Milner School Students Are Smart Enough To Succeed
By MICHAEL SHARPE
August 10, 2012
On the eve of the State Board of Education's vote on Thursday to approve the partnership between Jumoke Academy and the Hartford Board of Education to transform Milner School, I met with the Jumoke parents association and members of our team.
One staff member said she had visited the school and spoken with the Milner students, who told her that they "weren't as smart as the kids at Jumoke." In that moment, the motivation behind our commitment to change the educational experience at Milner was powerfully reinforced.
The State Department of Education rightfully had questions about the realities of replicating a model such as Jumoke's, as well as some of the turnaround plan's requirements. In particular, there was much discussion about the significant mobility of students at the school and the plan to halt enrollment after Oct. 1. This is not about denying access; it is about creating stability in the lives of children. We know that it is hard for them to learn when they are moving from school to school stuck in the revolving door that is transiency.
Milner School, which bears the name of New England's first African-American mayor, has been one of Hartford's default schools for years. Essentially, families who did not actively enroll their child in a particular school were defaulted to Milner or another low-performing school. As a result, many families found a way out of that school at the first opportunity.
Others, for whatever reasons, found a way out of the neighborhood — they moved to new neighborhoods and new schools. I know this is the case because Jumoke once faced the same circumstances. When we were one of the lowest-performing schools in the city, we lost about 30 percent of our families a year.
During that time, we looked at what our barriers to success were. Of course, we examined the rigor of our teaching and the effectiveness of our school leaders, and improved our professional development and assessment approaches.
But we also looked at the impact mobility had on our academic outcomes — and we fought to keep the children we had. If a family moved, we looked at transportation options. If there was state Department of Children and Families involvement, we reached out to caseworkers to establish a plan that allowed the child to remain at the school. With stability came a culture that allowed teachers to teach, children to learn and success to be achieved.
The simple fact is this: While we adults are engrossed in processes and philosophies, children are waiting for someone to convince them they are smart enough. We know they are, and we are ready to prove it to them.
Dr. Michael Sharpe is CEO at Family Urban Schools of Excellence — Jumoke Academy Schools.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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