Hartford Schools To Receive $5 Million From Gates Foundation
Three-Year Grant To Expand Charter School Partnerships
By VANESSA DE LA TORRE
December 05, 2012
HARTFORD — — The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is giving the city school system a $5 million grant to deepen its relationships with two charter school networks in Connecticut.
The three-year Gates grant, the largest of seven awarded Wednesday to urban schools across the country, is expected to fund a leadership academy in which the Achievement First charter network will train and mentor future Hartford public school principals during a yearlong residency.
The grant proposal also calls for the Jumoke Academy charter organization, which currently runs Milner Elementary in partnership with the school system, to manage two additional Hartford schools by 2015.
At a press conference Wednesday in the state Capitol, Hartford Superintendent Christina Kishimoto first addressed about a dozen Milner and Jumoke students in prep-school blazers: "We are all here for you," she said.
The Hartford Foundation for Public Giving will manage the grant. The city board of education, which must approve any school management agreements, will probably begin to discuss Jumoke's increasing role early next year, Chairman Matthew Poland said.
Jumoke Academy agreed to take on Milner as part of the state's new Commissioner's Network, whose goal is to turn around low-performing schools.
Andrea Johnson, president of the Hartford Federation of Teachers, made clear that the union is unhappy with the latest developments. The union opposes the Achievement First training academy and any additional public school commitments with Jumoke, Johnson said.
The union filed a grievance over complaints that teachers at the newly named Jumoke Academy at Milner were required to attend weekly after-school meetings in September and October. A memorandum of understanding stated there would be meetings every other week, and teachers were not paid for the extra meetings, Johnson said.
"This partnership is 2 months old and in the first 60 days we have a grievance because I guess they can't follow what's in written language," Johnson said. "That's a huge concern. ... It speaks volumes about what charter schools think about following contracts."
The Achievement First program has already begun training two city educators who applied for the leadership academy: a teacher and an assistant principal who are being mentored in Achievement First Hartford schools and will end their residency year being coached in district schools.
Another grant is helping support the program but the Gates money will fund the academy in coming years, said Paige MacLean, Achievement First's senior director of strategic partnerships. The goal is for Hartford participants to transition into a principal or assistant principal position in the school system.
Johnson said the union's objection is over certification. State law does not require all charter school educators to be certified. Would noncertified educators be training the city's future principals, who would then be advising classroom teachers?
"We take our certification extremely seriously," Johnson said.
In 2010, the Hartford school system was awarded $100,000 from the Gates Foundation as one of nine cities that signed a formal commitment to work with charter schools, such as agreeing to share facilities and best practices. In return, they are eligible for millions of dollars in competitive funding.
Now there are 16 cities that have agreed to the foundation's District-Charter Collaboration Compact, including the seven that were awarded a total of $23.6 million in grants Wednesday: Harford, New York City, Philadelphia, Spring Branch, Texas, New Orleans, Denver and Boston, which is getting $3.25 million.
The Achievement First network moved into Hartford in 2008, opening a limited number of grades in the former Mark Twain Elementary building in the city's North End.
Achievement First Hartford has expanded quickly and operates kindergarten to ninth grade at the former Lewis Fox Middle School on Greenfield Street. Its new charter high school opened this fall with a $1.7 million operating budget of state and city money, and is considered a destination for Achievement First and Jumoke Academy eighth-graders.
Achievement First, founded in New Haven, has its own independent board of directors, which is largely composed of corporate executives.
The Jumoke Academy charter organization in Hartford, also known as FUSE (Family Urban Schools of Excellence), has received transportation and meal services from the city school system for years.
Jumoke began managing Milner in August with the State Board of Education's approval, hiring a predominantly new staff and implementing a philosophy of educating "the whole child."
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who has advocated on behalf of charter schools, said Wednesday that the state must "reinvent public education in Connecticut as rapidly as we can. I love public schools. ... Those public schools don't all have to look alike."
"There are practices ... in charter schools that we must adapt and adopt within the broader public school system," said state Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor, who is a former Achievement First board member and co-founder of the network's Amistad Academy in New Haven.
"We must be agnostic on governance and management," Pryor said. "We must be focused obsessively on performance."
Under Malloy's administration, 17 charter schools in Connecticut now receive $10,500 per student in state funding, a $1,100 increase. (The Hartford school system spends about $14,830 per child from a range of resources, although neighborhood schools typically enroll more English language learners and students with special needs.)
In a statement, Mayor Pedro Segarra called the Gates grant "an incredible step forward for Hartford public schools and a testament to the positive results that can be realized as a result of effective public and private partnerships."
Hartford leaders are also hoping for good news on a potential four-year, $30 million Race to the Top grant from the U.S. Department of Education. Hartford and Bridgeport are among 61 finalists for the federal initiative, which will award nearly $400 million in grants to school systems that pledge to enact reform plans.
The Race to the Top winners will be announced later this month. Hartford has proposed using the money to target grades 6 to 12, such as improving classroom technology to the extent that every city high school student would have a tablet computer.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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