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Written by Bryan Ripley Crandall
May 08, 2014

     For the last month, I have tried to get the following Op-Ed published in Connecticut newspapers. It is National Teacher Appreciation Week and I want the teachers at Hill Central School in New Haven, Connecticut, to know how exceptional they are. I feel very strongly about this. Although I did have success with ‘Cheers for the Artists we call teachers,’ the following did not go to hard copy press in Connecticut. Ah, but we are a digital world and we make what we make through our connected platforms. Happy Birthday, Nicole Brown. This is Connected Learning at its best – it is what digital is….it is who we are.


Educational philosopher, psychologist, and reformer John Dewey wrote “like the soil, a mind is fertilized while it lies fallow, until a new burst of bloom ensues.” Although the landscape of American education has been gray, stormy, and cold in recent years, the month of May offers 31 days of hope. Hill Central School, an urban public K-8 school in New Haven, is one reminder of spring’s promise. They are a school in full bloom and a great reason to celebrate National Teacher Appreciation Week on May 5th-9th.

I know from 18+ years of working in urban school districts that every great school – and there are many – requires two important things: a visionary who sees a potential garden and a support system for the landscapers who nurture every seedling in their care. Glen Worthy, Hill Central’s principal, is such a leader – he is a man dedicated to the growth of each and every student, and a tremendous supporter of his teachers.

Last year, at his faculty’s behest, Principal Worthy contacted Dr. Jason Courtmanche of the Connecticut Writing Project-Storrs and me to initiate a conversation about writing instruction at the school. His teachers wanted to learn better ways to use technology in support of literacy and to build a more cohesive school-wide model for interdisciplinary instruction. This year, with Hill Central’s input, I secured funding from a National Writing Project’s Supporting Effective Educator Development grant and continued to work with Hill Central’s teachers to leverage their own knowledge, expertise, and leadership. Rather than paying hefty fees for out-of-state trainers and drive-by professional development, Hill Central and the Connecticut Writing Project at Fairfield University collaborated locally to build a sustainable literacy program from within. Throughout the school year, teachers have shared knowledge with one another to enhance instruction and, together, have lived by a mantra that teachers from kindergarten through college can be the most successful reformers, as well as partners, in educational research, development, and implementation.

In the past eight months, Hill Central teachers worked on school culture with Community of Unity’s Eric Komoroff and explored digital storytelling using Troy Hick’s Crafting Digital Writing. They have attended writing workshops to explore, to evaluate, to inform, and to entertain. In March, students at Hill Central attended stellar performances of spoken word poet Attallah Sheppard and Fairfield University’s improvisation group, Performing for Change.

Last month, too, Hill Central’s elementary students welcomed author Kwame Alexander to discuss his children’s book, Acoustic Rooster and His Barnyard Band, a witty and joyous romp through the Harlem Renaissance. They learned from him that being a writer is like being a musician: every genre has rules and traditions that must be followed before the music can be made. During his visit, too, Alexander presented The Crossover, his new young adult novel released earlier in April. The story is a fast-paced, poetic narrative of twin boys poised on the boundary between childhood and adulthood who must come to terms with growing up. Alexander’s text was a tremendous hit for adolescent readers and his visit provided a unique opportunity for teachers and students to converse about integrity and perseverance together.

Reflecting on the experience at Hill Central, the author of 17 books wrote, “You couldn’t walk the school hallway and not see words and literary images everywhere. Every student at the school is being indoctrinated into the writerly life. The principal, in his nine years there, has created a world where words are a fixture in the academic landscape, and where imagination and books are as important as recess.”

It is May, 2014, and this week is Teacher Appreciation Week. For these reasons I’m applauding all that is blooming at Hill Central School in New Haven under the leadership of Principal Glen Worthy. The best teachers in Connecticut, like those at Hill Central, shape curriculum to meet the needs of students, rather than force students to meet the needs of curriculum. Teachers across Connecticut are cultivating powerful, creative, and literate communities each and every day. For these reasons, they deserve a round of applause and more support from us all.