Special Needs Grant Brings Results


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One of the Special Needs grants made in 2011 went to TEAM, Inc. in Derby to work on a Drop Out Prevention Research Project in Ansonia and Derby. TEAM, Inc. had formed a Youth & Education Work Group following a Community Conversation on Poverty. The group was charged with developing a deeper understanding of the issue in hopes of coming up with recommendations to improve the situation. They were a successful applicant for a Valley United Way Special Needs grant in the amount of $3,600.

As you can see from the following report, the group did get beyond simple research to bring partners together to actively pursue action steps for the two towns.

Drop-out Prevention Special Grant

Addendum to Final Report

January 11, 2012

This addendum to the report submitted by the agency last month addresses several important outcomes that the Valley United Way funding made possible.  Several of these outcomes were not anticipated in the original narrative and are addressed below.

  1. High School Success Meetings Provide Venue for Systems to Share Innovations and Plan Collaboratively

Derby and Ansonia school superintendents (and their key administrators) do not meet in a venue where they can consider critical questions that face both school systems. The grant initiative’s agenda permitted that to happen. The results were gratifying on several levels.

During January – May 2011, meetings with superintendents and staff began to plan the research protocols that would be used to understand the reasons students left school.  Meetings often shifted into related subjects, such as the significant number of ninth grade students who were failing in both systems and were likely to be retained (24% in Derby).  The factors involved in both high schools were similar, often involving strict policies around absenteeism (unavoidable with suspensions) as well as failing grades.  Strategies in the two systems to assist the students were shared.  Ansonia had made significant progress in on-line learning, and was able to advise Derby on helpful design questions as well as how to set up their summer program to include on-line credit recovery. Their experience in avoiding pitfalls often found in designing an on-line (credit recovery) program provided Derby with valuable insight in an area where they were contemplating action.  Initially, a joint summer program was contemplated but not ultimately attempted. The result was that in 2011 Derby High School students were able to access on-line learning to remediate credits needed to graduate and continue on to the next grade.

Meetings also considered the virtues of new models which address the special needs of freshman.  Information on the Hamden High and a second model were shared by the consultant and Reina Marasco, Valley Regional Adult Education Director, who became a regular member of the work group.  Both system leaders were committed to developing a new strategy, which provides freshman with special supports to ensure their first year in high school is successful.

Understanding the definition of ‘a drop-out’ became a new challenge during the discussion period as new rules had been introduced by the State Department of Education. Derby shared its work in that area as well as an explanation of an unique tracking systems for each grade that permitted up-to-date reporting, and information at a glance for administrators, school board and the public. 

  1. Consultant’s Report  Resolves  into Action Steps

The consultant’s report identified Potential Intervention Measures to explore.  Author Heidi Zavatone-Veth provided important feedback to the educational leaders on the views of students who had left their program as well as views of educational staff dealing with the issue. The suggestions offered for further exploration remain under discussion, but have already resulted in new innovations and planning. 

         Derby will implement a Freshman Academy in September 2012. High School Principal Greg Galliard’s model and plans – a modified block approach -- were so attractive to Ansonia’s Superintendent and High School Principal that joint meetings are being held now to consider implementing a similar design in Ansonia.

         Discussions about the inadequacy of alternative models for high school students who do not fit into the traditional model have led Superintendents Tracey and Merlone to schedule request that ACES convene a meeting with other systems in the region to consider a regional alternative school program.  It is scheduled for next week.

         School personnel will prioritize the report’s “suggestions” and identify areas where other nonprofits could be of assistance. At such time Valley Council members will be asked to consider their abilities and capacity to assist the school systems to develop specific action steps to improve high school success.

In summary, the collaborative grant efforts on the subject of high school success has proven to be a unique opportunity for two school systems with similar challenges to share information, plan jointly, and innovate.  It is curious fact but true that professionals do not make time to discuss critical issues with their neighbors – issues they both face – and when they do, progress accelerates.

Richard J. Knoll, President & CEO

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