February 7, 2005
By RACHEL GOTTLIEB, Courant Staff Writer
To stop the brain drain
from Hartford's schools and to give all city children an
equal shot at a seat in a magnet school, a member of the city
school board has proposed automatically enrolling all Hartford
kids in the magnet lottery.
Board member Michael Williams, who is the director of the area
office for the state Department of Children and Families, said
he worries that the magnet school system is creating a two-tiered
city school system. Children whose parents are not assertive
and who are struggling the most are being left behind, he said.
"Students entering the magnet system are getting a far
superior education than those who are not," Williams said.
Students in foster care and those whose parents are overwhelmed
by their busy days or who don't bother to learn about the magnet
schools, don't end up entering the lottery, he said.
This year, for the first time, Williams is directing his caseworkers
to fill out applications for all the children in foster care
who are eligible for the lottery. About 200 of the 683 students
assigned to caseworkers in Hartford are entering grades accepting
students in magnet schools.
Next year, there will be about
1,100 new slots for Hartford children in 10 magnet schools
and about 340 seats for suburban kids. The board has rejected
the idea to make changes in the lottery selection process for
those slots; Ed Linehan, Hartford's executive director of magnet
schools and choice programs, called it "an administrative nightmare" to
make changes this late in the process. But the board agreed
to consider making changes for the next lottery.
The deadline to apply for the lottery for spots in September's
class is Feb. 18.
In addition to not getting access to creative programs in the
magnet schools, Williams said, the students who are left behind
find fewer honors and advanced placement classes in the regular
schools because the exodus of top students leaves less demand
for the challenging classes.
Others are expressing similar concerns about the lottery and
the pattern of enrollment that is emerging.
Martha Stone, one of the lawyers in the Sheff vs. O'Neill school
desegregation lawsuit that led to the creation of some of the
magnet schools, said that officials must remember that the point
of the Sheff case was to create equal opportunity for all the
children in the city. Some parents, she said, don't know how
to negotiate the magnet system because of a language barrier,
because they are intimidated or because they haven't visited
any of the magnet schools so they don't know how to choose a
"If everybody gets in the pool, then once you're chosen,
you pick out a school and fill out the paperwork," Stone
In West Hartford, when the district held a lottery for enrollment
in the new middle school, officials entered the names of all
fifth- and sixth-graders in the town to give all students an
equal chance for admission.
Linehan, the magnet schools and choice programs director, told
the board this week that changing the rules this late in the
year to fill slots in schools around the city would create an
administrative nightmare. He suggested that a group convene to
study options, including his idea to create a hybrid system that
would set aside a certain number of seats for students who apply
and the rest for a general lottery.
Linehan said he sees merit
in the idea of reserving seats for students who would not otherwise
apply for a magnet school. But "the
goal here should not be to work around the uninvolved parent
- the goal should be to encourage parents to get involved," he
A system that reserves seats for those who apply while setting
aside places for those who don't would reward parents who get
involved but also ensure opportunity for kids who don't apply,
Williams said he thinks the
school district needs to be as aggressive about recruiting
Hartford students to the magnet schools as it is about recruiting
suburban students. And while a hybrid system to reserve some
seats for those who don't take steps to apply would be an improvement
over the current method, he said, "the
ideal is that all kids get an equal shot."
Linehan said he will work closely with DCF caseworkers to help
them fill out applications for children in foster care, and he
will convene a group to study ways to improve access to the schools
for all students.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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