George Lucas Educational Foundation
Schools That Work
School Leadership

Meriden Public Schools: Courageous Leadership and Innovation in Action

Visit a school district that has modernized by focusing on four key areas.
This is part of our Schools That Work series and features key practices from Meriden Public Schools in Connecticut.
View a transcript of this video

Mark: You know, when I first started here, I felt like we were doing the same thing over and over again, and we were wondering why our kids weren't buying in. We were running traditional public schools, but we weren't really embracing innovation and change.

If we're not getting the success, then it's an innovation we should do away with and try another.

I really saw my role as, how do we, on a limited budget, really reinvent ourselves?

Patrick: All right, good, that's perfect.

Student: Yes!

Mark: To move your vision along, people need to buy in, they need to trust you as a leader. So for us, it's always been about collaboration, working together. This commitment to putting students at the forefront of our decisions.

How do you like the new building?

Student: I love it a lot.

Mark: Good, good.

For our district, four key areas of work in Meriden are creating student centered learning environment, technology integration, expanding learning time and building district capacity.

Student: We'll test conductivity, density and then make a data table after.

Brenda: Okay.

Mark: First, we want to create schools where students want to be. What they were telling us is, when you allow us to work with other students and solve real world problems, we learn better, we enjoy it more and we feel challenged. So how do we support our teachers in this transition? We have student centered learning coaches.

Patrick: As a coach, I would work with teachers. We try to find ways to build in student centered learning activities in every single classroom, where kids have more opportunities to learn from each other.

Jake: Student centered learning provides us with a better outlook of what real life is going to be. It feels like you're experiencing something, rather than taking notes on something and having a test on it the next week, it's fun.

He runs away because he's guilty.

Mia: End scene.

[applause]

Mark: We also knew that if we were going to create student centered learning environment, we needed to make sure technology was in place for students, so they can learn anywhere and at any time.

What made you guys choose the white tigers to study?

Student: We saw that the white tiger was very majestic.

Daniel: When we went to one to one devices, the district did an outstanding job of supporting classroom teachers, offering PLC time. We had technology integration specialists. We also have something called tech buddies.

Patrick: There's no reason that we can't take those experts in our buildings, our older students, and have them work with our younger students.

Sergio: And E is right next to it.

Lauren: Using the technology is really motivating for these twenty-first century learners; that's how they learn.

Nayeilli: See how easy that was?

Mark: Next, it was that we were going to expand learning opportunities for students. We heard about some of the creative work that was occurring in other schools and we said, why can’t that occur here? So we applied for an AFT innovation grant, where students go a hundred minutes more per day, forty additional days a year. Not every elementary teacher needs to work eight thirty to three thirty. Some could work seven thirty to two thirty, others will work nine to four. The results there have been tremendous, academic results, standardized testing results, climate survey results.

Teacher: Okay, tell me why though.

Student: It felt crunchy.

Teacher: Excellent.

Mark: So by flexing teachers' schedules, having the union's agreement to do that, we're doing creative things that kids love.

Very good, give me five. Okay, good work.

Another innovation is how we build district capacity, how we support our staff and create the initiatives, especially during these tough budget times. Here at Hanover, we have a program for students with autism and other communication disorders.

Jennifer: What we were doing for special education students before we had a lot of outside agencies working with them.

Mark: I thought to myself, why are shipping them to a school so far away? And the answer was, we don't have the staff, we don't have the space, we don't have the programs. I'm thinking, well, staff, we hire teachers. Space, we can always be creative, and programs, I love designing programs. We can do better.

Heather: Are you ready to go? Listen, go.

Mark: We are the only district in Connecticut whose special ed population has increased, but the overall expenses have went down, because we've done service internally.

Jennifer: Mark is forward thinking and that's what I love about being a principal. Under his leadership, I am able to try things.

Mark: Leadership is about making people comfortable to take risks. If you're not willing to fail, you're never going to be innovative and you're never going to be as successful as you should be.

Ah, I'm tired!

Student: Don't give up!

Mark: Never give up, never give up!

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Barak's picture

Communication and collaboration allow great things like this to happen. When Parents, teachers and schools work together you can expect transformation.

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