Redirecting resources, reversing the dropout rate, preparing students for college, increased administrative access and accountability and a prenatal education strategy are among the components members of the state-appointed school board highlight in a commentary for the Connecticut Post. With kudos toward Mayor Bill Finch for his proposed financial investment in city schools, board members set forth their vision for the school system. Commentary below:
Last week, the Bridgeport Board of Education approved a budget that will financially stabilize the district and serve as a blueprint for dramatic academic improvement in all of our students. Our goal is clear: Provide each student with an education that sees them graduate from high school prepared to succeed in college, their chosen career and in life.
The plan to address the needs of the students in the district is rooted in and reflects the input we received during our listening tours and community forums with parents, students, teachers, administrators, staff, community organizations, higher education and the community at large as we began our work as a board. That input was the lens through which we judged the comprehensive and exciting plan for improvement developed by Superintendent Paul Vallas and his dynamic team. We feel this plan is “right on” in addressing what we learned from you.
Clearly, this plan would not have been possible without the unprecedented involvement and support of Mayor Bill Finch and his staff. The partnership built between the board and the mayor’s office and the additional financial support from the city are the cornerstones of this plan. We greatly appreciate the mayor’s passion and support.
The additional funding and support provided in Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s proposed legislation for educational competitiveness is also vitally important to the success of our plan. We salute the governor for his bold leadership in education reform.
We have a long way to go, and the current statistics are sobering and unacceptable by any standards. For example:
– Currently, only half of our high school students are earning diplomas. The rest drop out or fail to graduate. Many of those who do graduate are far from prepared for college work. Housatonic Community College reports that more than 85 percent of their entering freshmen required some remedial work before taking college level courses, and of all who applied, 47 percent scored at the fourth-grade math level on standardized placement tests.
– Students are not entering high school at grade level, and we know that 70 percent of students who fail their freshman year drop out altogether.
The plan approved last week addresses these and other issues by aligning the district’s resources with proven school improvement strategies. Resources–human, physical and financial–will be managed with transparency and distributed with equity. The newly approved Bridgeport public schools’ financial and academic plan seeks to ensure that all students are proficient at grade level and are provided an opportunity to participate in a high school experience that emphasizes rigorous academics, early college and workplace training.
We have set a fresh course for this district. Going forward, you will see:
1. Attention and resources focused on the schools, as opposed to the central office, and a school-based budgeting model that ensures that resources follow the students.
2. A school-based strategy that recognizes the central office’s role is to be a “school support organization.”
3. A system of accountability and transparency at all levels where resources are distributed to schools using clear and understandable formulas. Parents and the community at large will have easy access to information about district and individual school finances, and individual school performance.
4. An education strategy that begins in the prenatal phase, recognizing that babies need to be born healthy and that the major part of brain development occurs in the first three years of life, thus necessitating the opportunity for parent training, early literacy and numeracy.
5. A comprehensive education strategy that ensures: that (1) all teachers have access to a consistent research-based curriculum and instructional models aligned to district, state and common core standards; (2) all teachers and administrators have the training needed to deliver effective instruction; and (3) that the school day and school year are structured in such a way as to provide sufficient “time on task” for students so that teachers can be effective.
6. A student assessment and intervention system that: (1) provides the schools with frequent, ongoing information regarding individual student progress and teacher effectiveness throughout the school year; and (2) ensures appropriate assistance for struggling students and supports that address teachers’ needs.
7. A high school strategy that ensures that middle school students are prepared for high school and provides critical high school supports such as re-teach centers, homework clubs, school-based and online tutoring, and credit recovery opportunities to help keep our students in high school and on the path to graduation.
8. Expansion of the number of comprehensive high schools from three to eight, which will dramatically increase high school and educational program options for students across the district. Programs will include early college, dual enrollment, work study, apprenticeships and a wide variety of other educational opportunities.
9. School facilities that are environmentally clean, safe and secure, and classrooms that are modernized with the technology needed to support effective instruction.
10. A school discipline policy that is clear, consistent and effective and that promotes positive student behavior through character education, community service, clubs and extracurricular activities, as well as fully defined and appropriate consequences for inappropriate student behavior that are consistently administered.
11. A financial plan that is reasonable and achievable through equitably shared sacrifices, which ensure that the school district has long-term financial stability and that the education reforms are financed and sustainable.
12. An opportunity for unprecedented parent and community involvement in the schools through: (1) local parent and community councils with clear, specified roles and responsibilities; (2) parent and community centers within schools; and (3) school partnerships with faith-based organizations, business associations and other pillars of the community.
13. Establishment of a Good Schools Bridgeport Foundation to raise funds and play a catalytic role in support of the implementation of the plan.
This ambitious, comprehensive and far-reaching plan is not only exciting–it is necessary. While it will be challenging to build a new system while still functioning in the old, we believe it is a manageable challenge. We know this will not be easy, but the alternative of another generation of children receiving a substandard education that does not prepare them to reach their potential is not acceptable.
We greatly appreciate the outpouring of offers of support from individuals and organizations both within and outside the district, wanting to know how they can best assist Bridgeport schools. We are excited by the opportunity to work with all of you on this critical chapter of our children’s futures.
Thank you for your passion, commitment and involvement. Together, we can make this happen.
You can view the full plan at www.bridgeportedu.com.
Robert Trefry, Chair
David Norton, Vice Chair
Jacqueline Kelleher, Secretary
Kenneth Moales Jr.
Michele Black Smith-Tompkins
Bridgeport Board of Education