NHS joins innovative league

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NAUGATUCK — Naugatuck High School is now part of the League of Innovative Schools.

The league is made up of 47 high schools, seven middle schools, and one charter eLearning school throughout New England. Of those, there is one middle school and 11 high schools from Connecticut, including Naugatuck High. The league was started approximately a year and a half ago by the New England Secondary School Consortium.

The league is a networking system for the heads of each member school to discuss education issues and how to improve student achievement.

Once a month, all the principals or heads of the schools meet to discuss their schools.

“We talk about what’s working and what’s not working, what the frustrations and successes are,” Naugatuck High Principal Janice Saam said.

Saam said she heard about the league from Janet Garagliano, the Connecticut state liaison for NESSC.

Garagliano, who had been co-chair of the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, told Saam that she was doing great things with the high school as principal and asked her to apply for the league.

“I did research on it and it looks to be something that would be a great benefit to the high school. It looks to be cutting edge and innovative,” Saam said.

Saam explained that at first she was worried about already having too much to do without joining the league. The school district is currently switching to Common Core testing, the high school is scheduled to begin its renovations this school year, the district has to meet certain standards to receive Alliance District funding, and there are state mandated reforms that have to be implemented.

However, when she looked into the possibility of joining the league, she found it was more of a help than a burden.

“It isn’t really one more thing, it is something to help you,” Saam said.

NESSC executive director David Ruff described the league as a tool schools can use to help themselves improve.

“The league is voluntary. Schools join the league because they want to improve graduation rates, send more kids to college, and lower dropout rates,” Ruff said. “They decide the league’s ideals are where they want to be.”

Saam explained the school officials also discuss how best to implement the best practices that the league recommends and how to inform politicians about what is or is not working.

“It’s kind of exciting. There are some great people at the table,” Saam said.

This is the exact kind of interactions that Ruff was hoping for. He explained that, rather than seeing schools in different towns, states or even countries as competitors, he wants to view them as valuable resources for each other.

Every other meeting is done by teleconference, so that the administrators can remain on site at their respective schools while the meeting is taking place, Saam said.

Apart from discussing what is and is not working in their schools, the league member schools also discuss the changes they see coming in the future.

“The latest thing we are looking at is competency based reporting,” Saam said.

She explained that, rather than the traditional letter or number grade, students will be graded as to whether or not they are competent in a subject.

“It’s a real paradigm shift, and I don’t know how quickly we will move towards that,” Saam said.

Ruff said his hope is that the member schools from Connecticut share what they learn from the league.

“My hope would be the ideas that are espoused by the league are shared by all schools in Connecticut,” Ruff said.

Of the state schools that have joined so far, he has nothing but the highest praise.

“I’m very impressed with the schools in Connecticut. I think they are stepping up, getting involved, making hard decisions and doing what it takes to make sure the kids are prepared,” Ruff said.