarily dismiss teachers, the ball game is over.

They win, and the rest of us lose. It is closer than one might think.