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Staff Ready to Dig In, With More Hard Work On the Horizon


With a majority of its students from non-English-speaking homes, Parkville Community Schools progress looks admirable. But it still falls short of AYP, so in the days before school started, teachers dissected data to help them develop lesson plans. Included: A description of an urban school's strategies to improve.

In many people's eyes, Parkville Community School in Hartford, Connecticut, has every right to call itself successful.

But in the eyes that count, it's not successful enough.

Education World news editor Ellen R. Delisio is spending time this school year at Parkville Community School in Hartford, Connecticut, to report on the challenges an urban school faces and the strategies it employs in its quest to make adequate yearly progress (AYP) under the No Child Left Behind Act.

Located in one of the many struggling neighborhoods in a poor city overflowing with immigrants, Parkville students outranked most of its sister schools on many sections of the Connecticut Mastery Tests, (CMTs) the state's high-stakes test. And this is a school were more than 50 percent of the students come from homes where English is not the primary language.

But the gains were not enough to put the pre-K-to-grade-six school into Safe Harbor, a category of the No Child Left Behind Act just below adequate yearly progress (AYP). To make Safe Harbor, a school must reduce the percentage of non-proficient students by 10 percent from the previous year.

Only one of Hatford's 40 schools made AYP this year; two made Safe Harbor.

The test results mean Parkville is in its third year as a school in need of improvement. After this year, it could face sanctions, including school reconstitution.

Elizabeth Michaelis, Parkville's principal of 14 years, had to tell her staff the news about Safe Harbor, after she said they "worked really, really hard" last year. Michaelis is appealing the ruling. This year was the first year that third, fifth, and seventh graders were tested in addition to students in grades 4, 6, and 8. Since there were no previous scores for grades 3, 5, and 7, Michaelis argued that those scores should not count in calculating whether the school achieved Safe Harbor.

The appeal has gone to the state level.


Parkville is like many urban schools in the U.S. staring down the barrel of NCLB sanctions. It has retooled its curriculum, its day, its professional development, all in an effort to make it to the next level.

At a Glance

  • Grade levels: Pre-k to 6
  • Total enrollment: 640
  • Ethnic breakdown:
    * Hispanic: 75.5 percent
    * African American: 16.4 percent
    * White: 4.6 percent
    * Asian American: 3.4 percent
    * Native American: 0.2 percent
  • Free or reduced-price lunch: 71.5 percent
  • Special education: 12.9 percent
  • Home language other than English: 67.7 percent
  • Title 1 school: Yes
(Source: Hartford Public Schools)

Despite the disappointing news, Michaelis still thinks the school has plenty to celebrate. "I hope you are proud of what you achieved," she said to faculty members on their first of four in-service days.

The theme for the back-to-school in-service was the beach, and the library was decorated to fit that theme, with sand-colored shower curtains on the floor, paper palm trees leaning against book shelves, and beach balls making the rounds. A corner of the room was designated as Bikini Bar and glasses were lined up. Michaelis and Jones were perched on lifeguard chairs in the front of the room. Teachers had been told to bring their own beach chairs.

Michaelis told the staff that beach chair stood for "Best Ever Achievement" chair.

While reviewing test scores that showed Parkville was number one in the district in some categories, or in the top 10, the news drew applause and comments of "Wow," and "Good for us" from the teachers.

"We moved," Michaelis said. "We moved."

That still leaves Michaelis and her new assistant principal, Latesha Jones, with the task of keeping teachers motivated to reach a bar that keeps getting higher every year.

"Whether we made Safe Harbor or not, it won't change the kind of work we do," Michaelis said. "We are breaking the myth that kids who are from the inner city, who are in poverty, who are learning English, can't achieve. It's a great feeling."


On the first in-service day at school, teachers were given CMT scores for different grades and subgroups and told to determine which Parkville subgroups made AYP in each area, which didn't, and how the results compared with the district scores.

"There is so much around that test," Michaelis said.

The teachers' analysis showed that in some categories, Parkville students tended to falter as they get older. Girls, for example, scored above the district level in reading in third grade. By sixth grade, their scores are below the district. "We need to look at why scores drop off in the higher grades," Michaelis said.

Understanding Hartford

Click here to read about Hartford and its schools.

The information about what skills students need to improve is valuable for teachers in lower grades as well, Michaelis noted. "At third grade, you can't just make magic happen."

She also does not think that her teachers are being driven to drill students just to do well on the CMTs. "We teach to standards and the tests are based on standards," she told Education World.

After the first round of analyzing data, teachers were given test results for each of their students, broken down by skill, so they could highlight which skills individual students need help with. That will guide them in creating their lesson plans, according to Michaelis.

"We will be able to see by grades and subgroups where our strengths and needs are," Michaelis said. "If you don't know what the kids know, how do you know what to teach? We are looking at every child."


At an in-service meeting for district administrators earlier in the month, the theme of remaining determined was apparent in opening remarks.

"I know how hard it is to find things you are doing right and build on those," Hartford's mayor Eddie A. Perez, who also is chairman of the board of education, said to the administrators. The city had been cited in the local media for its poor showing on the state tests.

Interim superintendent Jacqueline J. Jacoby called for a "laser-like focus" on literacy and offered words of encouragement. "We are beginning to see progress," she said. "We are just beginning to use data-driven instruction. We want to stay the course. That works.

"Often can't see results from new programs for a few years. We have to help the world understand that change does not occur overnight I believe in five years the Hartford Public Schools can be a high-performing district and provide quality education for all kids and become a national model."

(Editor's Note: All students' names have been changed)