Hartford Public Schools (HPS) and Blue Hills Civic Association (BHCA) formed an unprecedented partnership about a year and a half ago to co-lead the Weaver High School Steering Committee in order to engage the community in school design work more deeply than ever before. Phase I of the Weaver Redesign work produced recommendations that were developed by the school district, nonprofit organizations, higher ed, parents, students, and the business community. Four teams were asked to develop a bold vision and a set of recommendations for the highest quality high school students in North Hartford deserve. Why is this important?
When a Weaver High School valedictorian arrived at UConn, he discovered he wasn’t as prepared for college as he, a straight-A student, expected. He struggled and considered dropping out. Instead, he received support and persevered. He’ll be graduating and heading to medical school next year. He told leaders of the Weaver 2019 steering committee that no student should graduate from a Hartford high school being so ill-prepared for college-level work.
This young man’s plea drives Vicki Gallon-Clark, co-chair of the Weaver 2019 steering committee and deputy director of the Blue Hills Civic Association. Clark, along with other private sector volunteers from the corporate, higher education and nonprofit communities, is has looked at best practices in high schools nationwide.
Despite a demanding full-time job, Clark says her volunteer work with Weaver 2019 has been rewarding and fulfilling.
“We’ve gone through an intensive process. Each of the four work groups has found new practices that if implemented can turn high school in Hartford around,” she says. When it reopens in August of 2019, “Weaver High School can serve as the model to other city high schools and the surrounding areas and towns. It can even get to the point where it’s a national model.”
“Because so many of the recommendations approach the school from a holistic standpoint, there is room for a lot of private sector folks to engage in the work going forward,” she says. Health professionals could contribute ideas that embed health and wellness practices right into the school for students, families and teachers. Other professionals could design ways for every Weaver family to navigate the daunting and complicated college and financial aid application process. The need is great but so is the capacity of our three sectors to develop solutions.
One piece of the vision is for Weaver to act as a community hub that offers resources and services to the entire community, Clark says. This includes a safe place for students to get help with homework, college applications and life skills. It should also provide a place for families to eat meals together, followed by classes for parents and enrichment activities for students.
“In this process so far, we’ve learned from each other,” Clark says. “It’s understanding our differences that makes this thing work. I’m driven by a need to do this. I’m going to make a positive contribution to this process.