West Haven’s Forest School among 4 CT 2018 National Blue Ribbon Schools

First day of school in West Haven in this file photo.

First day of school in West Haven in this file photo.

Forest School, one of West Haven neediest schools, is one of four Connecticut schools recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as 2018 National Blue Ribbon Schools, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy announced Monday, Oct. 1.

Forest, also one of West Haven’s schools with the highest percentage of children whose families speak a language other than English at home, was honored along with University of Hartford Magnet School in West Hartford, West School in New Canaan and Haddam-Killingworth High School in Higganum.

“I’m just very proud of the entire staff at Forest — really dedicated people...” said West Haven Superintendent of Schools Neil C. Cavallaro after learning about the award. “They’ve been doing great work there and it hasn’t gone unnoticed.”

According to Cavallaro, “One of the resons they’re being recognized is for how well their scores are improving ... It’s a school of high needs.”

Forest Principal Tom Hunt couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

The National Blue Ribbon Schools is an annual award bestowed on schools across the nation for high academic performance or greatest progress in achievement gap closure among subgroups, the governor’s office said in a news release.

“Every student from every background and every walk of life deserves a quality education that allows them to succeed,” Malloy said. “With exemplary schools like this year’s Blue Ribbon award winners, it’s no wonder that we have record-high graduation rates and students who are among the best in the nation.

“We congratulate these schools and their teachers, students, and families for their collective efforts to nurture positive school communities — they are all helping to shift the growing possibilities for our next generation in a positive direction,” Malloy said.

“We are excited to celebrate four Connecticut schools that are transforming the futures of students by delivering a top-quality education in the classroom,” Education Commissioner Dianna R. Wentzell said in the release. “Congratulations to our Blue Ribbon Schools on the collective effort and hard work by students, parents, educators and community partners to earn this prestigious honor.”

To select and nominate schools for the National Blue Ribbon School award, the Connecticut State Department of Education uses data from the Next Generation Accountability System, the release said.

Nominated schools complete an application process and must be approved by the U.S. Department of Education, the release said.

All selected schools in Connecticut demonstrated outstanding overall achievement in 2016-17 and were identified as “Schools of Distinction,” the release said.

National Blue Ribbon Schools are identified in two categories — “Exemplary Achievement Gap Closing” and “Exemplary High Performing.”

Forest School teaches students in pre-Kindergarten through fourth grade. As a school in an Alliance District, the majority of students — 76 percent — are eligible for free or reduced-price meals. Additionally, 23 percent of students at Forest School are “English learners” with over 16 different languages spoken at home, the release said.

“Forest prides itself on its model of layered shared leadership designed to support teachers to ensure learning for their diverse student body,” the release said. “ The instructional team at Forest includes a mathematics coach and reading consultant as well as a special education team and an English learner team.

“Collectively, and with strong district support and coordination, these educators work closely with classroom teachers, providing model lessons, research-based instructional strategies, and other key resources to realize their foundational principle that “all students can succeed,” the release said.

“Forest is a school demonstrating success in terms of strong academic growth in mathematics and ELA for high needs students, leading to its nomination as an Exemplary Gap Closing school,” it said.

Haddam-Killingworth High School, located in Higganum, is identified as an “Exemplary High Performing School” based on its 2016-17 accountability index, the release said. Included in the accountability index is the four-year graduation rate for all students (95.2 percent) and the six-year graduation rate for high needs students (100 percent), both exceeding state targets.

In its Blue Ribbon School application, the school administration expressed that it is most proud of its success in personalizing the student experience, the release said.

It offers a wide range of “traditional” courses, a variety of online learning opportunities, an internship program through which students earn credit through experiential learning within the community, and a system to support students interested in pursuing unique learning opportunities not found in a typical course of studies, the release said.

HKHS “has established a goal that all students graduate having completed a college and/or career experience,” the release said. “To this end, they expanded course offerings as well as added a transition coordinator. The 2016-17 accountability report shows that 84.8 percent of students in Grades 11 and 12 have taken at least two courses specifically designed to prepare students for college and/or career (Indicator 5), again surpassing the state target of 75 percent.”

University of Hartford Magnet School is operated by the Capitol Region Education Council. The school serves pre-Kindergarten through Grade 5 students from more than 30 Connecticut towns, the release said.

The school’s theme is “Learning through Multiple Intelligences.” The curriculum is built on inquiry and problem-solving and focuses on relationships that exist across all disciplines, it said. The school’s location and partnership with the University of Hartford and the Hartt School provide students opportunities not typically available in elementary school.

“For two consecutive years, UHMS students demonstrated very strong growth in English language arts (ELA) and mathematics,” the release said. “In particular, it was the sustained growth of high needs students (English learners, students with disabilities, and economically-disadvantaged students) that prompted the Blue Ribbon nomination in the Exemplary Achievement Gap Closing category.”

West School, based on 2016-17 accountability reports, earned 97.5 percent of all possible points across indicators. “This accountability index was the highest of all Schools of Distinction,” the release said.

“Therefore, West School was nominated for the Blue Ribbon award in the Exemplary High Performing category,” the release said. “The school administration identifies collaboration as a key factor driving the school’s success. There are strategic efforts to encourage collaboration and teamwork across staff, keeping the needs of students at the center of every conversation.

“One example of this is the school’s Universal Screening Team (UST) at each grade level,” it says. “The UST convenes at the close of each trimester to ensure that instruction is meeting the needs of all students by providing the appropriate level of ongoing challenge and support. Collaboration extends to families who are engaged in a strong and active Parent Teacher Council, sponsoring a variety of school community events such as One Book West, Family Math Night, and Kids Care.

West School serves student in pre-Kindergarten through fourth grade.