Published October 19. 2012 11:00AM Updated October 20. 2012 6:00PM
Norwich — Gov. Dannel P. Malloy told Norwich school officials, teachers and parents Friday at John B. Stanton School that they are part of educational reform that is a "break from traditional education" in the nation.
"What clearly is under way is a journey to determine what works for each student," Malloy told a group of about 20 in the school library. The school, he said, would be focusing on improving individual student performance to turn around a pattern of low test scores.
The governor's words were more direct and personal when he visited the school resource room for English language learners and shook hands with fifth-graders Claire Val-Fils and Helsi Cardoso.
"When you shake hands with someone," the polished politician said, "look them straight in the eyes."
The two girls jumped with glee and hugged each other after the encounter, saying they were excited that the governor had come to their school.
Many of the school's 400 students lined the long school hallway that flanks the main entrance, clapped in unison and welcomed Malloy as he made his way to the library to meet with school officials and the Stanton Turnaround Committee to hear highlights of their plan.
Malloy toured the school and visited classrooms, part of a week he's spent visiting all four Network Schools in Hartford, New Haven, Bridgeport and Norwich. Superintendent Abby Dolliver offered to join the state reform program, said Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor, who was accompanying the governor.
Dolliver in turn credited Stanton Principal Christine Gilluly for enthusiastically proposing Stanton as one of the state's four model programs. When approved by the state, the Turnaround Plan brought $1.5 million in additional funding for Stanton this year.
Gilluly told Malloy, Pryor and Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman that reforms have begun. Since the start of school, teachers have been staying at school for an extra hour for professional development. Starting Nov. 1, that hour will be added to the school day for student instruction.
The school used part of its $1.5 million Network School grant to hire "interventionists" for each classroom to provide individual attention to students and work with students on lessons. Eight of the planned 14 interventionists have been hired, including Jennie Robbins, who started three weeks ago to work with fourth-grade teachers and students.
Robbins was working with students in teacher Stacey Hungerford's class on a lesson in magnetism when Malloy's group entered and delved into the lesson, dangling metal magnetic rings and stacking magnetic squares.
Two full-day kindergarten classes also have been put in place in Stanton; Malloy expressed surprise that Norwich didn't have full-day kindergarten throughout the district.
Malloy, Wyman and Pryor also visited the new Family Resource Center preschool program in a portable classroom connected by a covered walkway.
The Stanton Turnaround Committee is emphasizing connections with families to improve student performance. Families were invited to the school before the school year started, and English language programs are being offered through a partnership with Norwich Adult Education at Stanton for immigrant parents. A potluck supper for families was held Wednesday night, Gilluly said.
Parent Rheanni Bishop, president of the Stanton PTO, said she has seen a dramatic turnaround already at Stanton, especially for her son in fourth grade. Bishop also has a daughter in first grade at the school. She said her son was lethargic about school in the past and she was concerned that he was not prepared to enter third grade a year ago. This year has been quite different, she said.
"I see the change already, his interest in school," Bishop said. "He is more interested in his homework. He says, 'I can't miss school.' I'm thrilled at the readiness he has shown."
Sheila Cohen, president of the Connecticut Education Association, also joined the tour. Cohen said she was pleased that Malloy has included teachers in school reform efforts and has provided the additional funding necessary to launch reform programs at Stanton and the three other schools. The local teachers' union, the Norwich Teachers League, is affiliated with the CEA.
"Financial resources can't be underestimated in school transformation," Cohen said. "Connecticut is fortunate to have a governor who understands that closing the achievement gap requires an influx of new, targeted dollars — funds that are being provided to Stanton School under the state's new reform law.
"We commend the governor for leveling the playing field with new funding."