Making a difference in urban education

For me, the most enjoyable and rewarding aspect of being involved with the Alma Exley Scholarship Program is getting to know the recipients and following their careers.

This came to mind recently when I read about the results of the Connecticut Mastery Test. This is the test of reading, writing and mathematics given each year to the state’s public school children in grades three through eight.

The results showed that Hartford Public Schools made impressive gains during the 2009-2010 academic year. In a breakdown of the results, I noticed that the most improved elementary school in 2009-2010 was America’s Choice at SAND School.

As you may know, the principal of SAND School is Desi Nesmith, the Alma Exley Scholarship recipient of 2000. As the results were announced, Mr. Nesmith was completing his first year as a principal.

Students at SAND School achieved an overall index score of 50.8 in 2009-2010, an increase of 14.8 points from the previous year. This was the biggest jump for any of the city’s 23 elementary schools. In fact, SAND School made a great leap from its position as the lowest-scoring elementary school in the city in 2008-2009.

SAND School is located on North Main Street in one of the poorest neighborhoods of one of the poorest cities in the nation.

How did the school make such progress? According to Mr. Nesmith, it had to do with taking a fresh look at the school’s curriculum and organization and making big changes.

“We redesigned the school on a new model that focused kids on reading and writing more than ever,” Mr. Nesmith said. The redesign included lengthening the school day and involving students in a daily 2½-hour “literacy block,” he said.

“This hard work could not have occurred without the A-Team that is in place at SAND,” he said. “I have a very dedicated and highly skilled team of teachers and staff who came to SAND to make a change in the academic lives of these students.”

At the age of 31, Mr. Nesmith could be one of the youngest – if not the youngest – school principals in Connecticut. Prior to assuming this leadership position in 2009, he was an intervention resource specialist with the Hartford Schools. In that capacity, he served as a mentor to teachers in struggling elementary schools throughout the city.

Previously, he was selected as a Teacher in Residence at the State Department of Education. In that role, he worked on a number of school-improvement initiatives across the state. He began his career as a fifth-grade teacher at Mayberry Elementary School in East Hartford, where he was named Teacher of the Year in 2005-2006.

He was honored with an Alma Exley Scholarship while a student at the University of Connecticut’s Neag School of Education. A native of Bloomfield, he graduated from Northwest Catholic High School.

In choosing Mr. Nesmith for a scholarship, the selection committee was tremendously impressed with his accomplishments and his commitment to education. At the time, we were convinced that he showed promise to become an outstanding educator. Speaking for the committee, we’re delighted to see that he is fulfilling our expectations.

Mr. Nesmith is just one of many Alma Exley Scholars who are making us proud. Stay tuned for updates on the careers of others in this remarkable fraternity.
– Woody Exley

Posted August 14, 2010