State Gets Seven Applications For New Charter Schools
Two Proposals Have Teacher Union Support
By KATHLEEN MEGAN
April 09, 2013
Teachers unions aren't generally known for support of charter schools, but two of the seven new schools proposed for Connecticut have strong union support.
The proposed Path Academy in Windham is aimed at students who have had a history of low academic performance, while the proposed Elm City Montessori School in New Haven would serve children in pre-kindergarten through the fourth grade. Both are supported by teacher unions.
Randall J. Prose, president of the Windham Federation of Teachers, said he strongly supports the Path Academy proposed by Our Piece of the Pie of Hartford because it will be serving a population that Windham does not adequately help.
"We used to have an alternative school for over age, under-accredited students," but, he said it stopped operating five or six years ago because of budget cuts.
Since then he said the district has been struggling to provide services for this group of students. Prose said the Windham teachers have also been involved in helping to develop the curriculum for the development of the new school.
"We were very involved in writing the curriculum, we are going to serve on their board," said Prose. "They will give us a spot."
The state has 17 state charter schools in operation. The last time a new charter was approved was in 2007.
Bill Phillips, president of the Northeast Charter School Network, said that Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has proposed money for nine new charter schools over the next two fiscal years, but he said, it is unclear whether the legislature will keep the funding in the budget.
The approval process for the schools includes a review by the state, a recommendation from the Commissioner on Education and eventual consideration by the state Board of Education.
The other proposed charter schools include an elementary school in Waterbury that would open in July and provide "rigorous academic and holistic social-emotional learning; a Montessori school that would open in June in Bridgeport; an elementary school in Norwalk and focus on critical thinking and character development; an elementary school in New Haven that would serve low-performing children; and a seventh through twelfth grade school also in New Haven that would focus on science, technology and engineering. The school in Norwalk and the two schools in New Haven would open in 2014.
The Elm City Montessori School has been proposed by a group of parents of preschoolers who say that they are "committed to public education , but challenged by lack of access to their schools of choice."
"I know what motivates the people behind this proposal: It's a desire to serve every student," said David Low, a vice president of the New Haven Federation of Teachers and a member of the board for the proposed school.
The proposal for Elm City says that children who enroll with development delays or any other learning challenge "will be served through a rigorous support process …. We are committed to providing an inclusive learning community where every child develops his [or] her full potential."
David Cicarella, president of the New Haven Federation of Teachers said the union has "a lot of enthusiasm" about the Montessori proposal.
In addition, he is glad to see that the charter would answer to the local board of education, though it would also have to get state approval. "It will be a neighborhood school taking neighborhood kids," Cicarella said.
The Path Academy aims to open in July, 2014; while the start date for the Elm City Montessori School is unclear.
Cicarella said Albert Shanker, the longtime leader of the American Federation of Teachers, first proposed the development of charter schools as "incubators of change." But Cicarella said he believes that too often charter schools have "really been bastardized into these semi-private schools within the public school system."
Phillips, of the Northeast Charter School Network, said he is pleased with the seven applications that charter schools have submitted.
"We welcome the union's involvement. I think if nothing else, it will help them understand how difficult the work is," said Phillips.
With an April deadline for submission, Phillips said those submitting did not have much time to get their proposals organized.
Kelly Donnelly, spokeswoman for the state Department of Education said in an email, "We welcome all stakeholders, including teachers' unions, to the effort to create new public education opportunities, including public charter schools."
Debra Kurshan, the state Department of Education's chief turnaround officer, said she is also "encouraged by the response and impressed by the considerable effort that went into the submissions … given the short window of time."
"Charter schools are one option among many, including Commissioner's Network schools, and magnet schools, for districts to ensure there are high-quality options for students," Kurshan said in a statement.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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