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Left Outdoors, School Activists Invited In

Rejection Of Meeting Indoors Called Misunderstanding

September 14, 2005
By RACHEL GOTTLIEB, Courant Staff Writer

There were all the makings of a feisty meeting: a table and chairs and a group of agitated North End activists. The only thing a little off was the setting: the front yard of Milner Elementary School at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday.

Members of the newly formed Milner Elementary School Community Board were upset that school officials had banned the group from meeting in the parents' lounge, and vowed to meet outside the school each Tuesday morning until they were allowed inside.

As it turned out, the schoolyard meetings were quickly consigned to history as officials relented and invited the activists to work from inside the building.

The group, headed by former mayor Thirman Milner and Hattie Harris, chairwoman of the Vine and Albany Task Force, wants to rally parents to work directly with students by mediating disputes, tutoring and mentoring.

Milner school, now in its fifth year under the federal label "Needs Improvement" under the No Child Left Behind Act, has been plagued for years by low test scores, poor student behavior and parental apathy.

When the schoolyard meeting opened Tuesday, Andrew Woods, who heads the anti-violence community group Stump the Violence, said that the school's new acting principal, Sheryle Jackson, had initially invited him and others to establish a program at her school.

Superintendent of Schools Robert Henry said Woods approached Jackson and asked to develop a program at the school. "We spent an entire summer planning the school improvement plan for Milner. We have an intervention plan for that school. "

The program was to be similar to one Woods operates inside Fox Middle School, where Jackson worked as an assistant principal before her appointment to Milner. Members of the group said that last week, at Jackson's invitation, they met with her to discuss starting their program in the school.

But then they said that Jackson abruptly withdrew the invitation, saying she had failed to follow the district's protocol for starting a new program.

The community activists weren't quite sure what that meant. But they had no intention of backing off their plan to help the school.

Terry D'Italia, district spokesman, said the group's exclusion from the school was the result of a misunderstanding. He later met with Milner, Jackson and Harris and worked out an arrangement for the new group to meet in the parents' lounge each Tuesday at 8:30 a.m.

The group will take its direction from Jackson, Milner said. "We're not looking to take over the school."

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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