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State Education Chief Outlines New Vision For Schools

GRACE E. MERRITT

August 19, 2009

HARTFORD - State Education Commissioner Mark K. McQuillan Tuesday outlined an ambitious plan to apply for at least $200 million in stimulus money to reform the high school curriculum, enhance preschool instruction and restructure several school districts through an urban initiative.

McQuillan sketched out his vision at his annual back-to-school address for school superintendents, in which he acknowledged that educators have been through an extraordinarily difficult year that included budget tightening, teacher shortages and other challenges. But he urged them to band together and take the opportunity to build a new future.

"Leadership in tough times does not warrant a pass. We've got to move forward and innovate together," he said.

To that end, McQuillan said he will apply for a competitive, federal "Race to the Top" grant in December that he hopes will capitalize on initiatives the state is already making and introduce new ones.

McQuillan's vision still being developed calls for spending half the money on an "urban initiative" over four years. The plan would form a partnership with four to six urban school districts.

School officials would not reveal many details of the plan, but said it would involve "a restructuring and re-emphasis that would address improving student achievement and closing the achievement gap," state Department of Education spokesman Tom Murphy said.

The other half of the money would be spent on districts that volunteer to participate in secondary school reform and early childhood instruction.

McQuillan has been working on reforming the state's secondary school curriculum for about two years. He submitted a reform bill in January, but the legislature did not approve it, saying it fell in the category of unfunded mandates. McQuillan's reform calls for tougher graduation requirements, including a senior project as well as math and language arts labs and other improvements.

The grant would also expand preschool instruction with a focus on building literacy and socialization skills to help youngsters prepare for kindergarten.

In addition to unveiling his proposal, McQuillan on Tuesday said the state should focus on improving the test scores of English language learners, who are falling further behind other students; building adolescent literacy; and incorporating technology in classrooms through a Web-based curriculum.

McQuillan also highlighted progress the Middletown, Meriden and Naugatuck school systems have made during the past year on the Connecticut Mastery Test. He also praised the effectiveness of the state-run Connecticut Accountability for Learning Initiative, which relies on data-driven decision-making to help teachers pinpoint students' needs.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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