Achieve Hartford Aims to Push for Progress in Hartford Schools, From Top Down and Bottom Up

In the aftermath of Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin’s State of the City address and a comprehensive three-part investigative series published by the Hartford Courant examining the city’s decades-long response to the Sheff decision on integration and quality education, Achieve Hartford! is preparing for its second annual fundraising event and intensifying efforts to encourage sustainable education progress in the city. “Compare the mayor’s role in addressing the fiscal crisis, promoting regionalization, union renegotiations, the fight against blight, or key quality of life issues like resolving a flawed 311 system,” the organization said this month. “In each of these areas as well as several others, Mayor Bronin and his leadership team came together publicly and with a clear mandate directed from the top across departments to solve problems, making the combined whole greater than the individual roles and parts.  Now is a time where city leaders are called to step up as education leaders.”

In promoting their second annual “Inspire Hartford” event slated for May 11, organizers are urging attendees to “see innovation in action” and hear “uplifting stories of success.” They add: “learn how innovative ideas and new technology are training the next generation of bright dreamers and big thinkers. Get educated—and be inspired.”

The keynote speaker will be Charles Best, who leads, the pioneering crowdfunding nonprofit where anyone can help a classroom in need. At, public school teachers create classroom project requests and donors can choose the projects they want to support. Best launched the platform in 2000 out of a Bronx public high school where he taught history. Today, more than two thirds of U.S. public schools have at least one teacher who has created a project request on, and 1.8 million people have donated $360 million to classroom projects reaching 16 million students.

Achieve Hartford!, which was formed in 2008, is an independent nonprofit organization founded by business and community leaders “with the belief that strong schools lead to a strong city,” noting that  “Mayors, Boards of Education and Superintendents change over time.”

“We are doing everything we can to lay out a blueprint for systemic change in Hartford that can help guide collective efforts to improve schools, and we look forward to working with the mayor, the next superintendent, and so many others critical to putting education reform in Hartford back on track,” the organization said earlier this month, while noting that Bronin indicated “strengthening our neighborhood schools must be the single most important priority for our new Superintendent, and I pledge to be a full partner.”

Last week, the search for a new Superintendent for the city was narrowed to two candidates: Acting Superintendent Leslie Torres-Rodriguez and Capital Region Education Council (CREC) Assistant Superintendent for Operations Tim Sullivan.

Achieve Hartford warned that “If Hartford leaders, stakeholders, and families put the responsibility for fixing Hartford schools solely on the new superintendent, we should not expect either finalist to be successful.  The responsibility must be shared amongst the Board of Education, City Hall, the corporate community, philanthropy, nonprofit partners, and even our robust institutions of higher education.”

The organizations stresses that it works “toward improving education in our city by innovating ways to address some of our toughest issues, activating the community to take ownership of problem solving, and holding our leaders and educators accountable for advancing student achievement.”

Summarizing recent activities, the organization’s website says succinctly, “there is a lot of conversation but, ultimately, not much action.”

“Developing great schools require not only that the school system operate with excellence, but also our entire community,” the organization’s website points out. “It takes a village to educate a child, and it is our job to help stakeholders play their unique set of roles for school improvement now, and long into the future.”

The May 11 fundraising event will take place at the Hartford Hilton.

Gender Identity in Schools Among Topics at Connecticut School Health Issues Conference

The keynote address “When Boys Will be Girls: Getting A Grip on Gender” will greet attendees – school nurses and school health officials from across Connecticut - attending the 38th Annual School Health Conference on Thursday in Cromwell. “Critical Issues in School Health 2016,” a two-day conference, will have expert presentations on issues ranging from absenteeism to infectious diseases, food allergies to mental health.  But no issue has grown in attention and interest recently than how to respond to LGBT students in the school setting.

The conference is coordinated by the Connecticut chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics with the assistance of the Association of School Nurses of Connecticut.  school-health

The keynote will be given by Robin McHaelen, MSW, founder and executive director of True Colors, a Hartford-based non-profit organization that works with social service agencies, schools, organizations, and within communities to ensure that the needs of sexual and gender minority youth are both recognized and competently met. McHaelen is co-author of several books and articles on LGBT youth concerns, and has a national reputation as a thought leader in LGBT youth concerns, programs and interventions.

In her presentation, titled “When Pink and Blue Are Not Enough,” McHaelen offers suggestions on working with LGBT students, and seeks to increase “understanding, knowledge and cultural competency regarding LGBT students,” while identifying issues of “risk, challenge and strengths specific to LGBT youth.”  She also will point to “opportunities for intervention that will ensure appropriate care within a safe, affirming environment.”

Among the recommendations:  offer gender-neutral bathroom options, always use the patients’ chosen name and chosen gender pronouns, and “recognize that there are additional stressors (and that there may be significant feat on the part of) transgender patients.” logo

McHaelen will be offering a similar presentation at the New England School Nurse Conference, to be held in late April in Mystic, hosted by the Association of School Nurses of Connecticut.  The president of the Association is Suzanne Levasseur, Supervisor of Health Services for the Westport Public Schools.  The New England affiliates include Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.  The conference theme is “Waves of Change, Oceans of Opportunity.”

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students are the targets of bullying, harrassment, and disproportionately high discipline rates at school, researchers have pointed out. But without consistently collected, reliable, large-scale sources of data, it's difficult to track the extent of those problems or the effectiveness of proposed solutions, a group of researchers at Indiana University said in a briefing paper released this week.

Expanding existing federal surveys on youth safety and well-being to include more questions about gender identity and sexual orientation could provide a clearer picture, according to the researchers, noting that “if you don’t measure it, you can’t improve it.”  They suggest addressing the data gap by adding discipline and harassment items to existing health surveys that currently include measures of sexual orientation and gender identity, such as the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.logo

“Although these measures provide more specific information about sexual orientation and in some cases gender identity, they do not provide sufficient information about the specific negative outcomes experienced by LGBT students,” the research paper points out.  They conclude: “the availability of data documenting the experiences of LGBT students is a civil rights concern, and the expansion of data collection efforts to include sexual orientation and gender identity is a critical next step in ensuring the rights of LGBT and all students to participation and protection in school.”

The mission of the Association of School Nurses of Connecticut is to support, assist and enhance the practice of professional school nurses in their development and implementation of comprehensive school health services that promotes students' health and academic success.  The Connecticut Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics has over 600 active members committed to both improving the health and safety of Connecticut's children and supporting those who provide care to these children.


Best Value School Districts? East Granby, Litchfield, Stafford

There are any number of ways to measure the effectiveness of local school districts, and the latest effort has placed East Granby, Litchfield and Stafford at the top of the list. Using school quality and cost-of-living measures, the national website NerdWallet has ranked the Connecticut school districts that best represent “the most bang for your buck” - affordable communities with good 10

The most affordable school districts in Connecticut were determined based on three factors:

  • Standardized test scores. NerdWallet combined 10th grade CAPT scores and SAT scores in 2012.
  • College readiness. The website factored in equally weighted scores for the graduation rate and the percent of high school graduates seeking higher education in 2012.
  • Class size. They also considered the student-to-teacher ratio in select school districts.

The top ten in Connecticut are: 1) East Granby, 2) Litchfield, 3) Stafford, 4) Canton, 5) Farmington, 6) Bolton, 7) Regional District 19, 8) East Lyme, 9) Regional District 8, 10) Regional District 4.

The next ten in the rankings are Simsbury, Glastonbury, Avon, South Windsor, Westbrook, Granby, Somers, Waterford, Regional School District 18 and Regional School District 15.  NerdWallet evaluated 121 unified and secondary school districts in Connecticut, utilizing data from the U.S. Census Bureau or the Connecticut State Department of Education.

According to the website, the East Granby School District has a high graduation rate of 94% and students scored an average of 1641 on their SATs, well above the state average, and CAPT scores are in the top third for the state.  Litchfield’s four-year graduation rate of 97% is one of the highest in the state.  The Stafford School District is described as “an ideal setting for parents who want more individualized attention for their kids, with one of the lowest student-teacher ratios in the state at 14.2:1.”students

Last month, East Granby school officials announced the start of a manufacturing training program at East Granby High School in collaboration with Asnuntuck Community College in Enfield.  Students who participate in the five-year program can earn a high school diploma and an associate's degree in advanced manufacturing technology from Asnuntuck.  It is the first of its kind in Connecticut, according to officials, and includes internships at local manufacturing companies while attending Asnuntuck. Students who earn their Associates Degree are automatically accepted into the Connecticut State University System and the University of Hartford.

Regional District 19 includes E.O. Smith High School in Storrs.  Regional District 8 serves Hebron, Andover and Marlborough.  Regional District 4 includes Chester, Deep River, and Essex.

New Audio Service To Help Students Challenged by Reading; Innovative Pilot is First in Nation

As students across the state return to begin a new academic year, the Connecticut Radio Information System (CRIS) is launching a first-of-its-kind service for schools, providing instant access to audio versions of educational materials, the Common Core State Standard text exemplars, and children’s magazines on any mobile device, including tablets, smartphones, and MP3 players, or computers with Internet access.

CRISKids™ For Schools is geared for students who are visually impaired or are print-challenged for any reason including a learning, physical, intellectual or emotional disability. The new service also provides custom recordings to fit the needs of the students.cris-logo

Nearly a dozen schools have signed up to participate in the pilot of CRISKids For Schools.  Student outcomes will be submitted for evaluation by the U.S. Department of Education.  CRISKids For Schools is the only extensive line-up of audio versions of children’s magazines, educational materials and the Common Core State Standards featuring human narration in the nation.

Early results of the new initiative have been impressive, officials say, noting that teachers report that students participating in the CRISKids pilot are reading and enjoying it more. Megan O’Brien, a Grade 5 teacher at Clover Street School in Windsor, has noticed a transformation with her reluctant Grade 5 readers since using MP3 players downloaded with CRISKids.

“They think it’saudio board awesome,” she said, noting that the students are far more motivated to read now with the help of CRISKids.

Support for CRISKids for Schools comes from the generous funding of several foundations, including Help for the Blind of Eastern Connecticut, Fund for Greater Hartford, The Gibney Family Foundation, and the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving.

The Connecticut Radio Information System is Connecticut's only radio reading service, and is registered with the state of Connecticut as a private, nonprofit 501(c)(3) charitable organization. CRIS broadcasts 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, from a broadcast center in Windsor, and regional satellite studios in Danbury, Norwich, Trumbull, and West Haven.

The programs broadcast on CRIS Radio are available to individuals who, because of vision loss, learning disability or physical handicap, are unable to read printed material.   CRIS Radio's live programming is provided free of charge and is available on specially tuned radios (provided free), cable providers, your telephone and online.  In addition, in recent years CRIS has become available on an iPhone, iPad/tablet, Internet radio or downloaded onto an iPod/MP3 player.

Earlier this year, the organization launched CRISKids™ Magazines, which provides audio versions of more than a dozen children’s magazines, and brought the initiative directly to children’s hospital beds.  In another first-in-the-nation initiative, Connecticut Children’s Medical Center teamed with CRIS Radio to offer the audio service to their patients  unable to turn the pages of magazines due to their medical condition or while receiving treatment.