Vallas Puts College Plan Into Action

Housatonic Community College
Housatonic is one of several area colleges involved in partnerships with Bridgeport schools.

Shortly after Paul Vallas took over as school chief in January he announced a plan to build relationships between area colleges and universities to assist high school students in their transition to higher learning. Former Mayor John Fabrizi is heading up this effort that is underway with Housatonic Community College, University of Bridgeport, Fairfield University and Sacred Heart University. From Linda Conner Lambeck, CT Post:

Twice a week this fall, Jean Joseph will hop on the Number 3 bus that runs past Central Magnet School and head downtown to take an algebra class at Housatonic Community College–on the school district’s dime.

It will give the 18-year-old senior a jump start on college and his plans to become a dentist.

“I love the idea so much. I truly do,” said Joseph, who is among 81 high school seniors–at last count–who will be part of a new Early College/Dual Enrollment program between the school district and local colleges. All are high school seniors who are being allowed to take a college level course this fall, earning both high school and college credits if they pass.

Interim School Superintendent Paul Vallas brought the idea, common elsewhere nationwide, to the district and worked to develop memorandums of understanding with HCC, the University of Bridgeport, and Fairfield and Sacred Heart universities. Vallas said the courses are better use of time than taking a day full of electives.

College officials say they see it as a way to help get more students college ready.

“The advantage I see is keeping students focused, so they will continue with their college education. Obviously we hope most will come here, but it truly is a community service in which we want them to continue their education,” said Anita Gliniecki, HCC president.

Housatonic is taking 73 students. Some will be in college-level English and math courses. Others, who failed a college entrance exam last spring, will be put into courses designed to get them college ready. The classes meet at different times.

“We intentionally did not tell students all to come for ‘x’ class. They will be part of our general college population,” Gliniecki said. “They will be treated like any other college students.”

As college students, they will have to follow the course syllabus to know when papers are due. “Faculty will help them in any way, except lower standards for the course,” Gliniecki said.

Five Bassick High School students are headed to Fairfield University.

Christine Siegel, associate dean of the university’s graduate school of education and allied professions, said all five had to have a 3.3 grade-point average, a letter of recommendation and write an essay about why they wanted to take a class there.

The five had their pick of a dozen freshmen-level courses for which no prerequisites were needed.

“They are classes where we knew we had strong professors and which met during school day.” Siegel said.

At UB, three of nine students who applied met the requirements–high GPAs and a writing sample–will take classes this fall. Two are from Harding High School, one from Central. All have been assigned faculty advisors and peer mentors.

“The most important thing to us is that they have a successful experience and not get in over their heads, which is what often happens with freshmen,” said Joyce Cook, a UB professor and director of traditional field experience.

Cook said the program will be good for everyone involved and will expand in the spring. “I think we we’ll get students in the high schools talking to others about the experience. That is very good for the university,” she said.

Sacred Heart, which ran a four-week summer session for 32 city high school students, just signed on to participate in the program starting in the spring, said John Fabrizi, who is the district’s director of adult education. Fabrizi, the city’s former mayor, along with Peter Ziegler, an assistant principal with the district, worked to design the early college program.

Students who participate will get bus passes. There also may be shuttles for students who need to get to a college campus and back during the school day. The logistics are still being worked out.

“It’s been a learning process. The intent has been to establish a good footing,” then expand, Fabrizi said.

The program’s cost is about $45,000 in the fall semester, which includes tuition, bus passes and a book allowance. The cost is expected to grow in the spring as the number of participants and the courses taken grows. District officials have $135,000 in the budget for the program in 2012-13.

Marina Wiltshire said the program comes just in time for her son Alex, 17, a Central High School senior this fall. She said was considering withdrawing her son early because high school, even taking advanced placement courses, left him bored.

“He was wasting his time taking electives,” said Wiltshire, calling the program an excellent idea.

Alex will enroll in an English class at UB. Wiltshire said she expects it will not only be more challenging, but push him in the right direction as far as college is concerned. Already this summer, Alex took the summer program at Sacred Heart and did well, Wiltshire said.

Jasmin Harrison, 16, a senior at Bassick, also took the summer program at Sacred Heart and said it gave her a good insight into how different things are going to be. “I’m looking forward to it,” said Harrison, who transferred to Bassick from Ridgefield last February.

This fall, she plans to take seven courses during the day at Bassick, and two evenings a week will take a pre-calculus class at Housatonic. If things go as planned, she said she will follow it up with two other college classes in the spring, graduating from high school with nine college credits.



  1. Kudos to Mr. Vallas and company for instituting this program. This program will certainly help our college-bound kids.
    My concern is the kids who are not going to college. I realize Mr. Vallas undertook a lot when he took over this system and I realize he has a long way to go but what worries me is very little has been said about these kids.
    It seems to me if we don’t change, we are going to have more dropouts and kids stuck in low-paying menial jobs. Educators always throw out this information about getting all kids ready for college but that is not the reality. Reality is we have a very large dropout rate and need to address that immediately. I hope these non-college-bound kids are not going to be kicked to the curb. Time will tell.

  2. I just came home from a full day of training on the new math program. This is part of the $10.8 million in new text books. The good news is the city was not there painting lines in the parking lot or filling potholes around parked cars.

    The bad news is they tell us today, 1 day before the students arrive, 6th grade teachers will not be starting the sixth grade book for the first 11 weeks of school. Instead we will have to use the program at other grade levels for the first 11 weeks. I guess they figure the sixth graders will not be ready to jump into the program at the sixth grade level. So we will spend 6 days doing lessons from grade 3. We will spend another 29 days or so doing 4th grade lessons and another 44 days doing grade 5 lessons. Oh yeah, and we don’t have these materials, they are only online! We will have to hope the technology is up and running so we can project these lessons, the students won’t have books or materials we will have to make all copies ourselves.
    Forget the fact most of the professionals in the district spent the summer looking at the appropriate grade level, writing lesson plans, getting material ready …
    You can’t make this stuff up. “Only in Bridgeport!”

  3. *** With such a long-term deep-seated negative learning school system, it’s obvious it’s going to take some hard and pre-trial type decision making on Vallas & Co’s. part on heading towards the right direction, no? It’s a problem that will take time, money and cooperation to make better. So far it seems to be slowly moving forward and this relationship with area colleges is sure to help. Good news! ***

  4. I graduated from Notre Dame back in the ’60s. I went to UB in engineering back when it was supposed to be a top-notch school. The algebra book we had my freshman year was the same text we used at ND my senior year. We didn’t have to go to college to be taught college level.
    Unfortunately today HCC is teaching what used to be high school level and calling it college.

  5. *** Being academically unprepared has been the nature of the “education beast” for some time now from high school to college levels. Understanding it and doing something about it is progress! Time to learn from the past and move forward towards the future without critical bias every step of the way! Let us focus more on possible solutions rather than always fixating on the usual problems, no? *** PROCEED WITH CAUTION! ***


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