New Haven was one of 27 school districts nationwide that won competitive grants from the federal Magnet School Assistance Program, the U.S. Department of Education announced last week. The purpose of the Federal Magnet School Assistance Program is to help school districts increase public school choices for parents and help districts attract a diverse group of students from throughout their communities. According to Secretary Duncan, "these grants will help students gain access to challenging curricula that will help prepare them for college and 21st century careers."
In 2009, New Haven Public Schools launched an aggressive reform strategy – the School Change Initiative – outlining the following broad goals:
• Closing the gap between the performance of New Haven students and the rest of the state within five years;
• Cutting the dropout rate in half;
• Ensuring that every graduating student has the academic ability and the financial resources to attend and succeed in college.
In the time since, New Haven’s work to transform its schools by engaging the community has been lauded by the White House and hailed as a model for districts across the nation.
“This grant is a testament to the hard work we’ve put into School Change and the results we have delivered so far; it will help us further this progress and provide even better educational opportunities for children who attend the New Haven Public Schools,” said Mayor John DeStefano, Jr.
“This grant strengthens New Haven’s already robust School Choice program, increases diversity in our schools and will give more students access to rigorous academics and critical science, engineering and math curriculum that will prepare them for the future. This grant award helps New Haven move closer to its goal of giving all kids the best education possible in schools around the city and in their neighborhoods,” said Superintendent of Schools Garth Harries.
In all four schools, students will have the opportunity to explore science, mathematics, engineering and technology using a project-based, thematic learning approach that weaves STEM topics throughout the curriculum so that students are able see the relevance of STEM through real-life application of their knowledge.
The grant includes funding for high-quality professional development of teachers at all four schools. Students at all four schools will have access to STEM-focused curriculum that engages them in hands-on projects and will require the use of science, technology, engineering and math skills to solve real-world problems.
The current Strong School, which started several years ago as a kindergarten overflow, will be transformed into a kindergarten-4th grade magnet and lab school that focuses on 21st Century Communications and benefits from a new partnership with Southern Connecticut State University. That partnership brings teachers from SCSU’s School of Education into the classrooms and gives students access to the university’s technology resources. Students will learn 21stCentury Communications skills through technology and through a new emphasis on World Languages, including sign language.
Celentano (K-8), which has been a K-8 school with citywide admissions, will integrate its new theme of biotechnology, health and medical sciences into all subjects, giving students a foundation of knowledge that will prepare them to be leaders and pioneers in a growing industry. The school will have a technology/medical lab/Discovery Room for the early grades, a fully equipped laboratory for all grades, and hands-on technology, including interactive whiteboards and iPads for the classroom. Students will take field trips to local hospitals, research labs and museums.
The Quinnipiac Real World Math STEM School, another former kindergarten overflow site, will focus on cultivating an early love for mathematics and problem solving in kindergarten through 4th grade students – two skills that will serve them well as they go on to middle school, high school, and then college. STEM and arts curriculum will be integrated with core subjects. Students will have access to innovative programs, including the engineering and robotics-focused Robolab curriculum.
New Haven’s newest school – a Montessori school – is set to open next fall. The school will have students engaged in hands-on, inquiry-based learning projects that integrate STEM and literacy into the curriculum. While the magnet grant application was a distinct planning effort, the school district is also working with a group of parents and education leaders to create a local charter Montessori, and hopes to merge the planning efforts to invest in a successful and high quality public Montessori option.