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September 23, 2005 Extra Credit
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September 23, 2005

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"They Don't Make Any Excuses"

The following are excerpts from an article in today's Hartford Courant (CT) highlighting one of the No Child Left Behind Blue Ribbon Schools in Connecticut:

"The man on the stage at Dwight Elementary School on Thursday was unknown to the roomful of neatly dressed children as he stood to reach for a microphone. But what he had to say made it clear that Dwight was not unknown to him. 'Dwight Elementary School is not just a good school,' he proclaimed, 'it is one of the best schools in the United States of America.'

"With that, Michael Sentance, a regional representative for the U.S. Department of Education, bestowed on the school the coveted No Child Left Behind Blue Ribbon recognition for excellence. Just three schools in Connecticut were deemed worthy of the award this year, he said. Windham Center School and East Haven Academy are the other two. The award goes to schools that make significant strides to close the achievement gap between poor and minority students and their more advantaged peers.

"The school had been one of the city's lowest-achieving schools for years, and principals changed so often that sometimes the school had more than one principal in a year. That changed four years ago when Kathleen Greider took over. She called her staff together and said, 'I'm not about this failing school thing.' Then she told the teachers that anyone who didn't share her vision for excellence should transfer or quit. The meeting caused quite a buzz. Several teachers did leave, and Greider helped along a few more.

"But Greider also welcomed innovation and allowed her staff to take risks, said Marty McMahon, who recently retired as the school's literacy coordinator. One of McMahon's risky ideas that paid off, Greider said, was a plan to read fewer stories than district guidelines required to make time for a 90-minute class to discuss vocabulary, spelling and concepts before each new story so that students would understand the story as they read it. Urban children who are poor or who speak another language at home often don't have the vocabulary they need to understand what they read, Greider said.

"In four years under Greider's leadership, the school's scores on the Connecticut Mastery Test rose from second from the bottom in the district to sharing the top spot with Simpson-Waverly Elementary School, which earned blue ribbon status two years ago."

"At Thursday's celebration, Mayor Eddie A. Perez, who focuses on getting children to aim for college, asked all students who intend to go to college to rise. All rose. Then he asked the adults who would help them reach that goal to rise. All rose. 'Thank you, Dwight, for making us shine,' Perez said.

"Superintendent Robert Henry said that Dwight's achievements are thanks to its leadership and to a school climate where children feel safe and happy. 'It's not about the facilities. This is one of our oldest buildings,' Henry said of the 122-year-old building. The four-story school has two bathrooms - one for boys and one for girls - no elevator and tutorials take place under hallway stairwells.

"'It's amazing,' Motley [the district executive director for external affairs] said as he left the building. 'In a raggedy school in Hartford they have this success. They don't make any excuses.'"

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NCLB Extra Credit is a regular look at the No Child Left Behind Act, President Bush's landmark education reform initiative passed with bipartisan support in Congress.

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Last Modified: 01/31/2008