The overhaul of Hartford's public schools gained momentum Tuesday with the approval of a long-range plan designed to give parents a broad selection of schools, including four new schools as early as 2008.
The city's board of education gave the go-ahead to Superintendent of Schools Steven J. Adamowski's plan to shake up the struggling district by creating a citywide all-choice system featuring a wide range of educational approaches.
The school choice approach marks a major shift for a school system that has gone through a series of superintendents and tried remedies ranging from a failed experiment with private management to a state takeover of the city schools in the 1990s.
The sweeping plan is designed to inject new life into a 25,000-student district that enrolls many poor children and is among the lowest-performing systems in the state. Officials envision options such as year-round schools, all-boys or all-girls academies or schools specializing in arts or international studies.
Most of the changes would occur within five years, according to Adamowski.
One of the first steps was the board's authorization Tuesday to begin planning four new elementary schools modeled after schools in Hartford and elsewhere that have solid track records. One would be patterned after the Montessori school that operates at the Learning Corridor campus near Trinity College. Another would emphasize character education, similar to the city's popular Breakthrough Magnet School.
A third school would feature the rigorous International Baccalaureate program emphasizing international studies, and a fourth would be operated by Achievement First, a school reform organization that runs several high-performing schools in low-income neighborhoods.
"We know there are certain school models out there that are very popular, and we're looking to expand on those," board member David MacDonald said. The all-choice approach, he said, will "provide options for children that speak to them and their interests and their specific talents. This is a very exciting moment for this school system."
The four new schools would open with limited grades in fall of 2008 and add additional grades in later years. The location of the schools has not been determined.
Adamowski also has called for the complete overhaul - including staffing, curriculum and organization - of three of the city's lowest-performing elementary schools: Burns, M.D. Fox and Milner. Officials have not determined what educational approaches will be used at those schools, but Adamowski plans to seek ideas from the community and have recommendations ready by November.
Another elementary school, Barnard-Brown, has been recommended as the new site for Capital Preparatory Magnet School. The magnet school currently shares space with Capital Community College in the former G. Fox department store, a downtown landmark in Hartford. The school board is expected to vote later this year on the move, which would take place in the fall of 2010.
If the move is approved, Barnard-Brown would close as an elementary school at the end of the new school year, and the school system would reassign its 425 students to other schools.
In addition, Adamowski said he plans to call for a complete reorganization of Hartford Public High School in 2008, turning it into a school with a focus on career and technical education.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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