MIDDLETOWN—Chancellor of the New York State Board of Regents Betty Rosa visited Middletown High School and Presidential Park Elementary School on Sept. 6 to learn what makes the school district so special.
The Enlarged City School District of Middletown Superintendent Kenneth Eastwood, administrators, teachers, students, and staff told Rosa what has made the district a standout, despite having a majority of the students coming from poor backgrounds.
How’d They Do It?
Regent Judith Johnson asked, “What makes Middletown so special to have achieved so much?” There were many answers at many levels.
The district won a $20 million federal Race to the Top grant in 2014 and reported notable results with a two-year kindergarten program.
This year the high school celebrated an 85 percent graduation rate. “It cuts across all ethnicities and cultural backgrounds,” said Richard Del Moro, deputy superintendent for instruction. This is in sharp contrast to 2004, which saw a 52 percent graduation rate.
Educational consultant Dale Mann conducted studies on the district’s programs and said the district had a “remarkable and data-based, evidence-based record.”
He found two reasons for Middletown’s success: Many layers of data, feedback, analysis, and supervision. Mann said that when the Race to the Top grant was offered, Middletown had educational programs in place with everything ready to go.
The district was already building its technology capacity, training teachers as literacy specialists, and developing solid data.
Success Despite Poverty
Middletown students are about 75 percent ethnic minorities and most get free or reduced-priced lunch. Eastwood said that, despite the fact that many students come from poor families, it doesn’t mean they can’t effectively problem solve and be successful in life.
Tracey Sorrentino, principal of the high school, said they “work to personalize.”
“They bring us their interests and we find the program and coursework to get them ready to go out into the real world,” she said.
With the low graduation rate in 2004, Del Moro said, “There embarked our venture—trying to find out what is going on—and we took a very systematic approach.”
An underlying factor in student learning comes from respect, Eastwood said. The district strives “to respect every individual child, how they learn, what they need to learn well.” He said students learn how to solve problems in life, not how to do well on a “paper and pencil” test.
The chancellor, regent, and assemblywoman spent most of their time talking with students. Andrew Gonzalez, Tamara Senior, Nnenna Eze, and Travis Grogan, all seniors, told the visitors their views of the district’s success.
Grogan said he has known most of his teachers since he started school and it feels like his family. Gonzalez said he and his family have received so much that he feels he must give back.
Rosa said Middletown’s success story has to be told. “We just need to unpack this and try to tell this story,” she said.
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