Sonya Stanford wants to get her younger daughter out of the Hartford school system.
Terri Lambert of Berlin is considering sending her oldest son to a preschool in Hartford.
And Kelvin Williams is looking for a technical school his son can attend. He's not particular about the town.
The three were among hundreds of parents who browsed more than 50 school booths at the Connecticut Expo Center Tuesday night for one of several school fairs being held this winter.
After the state met its first benchmark this year under the latest Sheff v. O'Neill desegregation settlement, the pressure is on to hit higher goals set for 2009-10. The fairs are hosted by the Hartford Regional School Choice Office, the Hartford schools and the Capitol Region Education Council to inform families of their school options.
Under the Sheff settlement, 19 percent of Hartford minority students had to be enrolled this year in more diverse urban or suburban schools. Those include suburban schools that accept Hartford students or any Hartford or magnet school with no more than 75 percent minority students. Next year, it's 27 percent, and eventually the figure jumps to 41 percent.
"I believe right now we will deliver our schools as needed to the state Department of Education to help them meet their goals," said Chris Leone, the director of Hartford's Regional School Choice Office, which oversees the city's 10 magnet schools. "There has been significant outreach to Hartford [residents] and outside communities."
That outreach includes fairs and open houses held at specific schools. It also includes translating the application form into more languages than just English and Spanish.
For the first time, that application also will be streamlined to include all Hartford magnet schools, the 12 regional magnet schools operated by CREC, state technical high schools and the Open Choice program that allows Hartford students to attend suburban public schools and vice versa. Hartford parents still have to apply for their public neighborhood schools separately under a new all-choice program.
Though there was a booth for the Open Choice program at the fair, the individual schools from the suburbs were not represented.
Philip Tegeler, a staff coordinator for the Sheff Movement Coalition who was not at the fair, said the organization would like to see more emphasis on the Open Choice program.
"I think the Regional School Choice Office is doing a good job with these school fairs. The Sheff magnets are having a really positive impact on Hartford," Tegeler said. "To really grow the desegregation plan to the new goals, I think the state needs to start marketing the suburban part of the program much more aggressively. We can't reach the goals with magnets alone."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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