Board Takes Steps That Include Initial Approval Of Four New Schools
By RACHEL GOTTLIEB FRANK, Courant Staff Writer
November 21, 2007
Hartford's school board took a giant leap Tuesday into what will be the redesigning of most of the school system when it approved initial plans to create four new schools and directed the superintendent to redesign four existing low-performing schools and close one elementary school in order to convert it into a magnet school.
By unanimous vote, the board approved a first reading of a plan to create an Achievement First charter school — New Haven's successful Amistad Academy is an Achievement First school — a second Breakthrough Academy, an International Baccalaureate, similar to the one in East Hartford, and a Montessori elementary school. The board will take a final vote next month.
Existing schools that will be redesigned for the 2008-09 school year include Burns, M.D. Fox and Milner Elementary Schools and Hartford Public High School. It is not clear how they will be redesigned. Barnard Brown Elementary School will cease operating as an elementary school and will be converted into space for Capital Preparatory Magnet School, which is currently at Capital Community College.
About 500 teachers wearing pins bearing the word "respect" and parents who feel left out of the redesign process protested in a cold drizzle outside before the meeting, and then moved inside, where they demanded a role. Police stood watch as classroom aides, teachers and parents delivered passionate speeches about their right to take part in the remaking of a school system that has employed many of them for decades.
Cathy Carpino, president of the teachers' union, held up petitions that she said have 1,500 signatures of school employees and parents. "It is our hope that you will receive these signatures as a collective call to collaborate," she said to cheers. "We are eager to work side by side to make sure we reach our goals for student success."
The district has been through 12 superintendents in 20 years, she said. "They have left. We are still here."
Sandra Reigal, a classroom aide who has worked at Milner Elementary School for 30 years, said it is her understanding that she will have to reapply for her job if she wishes to stay at Milner after it is redesigned.
"How disheartening it is to be so disrespected. Evaluations should be looked at," Reigal said. "I chose to remain at Milner after a teacher was mugged, after my car was broken into and my possessions were taken, after ducking gunfire while putting students on the afternoon bus. I have never seen [Superintendent Steven] Adamowski at my school."
Several teachers said reforms that have already taken place, such as the creation of ninth-grade academies, aren't effective for special education students. All students are required to take algebra, for example, but Hartford Public High School teacher Lynn Fidler said that not all students are up to the task. "Many of our special education students are drowning in classes that are too difficult for them."
School board member Andrea Comer spoke reassuringly to the crowd before the board voted. "We're trying to provide choices for our kids so they can do well. We're not trying to disrespect anybody."
Other board members promised that parents and teachers will be included in the future. "Change of this magnitude happens in stages. Our work is really just beginning," board member Pamela Richmond said.
In a briefing before the school board meeting, board members learned about the new schools in the works. Adamowski will present the board with his ideas for school locations in December.
Breakthrough, which has multiage classrooms and focuses on character development, would be a replication of Hartford's most successful elementary school. It would open for pre-K through Grade 2 and add one grade each year through Grade 8. This year, more than 2,000 students applied for 20 slots in the existing inter-district Breakthrough Magnet School. The existing school's standardized test scores are competitive with suburban schools.
The Achievement First school would be exclusively for Hartford students. It would open with kindergarten, first and fifth grades and would grow through eighth grade. It would offer extended days, school on Saturday and summer school with a rigorous college-prep curriculum. The district may later develop a high school. The school would operate in partnership with the Hartford Public Schools and the Capitol Region Education Council.
The new Montessori School would be the second public Montessori elementary school in Hartford, and more would follow. Adamowski's plan for the future is to add a third elementary school, a middle school that would operate a farm and a high school. The district would also seek a corporate partner to host a site for youngsters between 9 months and 3 years old. Existing Montessori programs at Annie Fisher and Kennelly Elementary Schools would be folded into the new Montessori school.
The International Baccalaureate School, based on a successful model that operates 2,145 schools in 125 countries, would operate as a pre-K through Grade 12 school. Classes include students in multiple grades, giving younger students who excel in subjects the opportunity to take advanced courses. The school's name would be Global Communications Academy. As part of its college-prep curriculum, all students would study either Spanish or Arabic through all of their years in the school.
Through a partnership with Say Yes to Education Inc., all International Baccalaureate students who are enrolled in the school during its start-up phase or who attend from pre-kindergarten through high school would be guaranteed full tuition at specific colleges or partial tuition at any other college they attend.
Also, the IB Diploma Program offers students the chance to graduate with either a standard high school diploma or with an IB Diploma. The coursework in grades 11 and 12 for the IB Diploma is equivalent to six Advanced Placement courses and students earn as much as a year and a half of college credit.
The school board also approved enrollment plans for inter-district magnet schools that don't enroll the requisite 26 percent white students that is needed for state funding. The enrollment plans call for removing the magnet status of Simpson-Waverly Classical Magnet and sending the school's suburban students back to their districts at the end of the school year and finding a new theme for the Annie Fisher Multiple Intelligences Magnet School that will be more attractive to suburban students.
The state has withheld $5.4 million from Hartford, pending submission of the enrollment plans, but it is expected to release that money within 10 days of receiving the plans.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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