week 8:  this week i'm gonna... give everyone the opportunity to be great


"Students wander and run in the hallways. Classes have a low level of rigor. Classrooms lack basic resources.  On a given day, between two and seven of the school’s 28 teachers are absent."

Those were the words describing Lincoln-Bassett School in a 2014 Connecticut state education audit. Lincoln-Bassett is a neighborhood school serving 355 children in grades pre-K to 6 in New Haven, CT. Of course, those were the words describing Lincoln-Bassett before new Principal Janet Brown-Clayton and ConnCAT got involved.

The Connecticut Center for Arts and Technology, or "ConnCAT", provides after-school programming for under-privileged students and job training for unemployed adults. Early in 2014, ConnCAT partnered with Brown-Clayton and Lincoln-Basset School to launch an after-school program designed to bring academic learning through the arts to third- through sixth-grade students. Students first spend an hour each day dedicated to homework completion and tutoring, and then attend classes for fine arts, music, digital arts/media, athletics, and science lab.

Principal Brown-Clayton has seen a significant turnaround since the program's inception, and states that in three years she wants the school to be a nationally recognized school of excellence for its achievement gains.

“The kids are engaged. We’re finding strength in kids who actually had some challenges and behavioral problems; they’re becoming some of our star students in (the) program.

A 2015 state audit also revealed progress at the school - "Students are on task, not wandering the halls. Hundreds of parents attend school-sponsored events. The extended day programs incorporate academic supports and enrichment opportunities."  

Brown-Clayton states that she is pleased with these results, despite the work that still needs to be done.  She notes that a full school turnaround is a multi-year process, but it seems that Lincoln-Bassett is on the right track!


ConnCAT’s mission is to inspire, motivate, and prepare youth and adults for educational and career advancement through after-school arts and job training programming. Their vision is to create a learning environment that inspires hope, innovation, creativity and excellence while providing a path for individuals to revitalize the landscape of the urban community.

ConnCAT's state-of-the-art center opened in spring 2012 and provides job training programs designed to give unemployed and under-employed adults the skills needed to secure meaningful, well-paying jobs in health sciences and culinary professions.  ConnCAT career preparation links adult learners with local corporate partners who assist in curriculum design and encourage entry level employment for adult learners upon program completion.

ConnCAT also provides after-school interactive educational programs and a summer program tailored to the developmental needs and interests of middle school students. Participants receive tutoring on homework assignments and school projects and also have access to creative arts electives, including Adobe Photoshop, digital media and design, film, and multimedia arts (painting, sculpting, and crafts).

Erik Clemons, CEO of ConnCAT

Erik Clemons, CEO of ConnCAT

ConnCAT CEO Erik Clemons is no stranger to hardship himself. He grew up in the projects of Norwalk, CT, and his mother became a single parent to him and his brother and sister when he was 12. 

"I was also raised by the community,” Clemons says. “After high school, I was ill-prepared to go to college, went for a semester, ended up not doing well, and found a job instead.”

Clemons then began his work at the post office, where he would work for the next 16 years. During his time there, he got married and fathered four girls.

“Around the 12th year [working at the post office], I said to myself ‘what have I done, what was my contribution, what have I done for other people?’”

As a result, he decided to go back to college and pursue a degree in sociology. During his senior year, he discovered a program called LEAP (Leadership, Education, Athletics and Partnerships), a program for children living in high poverty urban neighborhoods that works for positive academic and social outcomes.  Clemons first worked in one of LEAP’s after-school programs, then joined the Board of Directors, and eventually served as Executive Director.

"I had no idea what I was doing, but I knew why I was doing it,” he says. “What was important to me was that the children and young people saw someone who looked like them, who had a profound and intense love for them, and who they ultimately could become.”

Clemons' success at LEAP caught the attention of two men who were spearheading the ConnCAT initiative, and he was offered the position of President and CEO.  He has been successful at integrating ConnCAT into the community and instituting programs that both support and are supported by local businesses.  One thing he prides himself on is his policy of hiring workers from within the community.  

He says, “It was extremely important to me that I hire people who have a cultural competence and cultural sensitivity to the people and communities we would serve.  Like myself, every member of the ConnCAT team is educated, skilled, and has a life story of perseverance and triumph.  I thought this would allow us to work from a powerful sense of empathy and intuition, while also being shining examples of success for those we serve."

Some excerpts and quotes for this profile were sourced from the following articles: "State Audit Reveals Troubles At Lincoln-Bassett," by Melissa Bailey; "Audit Shows Lincoln-Bassett Turning Around," by Aliyya Swaby; and "Entrepreneur Shows Success Can Happen for Anyone," by Charlotte Adinolfi.

Notes for this week:

  • Congratulations to Erik Clemons for his recent 2015 appointment to the Connecticut State Board of Education!
  • Our collective givetwig donation will sponsor four months of snacks for all kids in the after-school program.
  • For further information regarding ConnCAT, please check out their website.

this week i'm gonna donate to ConnCAT.

please share the givetwig awesomeness!