Christine Stuart photo

Eight urban schools from Hartford to Bridgeport will be doing whatever it takes this year to educate their students, even if that means using a different reading curriculum than prescribed by the school district.

Often frustrated by being told how to educate its students, the Connecticut Alliance for CommPact Schools, is offering the eight public schools an opportunity to think outside of the box and let the teachers, parents, and school community decide what’s best for its school.

“I feel like I’m teaching to the test all the time,” Anabel Pinto, a teacher at Hill Central in New Haven said in this video about why this new collaboration is needed. Pinto isn’t alone.

Jaime Butkevich, a teacher at Washington Elementary School in Waterbury, said “We’re tired. We’re tired of trying things that don’t work. And we’re tired of being told, you know the kind of one size fits all.”

Heather Kahn, a teacher at MD Fox in Hartford, said, “We’re the ones in the rooms. We’re the ones who deal with the children and the families.”

Under the collaboration, which is being touted as “bold” by education leaders and lawmakers, the University of Connecticut’s Neag School of Education will monitor the progress of the schools and offer professional development to teachers and administrators at no cost to the school districts.

The eight schools chosen to participate are the lowest performing schools in the state and none of them have met the ‘No Child Left Behind’ performance benchmarks, Neag School Dean Richard Schwab said Monday.

The schools include Barnum and Longfellow Schools in Bridgeport, M.D. Fox School in Hartford, Davis Street Comer and Hill Central Schools in New Haven, Shoreline Academy in New London, and Washington Elementary and West Side Middle Schools in Waterbury.

Each school will be granted autonomy to make decisions about governance, budgeting, and curriculum and the schools teachers, parents, administrators, and community members will share in the decision making process. Schwab said 90 percent of the parents and teachers at each school have bought into the program.

University of Connecticut President Michael Hogan said the idea is to rebuild the schools from within and close the achievement gap. He said Connecticut has the dubious distinction of having the “biggest achievement gap between suburban and urban schools in the entire country.”

“What’s at stake is the future of our children,” Glenn Worth, principal of Hill Central in New Haven, said in one of the four video presentations that accompanied Monday’s press conference.

Schwab said as the six organizations began collaborating they thought, “We must do something radically difference to turn the tide.” He said the idea of the six organizations coming together to form this alliance was built on a dream and trust.

The organizations involved in the CommPact Alliance, include AFT Connecticut, Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents, Connecticut Association of Urban School Superintendents, Connecticut Education Association, Connecticut Federation of School Administrators, and the Neag Education School at UConn.

Senate President Donald Williams, D-Brooklyn, said “We’re here today to answer the question about how we bring change to our public schools from within.” He said while the state wants charter schools and magnet schools to succeed it can’t continue to keep building them. “When will there be a process for lessons learned to be brought back to our public schools?” Williams said. He said the CommPact Alliance is a start.