Bridgeport’s Roosevelt School joins the Commissioner’s Network
HARTFORD — Bridgeport’s Roosevelt School has been admitted into the state’s Commissioner’s Network, a designation that promises extra cash and state support, in the hopes it will also lead to better student achievement.
Since it began in 2012, 25 schools, including Roosevelt, have entered the network, which is aimed at jump-starting improvement in the state’s lowest performing schools. Of those 25, five each have been in Bridgeport and New Haven and one in Norwalk.
Eight schools remain in the network, and 11 others are in the planning stages. This year, the state has a budget of just over $10 million for the Commissioner’s Network.
A report issued in February 2019 by the state Department of Education suggests the program contributed to modest to strong academic improvement in seven of 10 schools that have been in the network for more than two years. Chronic absenteeism dropped in seven of those schools, and suspension rates dropped in six.
“Many are improving,” the report concludes. Not all.
Still, Roosevelt Principal Jackie Simmons said she felt like doing a cartwheel when the unanimous state Board of Education vote was taken Wednesday to approve the school’s 34-page plan and make it part of the network for at least three years, possibly five.
“I do think we will break the mold,” Simmons said. “We are at a great starting place and have the benefit of year of planning.”
Not all of the schools in the network have had that advantage, she said.
In its first network year, state officials said, there will be $900,000 in extra support for the South End school of 584 prekindergarten through eighth-grade students. About half of the student body is Hispanic and 22 percent are English language learners. nearly all qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, and 16 percent receive special education.
The money will be used for intensive teacher training, a stronger focus on math and reading instruction and efforts to improve student attendance through family outreach and the development of after-school clubs.
“We put in about 10 clubs,” Simmons said, “the idea being maybe this was a day they weren’t coming to school, but today’s Art Club, so there is that extra incentive of being apart of the school and something bigger.”
With the state help, there will be funds to provide small group instruction, a kindergarten instructional assistant — something most other Bridgeport schools lost to budget cuts — a family engagement coordinator and an early day monitor for before-school care.
Staff who came with Simmons to the meeting, couldn’t say enough about the plan.
“I have the utmost confidence this will yield successful outcomes,” said Alicia Robinson, the district’s performing and visual arts director and a former Roosevelt teacher.
Robinson said the school knows where it needs to go and how to get there. It just needs a little bit of extra support.
“We will use the money to the best of our ability to drive education forward,” said Altia Rumph, a Roosevelt sixth grade teacher.
Acting Bridgeport Schools Superintendent Michael Testani said he could not think of a school better positioned to enter into Commissioner’s Network.
“They are ready and their plan is solid,” Testani said.
Simmons became principal at Roosevelt five years ago at the request of then Acting Superintendent Fran Rabinowitz. She admitted she wasn’t thrilled.
Now, she said, it was the greatest thing to happen to her in her 24 years in the district. The first thing she did was work to turn around Roosevelt’s culture, weeding out teachers who were not up to the challenge and working with others to raise the bar.
“I tell them if they don’t go home exhausted,” they haven’t done their job, Simmons said.
In four years, chronic absenteeism has gone from 25 to 14.2 percent. Parent involvement has increased. Student achievement, however, remains low. In 2018, 15.5 percent of Roosevelt fifth graders were on grade level in reading, none in math.
“I can’t pretend everything is great when our scores don’t show it,” Simmons said.
Lisa Lamenzo, bureau chief for the Turnaround Office in the state Department of Education told the state board she was impressed by visits to Roosevelt during the school’s planning year.
When she walked down hallways, teachers waved her into their classrooms. In the “War Room” — where Roosevelt staff made Commissioner’s Network plans — it was clear the process was collaborative, Lamenzo said.
“It was messy in nature (but) student outcomes was at the center,” she said.