NAUGATUCK — She is having her office painted in garnet and gray, the school colors, and has brought her own carving of a greyhound, the school mascot, for decoration.
Jan Saam’s work space is not the only thing changing at Naugatuck High School now that she is the new principal. Saam has a litany of scheduling changes designed to keep students motivated in the age of smartphones, Facebook and economic times that require many of them to balance school with part-time jobs.
“We need to find the hook for students,” Saam said. “There are many other things that vie for students’ attention than ever before.”
Students will come back to school Aug. 31 to find their 40-minute lunch periods have been halved, with the extra time allocated to study hall. To reduce chaos and opportunities for students to cut class, lunch will only be served during two periods of the day, rather than four.
The school will also create “content labs” for core academic subjects that students can go to in place of study hall, Saam said.
Every Wednesday that falls during a five-day week, all other classes will be shortened by a few minutes so that students can have advisory periods. Within each grade level, students will be randomly assigned to an adviser and remain with that adviser for all four years, Saam said.
The advisory periods will teach study skills, time management, decision making, peer relationships, goal setting and other topics that are not directly taught in other classes, Saam said. During advisory periods, students will develop individual “success plans” and seniors will work on their capstone projects, both components of new state mandates for secondary education. The time can also be used for counseling sessions or grade-level assemblies, Saam said.
The advisers are all teachers who have been trained for their new role, which includes acting as a mentor for their advisory students.
“When students feel there’s someone in school who cares about them, who worries about whether they’re there every day and whether they’re doing well, they work to please that adult,” Saam said.
Saam said she also wants to give teachers a greater say in crafting school policies and procedures.
The school’s scores on the Connecticut Academic Performance Test rose slightly this year in every subject, but the school still did not meet adequate yearly progress under the federal No Child Left Behind act.
Given the staff cuts made last year as a result of the district’s budget crisis, Saam said she was pleased to see any improvement at all. After the school lost 16 teachers and counselors, short staffing prevented teachers from meeting to analyze student test and assignment results and adjust teaching accordingly, Saam said. Midway through the year, the district added a ninth-grade math teacher and gave the school substitutes to free the teachers up again for those meetings, Saam said.
“I’m hoping this year we will continue that and start with Day One,” Saam said.
After seven years as associate principal, the school’s second-in-command, Saam was promoted to replace former principal Fran Serratore, who retired June 30 after decades working for borough schools. She will earn about $130,000 a year in her new position.
The Board of Education is now working to hire a replacement associate principal, a position for which 40 have applied, according to Debby Bliven, the school system’s human resources director. Of the applicants, only three work for borough schools, according to Bliven.
A new associate principal will make between $114,000 and $117,000, according to the school administrators’ contract.