Western graduate chosen principal of new STEM and global academy
Alumnus says WCSU’s educational doctorate program a ‘community of thinkers’
DANBURY, CONN. — When Danbury Public Schools opened the doors to its newest school this month — a state-of-the art STEM and global academy — Frank LaBanca, a graduate of the Western Connecticut State University doctorate in education program (Ed.D.), was at the helm as its principal.
LaBanca, of Newtown, said that the Westside Middle School Academy will be progressive in the way that teaching and learning will take place; he credits WCSU with instilling in him the ability to focus on what is going on in the classroom to make it a valuable experience for students.
“The Ed.D. program at WCSU is a very unique one,” LaBanca said. “Most doctorate programs are about leadership, which includes management and vision. The program at Western focuses on instruction, what’s happening in the classroom and how you change practice in the classroom.”
LaBanca isn’t the only WCSU graduate who will be at the school. More than 1,400 people applied for the school’s 30 open positions and a third of those hired or transferred from other Danbury schools are WCSU graduates: Joseph DiGuiseppi, Alessandra de la Vega, Natalie Locke, Beth Manning, Joshua Meade, Laura Muller, Julie Pokrinchok, Jennifer Power and Kristy Zaleta.
The school will accommodate 600 students by 2016-17 and will open with 300 students in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and 100 students in global studies. More students will be phased in over the next two years being chosen through a districtwide lottery system.
“It will be an ‘inquiry school’,” LaBanca said. “Students learn well when they ask meaningful questions they can investigate. This is what schools today are moving toward.”
The school is considered a magnet school because it draws students from all over the district and also has a theme of exploration. The STEM exploration will be scientific challenges, whereas the global academy will explore challenges based on global issues.
For instance, LaBanca explained that if students were faced with the current issue of water quality around the world, the STEM students will look for ways to purify water and devices necessary for that process. The global students would explore the geo-political point of view and campaign to educate people to find solutions.
“Each can take an issue and develop real solutions that are useful,” LaBanca said. “We’re asking them to take ownership of their education and the teachers are there to help students construct understanding and meaning.”
LaBanca’s goals as principal are to create an environment that involves project learning and uses technology, and increases teacher capacity where students are being guided to learning at a more-involved level.
“I want to create an environment where kids feel connected to their school,” he said. Hoping to be paper-free in three years, LaBanca also wants to increase the use of technology in the classrooms. There are charging stations in every classroom and two project rooms equipped with 3-D printers.
Prior to the WSMSA, LaBanca ran a STEM program in Connecticut through Education Connection where he prepared 120 teachers in 50 schools to instruct 3,000 students.
“Now I am looking forward to being in an environment where I can lead teachers and students and be a direct part of their learning,” he said.
Western Connecticut State University offers outstanding faculty in a range of quality academic programs. Our diverse university community provides students an enriching and supportive environment that takes advantage of the unique cultural offerings of Western Connecticut and New York. Our vision: To be an affordable public university with the characteristics of New England’s best small private universities.