Stanton School reform spending on hold as Connecticut struggles

Norwich - A half-year audit of the John B. Stanton School reform programs gave a favorable if early assessment of improvement programs launched this year at one of the state's four designated Network Schools, but pending state budget cuts could reduce funding for the effort.

The Stanton Network Turnaround Committee met Monday to review the audit conducted by the state Department of Education, but prior to even delving into the technical report, committee members said they are stifled at this point because of budget uncertainties.

Stanton initially was budgeted to receive $1.5 million in this first year of the three-year Network improvement program. But mid-year budget cuts announced by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy could reduce funding by as much as $180,000, Superintendent Abby Dolliver told the committee.

State officials have cautioned that Norwich hold off on spending any more of this year's grant. Stanton hired 10 "interventionists" to work in classrooms to assist students directly. The Stanton Turnaround Plan calls for hiring a math specialist and purchasing reading and writing core curricula, but Norwich officials have put off making those purchases.

"You hate to plan based on costs," Dolliver told the committee. "We're going to plan based on outcomes and then look at costs."

The Turnaround Plan calls for adding another 40 hours to the school year, but Dolliver said Norwich might not have the money. Administration officials also will research whether extended programs must be taught by certified teachers and what types of programs would be allowed.

Doreen Marvin, the Turnaround Committee's education consultant from LEARN, said decisions on summer programs at Stanton must be made soon because parents are planning now to enroll their children in summer recreation, extended learning and child care programs.

The committee, comprised of teachers, parents and administration staff, agreed that they need to see data on programs in place to judge which programs are successful in turning around student test scores and other performance measures.

Starting Nov. 1, Stanton extended its school day by one hour for student instruction, and the committee is considering extending the school year by starting earlier in August. The school system used the state Network funding to hire nearly a dozen teachers, bilingual teachers for immigrant students and their parents and classroom aides to help in large classes.

The audit pointed to improvements seen during the first four months of the school year. Stanton's student absentee rate has dropped from 4.5 percent last year to 1.3 percent so far this year. A state formula called the School Performance Index improved from 51.2 to 55.4 points this year. But the auditors said two years ago, the performance index was at 55.4, and more time and data are needed to see whether Stanton "is sustaining its growth."

Outreach to parents, especially immigrant families, has greatly improved, with school documents routinely translated into three common foreign languages at Stanton - Mandarin Chinese, Haitian Creole and Spanish. English classes for parents are available at the school, and a satellite office for parents is available at the Norwich Adult Education Center in Greeneville.

The audit said there remains "a significant achievement gap" between minority and non-minority students.

c.bessette@theday.com

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