Malloy Tells Hartford Parents He's Still Fighting For Education Reform
Governor Visits Milner School One Year After Landmark Bill Signed
By VANESSA DE LA TORRE
May 14, 2013
HARTFORD — Former Mayor Thirman Milner recalled a time when he wanted his name taken off the school building where he stood Tuesday night.
"You walk in the school, you can see the difference," said Milner, 79, as parents and staff mingled in the library of Jumoke Academy at Milner Elementary. "I'm proud ... . It took 20 years for this to happen."
When Gov. Dannel P. Malloy signed Connecticut's education reform bill into law a year ago, the Vine Street school was called the Milner Core Knowledge Academy. Malloy had often identified Milner as the kind of chronically failing school he wanted to transform.
The bill authorized the state to intervene in up to 25 schools over three years, beginning last summer with Milner, New Haven's High School in the Community, Stanton School in Norwich and Bridgeport's Curiale School. Malloy sought about $14.1 million in the next two years to help those low-performing schools in the new Commissioner's Network.
Last month, the General Assembly's appropriations committee cut the proposed funding to $3.85 million. Legislators also cut millions requested for new charter schools and teacher evaluation and training — other key pieces of the reform bill. Budget negotiations are expected to continue over the next few weeks.
"We have some battles ahead of us to make sure those proposals are funded," Malloy told Milner parents. "I've made it very clear that the money has to go back in."
The Hartford charter school Jumoke Academy and its management organization, Family Urban Schools of Excellence, has a $345,000 annual contract with the Hartford school system to essentially run Milner School as part of the Commissioner's Network. Teachers remain unionized.
Jumoke CEO Michael Sharpe said the charter group is developing a network proposal with the Bridgeport school system, similar to Milner's turnaround plan, to manage Dunbar School next academic year.
Jumoke leaders acknowledge that the task at Milner has been difficult. They have a strained relationship with the teachers' union. Milner also has more impoverished families, English Language Learners, and students with special needs and behavioral problems than the high-achieving Jumoke Academy on Blue Hills Avenue.
Only a handful of Milner teachers stayed for the transition to Jumoke management. One of them, first-grade teacher Holly Moya, said Tuesday night that "the year started off rocky because change is hard for some." Several staffers said collaboration with administrators and parents has been crucial.
Sharpe told Malloy that average student attendance is 93.5 percent, up from 87 percent in past years. After starting the fall with 395 students, only 15 have left Milner, Sharpe added, noting that about 30 percent would usually leave during the year.
Lara White, a new language arts teacher for Milner's middle school grades, said she makes a point of telling students who are used to staff turnover, "We're not going anywhere."
Jumoke's plan for Milner includes a focus on engaging families, student discipline, Saturday academies and placing a classroom aide in each classroom. Teachers pledge to remain at Milner for the minimum three years of the turnaround effort, although Principal Doreen Crawford, who joined Milner this school year after a 15-year career with Jumoke, is stepping down in late June.
Crawford will graduate this week from Central Connecticut State University with a doctorate in educational leadership. "Moving on," she said.
Administrators have already identified her replacement. "The transition will be very, very smooth," said Sharpe, who declined to identify the candidate until next week.
Letisha Garay, the mother of a Milner seventh-grader, was among a group of parents Tuesday who expressed support for Jumoke's changes to their school.
Students were "wild" last year, Garay said. Now there's zero tolerance when students are disrespectful to staff, and "we have structure."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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