Hartford Superintendent Proposes Opening New Charter School
By VANESSA DE LA TORRE
April 24, 2013
HARTFORD — — Superintendent Christina Kishimoto told education leaders Wednesday that she wants Achievement First to open another charter school in the city, possibly in 2014.
Calling for more schools that "work," Kishimoto said during her annual State of the Schools address that "we need to get beyond whether it's charter or magnet or neighborhood... schools. We need to get back to, 'Is this good for kids?'"
Kishimoto also plans to nominate Burns Latino Studies Academy and America's Choice at SAND School for admission into the state's Commissioner's Network.
Milner School, renamed Jumoke Academy at Milner, is the only Hartford school in the state intervention program that began last summer.
The city board of education will begin preliminary discussions soon over the charter school proposal, Kishimoto said after her speech at the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts. "We're literally at the board conversation level with this."
Board Chairman Matthew Poland said he wants to "get a sense of the demand" for a second Achievement First K-8 school and mentioned the possibility of locating it in Hartford's South End. A major feature of Hartford's education reform strategy is school choice.
"I think it's really worth having the board explore it," Poland said.
Achievement First Hartford currently operates kindergarten to ninth grade in the former Lewis Fox Middle School in the North End, near the Albany and Blue Hills intersection. The student population at the high-achieving charter school, which this year enrolled about 830 students, is predominantly African American.
Mayor Pedro Segarra, who serves on the board, said he expects the community will have a say in the board's decision.
Segarra noted that some residents "are becoming more concerned about the infusion of more charter schools" — whether they provide enough seats to neighborhood students while taking resources that might have benefited traditional public schools.
However, the mayor added, referring to test scores: "Do I think charter schools have been successful? Of course."
One criticism of Achievement First is that it teaches few students who come from homes where English is not the primary language. Paige MacLean, Achievement First's senior director for strategic partnerships, said "part of that is because the population we draw in the North End has a lower percentage" of English Language Learners.
"We are happy to open a school wherever the district feels that they need us," MacLean said Wednesday. That could include the South End, she said, where many ELL students live.
Since 2008, Hartford has provided Achievement First with use of a city school building, student transportation, cafeteria meals and other services. Students are chosen through a Hartford Public Schools choice lottery. The network expanded this academic year when Achievement First Hartford High School opened with an inaugural group of ninth-graders.
Achievement First also receives state funding and has an independent board of directors. Its staff includes young graduates from the Teach for America program.
"Once again, it's charter schools, charter schools, charter schools," Andrea Johnson, president of the Hartford Federation of Teachers, said of Kishimoto's proposal.
"My main concern is for the children and teachers in the city of Hartford who now live in a two-tier system," Johnson said Wednesday. "You have charter schools, magnet schools and neighborhood schools. Many times, the neighborhood schools don't have the same materials, the same resources ...
"Why don't we focus on the schools we have now?"
As for the Commissioner's Network, Kishimoto said she will likely present applications to the board in the next few months. She proposes 2014 implementation for Burns and SAND schools. "This is about funding ... great plans already in place," Kishimoto said.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy pushed for Connecticut's 2012 education reform bill that allows the state to intervene in low-performing schools and provide extra funding to support those schools' turnaround plans.
In Hartford, the Jumoke Academy charter school now manages Milner, one of the state's first four network schools. Charter school affiliation is one of the turnaround models that the state has endorsed.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at