Planted firmly on a 12-acre campus just minutes from Yale University, adjacent to the most densely populated and diversified municipality in Connecticut, is Hamden Hall Country Day School, where nearly 600 students prepare for the most rigorous of the nation’s colleges. The facilities include a performing arts center and state-of-the-art science center, with a 65,000 square foot athletic complex under construction. Fully three quarters of the senior class takes AP courses, the curriculum in the lower school introduces creative problem-solving and organizational skills, and middle school students spend two and a half hours each night on homework. Hamden Hall’s core values—excellence, support, participation, accountability, and respect—echo throughout the student experience.
Yet these are not the details that surfaced when inRESONANCE interviewed Lorri Carroll, the director of technology. Instead, we learned about the intangibles that balance the academic demands.
Carroll is a high-energy administrator who manages the school databases, teaches math, and oversees all things technological. It has been only recently that her department added a help desk specialist and a network administrator to assist her.
“There never is a lull,” Carroll offered. When asked to describe the most special aspects of the school, she didn’t hesitate in her response:
“Hamden Hall is Pre-Kindergarten through Grade 12. This is one of the most special aspects of the school. It’s a true community.
“There is academic challenge appropriate to each level, but Hamden Hall is also nurturing and supportive. The evidence is in the way families enroll multiple kids; alumni send their kids here, too. You become a part of the Hamden Hall family. What we hear is Hamden Hall is a comfortable place to be yourself, an accepting community based on mutual trust. You can excel in the arts and also in sports. No one is pigeonholed. Being located in the New Haven area, we have many opportunities to develop respect for ethnic and cultural diversity. In fact, ‘Community’ is the one word that comes to mind that best describes Hamden Hall.”
Carroll has been on the faculty there since 1994. She is now a member of the senior administrative team.
“Having worked here for over 15 years, it amazes me to see the close relationships that develop between kids and faculty—they are mutually respectful and supportive. Students never think twice about asking a teacher for help. This is a college preparatory school, so there’s pressure. We work hard as an administrative team to help kids manage the pressure through careful planning of the academic year, by scheduling homework-free weekends, for example. We keep the whole community in mind as we build a calendar that is supportive of students, supportive of faculty, and supportive of families.”
The school’s Mission is to challenge students “to develop a strong sense of personal integrity and social responsibility while preparing them for demanding academic programs at the collegiate level.” Integrity is ingrained in the school culture.
“The Honor Code is another point of difference for Hamden Hall. It plays out in every aspect of the school; it is visible in every classroom or common area. Students discuss the Honor Code in class, as well as in advisor group discussions. The Honor Contract comprises four areas: honesty, academic integrity, sportsmanship and stewardship. Integrity is woven into it. As a teacher, I can leave my classroom in the middle of a test and fully expect the kids will behave with honor. The stewardship piece extends to sustainability. We want our students to be aware of the world around us.”
As Director of Technology, Carroll developed the first strategic technology plan for the school. Keeping pace with the changing technology landscape requires the ability to keep focus and also look with new eyes. Carroll explained some of the issues at Hamden Hall: “Students are more casual in their writing when it’s electronic. We use online conferences in some classes, and we teach students that electronic writing is not different in this respect: when you’re addressing someone formally, it does not matter if you are writing on paper or electronically.”
She moved on to address how her thinking has evolved regarding the school’s oversight of internet use by students.
“Each year, we push for internet awareness. This year, the technology committee, comprised of faculty and administrators, is working on a major revision of the Acceptable Use Policy. We want to state what is acceptable instead of what is not acceptable, which is the usual statement. We don’t really like to block many sites. Rather than control what students may do on our internet service, I would rather explain that bandwith is a network resource, don’t use it for junk, someone else may want to use it for work.
“I want our students and families to be digitally aware. We do have a parent forum that meets a few times a year to educate the parents about what the students are doing. Our seniors in the Peer Leadership Program and Middle School Advocates lead discussions with the 9th grade and middle school. It’s effective because the information is coming from students, not from the dean or the faculty. An older student has credibility when she explains that some inappropriate photo on Facebook is going to follow you forever. These interactions are ongoing, we continue to have these conversations in small groups.”
As is the case with so many educators in Connecticut, Carroll has known iR’s founder Kevin McAllister since they worked together through the CAIS Technology Task Force in the 1990s. McAllister assisted Carroll in developing her first five-year technology plan for Hamden Hall.
“We had been looking at inRESONANCE for a long time. We knew Kevin had developed this great solution for Loomis-Chaffee School, and then he went on the road with it—the beginning of inRESONANCE. But we weren’t quite ready for it then. Our impetus to change was we had a college database written in FileMaker 2 by a parent that wasn’t really cutting it. We’d either have to invest in an upgrade and hire a programmer, or purchase something else. I had been collecting requests from colleagues around the school as they considered the opportunities presented by developing technology. For example, teachers asked, ‘Why do I have to print and separate my own comments? It would be great if they could be spell checked and printed from a central location.’
“We were already Win School users, but it was not able create our transcripts or comments the way we wanted it to. Our College Counseling office was on Macs, and everyone else was on a PC, so that was another challenge. FileMaker really worked for everything. I could make my own little templates, but I couldn’t put it all together.
“Meanwhile, I continued to encounter Kevin at conferences, so I was aware of the inRESONANCE solutions. I realized that there was no other solution that was going to meet all the different needs of the school. iR solutions were easy to use, easy to train, fully customizable.
“We went to PORTAL first; we weren’t ready to move the transcripts. Admissions was using spreadsheets. Susan McAllister did a terrific training, and the administrative assistant in our Admissions office is awesome. She took to PORTAL right away.
“It’s much easier to make a transition when the grass roots starts talking about it. By Phase Two, our transition to KEYSTONE, we would be primed for it. I was really nervous about our transition to KEYSTONE because the teachers would be involved.
“PORTAL was doing exactly what we needed it to do: reports, customized letters, it was easily searchable. As it happened, our KEYSTONE installation was in process when inRESONANCE underwent a major reorganization. It is a testament to Susan the way she stepped in and made sure our installation and training were completed.
“Once the KEYSTONE installation was complete, we experienced several immediate benefits. Having a graphic representation of the student schedule was great. The students used to get a list of classes, and then they had to fill out their schedules by hand. The graphic schedules are easy for the kids to use. With KEYSTONE, I felt like I gave the teachers this great gift: they can find out anything they need to know about any student. KEYSTONE puts information right at their fingertips.
“The transition to KEYSTONE was successful because of the fact that it was FileMaker—they were used to it, it was not intimidating. The interface was right there, it didn’t look any different than the old one but it was easier to use and better. Attendance works amazingly well. Suddenly teachers were getting a timely, accurate report out. We had never been able to do this before.
“For grades and comments, I had to make a decision about access. I decided I was not comfortable opening up the FileMaker server so teachers could log in from home, there were too many variables. Some of our faculty might require more support at home than I could give them. I had to bite the bullet and let the faculty know they could write their comments off campus, but they would have to come to campus to copy them in to the comment writer, using TAM [Teacher Access Module]. We built extra time into the grading process to allow for this new procedure.”
Clearly, there was a lot at stake with this transition.
“The faculty never complained,” Carroll continued. “Entering their narrative comments in KEYSTONE had benefits for them. KEYSTONE populated the file with every student in the class. The faculty didn’t mind pasting their comments into each student’s record.”
There had been another concern among the faculty about how comments would be proofed and corrections made. “There had been concern about the files being open, that everyone would be able to make corrections. But we have been clear about our expectations. The advisor does the first round of proofreading, and returns his comments to the faculty member. The second level proofreader is an administrator. If there is to be a change beyond correcting typos, a major change, we go back to the teacher. We made this policy clear from the beginning. It has worked.
“The final product is a beautiful thing, a continuously flowing narrative report. It demonstrates that we do know every student. There are no more check boxes. Now the faculty can write in detail about the points that used to be in a checklist.”
The transition to KEYSTONE succeeded through careful planning and preparation.
“I give credit to the administration for the smooth transition, for talking through the process. We met with department chairs, who talked with their departments. Then I did a training with each department. We are closing grades again this Friday, and I feel confident that the process will not be a problem.
“The faculty are happier because they are not doing the menial work they used to do, entering on each comment form the student name, advisor, class heading, marking period. What a waste of a teacher’s time. TAM has been terrific. Once you get the teachers on board, the transition is smooth.
Small customizations can make a big difference.
“It’s the same for the administrators, once they discover the ease with which they can get their labels out with just a click. It’s really easy. We have set up some customized labels. For example, we have a Fathers’ Club, and run labels for only the male parents. We were able to make the custom label what we wanted it to be. I am able to do it myself. For Back to School Night, we needed a special version of each student’s schedule. I was able to eliminate free periods and put in the specific times the classes would meet for the rotation. I added an explanation for the parents, and directions. Sometimes it’s beneficial if I can get in and just do it myself.”
Learn more about Hamden Hall Country Day School.