Hartford Parents Meet With Malloy To Discuss Education Reform
By VANESSA DE LA TORRE
April 09, 2012
HARTFORD —— Liz Smith's eyes welled up as she began speaking to the governor Monday evening.
The mother sat in the library at the Milner Core Knowledge Academy with about 50 other members of the Hartford Parent Organization Council, which supports the education reforms in Senate Bill 24.
"This is long overdue," said Smith, whose children attend Capital Preparatory Magnet School and the Achievement First Hartford Academy. But, she told Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, legislators are "watering it down... . I know you're going to put your foot down."
Malloy's cordial meeting with parents proved to be a break from the criticism unfurled at town hall forums around the state, where teachers have condemned his bill as an attack on unions that doesn't do enough to address the socioeconomic factors that contribute to the achievement gap.
On Monday, Malloy again characterized those critics as defenders of a status quo in which urban school systems have languished. He also highlighted Milner and how the elementary school, one of the lowest-achieving in Connecticut, might benefit from additional funding under his reform package.
Malloy's original proposal includes a $22.9 million Commissioner's Network to turn around up to 25 low-performing schools statewide, a plan that Superintendent Christina Kishimoto has supported because of its potential to aid schools such as Milner. But unions argue that the network would strip schools of local power and enforce restricted collective bargaining on teachers.
The revised bill approved by the education committee March 26 would shrink the network to 10 schools and limit the commissioner's powers. Funding was reduced to $7.9 million.
Last Monday, a group of Hartford parents, many from Milner, visited the state Legislative Office Building to leave letters in support of Malloy's bill with Rep. Andrew Fleischmann, D-West Hartford, a committee co-chairman. State Capitol police were called during an encounter with his legislative aide; parents later complained of "rude" treatment from Fleischmann's office.
Former Hartford Mayor Thirman Milner — the city's first black mayor and the school's namesake — has also spoken in favor of the original legislation, noting that it is "embarrassing to me as a living person bearing that school's name" to hear the school is among the worst-performing in the state.
Only 23.5 percent of Milner third-graders were proficient in reading last spring on the Connecticut Mastery Test, compared to 73.9 percent of students statewide. "We know that the vast majority of third-graders coming through Milner are less likely to be successful," Malloy said Monday.
"There is nothing more important than literacy," he told parents. "Not art, not music, not playtime."
Malloy argued that adults currently face no consequences for failing schools — only children. "I'll settle for teaching to the test," he said, if it means raising scores.
"Hopefully this isn't the flavor of the month," said Anthony Arnum of Bloomfield, the parent of a Pathways To Technology Magnet School student. He worried education reform would become less of a priority after the legislative session. "Kids are coming out of school — they can't read, they can't write," Arnum said.
After the meeting, Hartford parent advocate Milly Arciniegas told the mothers and fathers to begin calling their state representatives to back up Malloy.
"This is it," Arciniegas said. "Don't be intimidated by these legislators."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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