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The Debate - Keys to Success

Dacia Toll, director and co-founder of Amistad Academy, explains the core elements that account for the success of Amistad's education model.

Amistad Academy is now entering its 6th year of operation. As we move forward to continue to serve New Haven students, we are pleased to report that our students have consistently produced dramatic academic gains. Our students, who come to us testing, on average, two grades below grade level, go on to achieve significant improvements in reading, writing and math. Amistad Academy 8th graders post scores on the Connecticut Mastery Test that surpass state averages and many wealthy suburbs.

Dacia Toll & Amistad Academy

When people learn about our school and the achievements of our students, the question is often asked: What is the key to your success? Our school leadership has given a great deal of consideration to this question and has come to the conclusion that no single aspect of our educational model, in isolation, is the key to our success. Rather, all aspects of our program work together in concert to support our overall mission of academic excellence and character education. Unfortunately, there is no "quick fix" that will erase the educational deficits suffered by so many urban youth. Simply put, there is no substitute for good instruction, a tight school culture and very hard work.

Amistad Academy is in the process of replicating our educational model by opening and operating new schools. We have formed a new organization called Achievement First, which will serve as a non-profit charter management organization. Achievement First will be largely responsible for making sure that each new school opened under our educational model will be just as great as Amistad. As we roll up our sleeves to begin the important work of providing more urban students with a quality education, we have developed a list of core elements that will consistently be present in each of our schools.

There is no

Core Elements of an Achievement First School

Unwavering focus on breakthrough student achievement

  • Student performance is the lead factor in school, principal, and teacher evaluation
  • Goal is to CLOSE the achievement gap (bring urban students up to and beyond the state average)

Consistent, proven, standards-based curriculum

  • Teaching standards in a clear and systematic manner
  • Proven curricula consistently implemented across the district to ensure quality and increase efficiency

Interim assessments & strategic use of performance data

  • Interim assessments & strategic use of performance data
  • Structured process for analyzing data and using it to plan future instruction

More time on task

  • Instructional day that is 1.5 hours longer
  • Before and after-school tutoring for students who are struggling

Principals with the power to lead

  • Control over hiring, evaluation, and termination of all employees
  • Control over budget (within specified line item variations)
  • Ability to change non-model program elements

Increased supervision of quality of instruction

  • Principal's time freed up by efficient, high-quality back office services provided by Achievement First
  • Second instructional leader (Academic Dean) at every school
  • Comprehensive teacher evaluations two times a year

Aggressive recruitment of talent

  • Significant focus of Achievement First central
  • Compensation driven by contribution to mission
  • Programs to "grow" our own teacher and leader talent

Disciplined, achievement-oriented school culture

  • Strict, structured schools with high expectations for student conduct (REACH values); an achievement-oriented culture is created very intentionally

Rigorous, high-quality, focused training for principals & leaders

  • Principals-in-training have one-year "residency"
  • Teachers receive extensive, high-quality training in how to best teach the standards

Dacia Toll is the Director and one of the founders of Amistad Academy. Ms. Toll has served as director since the school's founding in 1999. Prior to Amistad, she worked as a teacher, lawyer, and management consultant, providing support for community organizations on issues of strategic management and program design. Ms. Toll also worked on school reform at the U.S. Department of Education and in Community School District 19 in New York City. Ms. Toll is a graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill, Oxford University, and Yale Law School.

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