Roosevelt hoping Commissioners Network is the push it needs
BRIDGEPORT — The school district’s Roosevelt School could become the next member of the state’s Commissioner’s Network for really one reason: the money.
The school board’s three-member Teaching and Learning Committee advanced the idea to the full board, even though expressing disdain for the program and skepticism over its value.
They were sold after school officials and Schools Superintendent Aresta Johnson said joining the network was the best way for the cash-strapped district to get extra funding to raise student achievement at a school that is showing promise in most other areas.
“This is not locking us into anything,” Johnson said. “It is an opportunity for support and additional dollars.”
If accepted, Roosevelt would become the 25th school statewide to enter the Network and the fifth from Bridgeport since the program began in 2012. A dozen schools are in the Network now.
The idea for the Network was to infuse extra support and cash to the 25 worst performing schools in the state for between three and five years.
In many cases, that involves changing the staff and the instructional model and bringing in outside consultants.
Overall, while some schools in the Network have seen modest improvements in climate, student performance has not greatly improved.
In others, the results proved to be disastrous.
When Dunbar entered the Network in 2013, FUSE, the state recommended consulting firm put in charge of the school, turned out to be run by a felon who lied about his credentials and failed to do background checks on staff members.
City Assistant Superintendent Janet Brown Clayton, who was principal of Lincoln Bassett, a Commissioners Network in New Haven, said what is being planned for Roosevelt is different.
“(We) are talking about enhancement,” Clayton said. “It is about infusing funding into a school that is already moving in the right direction. To grease the wheels.”
Clayton called it more a transformational than turnaround model.
Roosevelt is a Pre-K-8 school with 580 students of which 20 percent are English Language Learners and 16 percent receive special education. The student body moved to a new building on the southern portion of Park Avenue four years ago, gaining a new principal and assistant principal who have handpicked their staff.
Teacher attendance is up, chronic student absenteeism and student suspensions are down.
Jamie Balisciano, the assistant principal at Roosevelt, said the improved state climate has allowed the school to turn its focus on academics. Test scores remain abysmal.
In 2018, 14 percent of Roosevelt students passed the state’s Smarter Balanced Test in Language Arts and 6.4 percent scored at or above grade level in math.
Balisciano said the state has no interest in changing leadership or staff at Roosevelt but instead to help it hone in on instruction.
“Declining this opportunity would be a great mistake,” Balisciano said. “If (the state doesn’t) give it to us, they are going to give it to another school.”
Johnson told the committee that while she doesn’t need board approval to pursue the grant, she would like the board’s support. It is expected to be discussed by the full board on Monday.
Board member Maria Pereira has been a staunch opponent of the program, saying it strips the district of local control and so far has not resulted in student academic growth.
“It’s been a disaster at Marin. A disaster at Dunbar,” Pereia said.
Still she said she would support it this time, but only because of Johnson.
Ben Walker, chairman of the committee and a retired Greenwich music teacher, said he doesn’t feel the need for the state to tell the district how to make the school better but would support it for the injection of cash.
How much is not at all certain. Most schools that enter the Network start off with a $100,000 planning grant, followed by several hundred thousand dollars for the next two to four years. The amount is determined annually by the legislature.