Cody Maresh, a chemistry teacher at Platt High School, works with a student on an experiment.

While we might be cross-town rivals, our schools are working together to help all of our students succeed in and beyond high school. In fact, our partnership extends beyond Platt and Maloney High Schools and Meriden Public Schools. Four years ago, we joined the RISE Network to collaborate with educators around the state to close opportunity gaps for our students.

The RISE Network, co-founded by Dalio Philanthropies, represents a partnership between 10 public high schools in Connecticut spanning nine districts, and we are proud co-founders of this special community. Together, we are driven to help all students achieve their college and career goals. We share accountability for our results and innovate to better meet the needs of the students and families we serve.

Last month, the Nation’s Report Card showed that while Connecticut maintains above-average performance, our statewide results are relatively flat and reflect some of the largest achievement gaps in the country. We can and must do better. Too often in education, we focus on identifying problems and assigning blame. With RISE, we invest in solutions and impact. We take time to understand what’s working and what’s not, and we collaborate to create steady improvements over time. Through our partnership with RISE, we are proving that all students can achieve at high levels, and that educators and public schools play a pivotal role supporting our students’ success.

We are very proud that our schools in Meriden have shown steady improvements over the past four years through our partnership with RISE. Thanks to the hard work of our students, educators, and families, we are seeing exciting improvements and creating a new narrative of what is possible in Connecticut’s public schools.

· More Grade 9 students are promoted on time to sophomore year, and fewer students have to repeat freshman year. Grade 9 on-track rates increased by 18 points (from 78% in 2015-16 to 96% in 2018-19).

· Grade 9 students are more engaged and attending school more regularly, and Grade 9 on-track attendance is up 5 points (from 80% in 2015-16 to 85% in 2018-19).

· More students in Grades 9 through 12 are earning grades that will prepare them for postsecondary success, achieving a 3.0 or higher unweighted grade point average. Schoolwide college readiness rates are up 7 points (31% in 2015-16 to 38% in 2018-19).

· All demographic subgroups are growing in terms of their on-track achievement and college readiness.

· Graduation rates are up 13 points (74% in 2016 to 87% in 2018).

· More students are applying for financial aid in order to attend the college of their choice. FAFSA completion is up 9 points (53% in 2015-16 to 62% in 2018-19).

So, how are we achieving these promising results? Our work with RISE focuses on helping students make key transitions to and beyond high school. We want all students to experience a strong transition into high school. The stakes are high during freshman year; Grade 9 on-track achievement (i.e., whether a student earns enough credits to promote on time to sophomore year) is the single best predictor — more so than test scores, family income, race/ethnicity, etc. — of whether a student will graduate within four years.

Starting in Grade 9, all of our rising freshmen now have the opportunity to participate in a no-cost, three-week summer program to build connections to high school. Our Grade 9 teachers then work tirelessly throughout the year to support our freshmen and collaborate with families. We meet every week to discuss the needs of our students. We now have transition specialists to support freshmen who may need added support navigating high school. Transition specialists serve as students’ champions and advocates, connecting with families and staff to ensure all students thrive.

Through our RISE partnership, we also have a renewed focus on college and career success. We want all of our students to not only earn a diploma, but also graduate prepared to enter college, an apprenticeship, the military, or the workforce. We support a college-going culture by engaging all sophomores in college visits. We offer our juniors free SAT preparation. During the summer before senior year, we engage students in a college and career planning academy. And during senior year, we support students through our college application and FAFSA financial aid application campaigns, and we celebrate all of our students when they reveal their postsecondary plans during our annual Senior Signing Day celebrations. Meriden’s Board of Education reinforces high expectations for all students by requiring SAT preparation for all students and supporting 27 Advanced Placement and Early College Experiences with open enrollment.

While we have more work ahead to achieve our ambitious student outcome goals, we are motivated by our progress and results. Our school communities are proving that all students can excel and public schools can make a meaningful difference in the lives of our students.

 Jennifer Straub is Principal of Maloney High School and Robert Montemurro, Principal of Platt High School, both in Meriden.

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