August 1, 2007
By STAN SIMPSON, Courant Staff Writer
Only a smattering of seventh-graders - four, to be exact - bothered to show up last fall for a voluntary after-school math study program at Jumoke Academy Charter School.
By January, 17 of the 21 students were attending two-hour sessions before major in-class tests. "When they started to see that the four who showed up had higher test grades than the others, they didn't take very long to do the math - so to speak," teacher Laura Hofsess said.
The North Hartford students' hard work paid off. While this was considered a so-so year for state students in the Connecticut Mastery Test, Jumoke students - Hofsess' seventh-graders, in particular - had an exemplary year.
In writing, 95 percent of the 21 Jumoke seventh-graders were at or above state goal, an extraordinary showing, well above the state average of 65 percent. In reading, 70 percent of the Jumoke seventh-graders were at or above state goal, essentially matching the statewide percentage. Sixty percent of Jumoke seventh-graders were at or above state goal in math, five percentage points less than the state average. The 45 Jumoke fifth-graders also registered significant improvement in all categories.
Situated in a two-story brick building in Hartford's Blue Hills section, Jumoke was once considered one of Connecticut's lowest-performing charter schools. Now in its 11th year, the 325-student school is emerging as one of the better-run charters, taking in mostly poor black and Latino kids who, chosen by lottery, usually arrive well behind academically.
Progress hasn't come easy. Poor-performing teachers have been fired. Curriculum has been revamped. The school day, with enrichment programs, can begin as early as 7:30 a.m. and end as late as 5:30 p.m. There is also a Saturday program from 9 a.m. to noon, and a four-week summer session.
"This tells me that there is a school that has used its data to look at what the kids are doing, and then they really sharply focused what they asked the teachers to do on the basis of what the kids are doing," said Jack Hasegawa, assistant to the deputy commissioner at the state Department of Education. "This is so impressive because it's a tough neighborhood, and the kids in the school building down the street are not doing nearly as well."
A few blocks away at the larger Fox elementary school, the percentage of students meeting the state goal in mathematics, reading and writing is 10 percent, 17 percent and 19.9 percent, respectively.
Jumoke - Swahili for "everyone loves the child" - started out as a K-3 school and evolved into a K-7. Next year, it will house an eighth grade and become pre-K to Grade 8 elementary and middle school. The way they're going, they might as well start thinking about a Jumoke High.
The school was the dream of veteran educator and former Hartford school board member Thelma Dickerson, now 85. She wanted to open a school "that took kids where they are, and build them a foundation so that when they left they could compete anywhere," said her son Michael Sharpe, who took over as CEO of the school three years ago. Sharpe is credited with upgrading the leadership, the teaching ranks and the programs.
Besides accountability, the most important thing Sharpe and Principal Doreen Crawford have established is a culture where student achievement is demanded.
"The reason why our scores are shooting up is because the teachers really care about how well we do," said Keyauma Smith, 13, a straight A student who'll enter the eighth grade in September. "They just won't take a `C' as [acceptable]."
Not in writing, obviously.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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