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Audit outlines problems at troubled Norwich school

By Claire Bessette

Publication: The Day

Published July 28. 2012 4:00AM   Updated July 28. 2012 9:21PM

Norwich - A 23-page state-funded audit of operations at the troubled John B. Stanton School cited inadequately handled student behavioral disruptions, lack of outreach to immigrant families with language barriers and ineffective instruction based on new assessments of student performance.

The audit was conducted after Stanton was identified as one of four schools in the state to be targeted for radical reforms using additional state funding. The audit was designed to outline the school's biggest problems to help guide the local Turnaround Committee in writing that reform plan.

The plan initially was due by Thursday, but state Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor met with school officials Wednesday and extended the deadline to Monday.

On Monday, the Turnaround Committee will meet with Pryor's designated consultant, Stephen Adamowski, to finish the plan and deliver it to the state. The plan is expected to be finalized by the end of next week and be voted on by the State Board of Education on Aug. 9. The Norwich Board of Education has no role in the process.

Adamowski is the state-appointed special master for New London and Windham public schools.

The report found deep-rooted problems at Stanton, where Connecticut Mastery Test scores have declined since 2007. Teacher quality needs to be improved, the report said. And Principal Christine Gilluly - not named in the report - has limited instructional expertise in literacy and math, areas that should be top priorities for improvements.

The school literacy coach was viewed favorably but has asked to transfer to a different city school, the report said.

Gilluly, assigned to Stanton in 2010 to help turn the school around, told the auditors she did not find the current positive behavioral program to be effective and was considering changing it. Staff, however, were unaware of that plan and said that, in general, they do not feel comfortable communicating concerns with school leadership.

The audit found the behavioral program use inconsistent and said school staff training in the program had dropped off. But behavioral problems were cited as disruptive to learning.

Parent involvement in the school was found to be disappointing. A parent group designated to be interviewed by the auditors didn't show up, the report said. Many Stanton School families are immigrants with limited English language, and some families have a distrust of the school system.

Only 47 percent of school families are enrolled in the school-based health center, while 75 percent qualify for free and reduced-price lunches. That indicates families could benefit from the health services, the auditors said.

Language barriers must be addressed. The report noted that city government has a web-based translation system that the school could use.

Although the Turnaround Committee has not yet submitted its reform plan, Superintendent Abby Dolliver has implemented some changes. The Champions preschool center at Stanton will close, and a Family Resource Center, recommended in the report, will open there.

A districtwide special education class for students with "exceptional behavior" will be moved to the Uncas School. Dolliver said she did not blame students in that class for Stanton's problems, but said limited resources at Stanton made it difficult to handle everyday behavioral issues along with the added special education challenges.

Lack of resources was cited throughout the report. When the former Greeneville Elementary School closed in 2010, about 100 students were transferred to Stanton, increasing the percentage of English language learners and immigrant families and increasing class size without accompanying resources, the report said.

The reform effort could provide funding to increase staffing, change curriculum or add programs. Dolliver and Norwich Curriculum Director Joe Stefon said state officials have instructed the Turnaround Committee to prepare for three possible funding scenarios ranging from $1 million to $2 million.

c.bessette@theday.com

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