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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

New Haven among low-performing school districts, report says

By Elizabeth Benton
Register Staff

Reports are expected over the next two weeks from the state Department of Education outlining recommended changes for 12 districts statewide, including New Haven, triggered by sub-par performance on state exams.
Bridgeport, East Hartford, Hartford, Meriden, Middletown, New Britain, New London, Norwalk, Norwich, Waterbury and Windham also were each targeted for state review following failure to meet rising standards set by the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
While Connecticut districts have a long history of autonomous leadership, last June the state legislature gave $180 million to the state Department of Education with the authorization to intervene in districts and schools chronically failing to meet federal targets.
Cambridge Education, an international school improvement organization, has been hired to assess each of the 12 districts. The reports are due over the next two weeks.
Cambridge is expected to address districts’ positive and negative aspects, and will include interviews with central office, teachers and school staff, school boards, parents, union representatives, students, and community members, according to an Education Department release. District policy and curriculum, food services, transportation, finances, and human resources also were reviewed.
The state is expected to work with each of the 12 districts to improve performance, including considering changing school structure, professional development and communication.
The 12 targeted districts educate over 113,500 students, nearly 20 percent of the state’s total public school enrollment.
The state continues to trail the nation in addressing a wide achievement gap between minority and white students, and also poor and wealthier students.
"It’s important to understand these districts serve children with the greatest needs," said state education commissioner Mark McQuillan in a statement. "Poverty, student mobility, limited English language proficiency, teacher turnover, and lack of resources are significant factors affecting progress, factors which come into play well before students enter kindergarten."
He called for the state and districts to take joint responsibility for "our state’s neediest children."
"This effort represents a strong step forward in addressing Connecticut’s biggest educational challenge: closing the achievement gap," he said.
New Haven Superintendent of Schools Reginald Mayo said he was initially concerned the state wanted to micromanage districts. "I was pleasantly surprised. This process has not been one of micromanaging. …We’ve worked very well together."
Mayo said the district’s plan is a work in progress, but his top priorities have been curriculum development, improving administrative leadership, strengthening reading programs, and social development. "Of course none of it can be done without resources," he said.
Education Department spokesman Tom Murphy said state intervention is "not about gotcha."
"This is designed as a tool to help the district have a snap shop, another set of eyes," said Murphy. "This is really about how the district can effect change, make improvements that will lead to better student improvement. Let’s face it. No one does everything perfectly. These reports will find areas for improvement. ... There may be some things that are uncomfortable, but they’re all in the spirit of taking steps forward. We know that educators in New Haven want that to happen."
Elizabeth Benton can be reached at 789-5714 or at ebenton@nhregister.com.

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