HARTFORD —— Karen N. Lott, the principal of a turnaround school in New Haven, has been chosen to lead Hartford's Jumoke Academy at Milner School.
The city school board is scheduled to vote on Lott's appointment Tuesday night. If approved, Lott would begin her new job in July with a $131,355 salary.
Milner's current principal, Doreen Crawford, has led the school during its inaugural year in the state Commissioner's Network and is stepping down at the end of next month.
Since 2009, Lott has been principal of Brennan-Rogers School of Communication and Media, one of New Haven's examples of a struggling school that has undergone aggressive reform over the past few years. She also is a former school principal in Springfield and has a master's degree in social work.
"I'm very optimistic about the positive change that can happen at Milner," Lott said Monday.
Lott described the challenges she faced at Brennan-Rogers as similar to those at the North End school, including student poverty, a high transiency rate, low test scores and behavioral problems. Both are pre-kindergarten to grade 8 schools, although Brennan-Rogers is now a city magnet school open to all New Haven families.
When Brennan-Rogers' federally-funded turnaround effort began in 2010, the school languished in the bottom rung of New Haven public schools' rating system: Tier 3, reserved for the lowest-performing schools, Lott said. Sixty percent of the staff was new.
This academic year, Lott said, the district moved the school into Tier 2, which signifies that Brennan-Rogers has experienced growth in student proficiency on the Connecticut Mastery Test and other improvements, including school climate, "but now there's a need to push the bar into high achievement."
Brennan-Rogers, a media and technology-themed school with iPads in every classroom, had an 11 percent increase in student proficiency on the 2012 state exam, the biggest gain of any public school in New Haven, Lott said.
According to state data, 37.5 percent of Brennan-Rogers seventh-graders tested as proficient in math last year, while 64 percent were proficient in reading. At Milner, 57.6 percent of seventh-graders scored as proficient in math in 2012, compared to 48.5 percent in reading.
Letisha Garay, co-chair of Milner's school governance council, said she and other parents recently met with Lott. Garay said she is pleased that another "strong" woman is expected to be Milner's principal.
"She's very structured," Garay said Monday. When parents asked about her efforts in New Haven, "she let us know she fought hard and she had to come up with a strategy to figure out how we're going to do this together ... She wants the parents and staff to all be on board."
Crawford received her doctorate in educational leadership from Central Connecticut State University last week and said she is "moving on" to other opportunities.
Crawford was previously the longtime principal at Jumoke Academy, a Hartford charter school that began managing Milner this academic year through the Commissioner's Network, a state intervention initiative aimed at Connecticut's lowest-performing schools.
Overall, Milner is receiving about $1.8 million in additional funding to support the turnaround plan in 2012-13, including the hiring of 20 new classroom aides at a cost of $608,180, money for building improvements and more help for students learning English, according to the district. Jumoke Academy receives a $345,000 management fee.
The Commissioner's Network budgeted $1.5 million for Milner this fiscal year, although legislators cut about $200,000 from each of the four network schools to deal with the state deficit, said Kelly Donnelly, a state Department of Education spokeswoman.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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