In 2010, Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School had the highest rate of arrests of any middle school in the entire state of Connecticut. Our number one reason for police activity was violence and assault. In a school where students didn’t feel safe, it isn’t surprising that students struggled academically. About 1 in 3 students was proficient in math and reading. Our high school had the highest dropout rate in the state. Teacher turnover was constant. Each year, about 20% of our staff was new. We were labeled by the State of CT as a failing school.
I wanted to introduce a new vision to the staff and students at Bennie Dover. As a staff we read about, discussed, and defined every aspect of teaching and learning. Teachers observed one another. A dialogue emerged about how we know students are learning. And with that, emerged a new, more confident group of teachers and test scores began to slowly rise.
In the spring of 2015 when Dr. Rivera ( Superintendent of New London Schools) and I learned more about New Classrooms and Teach to One: Math, we were intrigued. We chose to partner with New Classrooms for many reasons but the top three were: 1) The philosophy of the program is around teaching math based on individual assessments and tailored schedules for each student, 2) The organization focused specifically on middle schoolers, 3) There were proven academic outcomes for urban students like ours.
The biggest challenge was embracing a significant culture change. Our teachers were used to teaching alone with 20+ students in the room. In the TTO model, teachers were working together as a team with more than 100 students between two spaces (a large open room and regular classroom space). In the beginning this caused a multitude of challenges that were mostly centered around classroom culture.
We never doubted the decision we made to shift to TTO. We had to figure out how to make it work. We, needed to re-think, re-plan, and re-act differently. We needed to evolve. New Classroom’s relentless focus on providing relevant instruction to our students was a consistent force in everything we did. Their instructional coaching team and technical support team were on the front lines with us. Modeling. Coaching. Strengthening. And we came together.
Around November, something started to click. Our math teachers focused their common planning time on specific, actionable strategies to improve student engagement. Sharing these strategies, and laughing about mishaps, helped the teachers work together as a team. A real team. An effective team. They learned that together, they could control the learning environment far better than any of them could individually. And at the end of the program for the first time in many years we 0% turnover. All of the math teachers stayed and wanted to continue teaching in the program.
My advice to schools implementing blended or personalize learning programs is to spend the time and effort collaborating, educating and cheerleading. Change is hard. There will be challenges. Acknowledging (and sometimes laughing) about those challenges makes them easier to overcome. At Bennie Dover we have a “buckets” program. When a teacher has a rough day, I make sure to put something nice in their bucket to keep their spirits up. When a teacher has an amazing day, I make sure to put something nice in their bucket to celebrate their success.
Improving School Culture: Our teachers and students went through a very significant culture change that was challenging to manage but incredibly rewarding when we came out on the other side as a much stronger team. Since we introduced personalized learning and new instructional practices our discipline referrals went from 2,500 to 400. Our percentage of chronically absent students decreased by 5%. Academically, our math students scored 1.68 times the national average on the NWEA MAP. And for the first time we no turn over for our math teachers.
The Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School Campus is home to the STEM Magnet Middle School and Arts Magnet Middle School which are open to all Connecticut residents. Open to New London residents are the Language, Culture, and Leadership Pathway and the Renzulli Academy.
Contact: Alison Burdick
Contact Title: Principal
Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School
36 Waller Street
New London, Connecticut
In 2013-2014 Connecticut used the Connecticut Mastery Test (CMT) to test students' skills in science in grades 5 and 8. The CMT is a standards-based test, which means it measures how well students are mastering specific skills defined for each grade by the state of Connecticut.
In 2013-2014 Connecticut used the Connecticut Academic Performance Test (CAPT) to test students' skills in science in grade 10. The CAPT is a standards-based test, which means it measures how well students are mastering specific skills defined for each grade by the state of Connecticut.