August 4, 2005
By RACHEL GOTTLIEB, Courant Staff Writer
To revive the city's most troubled elementary school, Superintendent
of Schools Robert Henry is overhauling Milner Elementary School
for the second time in two years and moving the school's current
principal across town.
Jacqueline E. Mann, who was brought in two years ago to reverse a trend
of miserable test scores, is being transferred to Naylor Elementary School
as assistant principal. On Monday, Sherlye Jackson will move from her post
as Fox Middle School assistant principal to acting principal at Milner.
Mann, widely admired as a strong instructional leader, struggled
with what she called a culture of poor student behavior at the school
in the city's Upper Albany neighborhood. She was disturbed by the poor
attendance by parents at meetings she called to discuss the school's
problems and by high teacher absenteeism and the failure of district
administrators to send long-term substitutes for teachers on leave. On
some days, the district did not send subs for teachers who called in
sick, she said, and she was faced with teaching the classes herself or
distributing students among other classes.
In a controversial statement this year, Mann, who is black, said some
of the white teachers at Milner were culturally out of tune with the school's
predominantly black student body.
Jackson, 49, attended the school as
a first- and second-grader before moving on to other schools around the
city. She ultimately graduated from Weaver High School and has worked
throughout the district: 13 years as a special education teacher in Moylan's "Reach" program
for emotionally disturbed children followed by stints as assistant principal
at Kinsella Elementary School and at Quirk and Fox middle schools. She
has also worked as a special education teacher in Boston and Atlanta
and as assistant director of Jumoke Academy Charter School in Hartford.
"It's like coming home," Jackson said Wednesday. When the offer
came, she said, "I didn't have to think about it. It's a wonderfully
Jackson's challenge is this: oversee
dramatic improvement in standardized test scores that last year saw 73
percent of the fourth-graders land in the "below basic" scoring
level for reading; persuade both students and teachers to attend school
regularly; teach youngsters to behave themselves and obey their teachers;
and raise teacher morale and parents' faith in the school.
The federal No Child Left Behind Act demands it. After years of failing
to meet the legal requirements for improvement, the school is facing the
most serious sanctions the law provides - including such options as closure,
conversion to a charter school and reconstitution under new leadership,
new teachers and changes in curriculum.
Mann politely declined to comment for this story. And Henry stressed that
his switch is not a reflection on her talents. The school simply needs
to try something different, he said.
Jackson, Henry said, "is someone
who remembers the glory days of that school and she wants to return it
to its luster. I see her bringing the school together while creating
a climate of excitement."
When the school opens in September, about one-third of its teachers -
about a dozen teachers - will be new. To draw experienced teachers to the
school, Henry is changing the school structure a bit to create a master
teacher for each grade in grades 1 through 6. Each master teacher would
have a classroom aide who could take over the class while the master teacher
helps new teachers in their rooms. The master teachers would be paid an
extra stipend for the mentoring role.
For years, Milner has struggled with high teacher turnover and filled
vacancies with inexperienced teachers.
Thirman L. Milner, a former Hartford
mayor for whom the school is named, said he's sorry that Henry changed
principals again and also sorry that he didn't name a man to the post.
The male students need a role model, he said. "Why not look at a
Henry said he picked the best candidate and that there's still a chance
a man will be named assistant principal.
Jackson has a bachelor's degree in special education from Simmons College,
a master's from Southern Connecticut State University in early childhood
special education and a sixth year certificate from Central Connecticut
A discussion of this story with Courant Staff Writer Rachel Gottlieb is
scheduled to be shown on New England Cable News each hour today between
9 a.m. and noon.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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