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Inside a Commissioner’s Network School

Lately, we’ve been looking at policy in action in each of our 6 recommendation areas. We’ve already looked at the use of longitudinal data systems to drive accountability, and a teacher’s perspective on the Common Core. Now, let’s take a look at the Commissioner’s Network Schools to learn about their turn around efforts.

This month, we visited the James J. Curiale School in Bridgeport to get a school-level look at what real turn around looks like. One of the four first Commissioner’s Network Schools, Curiale School has undergone a significant transformation in only a single year under the leadership of Principal Brett Gustafson.

Katie McLeod, a 4th grade teacher at Curiale School who served on its turnaround committee, says that before Curiale joined the Commissioner’s Network, its teachers did not have professional development opportunities and weren’t supported by the school’s administrators. Because the school didn’t have enough textbooks, teachers had to photocopy materials for their students. As a result, teachers were frustrated and morale was low. Students were frustrated too, and the school had high absentee rates for both students and teachers.

The building was also falling apart, with dilapidated ceilings and walls that were covered in graffiti. In fact, Gustafson says that when he first arrived, he struggled to convince the then-custodian that it was worth cleaning up the school’s walls at all because they might just get re-vandalized.Read More »

Fighting Chronic Absenteeism to Turn Around Schools

 This summer, we’ve looked at best practices within each of our six policy recommendation areas. We’ve taken a look at the need to demand accountability at the state level; the need to foster leadership in our districts and schools; ideas for developing an excellent teacher talent pool; strategies for raising expectations of our students; and the importance of investing intelligently in our education system. 

Let’s kick off the school year by discussing some practices for turning around achievement at the school-level.


Too many of Connecticut’s underprivileged students are in chronically low-performing schools, which exacerbates the state’s highest-in-the-nation achievement gap. In order to ensure that every child is receiving the education that she deserves, we must focus on reform strategies that are specifically targeted towards the complex problems that students in these schools face.

Chronic absenteeism is defined differently by different states; often it is described as missing 10% of school. While chronic absenteeism occurs in almost all districts, it is generally concentrated in a few low-performing schools. These schools are disproportionately in low-income, urban districts. In some districts, as many as one-in-three students misses a month of school or more each year. Students who were chronically absent scored 60 points below their peers on reading and 100 points below their peers on math, even when both groups started school at comparable levels. Falling behind academically further discourages students from attending school and can have a cyclical effect. School attendance is the most accurate determinate of whether students will eventually drop out.

Below are some of the methods that are being used around the country to combat absenteeism and turn around schools.Read More »

Students Remain a Priority at Close of Legislative Session

At the close of the 2013 legislative session, Connecticut legislators and stakeholders have truly shown just how committed they are to the state’s children. The budget bill that passed on Monday night, H.B. 6704, restored most of the funding for education reform that had been threatened throughout session.

This has been a hard-won battle to secure funding for the major reforms that were passed during last year’s legislative session and through state action this year.

Here’s a look at what has been secured for Connecticut’s students:Read More »

Connecticut’s Big 6: “Continue Funding for the Commissioner’s Network Schools”


“This program helps turn around our lowest performing schools.”

 On April 19th, 2013, the Appropriations Committee cut roughly $37 million in necessary funding for education reforms from Governor Dannel P. Malloy’s proposed budget. This includes $10 million in cuts over the next two years to the Commissioner’s Network.

The Commissioner’s Network was created to turn around our state’s lowest performing schools and provide the support necessary to improve student achievement.

The governor’s proposal of $14.1 million over the biennium was intended to fund the following initiatives within the Commissioner’s Network:

  • Increased support for principals and teachers
  • 300 hours of extended learning time to schools over the biennium
  • Up to five lead partners to manage the schools
  • Professional development for coaching on data use
  • Community partnerships to provide wraparound services

Currently, four schools are participating in the Commissioner’s Network,[1] and six more schools were invited to develop plans this year:

Participating Schools in the Commissioner’s Network

Currently Participating Schools

Curiale School, Bridgeport

Milner School, Hartford

High School in the Community, New Haven

Stanton School, Norwich

Schools Invited to Develop Plans

Crosby High School, Waterbury

Richard C. Briggs High School, Norwalk

DiLoreto Magnet School, New Britain

Walsh Elementary School, Waterbury

P.L. Dunbar School, Bridgeport

Windham Middle School, Windham 

Under the Governor’s proposal, this initiative would expand to include up to 21 schools by the end of the biennium. However, the Appropriations Committee budget cuts funding for the Commissioner’s Network to only $3.9 million over the biennium, which will reduce the number of schools that can be included in the program from 21 to 12.[2]

We urge state legislators to restore funding for this key program designed to turn around the state’s lowest performing schools.

A better education for thousands of students is at stake.

[1] Governor Malloy’s press release of Feb. 1, 2013, retrieved from:

[2] OFA Summary of 4.19 Appropriations budget, pg. 331, retrieved from:

Governor Protects and Expands Commissioner’s Network

Governor Malloy ended the week on a high note today, announcing at Briggs High School in Norwalk that he was increasing his support for the Commissioner’s Network. The Governor’s upcoming budget proposal, he announced, will call for an additional $14.1 million to be added to this program, bringing the total available funding for the Commissioner’s Network to $27 million.Read More »

The Rest of the Story–on Connecticut Public Charter Schools


The recent commentary posted on the Stamford Advocate blog by columnist Wendy Lecker paints an incomplete picture about charter schools. A review of the charter school data for the schools reauthorized in June 2012 presents a far more diverse student achievement picture than was presented by Ms. Lecker.Read More »

Using Systems, Data & Practices: A Presentation from Dr. George Sugai of the Neag School

Recently, at our workshop titled Innovate to Eliminate Gaps in Student Achievement, we were honored to have Dr. Sugai as our keynote speaker.

Click here to view a pdf of Dr. Sugai’s presentation.

New SPIs: Do You Know Your Score?

Parents got a helpful holiday present from the State Department of Education (SDE) this week! With little fanfare, the SDE rolled out the School Performance Index (SPI), which provides families with a snapshot of how their schools are performing. The SPI is a single number that encapsulates the overall achievement level of the entire school. Every school is awarded points based on its students’ standardized test scores– 100 points for every student scoring at Advanced or Goal levels, 67 points for Proficient scores, 33 points for Basic, and 0 points for Below Basic. Then, all of the points are added together and averaged to assign each school a single metric, the SPI.(In other words, if the majority of students score at Goal or Advanced levels, the SPI will be higher.) This new system of monitoring whole-school progress is part of Connecticut’s brand spanking new accountability system, which will help us tier schools within a framework of interventions. The SDE has promised, as part of its ESEA waiver, to try to start moving districts towards an 88 SPI score. And while there are some schools in Connecticut with high SPIs, there are far too many with SPIs in the 30s and 40s, which means that student achievement in those schools is far below proficiency.Read More »

Connecticut Leading the Way in Expanded Learning Time

After an impressive year in education reform, we’re continuing to set national trends in Connecticut! Today, the National Center on Time & Learning (NCTL), the Ford Foundation, and Connecticut leaders announced that we will be one of 5 states (along with Colorado, Massachusetts, New York, and Tennessee), to collaborate in a new program to develop expanded-time models for schools. We all realize that it’s time to revamp the antiquated model of learning time in schools; and this is our chance in Connecticut to re-imagine that variable as an important facet of reforming public education! This effort, called the Time for Innovation Matters in Education (TIME) Collaborative, is funded by Ford and supported by NCTL.

Read More »

Common Themes of the Commissioner’s Network Schools’ Turnaround Plans

On August 9th, the State Board of Education approved and adopted the four turnaround plans for James J. Curiale School of Bridgeport, Thirman L. Milner School of Hartford, High School in the Community of New Haven, and of the John B. Stanton School of Norwich. These four schools are the first participants in the Commissioner’s Network of Schools and will begin implementing their new turnaround plans in the coming year. According to Commissioner Pryor, each of these four schools is in the bottom ten percent of schools in the state, at least 75% of each school’s student populations qualify for free and reduced lunch, and each school has been In Need of Improvement for four or more years.Read More »

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