Report cites Springfield’s Putnam Technical Academy as a leader among vocational schools in the state

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SPRINGFIELD — Two decades ago, the Roger L. Putnam Technical Academy had a high percentage of students who didn’t graduate or left school early.

Today, it is cited among the top public vocational and technical schools in the state for making a “remarkable turnaround” in its efforts to prepare students for graduation and success in professional careers.

In a report, “A Tale of Two City Schools,” released Tuesday by the Pioneer Institute, Putnam and Worcester Technical High School are touted as “two urban voice technology schools leading the way” in progress over the past 15 years.

“These two urban high schools, once notorious for low graduating percentages and high dropout rates, are examples of what can happen with new leadership, community investment, and committed teachers,” the report said. He said “new leadership, gaining a new perspective, changing perceptions and building support in the business community” have been critical to recovery efforts in Springfield and Worcester.

“As the Springfield and Worcester models demonstrate, these districts can not only succeed, but thrive and become national models of excellence in voice technology,” the report concludes. He made four recommendations for how other districts in the state and nation could also thrive, including: hiring a business leader to lead fundraising; recruit other leaders to help principals institute change; emphasize the importance of academics for professional skills; and establish a dedicated fund to support the school’s efforts.

Putnam, for example, created the Putnam Technical Fund as a way to solicit community support for its training courses and help with the purchase of equipment.

“The Putnam Academy and Worcester Tech have demonstrated how struggling urban voice technology districts can simultaneously address and overcome multiple challenges, including aging facilities, outdated perceptions, high poverty rates, and entrenched beliefs that some schools and Voice technology communities simply cannot succeed,” the report states.

According to the study, Putnam’s low dropout rate of 17.6% was higher than most similar schools in the state in 2002 and 2003 and in 2006 the graduation rate was the second lowest in the ‘state, well behind the 80.7% average of other technical schools.

“We promote excellence, and we will continue to do so as long as I am involved,” said Putnam manager George Johnson. “We want all students to get into real work and make it a better place.”

Johnson, who has worked at the academy since the turnaround began, credits his predecessors as principal, including Kevin McCaskill and Gilbert Traverso, with much of Putnam’s success. The report cites both McCaskill and Traverso for taking Putnam from “chronic underperformance” to success.

As of 2021, Putnam’s graduation rate had improved significantly with data showing a 96.8% graduation rate and a low 0.9% dropout rate, according to the state Department of Education. primary and secondary.

“The data shows our success,” Johnson said. “In 2006, then Director, Mr. (Kevin) McCaskill began to implement interventions to change things.”

He added, “People were looking at Putnam like it was a dump and ordering students not to enroll.”

This attitude was not unusual, according to the report. Putnam and Worcester have a large number of low-income and special-needs learners.

“The new principals were instrumental in moving beyond outdated and inaccurate public perceptions of urban voice-tech schools as ‘dumps’ for students thought to be less capable than their peers in so-called comprehensive high schools” , says the report.

In 2010, Traverso, who succeeded McCaskill as principal, then moved the needle of change forward by conducting an audit that would change the school’s trajectory, according to the report.

The results of this audit confirmed that there were no accountable structures in place and without a business manager – a practice used in most voice technology schools – led to problems in departmental revenue accounting, a dismal accounting and widespread skimming, according to the study.

The report recounts that Traverso not only documents financial corruption, but also “academic corruption,” which he describes in the study as an underappreciation of how professional education and its connection to academics can change the direction of lives.

In the report, for which Traverso was interviewed, the former manager cited his own personal development and how his upbringing as a young Latino in an electrical apprenticeship had changed his life.

“This training changed my trajectory, changed my life and influenced who I am today. I felt that we had to go back to the drawing board and start from scratch with our teachers. We had great teachers working in the middle chaos, controlling their classroom, building relationships with their students, really whole-heartedly looking at the needs of the kids, with little direction,” Traverso says in the report. support academically and professionally for leadership in the building. I had them hold meetings, trying to get them to become heads of departments. Some were promoted to administrative levels as we were rebuilding the whole organizational structure.”

In addition to changing the culture in Putnam, the city’s investment in a $114 million state-of-the-art facility that opened in 2012 “has given a powerful boost” to the turnaround effort. The new building helped attract students and families to enroll and restored community pride in what Putnam had to offer, Johnson said.

This shift in morale not only helped attract high-achieving students, but also raised the bar for success for low-income and special-needs students, Johnson told the Republican.

“Putnam is not just about enrolling more highly qualified students,” he said. “We welcome middle and lower performing students who will thrive with the school’s culture and preform.”

The school’s track record of success is meeting students where they are and then moving them to where they need to be, Johnson said.

When students arrive at Putnam, they receive a skills assessment, we create an action plan, meet with their families to ensure parents are aware of the interventions needed to ensure and support student success so that they be college and career ready when they leave. Putnam, he said.

Other factors that have contributed to Putnam’s success include promoting community partnerships to support regional workforce placements in the 22 trades offered at the academy and hiring more diverse staff.

This year, the school has hired a dozen educators in leading trades like robotics, information technology, and cosmetology that reflect the diversity of the student body.

Additionally, each store has a co-op and internship coordinator who grounds placement academics and store results, he said.

Community internship partners include Baystate and Mercy Medical Centers, MGM, Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance, the state Department of Transportation, the city’s Department of Public Works and more, Johnson noted.

New challenges Johnson said he is working to address include getting students licensed so they can have transportation to career sites, creating more opportunities for students and preparing students ready for acceptance into Ivy League schools if they choose to pursue higher education.

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