White House Boosts BOOST!

Melissa Bailey PhotoOne year after Wexler/Grant hired a new hand to bring in after-school theater and in-school therapists, the White House Thursday held up the school—and the city’s BOOST! program—as a national model.

A visit from a senior official in the U.S. Department of Education was one of two ways New Haven schools got national recognition Thursday.

Michael Robbins, senior advisor for non-profit partnerships in the U.S. Department of Education (DOE), showed up at Wexler/Grant at 10:30 a.m. for a “town hall” meeting to highlight the school district’s BOOST! program, a new effort to connect not-for-profit services with schools. Wexler/Grant, which launched a turnaround effort last fall, is one of five schools in the city piloting BOOST!.

At Wexler, that means a volunteer from the federal AmeriCorps VISTA program works full-time at the school to help coordinate social, emotional and recreational supports for students. In addition to longstanding partnerships with local not-for-profits like LEAP, the VISTA worker has brought in new after-school theater programs, “power lunches” with Yale business students, and drama therapy lessons through the Foundation for Arts and Trauma.

In recent years, as the Obama administration has poured $4.35 billion into the Race to the Top initiative to aid failing schools, the White House has sought to complement the effort by encouraging schools to partner with not-for-profits. Robbins said the DOE looked around the country for places where AmeriCorps was already working in schools. He came across New Haven, which was “so closely aligned” to what the DOE was looking for.

AmeriCorps, a federally funded volunteer program, joined New Haven schools last July, when BOOST! was finishing its second year. The school district called on AmeriCorps and other service organizations when it realized it didn’t have enough staff to handle the job of coordinating the influx of not-for-profits to help at city schools, said Laoise King. King is the BOOST! coordinator at United Way, the local not-for-profit tasked with connecting not-for-profits to schools.

Robbins said it’s rare that schools invest in a staff person whose sole job is to handle extra-curricular partnerships: “It’s the exception, not the norm.”

The White House chose New Haven as one of six “demonstration sites” to hold up as a model for the nation. The DOE is using New Haven as an example as it launches an effort to encourage other partnerships, through something called the Together For Tomorrow Challenge—click here to read more about that. There’s no money attached, just a chance for national recognition.

In a question and answer session after the congratulatory remarks, Parris Lee piped up. He’s an official “parent liaison” hired by the school district under the federal Title I grant. He asked panelists what they’re doing to engage parents in BOOST!

Jack Healy, head of United Way in New Haven, said he welcomes more ideas on how to tackle that challenge. Principal Breland ticked off a number of parent nights teachers have put together this year, which will culminate in a parent recognition dinner in upcoming weeks.

Cincinnati Limelight

Also Thursday, three New Haven officials shared their reform efforts with a national audience at the invitation of DOE Secretary Arne Duncan.

School reform czar Garth Harries, teachers union President David Cicarella and school board President Carlos Torre traveled to Cincinnati, Ohio, for a second national conference on collaboration between labor and management in the schools. The conference was titled “Collaborating To Transform the Teaching Profession.” New Haven was among a half-dozen districts chosen to present its work, according to the trio.

Harries said the group talked about the landmark 2009 teachers contract and the work it enabled the district to do, including a teacher evaluation based on student performance and the ability to run turnaround schools with different work rules.

They heard from other districts seeking to emulate their work, including in St. Paul, Minnesota, where the school district used New Haven’s contract as a basis for their own. Other districts asked about the goal-setting procedure in New Haven’s teacher evaluations, and about the use of independent validators to check the work.

The trio made a similar presentation at a Duncan-led conference a year and a half ago. Torre said one person he met this year was impressed to see that the collaboration was still holding together.

Torre said all the attention to New Haven as a “model” should be taken with “a grain of salt.” “We have examples of things we’ve done that could be useful somewhere else,” he said, but you can never just replicate one city’s work in another town.

“Too much limelight,” he added, distracts from the work that needs to be done at home.

“It’s a nice compliment and we’re glad to do it,” Cicarella said, but going on the road is “time-consuming” and a lot of work remains in New Haven.

“I do think New Haven represents an example on the national stage,” agreed Harries, but “I’m impatient to get home.”


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posted by: J.R. Logan on May 24, 2012  4:36pm

Great coverage, I am glad to see that we are getting recognition and could influence reform in other areas. I took some more pictures of the event for United Way (my employer) if anyone wants to check them out at:  http://www.uwgnh.org/content/we-will-be-successful-we-will-be-model

posted by: Jacques Strap on May 25, 2012  6:52am

Why are Harries and Cicarella travelling when there remain very critical issues plaguing New Haven schools?

City, union and school officials ought to be at home brainstorming how to get parents in the city’s worst neighborhoods to attend parent-teacher conferences and send their kids to school on time and with homework on a regular basis. 

They should also be working on ensuring that the city’s worst-performing schools have adequate support staff and supplies.  Teachers at those schools don’t need additional professional development from outside agents/downtown officials who spend one day a month at our schools, preaching to teachers without having to deal with the students.

This Ohio road trip is just the latest example of the dog-n-pony show being put on by NHPS and the NHFT.

Again, if the “best” teachers are at New Haven’s Tier I and II schools, as the reform initiative would have everybody believe, then put those teachers in the schools with the city’s most needy student population.

posted by: Noteworthy on May 25, 2012  9:01am

It is fascinating to watch those in power primp and pose for others who don’t live here. All we have is a small glimmer of hope - small improvements that at best are infantile steps to transforming decades of neglect and lack of concern. Our governor runs to NYC and DC every chance he gets to hob knob and boast; the mayor does the same thing and has gone as far away as Switzerland to pose for the cameras.

I prefer Gov. Cuomo who won’t travel or do any national interviews. He just works and it shows.

Invitations or not, staying home and staying focused is less distracting and always more productive. Our reality is three people were gunned down in the last 10 days; 34 died last year. In about three weeks, W. Cross High School will graduate around 50% of the kids who entered that school four years ago. Hillhouse will be lucky to hit that number.

posted by: Tom Burns on May 26, 2012  3:57am

Easy Jacques Strap—-there is no dog and pony show—only real movement forward—-I disdain accolade at every step—-
The NHFT is only about making a difference—and we have—we are the real deal—- no bells and whistles only results and positive change—and we are on our way—you can join us——-or join the bad guys——negativity is for losers—-we have far to go but we are far ahead of EVERY school district in America—and I praise our staff from top to bottom—-this is real change—real transformation——-because things have changed—and everyone has a voice—no-one does it better—-call me and get on board—860-227-6668—or stick with the losers—Tom

posted by: Jacques Strap on May 29, 2012  11:34am

@Tom—You did not address any of my concerns with specific, quantifiable answers, only cheerleading commentary.  The reform initiative is too young to measure its success, which is why city and union officials have no business traveling to boast about it.

There remain very real, unresolved issues in New Haven, despite the window dressing school and union officials show the public.  Among them are the imbalance among New Haven schools and the teacher-bashing that occurs in many Tier III schools.

TEACHER BASHING:  The city and the union know full well that most of the teachers at Tier III schools are every bit as competent and caring as those in Tier I and II schools.

Yet, the city and union window dress, telling the state and public that teachers at Tier III schools will be held accountable by the district and other outside agencies, such as Cambridge and Cali.

Teachers at Tier III schools don’t need such scrutiny or any more professional development than the teachers at Tier I and II schools do.  They need adequate support staff, supplies and experienced leadership (not those with limited classroom experience who read excerpts from Amistead’s handbook and bark them at their own teachers, as if they invented terminology such as “no excuses” and “laser-like” focus on instruction”).

IMBALANCE:  If busing East Shore and Edgewood students to schools in the Hill and Newhallville (and vice versa), to help balance the ELL, SPED AND ESL populations, is not an option, then perhaps a STRONGER DISTRICT-WIDE ZERO TOLERANCE POLICY would be beneficial?  Just like the ones Amistead and Elm City Prep use.  Parents violate their contract?  Their kid is OUT.  Kids destroy school property, and assault teachers and other kids?  They are GONE.

posted by: Tom Burns on May 29, 2012  5:59pm

Jacques Strap—-a name that has been valuable to many athletes—- a real protector—-

I hear your cry—I hear the passion in your piece and the frustration of working your butt off everyday—-without the support you need and without equity across the district—-

Of course their are many real unresolved issues—and much work to be done—but OUR plan (devised by teachers) not the Union or Administration alone, if implemented correctly is second to none anywhere in the world (sans the over-reliance on testing , test scores and tiering)

Compromises sometimes have to be made to get a voice—never before in New Haven did we have a voice—now we do—and with it we will fight the corporate take-over of schools and the imbecilic idea to test children to death (have you ever seen a pig get fatter by sitting on a scale?)

The Union never said nor will ever say that teachers at Tier III schools will be held accountable by the district and certainly not by Cambridge or CALI which have no juice in saying who CAN or who CANT teach—

There are great teachers in all of our schools and probably some poor ones in some of our schools (no matter what Tier they are in)

No matter what our plan is—if it is not implemented properly with fidelity and integrity—then it is worthless—-

In some schools they have yet to get it right but in others it is starting to work—and our culture is changing—-

Until we hold kids accountable for their behaviors and not allow a few ruin the education of many—-we have no hope—-It is time to have standards concerning our childrens character—and we must not settle for mediocrity—we talk about academic excellence yet let children get away with not having any limits when it comes to their social actions—-THIS MUST BE DEALT WITH FIRST—or all we are doing is for naught—-

Join us—we could use your thoughts—I agree with everything you said in your two posts except—the dog and pony show—if we don’t travel the country to show people the RIGHT way then they will have no other choice than to follow those corporate clowns who chaMPION CHARTERS AND VOUCHERS AND sick EVALUATION PLANS—we are the option and we must get it right—for we are the last teachers standing against the tidal wave which has already claimed at least 12 states—so fight withus