Hartford's latest magnet school is getting noticed
September 25, 2008
Principal John Laverty stood in the bright sunshine outside Hartford's new Sport and Medical Sciences Academy on Huyshope Avenue last Thursday, and beamed.
"I'm still pinching myself," said Laverty, gazing through his sunglasses at the soaring red, yellow and blue facade and glassy expanse of the new magnet school, open this year.
Laverty, a big man with an optimistic sheen, was looking forward to a workout in the school's state-of-the-art weight room.
"Our health teachers are going to teach us the operation of the (weight) machines," said Laverty. "We're going to do that for about an hour, then work on school improvement plans."
Before being assigned to Sport and Medical, recently named by U.S. News and World Report as one of the best high schools in America, Laverty ran Hartford's Batchelder Elementary School. (Two Hartford schools made the U.S. News list; the other was Classical Magnet.) He said the magnet academy, which entered its 12th year as it moved into its dazzling $79.1 million new home this fall, sends a clear message to its seventh graders.
"We tell them, 'You're going to college and if you're not you need to look for another school,'" said Laverty.
He said the younger students get the same message from their older peers in the school. In fact, Sport and Medical had a 100 percent graduation rate, and a 100 percent acceptance rate into two- and four-year colleges last year, according to Melony Brady, the school's Magnet Theme Coach.
"We don't believe in children not furthering their education past high school," said Brady.
What's a Magnet Theme Coach? It's someone who, first, goes into the suburbs to recruit students, and, second, helps run the school.
Brady has not had a problem with recruiting. She said 43 percent of the school's 581 students are white and from the 'burbs — 27 towns from as far north as Enfield, as far east as Hebron, as far south as Meriden and as far west as Southington. That far exceeds the 30 percent required by Sheff v. O'Neill, the equal education lawsuit that has shaped Hartford schools for a decade. And Brady expects the ratio to hold steady next year when the school goes to its full capacity of 720 students. Last year, there were more than 2,000 applications for 260 slots. The winners were chosen by lottery.
"Clearly we know a lot of what goes out about Hartford isn't positive, but educationally there are some great gems in this city that parents in the suburbs are aware of," said Brady. "A lot of what brings them here is the fact that their towns are very homogeneous in ethnic distribution. These families are committed to having their kids learn with kids from all over the area."
Class President Anthony Rose wore a bright orange, long-sleeve shirt and grey vest and slacks for senior picture day last week, rather than the school uniform of khaki or black pants and a polo shirt coordinated to school colors.
Rose, who plans to major in political science and minor in communications when he goes to college next year, is finishing up a promotional video for Sport and Medical with some fellow students. He says the new school is "awesome," and he still hasn't gotten used to walking into its towering lobby lined with banners.
"It's more like Christmas when you open a present than going to school," Rose said.