Updated, 8:22 a.m.: Copy edits, revised headline
NORWALK, Conn. – The Norwalk Early College Academy (NECA) would become a separate school within Norwalk High School, in an application the Board of Education plans to submit to the State.
“I think the Superintendent and the Board are going to agree on a course that we are going to take that will make everybody happy… NECA is a treasure to Norwalk. It’s now got 400 students, it’s a treasure we want to look after,” BoE Chairman Mike Barbis said at the beginning of Tuesday’s BoE meeting.
Norwalk Public Schools partners with IBM and Norwalk Community College to run NECA, which offers students the opportunity to get an associate’s degree by taking college classes while in high school.
Controversy has swirled over Grade Point Average calculations at the Academy and NHS since the selection of a valedictorian last May. The confusion was inspired by the disparate credit and class requirements in the traditional high school and the ground-breaking P-Tech Academy functioning on the grounds, which shares staff and classes. NECA students can take 12 credits per year, while other students can only take eight, which some feel gives NECA students an unfair advantage in GPA rankings.
Making NECA a separate school would provide more autonomy in start times, and open the door to unique NECA GPA rankings, as long as they are consistent with the GPA proposal “being refined by Policy Committee,” Adamowski said.
The change would increase flexibility around the calculation of class rank, Adamowski said. “The budget implications we think would be positive,” because NECA could apply for grants, and the school’s P-Tech approach is gaining interest and priority from funders because it’s a jobs development approach.
The Board had planned to vote on a new GPA system on Tuesday, but this was postponed. Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski mentioned Tuesday that the Board appears to continue to support the switch to a proposed Latin honors system for calculating GPA.
NECA would be a school separate from Norwalk High School in the same way that the Center for Global Studies is separate from Brien McMahon High School, Adamowski explained.
CGS was classified as a school within a school until a 2017 state audit, and subsequently broke off from BMHS while remaining in the same location, at BMHS.
Adamowski referred to that experience as a template for expectations regarding the state’s response. “They’re very unclear what their process is,” he said.
The BoE will make this request in January; it took three to four months for CGS to be approved, but that wasn’t Norwalk’s choice, Adamowski said.
He hopes that NECA will be a separate school next fall.
A NECA steering committee, with representatives from IBM and NCC, has recommended the switch to separate school standing, Adamowski said Tuesday, explaining that the partners perceive advantages, “increased accountability and improvement opportunities,” in that the SAT scores and school performance index would be broken out for the 400 NECA students and the 1,200 Norwalk High students.
It would also be helpful in applying for a federal Perkins grant because the grant is being expanded to include career technical schools in 2019, he said, calling this a “significant change” and asserting that the grant could not be used for the P-Tech model until now.
“The Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act of 2006 (Perkins IV) is a principal source of federal funding to states and discretionary grantees for the improvement of secondary and postsecondary career and technical education programs across the nation,” the Perkins Collaborative Resource Network (PCRN) states on its website.
Norwalk is a front runner in Connecticut on P-Tech, “the most highly developed program,” Adamowski said.
The P-Tech NECA school was initiated under former Superintendent of Schools Manny Rivera and saw its first four-year class graduate last year.