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Districts Rising: Building a Coalition to Support Teachers in New Haven

March 18, 2016

When schools, teachers and community leaders work together, more students succeed. But it isn’t always easy—districts often encounter challenges when trying to find the time and resources to collaborate. And far too often, teachers simply don’t have sufficient time to engage in meaningful professional learning with their peers.

That’s why New Haven Public Schools (NHPS) in Connecticut collaborated with the New Haven Federation of Teachers in 2009 to create a new educator support and evaluation system focused on high-quality feedback and sustained professional growth. When Garth Harries was appointed as the district’s superintendent in 2013, he continued to bring the community together to improve the city’s public schools.

NHPS’ new educator evaluation system, TEVAL, is changing the attitudes of teachers in New Haven around professional development. “At our school, TEVAL is collaborative in nature, which is shifting our school culture and helping us see success in more places,” said Florence R. Constantinople, a teacher at Brennan-Rogers Magnet School. Part of that shift might be attributed to the additional time that teachers now have to work together to improve their teaching. With an extra 2.5 hours each school week dedicated to professional development, teachers are taking advantage of increased ownership over their professional learning and finding more time to collaborate with their fellow teachers. 

NHPS leaders saw another major problem in the district—many graduates were leaving high school unprepared for challenging college-level coursework and required remedial classes during their first year of college. They believed that if the district’s educators could work with local universities to create a shared understanding around the skills students need to truly be college ready, more students would graduate high school prepared to succeed in college. The district brought in local university staff to participate in district-led professional development and review student work samples with NHPS teachers using Common Core-aligned rubrics. For NHPS, this was a new, but extraordinarily valuable, type of partnership that helped build a common understanding of the skills and knowledge students need to be successful in college.

NHPS also recognizes the importance of engaging students when implementing new policies. Superintendent Harries established a High School and Middle School Cabinet to make sure their voices were being heard, and the district is exploring opportunities to amplify student voice, perhaps by incorporating student feedback into TEVAL.  

New Haven’s efforts to engage the teachers union, community partners and students have been heartening. Between 2009 and 2014, the high school graduation rate in NHPS increased from 58 to 75 percent. College enrollment among NHPS graduates also has grown, and in 2014, nearly 79 percent of NHPS graduates who enrolled in college made it through the first year and enrolled in a second year. As Imma Canelli, deputy superintendent of NHPS, observed, “When we walk through classrooms, we see teachers engaging students in rigorous content and managing student-independent classes.”

NHPS has much work to do to close achievement gaps and boost student performance. But the district’s focus on community engagement, teacher collaboration and professional learning has created a support system that helps teachers to improve their practice and better meet the needs of their students.

Read the full case study from Education First for more information about New Haven Public Schools and its evaluation and support system, TEVAL. This article is cross-posted on Education First’s blog

Want to see more updates of great work happening in schools around the country? Visit the K-12 Education website to find more examples of Progress in Action and share your own story!

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