Hartford Parents Discuss First Year In State Commissioner's Network
By VANESSA DE LA TORRE
May 23, 2013
HARTFORD — — Ana Soto recalled a time when her grandson couldn't spell the word "the."
That was only last August, Soto told the legislature's Black and Latino Caucus Thursday night.
Soto talked about the "trust and a lot of faith" she has in Milner School's new charter school management now that her grandson, Shyheim, a third-grader with special needs, is reading at grade level.
Caucus members wanted to hear from parents about Milner's first year in the state Commissioner's Network.
Jumoke Academy, a Hartford charter school, is operating Milner School with about $1.8 million in extra funding compared to last year. Much of that new money comes from the state to boost services at the struggling school, such as adding an academic aide to every classroom. Jumoke receives a $345,000 management fee.
Originally planned as a "community conversation" in the city's North End, Thursday's forum was moved to the state Legislative Office Building to accommodate the politicians in session. About 15 Milner parents and grandparents showed up on a rainy night, with children in tow, along with roughly two dozen other community members.
Family Urban Schools of Excellence, the organization that runs Jumoke Academy, and Voices of Women of Color, a consulting firm that focuses on social justice issues, co-sponsored the meeting and made a pitch to legislators to maintain the network funding. Supporters backed their case.
"A lot of the kids on my caseload are turning their grades around," said A.J. Johnson, a social worker with the Village for Families and Children.
"Instead of calling them students, they call them scholars," said Roz Stevens, a parent at the renamed Jumoke Academy at Milner School. Children walk with their heads held high, Stevens added.
School leaders said enforcing student discipline has been one focus. Parents who have expressed support for Jumoke's management say there is no longer chaos in the hallways.
Not everyone is happy, though. Two parents said earlier Thursday that they've witnessed instances where some staffers speak to students in an aggressive tone they believe is inappropriate for a school.
"I'm about to start videotaping what's going on," said Andrea King, one of Milner's active volunteers. She has three daughters enrolled, including an eighth-grader who is student council president. King argued that the administration tends to sweep problems "under the rug."
"It fixed up a little bit," Maryann Yearwood said of the new Milner. But after supporting Jumoke Academy a year ago as a member of Milner's school governance council, she now feels "disgusted."
Yearwood has two daughters in Milner's middle school grades who have each been suspended so many times this year, she said, "I lost count." The school calls her daily asking her to come over to resolve a problem or to take one of them home, Yearwood said.
"My kids never got into trouble until these people came here," Yearwood continued. King contends that "they single out certain kids."
Jumoke CEO Michael Sharpe told legislators that, overall, suspensions are down and attendance is up. "We have serious discipline problems," Sharpe said, but "it's the first year we're trying to do this."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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