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Magnet School Draws Praise in First Year

In November, Education World visited the new University of Hartford Magnet School in West Hartford, Connecticut, a multiple intelligences school, as staff and students were adjusting to new schedules, assignments, and expectations. Education World returned as the school year ended. We found people just as upbeat as they were in the fall and eager to share stories about students' being more engaged in learning. Included: A description of the program at a multiple intelligences school.

Principal Cheryl Kloczko started the school year "under a microscope" at a new magnet school focusing on multiple intelligences, and the scrutiny grew more intense as the year progressed.

"This is a much bigger thing than I've ever worked with before," Kloczko tells Education World about launching a school. "But it still is the best job ever."

Kloczko still has the energy, commitment, and enthusiasm she expressed in November, a few months after the University of Hartford Magnet School (UHMS) in West Hartford, Connecticut, first opened its doors. (See Education World's first story on the school, Magnet School Helps Students Develop, Appreciate Different Talents.)

Students in Michael Seal's class share with one another.
(Education World photo)

The school has seen a lot of traffic bustle through its doors. Besides handling the usual administrative work, Kloczko was also a busy tour guide: The school drew more than 2,800 visitors in its inaugural year, including school administrators from other states and Paul Newman, a Connecticut resident.

"[Newman] said, 'Being in this school is like being backstage after a great performance,'" says Kloczko about the actor's reaction to the school. He stayed about four hours and joined students dancing in one class. Newman was seeking ideas for a camp he is planning that will bring together students from different backgrounds, she adds.

The school also rapidly gained a positive reputation in the state: Of the seven participating school districts, not one has pulled out of the school, and UHMS received 1,664 applications for 47 openings in pre-kindergarten and kindergarten in the fall. Next year, the school will house Pre-K to fourth grade and in fall 2003 be at full capacity with Pre-K to fifth grade.

"It's been fascinating," says second grade teacher Michael Seal. "I've never been involved in the opening of a school before. Just the sheer volume of things [to do]; all things had to be built and policies set, such as discipline and bus monitors. If you are an education junkie, this is the perfect spot to be."

Lessons from Our Nation's Schools

This article is part of an ongoing Education World series, Lessons from Our Nation's Schools, about education in different communities. Read other articles from the series:

High Expectations Yield High Achievement

Magnet School Helps Students Develop, Appreciate Different Talents

Reservation Schools Preserve Cultures, Boost Academics

More Than Reading Scores and Stereotypes: The Voices of City Teachers and Students


The magnet school has dual missions: Bring together students from seven diverse communities (the city of Hartford and the surrounding suburban towns of Avon, Bloomfield, Farmington, Simsbury, West Hartford, and Wethersfield) to learn with and from one another and teach them according to the multiple intelligences theories of Harvard University psychologist Howard Gardner. About half the students are from Hartford, a poor, low-performing district.

Gardner theorizes that the eight kinds of human intelligences are linguistic, logical-mathematical, musical, spatial-visual, bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalist. (For more information about Gardner's theory, see the Education World story Multiple Intelligences: A Theory for Everyone.) The school's goals are to introduce students to the different intelligences so they discover their own strengths and learn to appreciate the abilities of others. Professors and students from the education department at the University of Hartford, on whose campus the school is located, work closely with school staff.

UHMS is the first school in the country with a curriculum designed exclusively around Gardner's ideas. The school building was constructed to accommodate that approach.

Because the school is taking such a new approach and serves children from many different backgrounds who have varying ability levels, people have watched closely during the first year. Reports and test scores were sent throughout the year to participating districts, and Kloczko reported regularly to state and school district administrators. Based on data and observations, she sees progress.

"Have we made academic gains? Yes," Kloczko says. "Are we at the level of the (suburban) feeder schools? Not yet. Given what we are dealing with, the multiple intelligences [approach] is making [kids] eager to learn, and they are taking ownership of learning. The children's appreciation for music has grown; we also have seen an impact on their ability to read, write, and communicate."

The curriculum and structure also seem to agree with students and parents. Thirty-three percent of students had perfect attendance, and 99 percent of parents participated in conferences. Three parent conferences were scheduled during the year.


Dr. Bruce Douglas, executive director of Connecticut's Capitol Region Education Council (CREC), an organization that oversees the state's magnet schools and provides services to school districts in the Hartford region, says he is pleased with the magnet school's first year.

"I think they have experienced tremendous success," Douglas tells Education World. "They have developed a positive learning environment. I see students engaged, on-task, and actively involved in learning. I see innovative lesson plans and teachers working closely together. I did not see any areas needing improvement." Douglas based his assessment on observations made during seven or eight visits to the school.

Second graders' performances in some areas, though, have raised school staff members' concerns. Standardized tests similar to the Connecticut Mastery Tests, which students take in fourth grade, indicated in mid-winter that 35 percent of second graders met the goal on the logical mathematical section and 40 percent met the goal on a writing test. That is up from 19 percent meeting the writing goal in the fall.

Students scored better in reading: 59 percent made goal in mid-winter on a degrees-of-reading power test, and 79 percent made goal on a developmental reading assessment (DRA) test. Scores for the spring exams were not available.

"We are looking at second grade and developing plans for next year," Kloczko says.

About 21 percent of the student body, or 45 of 212 students, did not make the goal on the DRA. Although only those students from priority districts (Hartford and Bloomfield) are required to attend summer school if they are below the goal in reading, school staff are encouraging all students who did not meet goal to come, Kloczko says. A four-week program is scheduled to begin in mid-July.

The school also is planning professional development programs for teachers so they can help students before they become at-risk readers. One is the Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) program. UHMS received a $50,000 grant for each of six years to work with the Connecticut Commission on the Arts. Teachers will attend week-long workshops to learn different ways of threading multiple intelligences into the curriculum.


Plans for more services next year continue, even as administrators await approval of a final budget; the proposed budget for the school is $3.5 million. A vote on the state budget has been postponed.

Tuition for each student is close to $10,000 a year; the state pays about $5,400 and the student's home district about $2,000, which leaves a gap. The cost is high because the school offers an extended-day program, which includes before- and after-school sessions. About 80 percent of students participate in the extended-day program, Kloczko adds.

In the area of staffing, Kloczko has requested three fourth-grade teachers and funding for four additional "essentialists" to teach some of the intelligences. The four would teach music, bodily-kinesthetics, intrapersonal and interpersonal skills, and visual and spatial classes because of the growth in enrollment and plans to integrate multiple intelligences instruction into the pre-kindergarten program.

Having eight essentialists would also allow fourth and fifth graders to work with mentors on individual projects.

Other goals for next year include closing the achievement gap between student and broadening student assessment to include anecdotal and observational evidence.

The other issue staff members will face in a few years is helping students make the transition to a more-traditional school setting when they complete classes at UHMS. "We hope to educate teachers in the home districts about the multiple intelligences approach," Kloczko says. "Here's how I envision it: We start a program of mutual understanding of intelligences and how we would like to see them infused in school and then develop a continuum."


Teachers already have shown that they are willing to put in the hours needed for the school to succeed. "Faculty has been great in stepping forward; we never dropped the bar," Kloczko says. "I don't think any of us had any idea how much this would take to get this together."

Several teachers with whom Education World spoke in the fall and again in May say that although teaching at the school is demanding, the experience is not unlike what they expected.

Second-grade teacher Laura Wonderlie uses an interactive white board to teach a lesson.
(Education World photo)
"It's almost exactly what I thought; it's hard and the hours are long," says second-grade teacher Laura Wonderlie. "It also has all the challenges I was looking for, such as more freedom in the classroom to do what's right. It's amazing how quickly this community of learners has come together."

Both the hardest and most rewarding part of the job for Wonderlie has been becoming a more reflective teacher. "I gather data, process it, and adapt it. I can have seven different lessons for kids. The greatest part is I can be completely responsive to the needs of the kids and do what they need."

Visual-spatial teacher Elizabeth Crowell calls her first year at the school "very stressful but very rewarding."

"I never thought of risk-taking as a negative thing; I thought of it as a positive thing," Crowell tells Education World. "However, there are positives and negatives. It's been a lot of work."

One challenge was helping students who have varying abilities reach the same level. "I had to make sure they could do basic things and there were some behavioral issues," Crowell says

Crowell adds that she likes that art is an integral part of the curriculum at UHMS and not just an add-on. "I feel very much a part of the school; people realize how important art is. I want to work more closely with classroom teachers and show them how visual-spatial relates to other work."


Students have also made adjustments in terms of approaching learning, meeting expectations, and applying their strengths.

Eight-year-old Melanie from Simsbury says at first her parents were not certain the magnet school was the best place for her, but now they like it -- as does she.

"I like it because there are more things to do -- more essentials," Melanie says. "I like multiplication, and I think logical-mathematical is the intelligence I'm best at."

Rikki, seven and a half, from Hartford notes, after some prompting from Kloczko, that she has learned that she is "people smart": good at relating to other people and reflecting on her behavior and learning.

"I learned that whining doesn't help" solve problems, Rikki adds. Her favorite intelligences are music and bodily-kinesthetic. "I like to use my body to dance."

Next year when she is a third-grader, Rikki says, she wants to work even harder. "I want to do more work in the classroom and more homework."