Hartford Charter School Secures Funding, Plans August Opening
By ARIELLE LEVIN BECKER | Courant Staff Writer
July 24, 2008
Jennifer Jackson finally had good news for her daughter, Raeyah: Her new school, the much-anticipated Achievement First Hartford Academy, will open next month after all.
The 10-year-old took it with an adult dose of skepticism.
"Are you sure?" she asked. She'd had her hopes up before, then been told the school might not open.
This time, Raeyah can be sure. After a $2.1 million state funding shortfall threatened to keep the charter school from opening, school leaders announced Wednesday they'd secured enough money to open next month as planned. The money includes about $500,000 in state funds, $400,000 from the Hartford Board of Education, $400,000 from the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, and $1 million from private donors.
School officials are hoping to raise an additional $800,000, though they have enough funding to begin the year and have secured a loan as a backup, said Dacia Toll, founder and co-CEO of Achievement First, the group that will run the school.
Gov. M. Jodi Rell has committed to fully funding the school in the coming years, consistent with how the state funds other charter schools. This year's state money came from leftover funding for existing charter schools.
Word of the school's opening came as a relief to parents like Jackson, who saw Achievement First's high standards as a source of hope for her two daughters. Hartford school officials consider the school central to the district's reform efforts.
The money the Hartford school system contributed puts the district in a budget deficit, but Superintendent of Schools Steven J. Adamowski said the school was too important not to fund. The school system is also providing $600,000 worth of services, such as custodial and maintenance work.
Housed in the former Mark Twain Elementary School, the academy will be modeled after Achievement First's acclaimed Amistad Academy in New Haven, which has won national recognition for producing high achievement among poor and minority students. Adamowski said the school will serve as something of a laboratory for techniques that could work in other city schools, such as the use of time — students attend school until 5 p.m. and on Saturdays — and the school's emphasis on student behavior.
The academy will open with a kindergarten and first and fifth grades and add grades each year until it enrolls students in kindergarten through eighth grade.
Before the funding shortfall, the school had already filled nearly all of its 252 slots, with waiting lists for kindergarten and first grade.
Even when its opening was uncertain, parents stood by the school. There are now waiting lists for every grade.
Jeff House, principal of the middle school, said no fifth-grade parents or pupils pulled out, giving him extra motivation to deliver. "People put a lot of faith in the school," he said.
Dozens of parents brought their children to the school Wednesday, where officials announced that the school would open.
Andrea Comer, a Hartford board of education member who is also on the academy's board, emphasized the importance of the parents' commitment, noting that it is rare for parents to so firmly stand behind a school that has not yet opened.
Toll thanked the funders and parents for helping the school reach this point. Then she focused on the task ahead: creating a place where children are challenged and loved as they work toward going to college.
"Let's get to work," she said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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