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Opening Of Charter School Shouldn't Be In Jeopardy

Stan Simpson

June 07, 2008

Kim LaFortune works the third shift at a nursing home. Instead of going to sleep after work, she volunteers at Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School in Hartford from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The plain-spoken, hands-on mom is also a PTO vice president at MLK, which she calls "a failing school." But it's the one that both of her daughters, Keondra, 11, and Amia, 5 attend.

Keondra will go to a magnet school next year. Amia, thanks to the luck of a lottery draw, is scheduled to attend the new Achievement First charter school. The planned K-8 school is modeled after and affiliated with the nationally acclaimed Amistad Academy in New Haven, which spawned similar charter schools in Connecticut and New York.

Achievement First's opening is in jeopardy, however, because the $2.1 million needed to operate it in Hartford's old Mark Twain school was not approved. It was a casualty of the legislature's decision not to add new expenses to this year's budget.

The opening of Achievement would be one of Hartford schools chief Steven Adamowski's signature reforms. Its in-limbo status threatens to undermine ambitious plans to transform the lowest-performing school district in a state with the nation's widest academic achievement gap between among white students and their black and brown peers.

Achievement's plight is bursting the bubble of high expectations in a system plagued by low results. About 250 children, their parents and the smattering of staff already hired now wait for solutions to cobble together the measly $2 million or to delay payment to next year.

When LaFortune, reared in Brooklyn, heard of the success of Achievement schools in New Haven and New York City, "I was all for it."

"I'm willing to try something new because this school system in Hartford is terrible and you have to go through so many loops and circles to get your child into a good school," she said.

There's lots of talk these days about "inhumanity" permeating Hartford. And rightfully so.

Three young men bust up and rob a 71-year-old city activist on his morning walk.

Then, dozens of people watch a hit-and-run accident on Park Street, most pathetically going about their business as a 78-year-old man lay paralyzed in the street.

Call it apathy, indifference, or even a sign of the times. But make sure to add what's happening at Achievement First to the mix. Not opening this school would be a cruel message to caring parents about the priority placed on their children's future. Achievement's premise is to position kids at an early age for college. About a third of Hartford students graduate from high school. Hello.

Oranda Walsh, 26, was intrigued by Achievement's extended school day and "a curriculum that is very engaging with the kids." It would be a good fit for his son Tajay, 5. Jennifer Jackson has two high-achieving daughters at West Middle School, but she wants a more challenging curriculum. She, too, was thrilled that they were selected for Achievement First.

So what'ya say, Connecticut? Let's put politics aside on this one. The richest state in the country can pony up the $2 million. Hartford's legislative delegation and Mayor Eddie Perez need to be heard on this. Adamowski has already made a heartfelt plea to Gov. M. Jodi Rell.

We can agree about what defines inhumanity. So let's also concur that it would be gross negligence for Hartford and Achievement First to not begin its promising partnership on time.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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