Q and A with Ajit Gopalakrishnan, Chief Performance Officer, CSDE


By Christopher Todd




Ajit Gopalakrishnan is the Chief Performance Officer for the Connecticut State Department of Education (CSDE). The CSDE Performance Office is comprised of about 25 dedicated professionals who work to support the Performance Office mission to improve student outcomes through the use of data and technology.  In his capacity, Ajit oversees data collection, student assessment, psychometrics, data warehousing, reporting, research/analyses, and school/district accountability functions for the CSDE.  During his tenure, the CSDE has successfully developed and implemented a new data warehouse and reporting platform, revamped the school and district accountability system, and implemented the Smarter Balanced assessments. He has directed research, analyses, and evaluation activities to transform data into actionable information and guide decision-making by the State Board, Department offices, local districts, and community agencies.





1. For many members within our UConn ECE Community, the Connecticut State Department of Education (CSDE) is often viewed as a bureaucratic agency focused primarily on the oversight and compliance within PK-12 education.  What would you like members of the UConn ECE Community to know about the CSDE Performance Office, and the incredible work you and your team do daily to support districts, schools, and students?


As a state agency, we have a responsibility to be good stewards of state and federal funds, so oversight and compliance are necessary aspects of our work, but they are not ends unto themselves. It is vital that we view those mechanisms as opportunities to partner with district/school leaders and other stakeholders so that together, we create the conditions that result in equitable outcomes for all students. We bring this mindset of collaboration to all aspects of our work, whether it be creating interim assessments to support instruction, collecting data about things that matter, eliminating processes that do not add value, designing measures that reflect our priorities, and publishing reports that share both our collective accomplishments and our failings. Doing this fairly across the more than 200 school districts is complex but when we truly listen to our stakeholders and try our best to do the right thing, good things happen for students.


2. Connecticut’s Next Generation Accountability System, developed by the Department in partnership with key stakeholders, has been a nationally recognized by the Council for Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) as a leading approach for the holistic measurement of district performance and student growth over time on a broad set of 12 indicators.  Since NextGen’s launch, what do you believe has made the system an instrumental tool in driving statewide and local changes in policy and practice?

There are five key features that have been instrumental to driving statewide and local change:

  1. The first is the holistic nature of the system. While student performance on standardized tests remains an important part of the system, the incorporation of other measures like chronic absenteeism, college and career readiness, on-track to high school graduation, postsecondary entrance, arts access, and physical fitness have brought many more people to the accountability table. I have seen this happen not only within the CSDE but also in schools and districts across the state. This is a good thing because the answers to why some students may not do well in school does not rest solely with English and Math teachers.
  2. The second feature is the value the system places on academic growth. This emphasis is changing the conversation in elementary and middle schools in important ways. Unlike the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act where a focus on “bubble” students was rewarded, the growth mindset in the Next Generation Accountability System rewards the learning of all students across the achievement spectrum.
  3. Thirdly, equity is woven in throughout the system in two key ways. Separate points toward the overall score are awarded to students with high needs; these are students who are English learners, students with disabilities, or students from low-income families. The bottom line here is that a school can earn top honors only if their students with high needs are doing reasonably well. This has been a big area of focus and conversation in schools. In addition to separate points for students with high needs, schools with outlier achievement or graduation rate gaps are dropped a category.
  4. The fourth critical feature is that most indicators are not built as all-or-nothing in terms of the points that a school can earn. Every indicator has an ultimate target. Points for each indicator are prorated based on the percentage of the ultimate target achieved. The key takeaway here is that incremental improvement toward the target is rewarded in this system.
  5. Lastly, and perhaps the most important characteristic is that this system, from its inception, has been shaped by the input of stakeholders. Getting feedback from stakeholders is not a one-time activity but something that’s been an ongoing feature. I am particularly grateful to the input from our Accountability Advisory Group of district/school leaders and accountability experts as well as the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents (CAPSS) Assessment and Accountability group of superintendents for their thoughtful and honest feedback from the very inception of this system. I am also appreciative of the many educators who reach out to us periodically to offer their thoughts and insights on a range of topics such as school classification, career readiness, physical fitness, dual credit, arts courses, and chronic absenteeism.


 3. This past summer, the Department recently updated NextGen accountability indicator 5 (Preparation for Postsecondary and Career Readiness – Coursework) and indicator 6 (Preparation for Postsecondary and Career Readiness – Exams and College Credit) to be more inclusive of concurrent and dual enrollment programs.  What led to this shift and how does it align with the CSDE’s vision for improved access to college and career readiness?


First, a correction. The Next Generation Accountability System has always recognized concurrent/dual enrollment course participation towards Indicator 5. Effective 2021-22, credits earned by students in concurrent/dual enrollment course offerings will also count toward Indicator 6. While Indicator 5 looks for participation in courses, Indicator 6 looks for an outside objective validation of postsecondary readiness. In prior years, we looked for students meeting benchmark on any exam i.e., SAT, ACT, Advanced Placement, or International Baccalaureate. Going forward, we will also recognize students who may not meet benchmark on an exam but have earned at least three non-remedial college credits with a C or better in dual/concurrent enrollment courses. This shift to recognize success in dual credit courses was the direct result of ongoing input from practitioners and the cooperation from our higher education partners. It makes perfect sense to recognize dual credit course completion because unlike passing an AP or IB exam which still requires acceptance by a college, dual credit courses are already on a college transcript!When we released our 2021-22 accountability results in December, we also released a detailed Indicator 6 report on EdSight that shows the different ways in which students meet the Indicator 6 standard. This highlights the dual credit pathway and brings attention to the importance of students earning college credit prior to high school graduation.


4. While the increased inclusion of concurrent and dual enrollment programs along with Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) in the CSDE’s NextGen Accountability Index is a critical step in expanding access to college courses, it doesn’t align with U.S. News & World Report’s traditional AP/IB focused metrics for college readiness.  What advice would you give a building leader or a school district leader who may be pressured to adhere to U.S. News & World Report school rankings over the CSDE NextGen Accountability report?


These are difficult conversations, no doubt. My advice to leaders when having such discussions locally is to always place the student at the center, and then support the entire school community to align their goals and values around the interests and needs of your students. I suspect that this will lead to a both/and perspective, not an either/or. While AP/IB type offerings may interest some students, others may prefer dual credit. Obviously, the AP and IB programs (along with the SAT and ACT exams) have good “brand” recognition among the general population. To improve awareness of dual credit, the CSDE in the coming years will be working with our higher education colleagues to build a robust system of dual credit opportunities across the entire state. Part of this effort will involve a public relations campaign so that families, board members, legislators, and other stakeholders see the value of dual credit opportunities offered through our public and private institutions for higher education as a valid and effective approach to prepare our students for postsecondary success. Including dual credit in Indicator 6 is the first step in that journey.


Welcoming One of Our Own

Todd family photo
Chris lives in Ellington with his wife, Melissa, an Assistant Principal at McAlister Intermediate School in Suffield, and their two sons, Cooper (10) and Parker (7).

By Christopher Todd


The Office of Early College Programs and the UConn ECE Community is excited to officially welcome Christopher Todd, as our new Executive Director of OECP/ECE.  With nearly 20 years in public education, Chris comes to UConn as a practitioner with extensive field experiences and a proven track record of success as both a classroom educator and state agency leader, who has worked tirelessly to elevate the profession on the behalf of students and educators.  While Chris may be stepping into a new role, UConn and the ECE Community is in no way new to him, and his return to UConn serves as a homecoming of sorts


Growing up in Willington, CT, Chris’ first experience with the UConn ECE Community and concurrent enrollment programs began as a student at E.O. Smith High School in Storrs, where he enrolled in UConn courses as both a junior and senior.  After completing his BA in History and a secondary social studies education licensure program at the University of Colorado, Boulder, Chris returned home to Connecticut, beginning his teaching career at Windsor High School.  For the next 15 years of his career, Chris dedicated himself to the Windsor Public School community, in both classroom and district-based leadership roles.  Chris benefited from the support of incredible colleagues, mentors, and leaders during his time at Windsor as he worked to refine his own instructional practices in order to develop and deliver highly engaging and rigorous lessons designed to motivate and prepare students to pursue their post-secondary goals and career aspirations.  As a classroom teacher, Chris distinguished himself as both a state and national award winner, teaching a wide variety of courses and levels including alternative education, Advanced Placement and UConn ECE (POLS 1602).  In addition to his teaching, Chris was a longtime varsity swimming & diving coach and a frequent participant on district and building-wide committees.  While teaching, Chris went on to complete his MA in Public Policy at Trinity College, and eventually returned to UConn to earn an MA in Curriculum & Instruction.

As a district-based teacher leader, Chris split his time between the classroom and facilitating the district’s Teacher Education and Mentoring (TEAM ) program. Chris worked with district leadership and colleagues to advocate for the expansion of Windsor’s New Teacher Academy and provide educators with release time to observe colleagues and participate in PD.  Additionally, Chris coordinated district Educator Preparation Program (EPP) partnerships and teacher leader initiatives.  Under Commissioners Stefan Pryor and Dr. Dianna Wentzell, Chris had the distinct privilege of serving as a Teacher Leader-in-Residence at the Connecticut State Department of Education (CSDE) where he co-led the Department’s Teacher Leadership initiatives and advocated for educator voice and input into the policy making process.  In 2013, Chris was honored to be recognized by his colleagues as the Windsor Public Schools Teacher of the Year and was recognized as Connecticut’s 2013 James Madison Memorial Foundation Fellow.  In 2014, Chris was a Finalist for the 2014 Connecticut State Teacher of the Year and was the recipient of the Connecticut Daughters of the American Revolution Outstanding Teacher of American History.


For nearly three and half years, Chris has served as Bureau Chief in the Talent Office at the Connecticut State Department of Education (CSDE) where he provided leadership and support to the Bureau of Educator Effectiveness and the Bureau of Educator Standards and Certification.  While at the Department Chris helped design, build, and implement systemic changes to support educators, districts, and students statewide.  During his time in the Talent Office Chris fought to streamline and enhance educator certification; bolster relationships with the state’s Educator Preparation Programs and RESC Alliance; enhance Connecticut’s TEAM program; and engage critical stakeholders in the reform of educator evaluation and support.  However, Chris is most proud of his work and efforts with the Talent Office team to provide timely and meaningful guidance and flexibilities to the field during the Covid-19 pandemic.  During his time at the Department, Chris has also served as an adjunct faculty member for both UConn’s Neag School of Education and Sacred Heart University’s Farrington College of Education.


As Chris begins his new role of Executive Director of the Office of Early College Programs, he is excited to bring his passion for education and high-quality curriculum and instruction, as well as his experience building robust and meaningful partnerships, to a nationally recognized program that he believes offers a critical and timely solution to ensuring that all Connecticut students have equitable access to a high-quality education.

Group photo at CT State Capital & Meeting

Fall 2021 Political Science ECE Instructor Workshop with fellow UConn ECE Instructors and Connecticut James Madison Memorial Fellowship Winners Jon McGlynn (’19) of Windsor High School, Michelle Pusser (’15) of AITE, and Kathleen Boland (’20) of Trumbull High School.


WHS POLS 1602 (Annual trip to the CT State Capital and meeting with Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Rep. Brandon McGee and Sec. of State Denise Merrill).



WHS Political Science 1602 Meeting with Sec. of State Denise Merrill


WHS Political Science 1602 learning about Oliver Ellsworth & The Constitutional Convention at the Oliver Ellsworth Homestead in Windsor, CT


WHS Political Science 1602 Meeting with Sec. of State Denise Merrill

Student group photo inside state capital building


Students talk with Sen. Richard Blumenthal


student group photo in front of CT state capital building

2022 UConn ECE Professional Recognition Award Winners

By Carissa Rutkauskas
The presentation of the 18th annual UConn Early College Experience Professional Recognition Awards, celebrating outstanding teachers and administrators, was successfully celebrated in a hybrid format this year. On April 28th, UConn ECE Staff, award winners, and their guests enjoyed a casual yet celebratory evening of appetizers, mingling, and collegiality as we were able to personally present the winners with their awards. “Thank you”speeches captured during the celebration were then added to pre-recorded and collected footage of our winners, to produce the UConn ECE Professional Recognition Awards Show, which premiered May 19th on the UConn ECE YouTube Channel.

The UConn Early College Experience community and the University of
Connecticut publicly recognize and thank outstanding instructors and
administrators whose dedication and commitment help make UConn ECE
successful. You have exceeded program expectations and excelled in preparing

your high school’s students for the next level in their education.


Maureen Vint at library desk
Maureen Vint, Library Media Specialist Nonnewaug High School Library Media Specialist Award for Excellence in Enrichment and Collaboration
Kristina Schule with pie
Kristina Schule Human Development and Family Sciences Greenwich High School “Rookie of the Year” Award for Excellence in First-Year Course Instruction
Karon McGovern portrait
Karon McGovern, American Studies New Fairfield High School Instructor Award for Excellence in Course Instruction
Christine Higgins headshot
Christine Higgins, German Wilton High School Instructor Award for Excellence in Course Instruction
Laura Francis on marine science field trip
Laura Francis, Marine Sciences Coginchaug Regional High School Instructor Award for Excellence in Course Instruction
Dan Cote headshot
Daniel Cote, Philosophy Christian Heritage School Instructor Award for Excellence in Course Instruction
Elizabeth C. with math themed Christmas sweater
Elizabeth Capobianco, Mathematics Trumbull High School Instructor Award for Excellence in Course Instruction
Karen R. headshot
Karen Risley, Site Representative Portland High School Site Representative Award for Excellence in Program Administration
Sean S. at graduation ceremony
Sean Tomany, Principal University High School of Science & Engineering Principal Award for Program Support & Advocacy
Anne Gebelein, Latino and Latin American Studies, UConn Thomas E. Recchio Faculty Coordinator Award for Academic Leadership 


Instructor of Distinction: Kevin Mariano

By Brian A. Boecherer


Q. How long at Plainfield High School?
A. I am currently in my 14th year of teaching, all at Plainfield High School.


Q. Which courses do you teach?
A. I co-teach the Social Studies side of American Studies with Ms. Laura Maher who teaches the English side. I also teach Modern World History (10th grade) and a self-designed course entitled “Dialogue and Rhetoric” for grades 9-12. This immersive class is designed for students to refine public speaking skills and build empathy with one another to create a safe environment to hold meaningful dialogue conversations and deliberate compromise in a civil way. I also coach our competitive Debate Team and am the Director of the Fall Drama and Spring Musical Theater


Q. Tell us why you got into teaching and maybe a bit about how you see your role as a teacher?
A. In 8th grade I considered being a teacher but thought it would be boring to do the “same thing every year for 30 years.” As I headed to college to study international relations a year after 9/11/2001, I considered becoming a US Diplomat to bring peace and healing to our country. Above all else, though, I wanted to be a dad someday. After some soul searching during my first semester of college at the University of Maryland, I knew that “I didn’t want to be a dad who was home for three weeks and traveling for three weeks.” As such, history was “what made sense to me” and I ultimately wanted to “help kids now to encourage peace for our future.” Teaching high school students has been a dream come true; building a rapport, earning their respect and bonding with students is the skeleton key to my job. Those moments fill me with joy. I am happy to inform my 8th grade self that teaching is “30% lessons and 70% psychology”, meaning that each moment matters and if I am bored, I am not doing my job the right way. And, I am never bored.


Q. You won the Teacher of the Year Award last year at Plainfield High School and were a semi-finalist for the Connecticut Teacher of the Year this year. What would you say is core to your teaching philosophy?
A. I strive daily to build a genuine rapport with my students and faculty based on a single philosophy from Lakota Chief Crazy Horse’s statement, “We do not inherit the Earth from our Ancestors; we borrow it from our Children.” These connections are the foundation to building kind, empathetic, and self-confident humans who move on to help others in their lives. Upon reflection, this has been a pillar to the application of my philosophy. Our Debate Team was built from my (seemingly) bold decision to do “that” with “those kids” as some naysayers once taunted. The Team proudly competes in the annual Dr. Grace Sawyer-Jones Parliamentary Tournament held at Three Rivers Community College and consistently does well, winning the 2016 Championship. During remote learning last school year which paused the competitive Debate circuit, the Debate Team students connected to fellow students by creating “Panther Break Out Rooms” each Wednesday for eight weeks. Earning administrative approval and adding a link on the school website, Debate Captain Julia Koski reflected, “I learned about the power even single individuals have to cultivate change.” In sum, empowering students to help others is the zenith of our profession. Inspired kids inspire kids.


Q. As a UConn ECE Instructor of American Studies with your co-teacher Laura Maher, what sorts of things do you want the students to walk away knowing, so when they reflect on your class 20-years from now they still know?
A. In 20 years, Laura Maher and I want the students to realize that history will most likely repeat as we profess that American history is cyclical and our Forefathers’ generation battled similar issues that we negotiate today. Our aim is to engage the students to “destroy the box, build your own box, then constantly try to reshape it.” Never settle and always be working to “build a more perfect union for our posterity.”


Neither of us ever learned about “the present day” in depth while in our high school US history classes. Therefore, our first unit in American Studies revolves around the Obama and Trump presidencies, including, but not limited to, the impact of various social and political movements like Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter. Our students are hungry to discuss and learn about these topics. They see it daily playing out on social media and in the news, and they plead to have dialogues about “things that matter.” We explore varying perspectives with the students, and have had guest speakers including a professor and a police officer educate our students on how political and the media’s rhetoric influences their lives/jobs and how, in the end, the “goal of the movements is to achieve the same thing.” Meanwhile, the students dissect the Broadway musical Hamilton as a form of historical and modern-day commentary, casting another light on immigration, women’s studies, and building “a more perfect union.” In sum, as we cover American history dating back to the 1920s, we are constantly making connections to the modern era, so the students can better understand
the “cause/effect” of an era and determine for themselves to what extent progress has been achieved. Moreover, Laura and I stringently target the quality of student writing over the entire course and assess the students on their
ability to set new goals for the next paper (and to what extent they achieve their goals). Through all of this, students will hopefully appreciate their steadfast hard work, better understand the world they have been dealt, and feel confident to use their voice to impact our world for the better.


Q. We are living through some difficult social times, but Americans have lived through other difficult social times and come back stronger. Do you have any advice for the everyday person on how to play a part and make things better?
A. Americans have lived through many turbulent times, but never in the social media age. To just think that the political landscape will magically improve on its own is dangerous. Many of us have created our own worlds on our phones, liking and unliking, following the news we want and ignoring the news we may consider “fake” or disingenuous. While “yellow journalism” is not new, the “war on the truth for-profit” is cancerous, and today’s generation of students are, by far, the most SKEPTICAL that I have worked with in my career. Across the board, they appreciate that they are American, but know that adults in our society could set better examples of living up to the standards and ideals of this “City upon a Hill.”


To this reader, I assure you that this generation of students is watching the adults’ every move on the issues that mean the most to them: #1 climate change, #2 gun rights/violence, and #3 treatment of marginalized populations. This generation of youth is also the most inclusive group in terms of accepting people for who they are. For most teens, they want adults to know that technology is their friend and their catalyst to progress. Following the news daily can bring us to a dark place, which is why it is important to focus on the things we CAN control. In the classroom, I insist, “Make our world a better place by making your world a better place.” How? 1. Always help someone. You might be the only one that does. 2. Everyone you meet is struggling with something all of the time and it is normal to ask for help. 3. This world will be more peaceful if we listen to understand and act to compromise rather than remain tribal.

Our Chat with Nalini Ravishanker


by Melanie Banks  


Get to know our faculty and learn some tricks of the trade with advice they have to offer. To answer some questions about her personal and professional interests, we are giving the spotlight to Nalini Ravishanker, UConn Faculty Coordinator for Statistics and 2018-2019 award winner of the Thomas E. Recchio Faculty Coordinator Award for Academic Leadership.


  1. How did you get involved with UConn ECE?
    It was a while ago, when UConn ECE was called the UConn High School Co-op Program. I liked what I heard about the program either through the UConn Mentor Connection or from our Department Head, Uwe Koehn, and agreed to become the faculty coordinator for Statistics. I am sure I must have continued to like it a lot, since I am still here!
  2. Where did you go to college, and what attracted you to statistics?
    My Undergraduate major was in Statistics at Presidency College, Chennai, India. I got my PhD in Statistics from NYU. I have always been attracted to Mathematics and recall deciding to major in statistics when I heard someone say it combined Math with the randomness that arises in practical applications. I think this now has a cooler name: “Uncertainty Quantification (UQ)”.
  3. What is your philosophy of teaching and learning?
    I think my philosophy in teaching is to make sure the material reaches each learner. A friend recently suggested I do the semi-flipped classroom format, which I think both my students and I like a lot.
  4. What are your hobbies?
    I like gardening, indoor and outdoor.
  5. What was your favorite course you took in your undergraduate career?
    As an undergraduate, I liked Linear Algebra a lot.
  6. What is the best advice an instructor can give to their students?
    I like to ask my students whether they wish to really learn the material or be satisfied with the perception of having learned the material.
  7. What would you recommend students do to succeed in a UConn ECE course?
    The UConn ECE Statistics course is the first real introduction students get to statistics. I think the teachers in our high schools build enthusiasm through a variety of examples that resonate with their students. It would be great if the students catch the enthusiasm from their teachers, and if they are also strong in calculus, consider majoring or minoring in statistics. Their teachers and I can give them more information.
  8. If you could only eat one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be?
    As a South Indian (Tamil) girl, I should say “rasam sadam” (white rice with a tomato based thin soup), but I am going to go healthy and say spinach.

Spotlight on Laurie Wolfey!

By Melanie Ochoa

The Faculty Spotlight is a chance to get to know UConn ECE Faculty Coordinators and highlight the wonderful work they do. This year’s Faculty Spotlight is dedicated to Laurie Wolfley, 2016-2017 award winner of the Thomas E. Recchio Faculty Coordinator Award for Academic Leadership. Laurie is the UConn ECE Faculty Coordinator for American Studies and Maritime Studies.


1. How did you get involved with UConn ECE?
About 10 years ago, Maritime Studies needed help coordinating its ECE program, and folks at Avery Point, where the MAST Program lives, knew that I’m a certified high school teacher who teaches lots of maritime literature and is deeply invested in interdisciplinary work; I guess I just fit a need at the time. I’ve been full-steam ahead since then


2. What is your philosophy of teaching and learning?
I believe that the students I teach need a safe, caring and compassionate environment in which to discover themselves as individuals; they need the freedom to think critically and creatively—to take risks and determine their own values through in-depth inquiry and discussion with others. They also need to be challenged to acknowledge and accept their responsibilities and to respond appropriately to those challenges. My goal is to encourage students to reach their own conclusions, find their own voices, and express those voices with clarity and confidence through a variety of communication mediums.


3. What do you consider to be one of your greatest achievements? Why?
Though perhaps not the greatest achievement of my life, what resonates here and now is my current success at surviving each day as a long-term substitute teacher at Fitch High School. I’m immersed in a several-months-long teaching gig that has me flat out every day, then doing my typical stint at UConn in the evening. I am grateful for the amazing support I’ve gotten from the Fitch faculty and staff—and from my terrific students…but I am dead tired. I’ve always applauded the work ECE teachers do, but this experience has provided me with tremendous appreciation for all the high school teachers I’ve worked with in the ECE Program over the years and for public school teachers in general.


4. What are your hobbies?
I love to cook, hike, kayak, ski, garden, and spend time reading in the back yard among the chickens. (I’ve hardly had a chance to consider these activities since the sub job started.)


5. What was your favorite course you ever took in college?
I think my favorite course was Children’s Literature, which I took with Bud Church at Connecticut College. I am fortunate enough to teach that course occasionally at Avery Point, where I still emulate much of what Bud did in my own class many years ago.


6. What is the best advice an instructor can give to students on their last day of high school and/or college?
Don’t sit around waiting to become the person you hope to be when you grow up. It’s too late; you’re already there. I was astounded to find that I was at 30 and then later at 50 the very same person I had been at 17. Take the reins and do your thing. Forgive all the stupid things you’ve done in the past, accept responsibility for yourself now, and move on.


7. What would you recommend students do to succeed in a UConn ECE class?
Recognize that you are an adult, and act like one: Take responsibility for your learning, push yourself to value learning over receiving high grades, ask questions, and think critically and creatively about your coursework. Look for the joy in learning.


8. If you were a superhero, what would your super power be?
Superheroes are overrated. It’s hard enough simply being me; any more power or responsibility and I might just implode.Photo of Laurie Wolfley

In Boland We Trust: Connectcut’s 2017 History Teacher

By Jack Greenwood Jr.

The Gilder Lehrman Institute is the nation’s leading American history organization dedicated to K-12 education. This year, Katie Boland was a part of 52 State History Teachers of the Year who were awarded by The Gilder Lehrman Institute for their outstanding effort and ability to promote the understanding of American history.


Effectively teaching the subject of history can prove to be challenging since it is generally the relaying of the story of how something came-to-be, while at the same time, emphasizing the relevance of how past decisions affect and influence how we think and operate today. With that said, the subject of history can be fairly bland if the teacher just spends class time lecturing and not interacting with the students or getting them involved. Although Boland formally teaches the UConn ECE Political Science course (POLS 1602: Introduction to American Politics) at Trumbull High School as a certified ECE instructor, it is clear that she has the potential to make any space into a classroom. She wears a smile that is accompanied by an enthusiastic personality which brings her teaching to life. Boland was quoted in a Trumbull Times article saying, “The key [to teaching] is to make it interesting and interactive. I try not to do straight lectures, like what I grew up with.” To make the class more interactive, Boland would have students construct their own arguments for famous court cases, such as the Supreme Court’s United States vs. Texas 2016 decision, and have other students hear the case and make a final decision. This is just one example of an innovative way to get the students involved that is emphasized by the passionate teaching of Boland.


Katie Boland seems to understand the importance of having someone lay down the groundwork for something great to be built upon it. When asked what her favorite historical era was, she responded with “[The] founding of our nation is my favorite historical era because it not only lays the foundation of our country, but also gives us the mandate to keep the republic alive.” Here, it is the foundation of the history courses that has been established, but it is up to Boland to continuously implement relevant teaching methods to keep the subject of history alive and engaging in our ever-changing young generations.


It also appears that the founding of our nation is not just a personal interest for Boland, as her class enjoys this particular era too. Boland says, “My We the People students love debating the Founding Fathers. We often have discussions in class about the most influential Founding Fathers/Mothers and the most overrated ones.” Students have explored their founding-of-our- nation interests even further by completing assignments such as writing a eulogy for their favorite founding father/mother and then presenting it to the class. It seems to be clear that Boland has manufactured a way to truly connect with her students and immerse them into the world of history. Boland’s genuineness was reciprocated by her students when they surprised her with a birthday party shortly after they had just won the State Championship for the We the People competition, which is where teams of students compete against one another to test their knowledge of the U.S. Constitution. When Boland entered her classroom, students jumped from their hiding spots and began to sing “Happy Birthday” while they presented her with a large, cardboard, cutout of her favorite founding father, George Washington, and a bobble-head figure of her other favorite, Alexander Hamilton.

Along with earning the History Teacher of the Year award, Boland will receive a $1,000 honorarium and an invitation to a 2018 Gilder Lehrman Teacher Seminar which is a weeklong program that offers teachers daily discussions with eminent historians, visits to historic sites, and hands-on work with primary sources. In addition to this, Trumbull High School’s library will receive a core archive of American history books and Gilder Lehrman education materials.
 Photo of Katie Boland

Check out Matthew McKenzie’s Faculty Spotlight!

By Melanie Ochoa

The Faculty Spotlight is a chance to highlight UConn ECE Faculty Coordinators and the great work they
do. The first spotlight goes to US History Faculty Coordinator, Matthew McKenzie, 2015-2016 award
winner of the Thomas E. Recchio Faculty Coordinator Award for Academic Leadership and star of UConn ECE’s first Welcome Video. Matthew joined the UConn ECE community as the American Studies Faculty Co-Coordinator, and has additionally taken the role as the United States History Faculty Coordinator.
1. How did you get involved with UConn ECE?
It was part of the job. NO one had told me that when I applied, but I was thrilled to learn that I would be
working with ambitious, talented, and creative High School teachers. It seemed to me the best of both
worlds: I could enjoy working with my students and could support others working with theirs.
2. What are your current research interests?
I’m finishing a history of the 20th century New England fisheries. As a follow up, I am speaking with
researchers in Canada and Australia about expanding that project to examine the ecological and social impacts of the global expansion of otter trawling (dragging). Pretty arcane stuff, but it’s important.
3. What is your philosophy of teaching and learning?
Care. A lot. That’s pretty much it. If you care about your students, colleagues, and institution, you’ll do
your best. If you care about those people who have passed, you’ll be a better researcher. Just care.
4.What do you consider to be one of your greatest achievements? Why?
Raising my son: he’s an amazing kid: happy, considerate, smart, kind, tough, and at only eight years old,
argumentatively precocious (he’s going to be a lawyer, I can see it already). The extent to which I had anything to do with who he is today, well, I’d be proud of that. The truth is, though, he is who he is: he made that.
5.What are your hobbies?
I love being outside. I hike, camp, canoe, kayak—the usual mix. I’m also a bow hunter—a hobby that taught me to look at forest ecosystems entirely differently. If I ever get any time again, I might build another boat: then again, I don’t use the one I did build—but it was a lot of fun doing it.
6.What was your favorite course you ever took in college?
I took a History of the Enlightenment course with Jan Golinski in grad school. He assigned David Wilcox’s Measures of Times Past, and Kuhn’s Copernican Revolution. Those books showed me how fluid scientific understandings—and even our understanding of measuring time—have been. I wasn’t expecting that and the course blew my mind.
7. How many UConn ECE U.S. History instructors are currently certified?
80 instructors.
8.What is the best advice an instructor can give to students on their last day of high school and/or college?
Pay attention—to everything you see. And travel, as much as you can.
9. What is your all-time favorite book?
Wow. Probably Tolkien’s works (I know, I’m cheating with that answer). As a folklorist, he was a master of inventing histories with the quirks and surprises that made them seem real.
10. What would you recommend students do to succeed in a UConn ECE class?
Pay attention.
11. If you were a superhero, what would your superpower be?
Seriously? Do I really have to answer that? I think I would be a mean fiddle player. I’m not sure that’s a
superpower, but good violin players are superheroes to me.
Photo of Matthew McKenzie

Student Profiles

Class of 2015 @ Tolland High School
1. What are your future plans for college and career?
Starting this autumn, I’ll be an Engineering Physics major at Fordham University in the Bronx. Within the Engineering Physics program I’ll be concentrating my studies on biomedical engineering; I hope my degree will get me a job in the corresponding field and will work hard to that end.
2. What was your best experience/project/lesson in your UConn ECE Course(s)?
I think the best lesson I drew from the ECE courses I took (Chemistry 1127 & 1128 and Physics 1201 & 1202) was how to strategically approach problems, gathering the relevant scientific and mathematical principles and equations before using my calculator to help fill in the blanks.
3. What would you recommend future UConn ECE students do to become successful?
The number one thing is to try to enjoy the course. As a big fan of science, I happened to be already pretty deeply invested in the subject matter. For any students out there who are finding themselves bored in the classroom, though: a positive outlook might not hurt, while a negative attitude will not help. Another thing to keep in mind is just to stay focused. You might have the distraction of stressful external events or of your crush being in the class (I actually had both problems concurrently), but remember that you, not just the teacher, need to put in the effort. Having a good set of lecture notes was critical to
my success, and the same could very well go for you— or a good friend of yours who asks for an update after an absence. With the help of those notes, you can develop and maintain a good hold on the course material. Having a good working knowledge of “what’s going on” will give you confidence and allow you to stay relaxed and clear-minded even when facing difficult exams.
4. Any other comments about UConn ECE?
The Early College Experience was a wonderfully academically rigorous opportunity. Though I know my
studies at Fordham will still pose challenges, I think the ECE program has provided both an excellent preview and unmatched preparation for college course-work. I’m very happy to have been part of the ECE program and wish current and prospective participants all the very best.
Class of 2015 Salutatorian
@ Trumbull High School
1. What are your future plans for college and career?
I will be attending Rochester Institute of Technology in the fall to major in chemical engineering in the honors program. I am not exactly sure what I would like to do within chemical engineering as a profession, but definitely something with a focus on biology.
2. What was your best experience/project/lesson in your UConn ECE Course(s)?
For my Intro to Biotechnology ECE class we transformed E. coli to express a pGLO gene. The lab experience was one of a kind and it’s pretty awesome to say that I’ve made bacteria glow. The lab format for college labs is very different than the ones I was used to writing in high school, so having already written a college lab report will undoubtedly help me in the future.
3. What would you recommend future UConn ECE students do to become successful?
My biggest piece of advice: do not procrastinate! ECE courses are much more independent work. There
are usually only a few tests but they are on a lot of material, so cramming the night before does you no
good. If you study the material in increments, the subject matter becomes manageable.
4. Any other comments about UConn ECE?
Unlike AP courses, UConn ECE courses follow the same curriculum as the classes taught at UConn. I
believe that my ECE experience has prepared me better for college than AP classes because they are actual college courses instead of “college level courses”.
Class of 2015 Salutorian @ Oxford High School
1. What are your future plans for college and career?
Starting this fall, I will be attending the University of Connecticut as a Chemistry major. I plan to apply to the Neag School of Education at UConn for the IB/MA program to become a secondary-level chemistry teacher, meaning (if all goes according to plan) I will spend five years at UConn before entering the workforce. I have always dreamed of being a teacher, and I am excited to see how my years at UConn help me reach this goal.
2. What was your best experience/project/lesson in your UConn ECE Course(s)?
I took a UConn ECE course for Spanish, and I absolutely loved the opportunity to take a more sophisticated approach to the material, specifically the focus on culture. In previous Spanish classes I had taken, the curriculum was based on vocabulary and grammar, which were obviously important to setting a solid foundation in the language, but in the ECE course we were able to focus more on implementing the skills we had already acquired into more functional use and to learn more about the language through the culture of the people who speak it. This meant everything from watching modern statement films to performing comical skits for the class, and it was all part of what made the experience so positive for me.
3. What would you recommend future UConn ECE students do to become successful?
I would recommend that future UConn ECE students make sure to remember that this is a real college course and that they should therefore take it seriously and be committed to the work. It is an amazing opportunity to challenge oneself and reach beyond the limits of the normal high school experience, and so it deserves to be respected and appreciated. I greatly enjoyed the course I took, but it did require real focus and dedication to succeed.
4. Any other comments about UConn ECE?
The UConn ECE program, in my opinion, was completely worth the effort it required, and I would  definitely make the same decision to take the class again were I given the opportunity. The courses are designed to engage you in a way that is deeper than you are used to seeing, and I was truly impressed by this. I am grateful to have gotten the opportunity to get a jump start on my college career through this course, and I would definitely recommend it to anyone who is considering it.
Class of 2015 Salutatorian @ Daniel Hand High School
1. What are your future plans for college and career?
I am excited to say I will be attending Wheaton College in Illinois this fall, and will be studying  mathematics and computer science. Post-college, I plan to pursue a career that allows me to combine my own interests and skills with the ability to help make peoples’ lives better.
2. What was your best experience/project/lesson in your UConn ECE Course(s)?
I honestly cannot pick out one simple example that was “best,” because that would not do the courses I would consequently not name justice. I thoroughly enjoyed each ECE course I took in high school for a variety of reasons; whether I was learning optimization in calculus, creating reactions in chemistry, or studying a cultural novel in Spanish, I enjoyed both being challenged and learning in differing academic
3. What would you recommend future UConn ECE students do to become successful?
Work hard. Realize that in order to do well, you need to want to learn; you must allow yourself to enjoy working hard and seeing yourself succeed as a result of it. If you go into an ECE class with high expectations for yourself, and you work to exceed those expectations, you will not only be successful, but you will also find yourself enjoying the challenge.
4. Any other comments about UConn ECE?
Take as many UConn ECE classes as your school offers. The credits you can carry into college with you are invaluable! Plus, it is a good way to expose yourself to college level work as a high school student.
Caleb Veth Student Profile Julia Provenzano Student Profile Leonard Chiang Student Profile Taryn Wisnirwski Student Profile


2014 New England Poet-of-the-Year Award
NEATE’s Poet-of-the-Year Competition is open to all teachers of English/ language arts who are members of NEATE or one of its state affiliates. Based on a selection of five unpublished poems, finalists are chosen by a panel of judges and are invited to read their poetry at a reception in their honor at the annual NEATE Fall Conference in October 2014 in Mansfield, Massachusetts when the Poet-of-the-Year were announced. The poems of the finalists will be published and distributed at the reception. This year’s winner is Theresa Vara-Dannen of University High School of Science and Engineering in Hartford, Connecticut. Her first book of poetry, Profligate with Love, was published by Antrim House Press in 2006; she has just completed a second collection entitled, Through Sea, Salt and Time
2014 National Council of Teachers of English High School Teacher of Excellence Award
The 2014 National Council of Teachers of English High School Teacher of Excellence Award recognizes and celebrates high school teachers who are nominated by their state affiliate. Nominees must provide recommendations from three constituencies: supervisors, students and parents. The New England Association of Teachers of English award was presented to Theresa Vara-Dannen of University High School of Science and Engineering in Hartford, Connecticut at the Secondary Luncheon on Saturday, November 22 at the NCTE Conference in Washington, DC. For further information, please see:
Theresa Vara-Dannen