Lately, we’ve been looking at policy in action in each of our 6 recommendation areas. We’ve already explored the use of longitudinal data systems to drive accountability, heard a teacher’s perspective on the Common Core, and learned about turn around efforts within a Commissioner’s Network School. Last week, we heard about Excellent Teaching from Somers School District’s Teacher of the Year. Today, let’s peek into another Commissioner’s Network School to learn about how it’s fostering leadership. 

Milner School in Hartford joined the Commissioner’s Network at the beginning of the 2011-2012 school year. Instead of developing their own turnaround plan like Curiale School, Milner’s Turnaround Committee chose to partner with the Family Urban Schools of Excellence (F– USE) to improve the school. F– USE is an education management organization established to expand the work of Jumoke Academy charter schools. Therefore, F– USE has implemented elements of the successful Jumoke Academy model to turn around Milner School. Milner is a Pre-K-8 school that serves approximately 400 students from Hartford’s Blue Hills neighborhood. All of the students who attend Milner live in low-income situations.

F– USE works closely with the strongest instructional leader in the school to promote the pillars of the Jumoke model. In this case, that instructional leader is Karen Lott, Milner’s new principal.

Sitting in her office—next to a plaque that says, “The best thing to spend on your child is time,” and a whiteboard covered in meticulously written strategic notes—Principal Lott spoke about how the F– USE model provides clarity and consistency to the school climate.

Dr. Lott has spent a lot of time developing family and community at the school, which is one of the Jumoke pillars. After breakfast at Milner, she begins each school day by welcoming students and their parents into morning meetings. “Some parents are here daily,” she tells us. “Others are in contact with teachers regularly. We want to make them feel welcome because this is their neighborhood school and these are their scholars. This has become a very close-knit community of parents.” After setting the tone for the day in the morning meetings, the principal sends her scholars to a 90-minute literacy block and a 30-minute intervention block.

Principal Lott has also dedicated a lot of effort into carefully choreographing how students move around the building. Walking with us through the Milner halls, she says, “Our scholars used to think it was enough to just be inside the building. They actually needed formal instruction about how to conduct yourself in a hallway, how we behave in a cafeteria, how we learn in a classroom. It’s still a work in progress, but hopefully when we move about the building you’ll be seeing some structure.” Indeed, as we walk down the hallway, we get to witness some pre-K scholars who are working on transitioning from recess back to class. They are being asked to line up as a group before they can walk to their next destination. A little girl steps out of line to wrap her arms around the principal, who gently guides the scholar back into line.

As a Commissioner’s Network School, Milner has undergone a lot of changes. The new turn around model was presented to the then-existing staff at the end of the 2010-2011 school year. Staff members who expressed an interest in staying at the school were asked to re-interview. In the end, only 6 out of 46 of the original staff remained at the school. Now, every day at Milner is one hour longer, and the year has been expanded by 29 days. Additionally, there are 12 Saturday Academy days, and Catholic Charities (which helps to develop wraparound services for the school) provides an extra 2 hours of enriching activities to over 100 students at the end of each extended school day.

The Jumoke-Milner curriculum is also Common Core aligned for Math and English Language Arts. Dr. Lott tells us that, within the classrooms, she wants her teachers to set a culture where, although the teachers are responsible for substantial preparation, “the ones who are doing the work are the ones who are doing the learning.”

Jumoke means “the child is loved,” and Dr. Lott tells us that the culture she’s trying to develop is all about letting the children know they are each known and cared for. Classroom sizes have been capped at 22 students (as opposed to the 26 or 27 in previous years). And each classroom is staffed with 2 adults, so that there is a 10:1 student adult ratio. According to the principal, the point is to create strong adult-scholar bonds: “They should feel that their strengths are recognized and that they get supports for their weaknesses.”

Jumoke Academy at Milner School still has a long way to go in raising student achievement, but under the leadership of Principal Lott, it looks like it’s on the right path.