In order to make this a reality, all sides needed to be in agreement, including the teachers. Teachers at HSC voted on the upcoming changes in a staff meeting with all but one teacher voting yes. Union leadership and the district will sign a special Memorandum of Understanding outlining the terms of running the school.
High School in the Community (HSC), a magnet high school which has been teacher-led since its founding, currently has a service, activism and social justice theme, and will adopt a law and social justice theme. Law schools and law firms will be brought in as partners to help with the new themes.
As part of the turnaround effort teachers will have to reapply for their jobs, work rules will be adjusted to include an additional hour of teacher time between extended student time and team planning and development. The school also has a goal of 100 percent parent contact and involvement during the course of the year.
“Everyone recognizes that a good teacher is the most powerful force on a students learning,” said David Cicarella, president of the New Haven Federation of Teachers. “Within the NHFT, and in continued collaboration with Mayor DeStefano and Dr. Mayo, teachers are going beyond the classroom to be that force for learning. We are proud of our work in shaping school reform here in New Haven from the very start– and we are eager to take on this new role of school management at High School in the Community.”
“Everything has to be student-led. The focus has to be on the students. So what will they see? They’ll see some new faces, that’s for sure, but many staff have been retained as well. They’ll see a new curriculum, new courses and a change in the way we do things,” said Cicarella.
Grading policy will change with students beginning in a “Core Academy” and moving to a “Community Bridge Academy” that focuses on community-driven work. Students will progress from stage to stage based on their portfolio of work and graduate when they are ready. The school is also bringing back the “Family Group”, a mandatory freshman class that focuses on social development and team building.
“Unlike charter school turnarounds which hand pick their students, HSC will keep its current students,” said Cicarella. “We are returning to the roots of charter schools. Charter schools were made to be an incubator of change—not a separate system that creams kids from the traditional district.”
“There are about eight or nine union-run schools nationwide, including in Denver and New York City.” Cicarella added.
HSC is adding a new position, chief academic officer, to facilitate partnerships between law firms and social justice organizations. Chris Kafoglis, a math teacher at Wilbur Cross High, will take on that role. Kafgolis will be working with the current leadership of the school, teachers Erik Good and Paulette Jackson, who manage the tasks which are usually performed by a principal.
HSC is seeking to become part of the Education Commissioner’s Network which was created under this year’s education reform legislation. HSC could receive up to $2 million in funding over a period of several years. The New Haven Board of Education has formally registered their intent to apply to the Commissioner’s Network.
“This is an exciting opportunity to have the school run by those who know how to do it best, the teachers,” stated AFT Connecticut President Sharon Palmer. “We are looking forward to working with the New Haven Federation of Teachers, Local 933 and the administration in New Haven, to make this school a success. New Haven has been a shining example of how collaborative work between the union and the administration has a positive impact on education.”
“Today’s announcement continues New Haven’s commitment to put educators and school support staff at the center of decisions,” said American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten.
“Whatever we do moves our urban students so much farther,” said Sen. Toni Harp. “And I think we’ve done that, because the whole issue of the achievement gap has been front and center in this discussion.” State Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney and State Rep. Toni Walker, also praised the district’s decision.
“We’ve seen good progress on CMTs, the rate of growth has been double the state average; the dropout rate has dropped 2 percent and that increased the rate of students who are on track to graduate by 9 percent,” said Mayor John DeStefano Jr.