The Interdistrict School for Arts and Communications (ISAAC) in New London is one of eight public charter schools in Connecticut celebrating its 20th school year of serving children and changing lives in the process.
We caught up with ISAAC Executive Director David Howes to talk about the school’s history, what he sees as its future, and how public charters like ISAAC can play such a critical role in the community.
The school prides itself on being one of only two public charters statewide that are interdistrict, providing school choice to hundreds of students that wouldn’t otherwise have that option. “In my opinion, a public charter option is essential,” Howes says. “I love the concept that kids and families have choices about where they can go and in finding the right fit.”
Public charter schools in Connecticut can only open in Alliance Districts, which are the 30 lowest performing school districts across the state. On the subject of ISAAC’s role in the community, Howes explains, “I’m trying to establish the concept in our region that ISAAC isn’t the answer, it’s an answer. I think having an independent charter school in the New London region helps all schools get better. Over the 20 years I’ve been connected with ISAAC I’ve seen that happen...I’ve seen that the competition we’ve brought into the region has been a factor that has helped all the schools in this area get better.”
To that point, ISAAC provides a comprehensive and high-quality education to its 270 kids in grades 6-8 with a dedicated staff that tailors lessons to the individual learning styles of their students.
Over the past twenty years, Mr. Howes has seen the impact of ISAAC and other schools of choice on the community. “I have seen New London become an all-magnet district because I think they’ve seen through us and the school that has been a sister school to us, Regional Multicultural Magnet School…the value of an interdistrict environment and sharing of resources.”
He continues, “I think the most important impact that we’ve had is on the students that we’ve taught and what they’ve gone on to do. Some of the students I’ve taught are now real community difference makers, doing things from being state legislators to nonprofit directors to running a regional talent show. I’m finding as I connect with alumni that they’re probably the greatest gift ISAAC has brought to the community.”
For charter dad Leo Duyan, ISAAC has provided his daughter Alexis with a great education so far.
"The hands-on learning model has been so rewarding," he said. "Students explore real world issues that are not limited to United States borders. For example, in Social Studies, they are creating a fictional school for students in Pakistan, while in Language Arts they are learning about the water crisis in Sudan.
"The teachers and administrators know and care about my child as an individual and continue to get to know her as she grows within their school."
Looking toward the future, Mr. Howes described their school motto, “We are crew, not passengers.” He believes that entering this new year, ISAAC has the strongest crew of staff it has ever had. The staff is united behind the school’s mission, through arts and communications, making difference makers of their kids, and that the staff themselves are difference makers too.
Mr. Howes’s goal for the 20th anniversary is continue to get ISAAC’s good name into the community and impress upon the community why ISAAC is a valuable asset. Further, he plans to use the 20th anniversary as a catalyst build an alumni, parent, and community network for difference makers and those who work to bring kids together.
With the next twenty years on the horizon, Mr. Howes hopes to see existing public charter schools continue to flourish and expand, and that those models continue to inspire traditional district schools and other types of schools.
“That’s the future,” he says, “schools being social entrepreneurs. It’s a really exciting concept! To me, that means taking some risks, trying new things, not being afraid to fail, and being innovators creates more change and more positive outcomes for kids.”
On June 4, 1996, Governor John Rowland signed the law establishing public charter schools in the state of Connecticut. In doing so, he transformed the lives of tens of thousands of families in our state who, thanks to charters, have had the opportunity to choose a different kind of public school for their child.
There are eight charter schools in Connecticut now celebrating their 20th school year - that's two decades of life-changing education. These schools offer a unique perspective of how far we've come, and how far we have to go to provide more high-quality options to the kids who are still waiting for that chance.
Over the next few months, we'll be sharing some of their stories, highlighting their students' accomplishments, showing what makes them diverse and different, and how their educators are working to make lives better for the families they serve.