New Haven school that was failing is now making the grade

NEW HAVEN - The Hill Central School once was a place where neither students nor teachers wanted to be. But, state money and a collaboration between the school's teachers and administration have rescued the school from the state's failing list.

A new Hill Central K-8 School was opened four years ago in New Haven. Its rebirth coincided with a roll out of a shared leadership model.

Third-year Principal Lillian Fontan says part of the school's shared leadership model, which was introduced by previous Hill Central Principal Glen Worthy, embraces and encourages teachers to customize their curriculum to their students.

"They are really good teachers and they have good intentions," says Fontan. "They are the people, who are at the ground level and always working with the students."

"The collaboration is intense and you can sense that the teachers are happier," said Anabela Pinto, a third grade teacher, who has taught at Hill Central for 12 years.

And, with the teachers and administration are working in harmony, the students, in turn, are happy.

"The students feel like this is a place that they feel safe, like their other home," added Pinto.

State money, helping to fund initiatives to turn around the school since 2010, has been critical, especially in math, science and reading improvements.

"In our third grade, I have 50 percent of our students, who qualify for enrichment," said Fontan, who noted enrichment is always preferred to intervention.

And, with success in the classroom, chronic absenteeism has dipped 21 percent over the past five years at Hill Central.

"Having a truancy officer, who is bilingual, has been a key for us," said Fontan, who has gained credibility throughout the school because she, like many of her current students, was an English Language Learner.

"I did not speak a word of English," said Fontan, who says 40 percent of Hill Central School students speak English as a second language. But, the school is ready.

"I have 28 percent of our staff, who is Spanish-speaking and can help our parents," said Fontan, who opens her office to parents every month for one-on-one meetings.

Fontan says parents also feel comfortable, and impress upon their children the importance of school, because of an onsite health clinic and an after school program, which even feeds students dinner if need be.