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'Robust' reform process set for Stanton School in Norwich

By Claire Bessette

Publication: The Day

Published August 15. 2012 4:00AM

Norwich - The John B. Stanton School hopes to become the highest-performing and "fully enrolled" elementary school in the city through a radical reform plan approved last week by the State Board of Education that carries the weight of state law for implementation.

Stanton School was named in June as one of four state-designated Network Schools in need of reform. The designation called for establishing the Turnaround Committee of parents, teachers and school administrators - independent of the local school board - to create a plan within two months.

Teacher Bill Linski, a member of the committee, called the process "robust" during the first public presentation of the plan Tuesday at the Norwich Board of Education meeting.

The plan calls for longer school hours, an extensive outreach to Stanton families and English language programs for immigrant families. The plan includes a new curriculum, changes in staff and increased staffing, increased parent involvement and a shift in "school climate and culture," found deficient in a recently released school audit.

Superintendent Abby Dolliver said the committee was told by the state to "think big" when it came to budgeting for changes and requested $2.3 million. State officials then told the committee it would receive $1.5 million, which led to some scaling back of the plan.

About 50 percent of the Stanton staff will change with the plan. Several new teachers were in the audience Tuesday. A new early childhood program will also be introduced at Stanton.

The extended school day will start Nov. 1 for the students, from 8:20 a.m. to 3:45 p.m., an additional hour to the current school day. That will add 120 hours to the school year. Teacher Tom St. George, a member of the committee, said the extended day will continue to grow in future years, with a goal of having school open from 8:05 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Dolliver said she met Tuesday with First Student, the city's school bus company, to work out the complicated bus schedules to make the plan work.

During the first year, the school will concentrate on three of the seven main points in the plan - family engagement, school and community climate, and the learning environment.

Committee member Jerry Browning said the school will have a family liaison to reach out to parents to improve attendance. Satellite offices and family conferences will be held in specific city neighborhoods where parents lack transportation to get to the school, starting this year at the Adult Education Center in Greeneville.

About 100 Stanton students live in Greeneville, where the neighborhood elementary school was closed two years ago.

The school will provide transportation to the school for family dinners, events and volunteer opportunities. And workshops will be provided for parents to help their children with homework.

Linski said the committee decided to continue with the school system's current student behavioral program, called Positive Behavioral Support, but will strengthen it.

Teachers at Stanton will start this month to learn "how to do things differently" with five hours of extra professional development per week, said Teachers Memorial Middle School Principal Alex Lazzari, a member of the committee. Students not only will have a longer school day but also will have summer school programs. New reading and math curriculums will be put in place.

St. George said a new teacher evaluation system also will be put in place for teachers with positions divided by experience ranging from interns and "resident" teachers - similar to medical interns being mentored - to a master teacher category.

Linski said the committee will be hands-on at Stanton School throughout the school year and will be willing to make changes in the plan as school staff, parents and the committee gain experience.

Following the half-hour presentation Tuesday, Dolliver said she is aware that there are many changes to absorb in such a short period of time.

"Are we scared? Oh yeah," Dolliver said. "But working together, I know we can make a difference."

c.bessette@theday.com

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Public meeting

The Stanton School Turnaround Committee will present the extensive school reform plan to Stanton parents at 6 p.m. tonight at the Kelly Middle School auditorium. The meeting is open to the public.

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