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CONNECTICUT: Hartford Officials Explain Charter School Choice

Absenteeism, Test Scores Cited In Plan To Convert Clark School For Achievement First

Achievement FirstHARTFORD — City school officials on Tuesday cited chronic absenteeism, declining enrollment and years of low test scores as reasons why Clark Elementary School should be converted into an Achievement First charter school.

Superintendent Christina Kishimoto has recommended Clark as the future site of the charter network’s second K-8 elementary school in Hartford, a proposal that has left some Clark parents stunned.

“I haven’t even slept because it’s so emotional,” said Mille Soto, chairwoman of Clark’s School Governance Council.

A gradual “redesign” of Clark Elementary would begin with Achievement First opening a fifth grade in the North End building next academic year, Kishimoto told the school board Tuesday. Clark would formally close by the 2016-17 school year as Achievement First expands to additional grades, according to a tentative timeline.

The board, which must act on any school redesign or closure, has been asked to consider the Clark proposal at its Nov. 19 meeting and then vote on Kishimoto’s recommendation in December.

The board voted in August to allow Achievement First to open a second charter elementary school in Hartford through a partnership with the school system, although the location was unknown at the time.

At Tuesday’s workshop, even board members who supported Achievement First said approving the Clark overhaul would be difficult unless the district undertakes a major effort to allay the concerns of Clark families. Kishimoto said outreach efforts will include informational sessions and several weeks of door-knocking.

“The board is unconvinced, the community is unconvinced that this is the right thing,” board chairman Matthew Poland said. “I don’t believe in my heart of hearts that Achievement First is the problem. … It really is about the way we approached the issue.”

Soto said she learned of the proposal last week. School administrators met with Clark families twice on Monday and there were “a lot of parents, a lot of concerns, a lot of tears, a lot of people angry because we’re not getting our questions answered and we just feel like we’re getting bullied,” she said.

Soto’s son, a Clark fourth-grader, asked Kishimoto “not to take his school away from him,” Soto recalled Tuesday. “That broke my heart.”

Under the proposal, Achievement First would educate fifth-graders in the Clark building in 2014-15, while the Clark school staff would continue teaching students in grades K-4 and 6-8.

In the 2015-16 school year, Achievement First would expand to kindergarten and grades 1, 5, and 6. Clark would offer grades 2-4 and 7-8. Then, in 2016-17, Achievement First would continue expanding to more grades in the building on Clark Street, which school officials say is now under-enrolled with more than 200 open seats.

School officials said they want to maintain Clark’s “community school” model and its extensive partnerships with The Village for Families and Children, the University of Connecticut, the Salvation Army and other groups that offer wraparound services to Clark students and families.

Reshma Singh, Achievement First’s vice president for external relations, said the district notified charter officials late last week that Clark Elementary was the proposed site. Achievement First already serves about 900 city students in kindergarten to 10th grade in the former Lewis Fox Middle School building, also in Hartford’s North End.

“We’ll go wherever the district tells us we can,” Singh said.

The high-performing Achievement First Hartford Academy has a lengthy wait list, with one seat available for every three students who apply in the North End, said Kevin McCaskill, the district’s director of school design and programming.

And while many Achievement First families have expressed strong support for their school, the charter network has also faced criticism this year for its disciplinary protocols and high suspension rates in Hartford. Charter officials said they’re working to reduce suspensions.

Poland, the board chairman, noted that 47 percent of Clark students missed 18 school days or more last academic year, according to district data. That was the highest chronic absenteeism rate among the city’s elementary schools

“The thing that makes me so unhappy about this situation here in the city is that … the youngsters at Clark, from an academic point of view, are facing a bleak future and we have to do something about that,” Poland said. “Children aren’t able to read. Children aren’t able to do math problems.”

Soto said Clark parents have noticed improvement since Principal Tayarisha Stone began leading the school last year, including modest reading gains, and that they worry about losing Clark’s longtime teachers. The Hartford Federation of Teachers has opposed Achievement First’s expansion in the city.

Source: The Hartford Courant – by Vanessa de la Torre

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This entry was posted on October 30, 2013 by in Charter Schools, Connecticut and tagged , .

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