Education reform gains local, national attention

Parents and students were impressed by Hill Central School’s renovated facilities, increased security and improved technology resources, such as laptops and smart boards.
Parents and students were impressed by Hill Central School’s renovated facilities, increased security and improved technology resources, such as laptops and smart boards. Photo by Monica Disare.

With the November elections in two weeks and a debate over the direction of the country’s school system taking place nationwide, ongoing education reform in New Haven has become the subject of praise from local, state and national political officials.

On Sunday afternoon, Mayor John DeStefano Jr. attended Hill Central School’s dedication ceremony to celebrate the renovation of the pre-kindergarten to eighth grade building. Last week, Gov. Dannel Malloy visited Community High School in New Haven to observe progress on the school’s reform initiatives. And according to a press release last week from United Way, White House officials are impressed with the city’s efforts to engage local residents as part of the School Change Initiative and are looking to spread the reform model to other communities.

All of this recognition comes amidst New Haven’s school change effort — the result of a 2009 teachers’ contract many observers said was groundbreaking.

“Connecticut’s future economic success depends on a well-educated workforce,” Malloy said. “Beginning with early childhood education and continuing through a strong postsecondary education, students must learn the skills they need to compete so we can meet the needs of employers who are looking to grow their business or relocate.”

During Sunday’s dedication ceremony, hundreds of students, community members and parents packed into the Hill Central School’s gymnasium. Students praised the new building for its bright, arched central hallway, a gymnasium full of college flags and a brightly painted mural that spans one wall of the cafeteria. The building also has a new playground and improved technology, such as laptops and smart boards, said Glen Worthy, the principal of Hill Central School. In contrast, DeStefano said, the old Hill Central School was “old and tired and it leaked — sort of like how I feel sometimes in the morning.”

He added that the school is a “critical investment in New Haven School Change and in our future.”

“It is a powerful investment that will continue to pay dividends for our youth and our community for years to come,” DeStefano said.

Hill Central School is the 36th school built or rehabilitated since the city began district construction efforts in 1995. Three parents at Hill Central School agreed that investing in the building is important to their children’s education, citing more security and teaching space as elements central to the renovation.

Earlier in the week, Malloy visited Community High School in New Haven, one of the four Commissioner’s Network Schools in Connecticut, which are low-performing schools that receive substantial support from the state. Malloy was pleased with the school’s progress, said Imma Canelli, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction for New Haven Public Schools.

District officials said they were glad to have the governor visit and take notice of the reform initiatives.

“Just to have the governor in one of our schools is exciting,” Canelli said, “[The government is] sinking so much money into education — it is nice he comes on the ground to see how the money is actually being spent.

On a national level, Jack Healy, the president and CEO of United Way of Greater New Haven, traveled to Washington, D.C. to discuss education reform with White House officials. According to United Way’s press release, the Obama administration was enthusiastic about Boost! and particularly the door-to-door canvassing Boost! and other education reform programs have utilized. Boost!, a program sponsored in part by United Way, offers activities and services to students outside class designed to foster social, emotional and physical well-being.

Though New Haven’s programs have been widely discussed leading up to the November elections, it is unclear whether they will have an impact on specific races. Education has been discussed in the national presidential debates, said Zak Newman ’13, the president of Yale College Democrats, but he added that he wishes the issue was more central to congressional races.

“Education is a really complicated issue,” Newman said. “I think members of Congress running for House seats try to avoid that conversation.”

Newman added that local and state government in New Haven and Connecticut, respectively, have nonetheless been very strong advocates for education.

Hill Central School serves approximately 500 students and is about 85,000 square feet.

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