• Leonard Webb

Norwalk Early College Academy granted P-tech status-

Updated: Mar 15, 2019

By Justin Papp

Published 3:30 pm EST, Friday, January 18, 2019

In a P-TECH school, students earn a high school diploma, an industry-recognized associate degree, and gain relevant work experience in a growing field. The schools create a seamless program for students to acquire the academic, technical, and workplace skills that employers need.

P-TECH is a partnership among K-12, community college and industry, each making long-term commitments and contributing their best expertise to provide students with rigorous and hands-on academic, technical and workplace experiences.

The unique culture of a P-TECH school is built upon high expectations for students and a belief that all students can earn their college degree. Students see themselves as “college students” and “on a career pathway” from the moment they begin 9th grade. The model integrates high school and college coursework, enabling students to begin college courses as soon as they are ready.

Students also participate in a range of workplace opportunities that include mentoring, site visits and paid internships — all designed to support students’ academic and professional growth.

P-TECH includes urban, rural and suburban schools and encompasses a range of STEM fields, including IT, advanced manufacturing, healthcare and finance. What defines P-TECH schools is a set of six key tenets.

NORWALK — The Norwalk Early College Academy has been granted independent school status, just a month after the district filed its application with the state.

“It was quite surprising. I was in touch with state Department of Education and I was told that it would take three to four months,” NECA Director Karen Amaker said. “It seems as if it was expedited. We are very surprised and very fortunate.”

The application was initially filed in response to tensions between Norwalk High School and NECA students and parents.

As NECA’s inaugural graduation approached in June 2018, Norwalk High School students noticed their class ranks slide, the result of weighted college courses taken by many NECA students that elevated their GPAs.

A draft policy was proposed that would have slightly reduced the weight of certain NECA credits, subsequently setting off a concerned response from NECA parents. A Board of Education vote on the policy in December was postponed, and instead Superintendent of Schools Steven J. Adamowski announced the plan to apply for independent school status.

It’s a move that was met with enthusiasm by parents on both sides, who viewed NECA’s new status as a long-term solution to the GPA and class rank problem. After July 1, when NECA officially becomes an independent high school, both NECA and Norwalk High School will have their own, separate, class ranks.

But the problem of alleged inequity remains for the class of 2019, though Board of Education Chairman Mike Barbis said he’s not aware of an effort to change the policy just for this year’s graduates.

“There’s nothing to my knowledge actively being worked on. I think the first step was to get this independent school status,” Barbis said. “Policies are long standing, they sit on the books for a long time. I don’t think we’re going to make a policy change for one year.”

With the change in status, Amaker said the school’s administrative structure would remain as is, though they may look to add teachers down the road. NECA will continue to operate out of Norwalk High School.

“In many ways the model is similar to what we’ve had with the Center for Global Studies being located in Brien McMahon,” said Norwalk Public Schools Chief Communications Officer Brenda Wilcox Williams. “It gives the benefit of being a separate school but also allows the students to participate in activities that you get from a more comprehensive school environment.”

According to Amaker, NECA students spend half the school day with NECA teachers and students, and the other half with Norwalk High teachers and students.

“It’s been quite an integrative experience,” Amaker said.

Since its inception in 2014-15 as the state’s first Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-Tech), NECA has roughly quadrupled in size. In its first year, NECA enrolled 80 students. It now has 394 students enrolled, and because of an abundance of applications, will have its first lottery next year.

Not only will NECA’s independent status ease tension GPA and class rank tension, it will also allow the district to better track performance data from both schools and craft curriculum accordingly.

“We’re able to closely monitor and track our data, look at how our students are performing and align our curriculum to our student’s needs,” Amaker said. “It’s a win-win for everybody.”

justin.papp@scni.com; @justinjpapp1; 203-842-2586

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