“This just feels right, personally and professionally. I am able to contribute and have an impact,” says Victor Capellan of his return to the Central Falls School District. After overseeing a three-year transformation plan at Central Falls High School as deputy superintendent, he left the district in 2014 to work for an education nonprofit in Massachusetts. Now he’s back as superintendent, a role in which he’s spent “the last six months trying to answer one question: What does success look like?” He set out to answer this at all levels – student, teacher, classroom, school and district – through an inventory of practices, policies, resources and materials. Some answers were simple: A successful classroom is neat, clean and orderly with a written agenda and informational charts to guide students. Others were more nuanced. “People always say, ‘Not everyone is going to go to college.’ That’s not the point,” Capellan admonishes. “The point is that they need to be prepared to make that decision.” Here are three ways he’s trying not just to define, but to achieve success:
1. Creative partnerships: The Innovation Lab is a multifaceted collaboration with Rhode Island College intended to create a two-way pipeline between K-12 and higher ed. Capellan sees both practical and symbolic value. It has allowed Central Falls High School to increase its dual-credit early enrollment courses, as well as gain conditional acceptance to Rhode Island College (RIC) for the top half of its graduating class. But the visual impact for students is just as important to him: “When you put yourself on a college campus and say, ‘This is it, I belong here,’ that adds a whole different level of motivation.”
2. Promising practices: As part of the partnership with RIC, Central Falls is able to get all teachers dual certification in ESL and their content area. In a district with a heavy concentration of Spanish and Portuguese Creole speaking households, the ability to lower the language barrier is an effective tool. There has even been some interest from philanthropic organizations in scaling this model to other districts.
3. Holistic approaches: Parent and family engagement is vital to supporting education, especially in low-income urban school districts. Despite the name, Parent College is a program that serves the whole family: parents participate in evening workshops on things like financial literacy and healthy lifestyles, while children receive tutoring – and all are offered a free, healthy dinner.