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Michael Kennedy

EDAD 590: Principalship

SWOT Analysis for Connect Program

Dubuque Comm. School District
Internal Strengths
The Connect program is a part of Dubuque CSDs alternative programming, servicing students in
9th grade. The programs strengths are concurrent with its mission. The Connect program works
with students who possess risk factors that may hinder them from completing high school. Most
students enrolled in the program were not academically successful throughout middle school,
and were elected by their middle school teachers to join the program. The Connect program is
small in scale, with approximately 25-35 students, and 4 general education teachers. The size of
the program is a major strength, because it offers individualized attention to all students.
Moreover, this individualized attention allows students and staff to build meaningful
relationships that help foster academic success. The size of the program is also a strength for
program teachers, because collaboration is centered on student needs. Teachers in the Connect
program are able to communicate student needs amongst themselves, and adapt accordingly.
Another strength of the Connect program is the number of supports offered to students beyond
the program teachers. Students have access to the building Principal, a Graduation Coach, a
building Guidance Counselor, and Life Coaches. The Life Coaches are particularly helpful,
because these staff member will work with the students throughout the students high school
career. The second semester for students in the Connect students is transitional in nature. For the
last two class periods of the day, students will be bused back to their home school, either
Hempstead or Senior High School, to take elective courses of their choice. This allows for
Connect students to gradually work back into the traditional classroom setting. After completion
of their second semester with the program, students will take all of their classes at either
Hempstead or Senior.
External Strengths
Many supports exist outside the school setting for the Connect program. Teachers work closely
with community groups and companies to offer learning opportunities beyond the classroom.
Also, students have access to many community services and outreach programs free of cost.
Services that students have taken advantage of include counseling, mental health services, and
educational and tutoring supports, to name a few.
Another strength is the growing positive notoriety of the program. Within the past year, the
Connect program has gained positive attention from community service. Students in the Connect
program have worked with the City of Dubuque, the Iowa DNR, and the Dubuque County
Conservation Office on cleaning up parks and city spaces, all with positive feedback. These
continued efforts help to raise awareness of the Connect program, as well as the positive impacts
it is having on at-risk youth.

Internal Weaknesses
Although the Connect program holds many strengths, there are some areas in need of
improvement. Professional Development for teachers in the Connect program is an area of
concern. Although positive professional development opportunities exist for Connect teachers,
they are offered in connection with teachers in traditional classroom settings. Teachers in the
program have little support to tailor topics of PD to the needs of their students. Also,
collaboration outside the program becomes difficult, because student needs cannot be discussed
from similar perspectives. From an academic perspective, the program has a difficult time with
the learning transition that occurs when students leave the program. While at Connect, students
receive an alternative education, but must transition back to a traditional style of learning their
sophomore year. Finally, the most glaring weakness for the Connect program is the continuing
need to foster academic growth in the areas of reading and mathematics. Test scores for students
in these areas improve while students are in the program, but do not meet proficiency or state
averages. The improvement simply isnt fast enough in one academic year with the program to
meet proficiency standards
External Weaknesses
Poverty for students in the Connect program is persistent and pervasive. Of the students currently
in the program, over 90% receive either free or reduced-price lunch. A number of the students
deal with many of the issues that can go hand-in-hand with poverty, such as high levels of
mobility, personal and family abuse of illicit drugs, legal issues, and foster care. Any and all of
these issues can be barriers to educational success for students in the Connect program.
Perhaps the most exciting aspect of the Connect program is what it can become. Since the
closing of Central Alternative High School in 2009, the Dubuque Community School District has
been reconstructing its alternative programming. As it currently stands, the Connect program is
the alternative program for Freshmen. The Alternative Learning Center, another alternative
education program, is open to Junior and Senior students who have failed the majority of classes
and need to recover credits to graduate. There is no official alternative program for Sophomores,
nor is there any supports for at-risk Juniors and Seniors that are barely gaining class credits. The
Connect program is unique because it strives to give students the skills necessary to be
successful in a traditional classroom setting. The Dubuque CSD has made it clear that it will not
be reopening Central Alternative High School, or any sort of official alternative school. The
district has placed an emphasis on servicing as many students as possible at Hempstead and
Senior High Schools. With this in mind, the Connect program can act as a model for growth in
alternative education opportunities in the district. The district can use the Connect program
model to implement a new Sophomore program, as well as supplement alternative programming
for Juniors and Seniors beyond credit recovery.

The structure and vision for the Connect program are sound, but the success of the program
ultimately comes down to staff. A major threat to the program is a lack of cohesion amongst the
staff. Everyone involved in the program must be focused on the same goals, and must align their
practices to meet these goals. Ultimately, Connect program staff must be focused on sustainable
academic success beyond a students time in the program. Another threat is a lack of concrete
mission and vision for the program. Although everyone involved with Connect understands what
the programs mission and vision are, these pieces are unwritten and somewhat vague. Staff
cannot be expected to be aligned in their goals if they have no mission and vision to create the
goals from.
Perhaps the biggest threat to the success of the program is the stigma that is attached with it. The
Connect program is entirely voluntary for students involved. Once a student commits to entering
the program, they must stay for two semesters, but no student can be forced into the program.
Many students who are recommended for the program decline to join, often because of the
stigma of joining an alternative education program.
Variance for Students
Most every student who has been a part of the Connect program over the past two years has been
successful in attaining credits for the classes they took while at the program. However,
approximately 40% of classes taken by students after leaving the program are not completed
successfully. These numbers are projected to improve at the end of the current semester. It should
also be noted that the number of failed classes are clustered to select students. In other words,
students who are able to be successful after leaving the program tend to pass nearly all of their
classes, while the other students tend to fail all of their classes.
Variance for Teachers
The growing success of the Connect program can be attributed to the success of the programs
staff. Collaboration has been a major contributing factor, while constant staff interventions for
students have been the strongest factor. Since the beginning of the program, the staff has been
willing to constantly adapt plans to meet the needs of students.
Student Achievement Analysis
Because the Connect program is only in its third year of existence, the amount of data available
is small. However, analysis can occur from what data exists. First of all, students who come to
the Connect program receive credit for 93% of the classes they take while with Connect. On
average, these same students passed less than half of their classes while in middle school. After
leaving the program, these students pass approximately 60% of classes. These numbers suggest
that students in the Connect program tend to be better off for entering the program than if they
did not. In looking at standardized tests scores, this pattern persists. MAPS test score data shows
that students entering the program scored an average of 9 points lower than the district mean
score in reading, and 5 points lower than the district mean in mathematics. After leaving the

program, the students still scored lower, but the deficit was reduces in reading and mathematics
to 5 and 4 points, respectively. This data shows that reading and math interventions at the
Connect program are working, but not enough to raise students to district averages.
Conclusions and Recommendations
Although more data is necessary to implement any dramatic changes to the program, it can be
concluded that the Connect program has positive effects on academic achievement for students
involved. The key to ongoing academic success for the program will be to close the achievement
gap to district averages. Once Connect students are at academic proficiency levels similar to
other district students, it can be generally stated that students will find greater academic success
when they leave the program. The most difficult barrier for the Connect program to overcome
will be the transition from the alternative setting back to a traditional classroom setting. In
looking at student grades, there is some slipping that occurs when students make that transition.
However, the program is only in its third year of existence. Teachers and staff are continually
evaluating and reevaluating teaching practices. As the program continues to hone in on a formula
for success, student success will continue to rise. The key to making this work will be the steps
taken at this time to move the program forward. The following are recommendations of next
steps for the Connect program:

Continue to foster collaboration within the program, and offer meaningful collaboration
opportunities for Connect teachers outside of the program
Develop greater professional development opportunities specifically targeted for Connect
program staff
Offer supplemental instruction time in the areas of Reading and/or Math, depending on
student need
Begin to design sophomore alternative programming, keeping the Connect program in
mind as a either a model or a bridge to other alternative education opportunities
Continue to promote the Connect program as a positive place for at-risk students, in hope
of greater recruitment to the program