In Hartford, Milner School Parents Seek Answers From Jumoke Academy CEO
By VANESSA DE LA TORRE
May 30, 2012
HARTFORD — — Sandra Reardon brought her newborn son to Wednesday night's community meeting in the Milner cafeteria.
"We love our kids," said Reardon, 29, who has three daughters attending Milner Core Knowledge Academy. "We love all the kids."
But even as Milner has languished, ranking in the bottom 5 percent of Connecticut's public schools, Reardon defended many of the teachers and worried about their place at Milner if the school joins with Jumoke Academy for the 2012-13 school year, as Hartford school officials hope.
Michael Sharpe, chief executive officer of the Jumoke charter school in the city's North End, conceded that "the majority" of Milner teachers would likely opt to transfer to another city school.
"It would just not be honest and truthful if I made a blanket commitment," Sharpe said. Later, he even introduced a current Jumoke staffer who would teach at Milner in August, assuming the city's school board approves the partnership.
Wednesday's meeting was convened as a question-and-answer session for parents trying to understand a proposal that is gaining speed.
On May 15, the same day Gov. Dannel P. Malloy signed the education reform bill into law, the school board voted to form a "response team" that will work with the state Department of Education on a plan for raising achievement at Milner. That group includes leadership from Jumoke Academy.
The state has not yet announced which schools will be part of the Commissioner's Network. While Superintendent Christina Kishimoto has told the board the state has assured her of Milner's selection, she said Wednesday that the schools need to submit a formal application to the state by Friday.
The bill allows Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor to intervene in 25 low-performing schools over the next three years. Legislators budgeted $7.5 million for the network.
Even if it is affiliated with a charter, Milner would remain a Hartford public school, Kishimoto said.
Milner underwent a redesign in 2008 but has yet to achieve notable gains on the Connecticut Mastery Test. On the 2011 exam, only 13.3 percent of Milner fifth-graders tested proficient in reading, compared to the 75 percent state average.
The challenges at Milner include a high number of English Language Learners — about 25 percent of students, up from 12 percent in 2008-09 — and the school's roughly 36 percent transiency rate.
Still, Sharpe made a pledge to the few dozen parents scattered among the cafeteria tables: "In four years, Milner will be on the list of successful schools."
Parents drilled down to basics: Will students with special needs retain their services? Will Milner's Family Resource Center stay? Will Milner remain a neighborhood school?
Yes, yes, and probably, Sharpe answered.
"We would fight hard to keep this a neighborhood school," said Sharpe, proposing that the name would be Jumoke Academy at Milner. He noted that former Hartford Mayor Thirman Milner, now 78, was in the audience. Sharpe said he considered the name "sacred."
"What we want to change is the performance level," he said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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