In his day-to-day work, Christopher P. Clouet uses a computer, eMail, and a personal digital assistant (PDA) to get things done. His practice illustrates to staff that using technology for day-to-day tasks is standard operating procedure in the district.
“It does make an impression on people when they see you using this stuff,” Clouet said. “I see part of my role as being a model for using technology.”
Clouet has even been known to write his own Microsoft PowerPoint presentations and set up the projector himself. “It’s not that difficult, and it is useful,” he explained.
Clouet’s lead-by-example methodology is one reason this urban school system excels in using technology to improve education. Clouet has expanded his lead-by-example methodology to teachers as well, inviting enterprising teachers to volunteer to become “technology pioneers” in the district.
These teachers get to have technology-rich classrooms, complete with projection units and intelligent electronic whiteboards. The idea is that these technology pioneers will create an appetite for technology within their schools. Technology usage would catch on by word of mouth, and teachers would get to see it being used in the classroom, he said.
This strategy also helps distribute school technology funds to classrooms where they would be used the most. New London is an urban district and lacks the financial resources to equip every classroom with state-of-the-art technology, Clouet explains.
With eight K-12 schools and 3,200 students, the opportunity to be superintendent of New London Public Schools was very interesting to Clouet. New London is a traditional port city, he said. It has a long, rich history and is a place where many new immigrants land in America. The city’s multiculturalism would allow Clouet to use his language skills.
Clouet became bilingual while living in Brazil as part of a student exchange program. He started his career in education as a language teacher in Connecticut’s Bridgeport Public Schools, teaching Portuguese, Spanish, and English.
Hired for his content knowledge, he taught elementary school for two years, high school for five years, and he completed a teaching fellowship with Brown University.
He worked as the first administrator of technology for the Hamden Public Schools from 1992 to 1995. He was responsible for the local-area networks and media centers for 11 schools. The tools at the time were reel-to-reel films. Through a partnership with Yale University, the district’s libraries got their first connection to the internet.
“I was the guy in the building who would fiddle with things,” Clouet said. He started using Apple IIe computers and video, and was invited to do workshops. He showed initiative.
He thought he could do a good job as superintendent and leading a district, but he felt he needed some building-level administration experience first. He was vice principal of Manchester High School in Connecticut for two years. There, he showed the whole system how to do eMail.
In 1997, he became principal of Bristol Central High School in Connecticut. He used that role to make sure people who were good with technology had access to the tools they needed. He introduced air conditioning to provide the proper climate for computers. Technology wasn’t widely used before he became principal.
Reaching out to stakeholders
Communicating effectively with stakeholders has always been a focal point for Clouet.
As a way to reach out to the community, Clouet hosts a weekly cable television program called the New London School Report. This magazine-style program features his interviews with students, parents, teachers, athletes, artists, and community members. In addition, the program showcases what teachers are doing in the classroom. Clouet asks teacher to videotape various classroom events to broadcast to the community. Overall, the show provides “a window view into the school district,” he said.
A local cable franchise produces the show, which Clouet films twice a month, two episodes at a time.
Clouet is most proud of getting the New London community to believe, once again, that urban education is possible. Students are acquiring new skills, the district is communicating outwardly through its strong web and television presence, and it has a good team of committed people, he explained.
Before coming to New London in 2004, Clouet was recruited as superintendent of Thomaston Public Schools in Connecticut. That’s where he got his start creating videos, television programming, and documentaries about what was happening in the school district to increase stakeholder awareness and buy-in.
In Thomaston, Clouet also was responsible for raising test scores, aligning the curriculum among school buildings, and adding technology to the superintendent’s office.
Clouet established a district-wide web page for the Thomaston district. Besides communicating with the public, the web site served instructional purposes as well. Teachers could post student work and homework assignments. In Thomaston, his team raised test scores by focusing on writing.
In New London, Clouet brought the focus to improving student achievement. He had the district standardize its literacy program by having every school adopt the Open Court Reading program from SRA/McGraw-Hill. He said there was a need for a more tightly organized structure.
He also got teachers to use the district’s student information system. The district had Pearson’s SASI Student Information System, but many of its features were not being used, Clouet said. Teachers now enter attendance and grades directly into SASI. “We’ve actually started using it more effectively,” Clouet said.
To manage the collection and analysis of data, Clouet hired a Data Assessment Facilitator. The purpose of this new role in the district is to analyze data, such as middle school math scores, high school graduation rates, or where in a child’s education it seems to fall apart.
“We haven’t found the problem yet, but it helps us understand the story better,” Clouet said. Data analysis helps educators replace anecdotes with clear facts, he added.
School data, such as attendance and math scores, are prominently displayed in the hallways of each school. Clouet said displaying the data allows lots of different people to look at the numbers. By putting the information out there, “we are not covering it up; we are making it transparent,” he added.
Leveling the playing field
New London has a fiber-optic network and receives internet access from the state through the Connecticut Education Network. All classrooms have standard data drops and computers for teachers. The high schools have computer labs, and the elementary schools have wireless mobile carts.
Under Clouet’s leadership, the district added voice-over-internet-protocol (VoIP) telephones to every classroom. Before the new system was in place, not having the ability to communicate with parents and the outside world was “very frustrating to teachers,” Clouet said.
The VoIP system also does automatic mass calling. For example, administrators can set the system to call parents, in multiple languages, to remind them of deadlines and events, such as money for class pictures being due or upcoming parent-teacher forums.
The district also is switching to a thin-client format to lower costs and eliminate software license redundancy. From any computer, high school teachers and students will be able to log into a virtual desktop space. In addition, the district is moving away from paper forms. Items such as purchase orders and requisitions have been moved to the district’s intranet.
This fall, the district is opening a science and technology magnet high school. With a science- and technology-rich curriculum, called Project Lead the Way, the school will prepare high school students for careers in engineering. Enrollment is based on a lottery system, and students will come to the school from New London and other regional towns. New London also offers students access to virtual high school courses provided by the Maynard, Mass.-based nonprofit Virtual High School.
“We are trying to offer our kids as much as possible. We know kids in urban areas often suffer from economic disadvantages. We are trying to use technology to level out some of those disadvantages,” Clouet said. Link:
New London Public Schools