Norwalk High School Assistant Principal and Director of The Norwalk Early College Academy (NECA), Karen Amaker, Thursday, January 17, 2019, at City Hall in Norwalk, Conn. NECA has received independent school status from the Connecticut Department of Education. Discussing the future of the school now that it’s earned independent status with Norwalk High School Assistant Principal Karen Amaker, who leads NECA.
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.”
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