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Hartford Public Schools Sees Early Success with Our Curriculum

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    April Hattori

After implementing Expeditionary Learning’s curriculum for a school year, Hartford Public Schools (HPS) are seeing early signs of success.

Sandy Sprague, an English Language Arts (ELA) teacher at McDonough Expeditionary Learning School, said that the rigor of the curriculum is challenging her students, and noted for the first time the school’s 8th grade Measures of Academic Progress data has shown steady growth toward the yearly growth target.

“It is engaging and worthwhile teaching that drives student learning first and foremost.  Combine that with the quality curriculum I am using this year and you have a good recipe for success. The use of protocols and rigorous material is what excites students and encourages them to buy into what you are bringing to the table.”

Since implementing the curriculum, Joanne Manginelli, HPS Director of Professional Development, added: “students are engaged and enthusiastic about their learning.  They are digging deeper into the texts and are thinking critically in response to higher order questioning from their teachers.”

Last year, HPS was in search of an ELA curriculum and found it with Expeditionary Learning.  According to Michelle Puhlick, Executive Director of Curriculum and Instruction at HPS, the HPS curriculum writing team which was led by Director of Literary Arts, Dr. Melissa Wlodarczyk Hickey, chose Expeditionary Learning after reviewing its curriculum on New York’s website.

“They made the choice that it was the best out there and then made the recommendation to our office.  We made it available to all Grade 6through 8 schools. Every school signed up for it,” Michelle said, noting that 4900 students are now using the curriculum. HPS began holding training sessions in the Fall of 2013 and continued throughout the school year in order to support the implementation of the curriculum.

“The model is a good fit for us. It’s text-based, aligned to Common Core, and provides robust resources for teachers and engaging lessons for students.  It also has a high level of rigor, paired with teacher support, parent resources, assessment, and attention to special needs,” Michelle said.

Michelle noted that in addition to the high quality of the curriculum, the support and professional development provided by Expeditionary Learning have been exceptional. HPS and Expeditionary Learning worked together on the strategic implementation plan. 

“We wanted the rollout to go well.  For it to be effective, we knew we had to have multiple layers of implementation,” Michelle said, noting that it included sustained professional development for central office leaders, principals, teacher leaders, and facilitators, who are responsible for ongoing teacher training and support.

Joanne added that the Expeditionary Learning team has been well-received by teachers. “They respect staff and the knowledge they come to the table with,” she said.

HPS also felt it was important to orient Central Office leaders on the curriculum to help unify the vision of high quality literacy and instruction and the language and terminology around it.   One key message was that the curriculum is aligned to HPS’ effective teacher rubric – Charlotte Danielson’s Framework for Teaching.

Michelle added that Central Office knowledge of the language protocols was also important.  “It’s amazing how much the kids are into it. Our Central Office learned the protocols so that they knew what was happening on the ground,” she said.

Michelle is pleased with the early impact of the curriculum across the district and optimistic about moving forward with it.  She noted that many schools feel so comfortable with the model that they are beginning to use the protocols in Grades 3 and 5.