The Board of Education heard dozens of proposed strategies on improving academic achievement in the New London Public Schools on Thursday.
The board will review the strategies to determine which ones they concur with as part of the ongoing development of a three-year strategic operating plan on district operations. The strategies aim to meet a number of goals previously developed by the board including establishing New London as a regional center of academic excellence; improving teacher quality, diversity, and retention; improving the quality of instruction; increasing parent and community involvement in the district; and capitalizing on resources within the community.
The strategies introduced toward the regional academic goal supported a proposal by Dr. Stephen Adamowski, the state-appointed special master to the district, to establish New London as an all magnet school district. These included developing kindergarten through 12th grade pathways for specialized areas of language and culture, visual and performing arts, and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Adamowski said the board might also consider establishing a district charter school program for advanced learners in grades four through 12.
“This is going to require a series of steps over multiple years,” said Adamowksi.
Strategies toward recruiting and retaining a talented and diverse and talented faculty include a professional development system based on teacher evaluation as well as an administrative reorganization. Adamowski says the district has taken a step toward this goal by reorganizing three administrative positions to focus more on student achievement, but that further steps must also be taken.
Dr. Nicholas Fischer, superintendent of New London Public Schools, said recruitment fairs or travel to recruiting events in other states could also be part of this strategy. He said the district is working to collaborate with staffers to recruit talented minority employees.
“A lot of good recruitment is word of mouth,” said Fischer.
Kate Ericson, the state’s chief academic officer, said the state is planning to cease its standardized tests in 2015 as part of a move toward a “Smarter Balance” online test to assess core academic standards. Adamowski said this will be a step toward establishing a more rigorous national academic standard rather than having each state set its own standards. He said strategies toward improved academic instruction would include a special focus on special education and English Language Learners as well as developing a college-ready K-12 curriculum in core topics in reading, writing, science, and math.
Adamowski said the district can increase parental involvement through strategies such as giving parents more opportunities for program choices based on their children’s needs and interests, keeping parents informed of educational reforms in the district, and giving annual satisfaction surveys to parents, students, and faculty of each school. He also stressed the importance of school governance councils in determining the future of the district.
“It’s probably the most important thing you could do, and it would probably be your focus during year one,” said Adamowski.
Other strategies include establishing a 10-year master plan for the future of school buildings, providing additional learning time, establishing Board of Education training and governance reform, a more cooperative strategy with the municipal government on school funding, and allying with community partners such as local colleges and cultural institutions.
At its November meeting, the Board of Education adopted the for the plan. The vision statement, which gives a goal of where the district should be in five years, says New London should strive to be a “regional center for educational excellence.” The statement also advocates increased parental involvement, a diverse faculty, rigorous and innovative academics, and having students graduate prepared for college or a career.
The theory of action adopted by the board follows a managed performance empowerment model, in which higher performing schools are given more autonomy over programs and operations to foster academic improvement. Lower performing schools are subject to “district intervention, redesign, closure or replacement with higher-performing school models.”
The performance targets set a number of annual goals for improvement of the district’s school performance index, standardized test scores, graduation rates, college attendance rates, and college readiness. These goals also seek to have English Language Learners and students with disabilities improving at the same rate as their peers.