On Monday, Sept. 8, the faculty, staff, students, board members and administrators of the New England Laborers’/Cranston Public Schools Construction and Career Academy (NEL/CPS) all had great …
On Monday, Sept. 8, the faculty, staff, students, board members and administrators of the New England Laborers’/Cranston Public Schools Construction and Career Academy (NEL/CPS) all had great reason to celebrate.
They had just been granted a full, five-year charter renewal for the school, after having worked very hard for the past three years to reach this goal.
In June, 2012 Rhode Island Education Commissioner Deborah Gist issued a statement advising the school that only a partial, three-year charter renewal could be granted at that time, and she cited several findings and needs that had to be addressed in the three-year time frame in order to be granted a full, five-year charter renewal during the 2014-15 school year.
“In order to support the commissioner’s renewal recommendations to the Council on Elementary and Secondary Education, the Office of Charter Schools conducts a review of the school’s performance based on the three following core questions,” the statement reads. “1) Is the school’s educational program an academic success? 2) Is the school providing the appropriate conditions for academic success? 3) Is the school a viable organization?”
NEL/CPS has risen to the occasion, meeting all of the requests per the June 2012 statement. That is evidenced by Gist’s visit as a keynote speaker at the school’s graduation in June 2014, her taking the time on Sept. 8 to speak specifically to the school’s success and the changes made at the school level and their impact on student success.
NEL/CPS Executive Director Dennis Curran summarized some of the stunning results that came out of the past three years’ hard work.
“The commissioner’s recommendations included an improvement in our school’s NECAP scores. They’re a marker for all schools and the commissioner felt that they needed to be better than they were, so we put a tremendous amount of resources and energy into improving instruction,” he said. “Last year on the October 2013 NECAP reading scores, we showed the highest gain in the area of reading in all secondary schools for one year’s time. We gained 15 percent in one year. Over the three-year time period, we had the highest gain of all schools in reading including at the elementary level, and the state definitely recognized the significance of these gains.”
Additionally, Curran and his staff put many new practices in place, aimed at increasing attendance levels and graduation rates and decreasing suspension rates, and all of those target areas have shown marked improvement over the past three years as well.
“We monitor attendance daily, we meet with parents and we have group discussions around attendance. As classroom teachers implemented new strategies in their classrooms, they encouraged the students to be come more successful. We were a team within the building,” English teacher Marianne Capobianco said.
Capobianco is just one of the faculty members who have been with the school throughout the entire process.
“We expanded writing across the curriculum, we consulted together, we revised our lesson plans, we targeted the needs of specific students by analyzing the STARR data for reading and math,” she said. “We put out safety nets as a group, as a whole faculty. We utilized the expertise of our faculty to the fullest degree. This was definitely not achieved by the efforts of any one particular person, we were a whole school and a whole faculty dedicating a significant amount of time to this.”
Curran also sites the addition of consultant Carolyn Ferris to the team, someone familiar with the “school turnaround” process, as an important piece to the puzzle.
“She helped us to organize our data, set and meet our goals,” Curran said.
Ferris is impressed by the gains made by the school in such a short time.
“I’m experienced with the transformation model. I worked with the Central Falls School District in much the same capacity, and this school has moved very quickly toward their goals and they’ve moved in so many different directions,” she said. “This is due to the collegial efforts of their faculty and administration and their ability to work together. Normally schools don’t move as quickly and make as many gains as this school has. It’s been great to see this over the past two years.”
The faculty and staff who were involved in the three-year process will agree that the end result and successes far outweigh the grueling journey to make it happen.
Science teacher Jodie Schuler is one such person.
“This has truly been a labor of love, making these changes happen,” she said. “Even the smallest changes had a big impact, such as minimizing our passing time between classes in order to increase our instructional time in the classrooms.”
The addition of Tricia Bouchard, a full-time school counselor, is another part of the school’s success throughout the three years’ time. The needs of many of the students, emotionally and educationally, are significant, and Bouchard’s ability to be in the school all day, every day is another key element that has had an impact on student success.
“We have put in a lot of social-emotional supports here. One of our biggest strengths as a school is that we have a small population and a tight-knit faculty, so we know if there are issues going on with a student within minutes and there’s a short response time in being able to support those students,” she said. “We’ve implemented weekly community meetings as well as an advisory period. Every week our community meetings target one grade level, and our meetings and advisories are very goal-driven. We focus on academic, social and emotional goals, and we discuss issues such as post-secondary options for the future, substance abuse and healthy relationships.”
According to Curran and his staff, engaging the students at NEL/CPS was a key element in the success of the charter renewal process, and without their being on board with the process, the job would have been much more difficult.
“We have a visual in every classroom, a copy of the school’s mission statement, and we refer to it often,” said Capobianco.
The expectations for every student’s behavior are also posted in the classroom, said Schuler.
“We talk about the expectations for being respectful, responsible and motivating, and we talk about what those things are and what they look like,” she said.
Combining all of that with the appointment of a full-time assistant principal two years ago, Curran said he has seen a great increase in positive behavior as well.
“We’ve had a very holistic approach, tying in the social, behavioral and academic,” he said.
Without the support of the school’s board of directors, the district and the students and staff, Curran knows these past three years of hard work and success would not have been possible.
“Everyone really dug in their heels and worked hard to align together to work to answer these requirements for re-chartering. The process was lengthy, and including a visiting team coming in to tour the school and talk to students, but everyone knew what our goals were and we set out to achieve them together,” he said. “Little tweaks made significant differences and as a staff we know our job isn’t done. We have a great nucleus of staff here. They’re the cornerstone of our school and they’ve dug in, rolled up their sleeves and worked hard. We’ve done well, but we know there’s always room to grow.”