Hartford School Board Accepts $2.77M Gates Foundation Grant
Compact With Charter Schools Receives Criticism
By VANESSA DE LA TORRE
March 25, 2013
HARTFORD —— The city school board has formally accepted a three-year, $2.77 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to deepen the Hartford schools' partnerships with two charter school organizations.
Before the 5-1 vote, Superintendent Christina Kishimoto tried to assure the public — and one skeptical board member — that accepting the money would not make Hartford beholden to outside groups.
Overall, the Gates Foundation plans to spend $5 million on the Hartford collaboration first announced in December, including $1.17 million for Achievement First and its leadership academy that already trains future Hartford public school principals during a yearlong residency.
Jumoke Academy and its management organization, Family Urban Schools of Excellence (FUSE), will receive $1.05 million to develop the charter's "capacity to successfully manage and implement the transformation of low-performing schools in Hartford," according to a district summary.
This school year, Jumoke began managing the city's Milner School, a chronically failing elementary school that is one of the first four participants in the state's Commissioner's Network. Hartford's grant proposal to the Gates Foundation outlined a scenario where Jumoke would run an additional two city schools by 2015.
Board Secretary Robert Cotto Jr., a member of the Working Families Party, views the Gates compact with suspicion. The city and charter schools have agreed to share best practices on teacher evaluations and student assessment.
"This really isn't collaboration," Cotto said during last week's board meeting. "What I see is, this is a coup. Right. This is Bill Gates coming in and saying, 'Here's $5 million — mostly for the charter schools, not really for the Hartford schools — and you've got to change up the policies. And you've got to give the kids more tests.'
"I'm deeply troubled by the way this has happened."
Kishimoto denied that the grant requires any extra testing of students or policy changes. She described the Jumoke-Milner partnership as "our first work that we're doing together," and that Jumoke Academy "would be a resource that we could turn to, and would be an option, for continued work around some turnaround approaches," she said.
The board must approve any additional partnerships between the city schools and Jumoke Academy, Kishimoto and others said.
"There is no coup," board member Richard Wareing said. "A coup is something that's illegitimate, usually by force... If we vote no, this does not happen."
Board Chairman Matthew Poland said he wants the board to discuss how to improve the city's schools rather than get "sunk in arguments" over the Gates grant. District administrators worked "diligently" on the grant application and the funding should be considered a much-needed boost, he said.
Hartford was among seven cities in the country, including New York City and Boston, awarded a total of $23.6 million in December under the Gates Foundation's District-Charter Collaboration Compact. The Hartford Foundation for Public Giving is the fiscal manager of Hartford's grant and will receive $50,001 from the city school system to manage its funding.
"This is a valuable opportunity for us and the notion that there's something nefarious about it, or a 'coup' related to it happening, or done in the darkness — there's just no evidence of that," Poland said.
Andrea Johnson, president of the Hartford Federation of Teachers, opposed the Gates grant. At last Tuesday's board meeting, however, she reserved her criticism for Jumoke Academy's management of Milner, which she described as "chaos."
Reached later, Michael Sharpe, Jumoke's CEO, said the Milner staff has worked hard to engage parents and improve the school climate.
"We've had tremendous support from the teachers," Sharpe said. "It's time we start talking about how to work together rather than tearing down people... Are there glitches? Absolutely. We're only seven months into a three- or five-year project."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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