In May, the Connecticut General Assembly officially established a “Commissioner’s Network” to turn around the state’s lowest-performing schools. Modeled after turnaround efforts in places like New York City, Louisiana, Tennessee, and Michigan, the Commissioner’s Network was created to identify those schools in most need of turnaround and reconstitute them under the oversight of the Connecticut Commissioner of Education.
The Nutmeg State hasn’t wasted any time getting this up and running. The Commissioner’s Network was signed into law at the end of May. Last week, the Connecticut State Board of Education accepted the first four schools into the new network (the law allows for up to 25 schools at any given time).
The Commissioner’s Network is no longer an abstract concept. It is now a very real action, impacting actual students, teachers, and communities across the state. And it is doing so by adopting significant turnaround efforts that reject the status quo and engender hope in those school communities most in need.
These turnaround plans introduce much-needed steps to improve student outcomes. For example, all schools have extended learning time for both teachers and students, and have introduced new ways to hire, retain, and assign staff. In Bridgeport, the Curiale School will require that any teacher hired or retained must earn high performance evaluations. In Hartford, Jumoke at Milner will increase the school year by 34 instructional days, including longer days and Saturday academies. Norwich’s Stanton Elementary is hiring “resident teachers” who will support master teachers in each grade level. And at New Haven’s High School in the Community, outdated school models based on seat time will be replaced with a competency-based instruction, meaning that students will advance once they have mastered content and skills.
It is refreshing to see such out-of-the-box thinking, particularly from a state known as “The Land of Steady Habits.” But let there be no mistake. The hard work begins now. Establishing these reconstituted Commissioner’s Network schools is but the first step. Now, educators and administrators in these four schools, as well as those that will follow, have to make good on the promise and do whatever is necessary to break the cycles of failure and get all kids learning.