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On First Day At Hartford's Milner School, Hope For Great Turnaround Year

By VANESSA DE LA TORRE

August 28, 2012

HARTFORD Former Mayor Thirman Milner stood Tuesday morning in the school named after him, observing the frenetic pace of first-day operations like a proud grandfather.

Milner, 78, said he felt embarrassed that Milner Core Knowledge Academy, "one of the worst-performing schools in the state," bore his name.

Now the school is called Jumoke Academy Honors at Milner, the result of a management partnership with the Hartford charter organization that the state Board of Education made official on August 9.

"Jumoke has an excellent record of achievement. ...I'm looking forward to a great year," said Milner, as students arrived in uniforms and navy ties for the first day of classes. "I'm glad I lived long enough to see this happen."

The children here represent only 425 out of Hartford's 21,360 students enrolled in the school system as of Tuesday, the start of the new year. But many eyes will be fixed on them: Milner School is part of the Commissioner's Network, a major piece of the education reform that Gov. Dannel P. Malloy signed into law in May.

The prekindergarten-to-grade-8 Milner and three other low-performing schools in Connecticut Bridgeport's Curiale School, New Haven's High School in the Community and Norwich's Stanton School will each receive between $1 million and $1.5 million in state funding this fiscal year to implement turnaround plans. They have committed to at least three years of state intervention.

For Milner School, which Jumoke Academy will essentially run, 20 academic assistants have been added to classrooms to help teachers. There will be extra instructional time. English Language Learners, who make up about a quarter of Milner's student population, will receive more resources because state auditors said their needs have been unmet.

At one point Tuesday, Dawn Renfrew, the school's physical education and health teacher, walked with the former mayor to the gymnasium. Health, as part of the curriculum, is new to the school, and so is Renfrew. She could not stop smiling.

"It's going to be great," Renfrew told Milner. "It's such a great beginning."

Renfrew left a teaching job in rural Litchfield County to teach here. She said she was undaunted of her task situated in one of Hartford's toughest neighborhoods: "I feel blessed."

After a rigorous application process, about 18 teachers are new at Milner, Principal Doreen Crawford said.

Seven out of nearly 90 Milner employees come from the previous school staff, including four teachers, Jumoke CEO Michael Sharpe has said.

Crawford, the former principal of Jumoke Academy on Blue Hills Avenue, addressed about 50 parents and guardians in the school cafeteria after students settled into their classrooms. She promised change at "your new Milner."

"When I give my word, I mean it," Crawford said. "That's all I have my word. ...We are going to do our very best... Our actions, our attitudes and the way we behave will dictate the way our children will behave. And today, starting today, starting this very moment, it's going to be all positive."

Sandra Reardon, a mother of three girls at the school, said she was pleased so far.

"I think the new teachers are doing a good job keeping the students in line," said Reardon, a member of Milner's school governance council. "They want scholars."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
     
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