Forum: New Haven needs SCSU-Strong School partnership

Southern Connecticut State University and New Haven Public Schools are poised to embark on a unique partnership that would see Strong-21st Century Communications Magnet School and Laboratory relocated to Southern’s campus, with far-reaching consequences for student learning, teacher training and educational research.

Indeed, the primary goal of the new Strong School at Southern State University is student success, in all its dimensions. While several lab schools have been established in the United States during the past century, few have been public schools in urban settings. Nor have these schools had the prospect of a lasting partnership with a public university that is committed both to educational access for all and excellence in teacher preparation.

We are living in a time of deep structural divides, with severe achievement gaps and debilitating attitudes towards education that our children begin to hear at young ages. These factors impact the passion and creativity of our children and ultimately threaten the social and economic development of our society.

Southern’s partnership with NHPS aims to be a groundbreaking effort to tackle these challenges head on, to reform education and to make a concerted effort to positively impact the lives of many New Haven children.

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The partnership will align the expertise of school teachers and leadership in NHPS with that of faculty and student teachers at Southern. Such close collaboration in a single location will foster innovative research-informed practices, ensure consistent experiences from teacher preparation to induction and maintain a focus on student achievement in the all-important early grades.

Centering these efforts on Southern’s campus will also give young students and their parents the experience of a university atmosphere at an early stage, presenting a college degree as an achievable goal. The educational experience will be rich and dynamic. And the school-based and academic communities will come together for a common purpose.

Research published in journals such as the National Association of Laboratory Schools highlight such educational benefits as well as the challenges that many lab schools face. Given that the Strong Magnet School is an established public school in New Haven, and that Southern has a nationally accredited School of Education providing cutting-edge research and teacher preparation, the potential challenges are minimized, allowing us to do great work from the first day that the school opens.

This partnership will complement the collaborative work that NHPS and Southern are already engaged in, in areas such as STEM, communication and special education. And it will further enhance the New Haven School Change Initiative, which seeks to raise academic achievement by engaging students in their own learning, improve the four-year graduation rate, and ensure that every student has the tools, knowledge and perseverance to succeed in college and career.

Since the launch of this nationally recognized reform initiative, the graduation rate has increased 17 percentage points, college enrollment is up, and schools are building a college-going climate designed to propel students to exciting futures. Through the new Strong School, Southern will be a major partner in continuing this process.

If we do not break new ground soon, however, we will continue to experience the typical challenges that most urban schools face: crumbling walls, dissatisfied parents, unmotivated students and widening achievement gaps. We will further delay the progress of needed educational change. It is our civic responsibility to meet the challenges of the 21st century in our local educational environment. This is our opportunity to make a strong difference — Southern Strong — and to realize a success story for all of New Haven’s students.

Mary A. Papazian is president of Southern Connecticut State University. Stephen J. Hegedus is Ddean of the School of Education at Southern Connecticut State University.


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