Kevin Walston, a former Norwalk High School administrator, didn't expect to resign less than a month after school started. Walston left Norwalk earlier this month to become principal of Warren Harding High School in Bridgeport one of the state's most troubled schools.
The opportunity to help Harding came suddenly, but Walston didn't have to think long about his decision. "I come from community not that different from this one," says Walston, who grew up in the Bronx, N.Y. "Initially, I was frustrated with the timing, it was so rushed. But I knew I was going to apply. This is what I've always wanted to do. My passion is to serve the underdog and disenfranchised."
Walston was approached by Global Partnership Schools , a New York-based company headed by former New York City Schools Chancellor Rudy Crew. The Bridgeport school district hired GPS to "restart" Harding High with the help of a $2.2 million federal School Improvement Grant. Harding is one of 14 failing schools in the state to receive these funds, but it's the only school to give up control to an outside company. Harding has been plagued with low test scores and disciplinary problems, suspending more than 1,000 students last year.
"It's a unique situation," says Walston. "I'm not doing this by myself. I have GPS, their support and resources." GPS, which has a three-year contract, provides an onsite "change leader." Walston will be working with Eleanor Osborne, a former New Haven assistant superintendent and education professor at Sacred Heart University, to increase test scores, improve attendance, decrease suspensions and lower the number of dropouts.
At an all-school assembly this week, Walston told his students: "GPS is like my rich girlfriend: For the next three years, I'm going to get you the best of everything."
But Walston said change wouldn't be easy.
"For the next couple of months I expect a lot of resistance, especially from the students. I'm going to be upsetting their negative routines."
One of his first recommendations is to hire additional staff and counselors to clamp down on disciplinary issues. He expects to see improvements as soon as January.
Walston speaks fondly of his time in Norwalk. "I learned the importance of a school culture and pride, and the importance of routine and rituals, things like Spirit Week and Color Wars. I want to bring things like that to Harding, things that give kids pride in their building."
Before coming to Norwalk, Walston was an assistant principal at John F. Kennedy High School in the Bronx. "Norwalk is the first suburban city I worked in. I felt a real sense of community there. It's a place where parents, staff and community groups all work together for the children."
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