Sometimes answers to our toughest questions are right in front of us but we just don’t see them.

Take for example last week, in the room full of economists and business leaders at CBIA’s The Connecticut Economy conference who were wrestling over the crisis of the state’s achievement gap and how to erase it.

Expert after expert pitched in with a mix of worries, ideas and frustration.

What to do about Connecticut’s academic achievement gap, which is putting our economic future—and young people—at risk?

“We can’t have a first world economy if we have a third world education system,” said one expert.

Closely watching the wrangling at the conference were eight young people from three of the five Hartford schools that have adopted a National Academy Foundation (NAF) model of instruction. They were there at the invitation of CBIA, which for several years has helped businesses get involved in the program.

[Photo above, left to right: Efrain V., Stephanie F., Kahlil H., Ajla R., Akeem A., Orly R., Isamar S., and Ray B., from the Academy of Engineering and Green Technology, Pathways to Technology, and High School, Inc.]

Thriving

Many students at these NAF schools, in fact, come from challenging environments. Many of them are exactly the kind of young people who are at risk throughout the state.

But here’s the difference: These kids are thriving.

That’s because their NAF academies are successful--and exciting--partnerships between schools and businesses that are changing the status quo in education.

Nationwide, NAF academies—placed mostly in urban areas--are achieving 97% graduation rates with 81% of those graduates planning to attend post-secondary programs and 55% going to four-year colleges.

For NAF academy students, the achievement gap is closing and future possibilities are opening.

Hail Mary pass

Former School Superintendent Steven Adamowski brought the NAF model to Hartford in 2008 in a sort of Hail Mary pass to save his district.

At the time, Hartford was the lowest performing district in the state and two-thirds of students were dropping out, usually at the end of their freshman year in high school.

Where there was chaos, NAF brought structure and a road map for reform. The schools got help, school leaders got support, and business and civic leaders got a real chance to pitch in.

It’s working. CBIA has participated in the Hartford NAF schools from the start, which is why those bright young people were at the conference.

“NAF isn’t the only solution,” says Dayl Walker, CBIA’s program manager for the academies. “But it’s working extremely well. And it can be replicated anywhere there are businesses and educators who really want to turn things around.”

In Hartford, Travelers and United Technologies Corporation have been deeply involved with the academies as corporate sponsors and founts of support in funding, talent and leadership--including on the academies' advisory boards.

Transformation

Walker says NAF “transforms school walls into gateways where business leaders are drawn to participate and students progress from their studies to internships and job-shadowing opportunities.”

What’s more, NAF academies usually attract a “very dynamic group of educators and businesspeople” who are as committed to the cause as they are talented in their professions.

The experts at the conference were desperate for a solution to Connecticut’s education crisis.

If only they knew that an answer was right in front of them.

For more information about NAF academies, contact CBIA’s Dayl Walker at 860.244.1935 or dayl.walker@cbia.com.