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Dissecting Turnaround

By Kerri Provost

June 20, 2012

On the heels of a press release about why the news media must not conflate CREC schools with Hartford Public Schools, the latter sent communication about how the State, with its Commissioner’s Network, may help to confuse the public even more on the question of who is running the show. Here it is, dissected:

Former Hartford Mayor Thirman L. Milner today urged the State Department of Education to include the Hartford public school that bears his name on the list of schools that will be on the $7.5 million Commissioner’s Network for the coming school year.

This is not the first time Mr. Milner has issued the complaint that the school with his name was “embarrassing” to him. No ink has been spilled over how students feel when they hear their school creates an embarrassment.

The network was created at part of the education reform legislation passed by the state legislature earlier this year to turn around schools, such as the Milner Core Knowledge Academy at 104 Vine Street, considered one of the 25 lowest-performing schools in Connecticut. An announcement on the first group of network schools is expected shortly.

This will not be Milner’s first experience as a turnaround school. In 2008, it was reopened as a Core Knowledge Academy, with Dr. Kishimoto — the assistant superintendent at the time — saying, “Our first and foremost goal is to get a significant increase in student achievement.”Though gains have been made, definitions of “significant increase” vary.

The Hartford Board of Education has already empaneled a turnaround response team that is proposing a turnaround plan that would have Milner enter into a partnership agreement with the highly successful Jumoke Academy charter organization. The plan relies on the state support that would come from including Milner as a network school for the coming 2012-2013 school year.

Jumoke’s AYP data is promising, but the demographics differ widely from the charter school to those of Milner. Data from the Connecticut State Department of Education shows that only 2.3% of Jumoke students require special education, as compared to 11.3% of students at Milner. Current Milner teachers have been assured by Jumoke officials that there will be enough support services provided if/when Jumoke takes over.

For school year 2009-2010, there were no students enrolled at Jumoke who were not fluent in English, whereas 19.6% of Milner students were considered to be not fluent during this same year.

It has been made clear that Jumoke, if partnered with a public school, cannot discriminate about which students to enroll; the question then becomes how much success they will have when the model that works for them now must be adjusted to fit the needs of a different population.

State officials have said that a small number of schools will be accepted in that first group, with most of the others coming on board in 2013-2014.

“It’s embarrassing to me to have my name associated with one of the lowest performing schools,” said Mr. Milner, who served as the city’s mayor from 1981 to 1987. “I hope the school can be included in the Commissioner’s Network, so that it can get the resources it needs and I hope Jumoke Academy takes over the operation of the school. These are some of the most deserving students in Connecticut and they deserve a top quality education.”

Parents and teachers who sit on the turnaround team echoed the former mayor’s sentiments.

“I think being part of the network is a great idea. It’s for our kids,” said Letisha Garay, whose children will be entering the 4th and 7th grades at Milner next year.

“If it’s going to make Milner better, I’m all for it,” said Mary Ann Yearwood, another parent.

“Milner is in desperate need of serious attention and resources,” said April DuBose, who is both an English teacher at Milner and a resident of the Milner community. “The partnership with Jumoke Academy sounds like it will turn the school around. We can’t do the same thing we’ve been doing and expect a different result and being part of the Commissioner’s network is the only way to bring about change.”

What is missing from this press release is the perspective of parents who have either opposed or been reluctant to this change. In April, during a meeting with Kishimoto for which parents received little notice, some expressed concern that support staff would be dismissed. It’s common knowledge that stability and predictability are healthy for children; it’s also known that forming meaningful connections helps to prevent dropping out.

Parents have already been advised that if the partnership with Jumoke goes forward, all children currently enrolled at Milner would continue to take classes in the Milner school building if they so choose. Families would also be able to trade in their children’s Milner uniforms for the burgundy colored Jumoke Academy uniforms. Milner students would continue to receive free school breakfast and lunch as well.

At that same meeting in April, and since, parents have been upset about the uniform issue. When students are sent to school without uniforms, it is considered a reason for discipline referral. At Milner, students have been taken out during breakfast when they have not worn their uniforms; as a result, they miss breakfast, which has a negative impact on their behavior and education. Being able to trade uniforms will ease some of the burden of transition, but does not get to the other issues created by the strict uniform policy.

The legislation that established the Commissioner’s Network requires that no more than two schools can be chosen from one district in a single year and no district can have more than four schools in the network.

State Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor disclosed last week that, so far, nine school districts have expressed an interest in joining the network.

So, next time a news outlet needs to report on Milner, good luck determining if it is Jumoke, part of the Hartford Public Schools, or some other entity entirely once absorbed into the Commissioner’s Network run by the State of Connecticut. Who gets the credit and who gets the blame?

Reprinted with permission of Kerri Provost, author of the blog RealHartford. To view other stories on this topic, search RealHartford at http://www.realhartford.org/.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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