August 2, 2007
By ROBERT A. FRAHM, Courant Staff Writer
A school reform group that runs two successful New Haven charter schools, including the highly acclaimed Amistad Academy, is seeking to open a charter school in Hartford.
Speakers at a public hearing Wednesday praised a plan by the nonprofit Achievement First organization to seek a state charter for a kindergarten through eighth-grade school in Hartford.
"Hartford needs Amistad. My three grandsons need Amistad," said Steven Harris, a Hartford resident who has visited the New Haven charter school. "I walked through the doors of Amistad and felt something I had not felt in a public school for a long time.
"I felt this sense there was something special."
In New Haven, at both Amistad and the Elm City College Preparatory School, Achievement First has produced impressive gains in reading, mathematics and writing among low-income and minority children - groups that traditionally have lagged far behind white and middle-class children in schools across the nation.
The idea has a strong appeal in Hartford, where public schools reported some of the worst scores in the state on Connecticut Mastery Test results released last week.
Only 13 percent of the city's third-graders, for example, met the state goal in reading.
Like New Haven, Hartford has a school population that is mostly poor and almost entirely black and Latino.
Malik Ramiz, who grew up in Hartford and is now a computer technology teacher at Amistad, called Amistad "a place where minority, underprivileged students can have an education they would have to pay for anywhere else. ... It's a beautiful opportunity for Hartford."
Schools similar to Amistad and Elm City are among ideas envisioned by Hartford Superintendent of Schools Steven J. Adamowski as part of his plan to overhaul the city's school system and give parents a wide range of choices among schools.
"We've had very positive discussions with the superintendent, ... members of the board of education and leaders of the community," said Dacia Toll, president of Achievement First. "There is both a tremendous need and opportunity to do new things and invite in new models."
The school would be run by a partnership including Achievement First, Hartford Public Schools and the Capitol Region Education Council.
Achievement First gained acclaim with the success of Amistad, which opened as a middle school in 1999 with small reading and math classes, a rigorous curriculum, regular monitoring of student progress, longer school days and a strict code of conduct.
Nearly all of Amistad's and Elm City's students are black or Latino, and most are poor - yet those schools consistently produce scores close to or above the state average on the annual Connecticut Mastery Test.
In some cases, the scores match those of schools in the state's wealthiest suburbs.
Achievement First also runs five schools in New York City and plans to open a school in Bridgeport in the fall.
The group's Hartford proposal is likely to be approved by the State Board of Education in September, but still would have to win approval for funding from the state legislature, said state board Chairman Allen Taylor.
If it gets the funding, the school would open in 2008 with about 250 children in kindergarten, first and fifth grades, officials said. It would expand gradually to include about 730 students through the eighth grade by the fall of 2012.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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