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Board Approves 4 New Schools

Also Under Review: Changes At Hartford Public, Weaver, Bulkeley

By RACHEL GOTTLIEB FRANK, Courant Staff Writer

December 19, 2007

Hartford's school board approved a plan Tuesday night to create four new schools, reviewed a proposal to break Hartford Public High School into four academies and got a preview of big changes planned for Weaver and Bulkeley high schools, which could include tearing down Weaver and building a new school.

Without discussion, the board voted unanimously to create an Achievement First school, a school called Breakthrough II, an International Baccalaureate/Say Yes and a Montessori school. The locations for the schools are still being determined.

The Achievement First school would open with kindergarten, first and fifth grades and more grades would be added each year, until the school is a K through Grade 8 school. It would offer extended days, school on Saturday and summer school with a rigorous college-prep curriculum. Breakthrough, with multi-age classrooms and a focus on character development, would be a replication of Hartford's most successful elementary school. It would open for pre-K through Grade 2 and would add one grade each year through Grade 8.

The International Baccalaureate School would operate as a pre-K through Grade 12 school. Classes would include students in multiple grades, giving younger students who excel in subjects the opportunity to take advanced courses. As part of its college-prep curriculum, all students would study either Spanish or Arabic through all of their years in the school. The new Montessori School would be the second public Montessori elementary school in Hartford.

The plan to break up Hartford Public into separate theme academies drew more fire from teachers, parents and students who don't feel included in the design process but the board will not vote on the idea until next month. The idea is to create academies for upperclassmen in nursing, law and government, and engineering. A fourth academy, exclusively for freshmen, already exists.

Cathy Carpino, president of the teachers' union, asked the board to delay voting on the plan until teachers and parents have a chance to participate. School operations tend not to run smoothly even when there aren't any changes, she said, noting that last week teachers showed up for work on a snow day Thursday because the district didn't cancel school until 6:45 a.m. and the next day when teachers at three schools arrived at work after a 90-minute delay, they couldn't park their cars because the lots weren't plowed.

"If you can't get a parking lot plowed, how can you overhaul the entire district? ... You need some help," Carpino said.

Dave Ionno, secretary of Hartford Public's PTSO and father of a junior, objected to the plan to create theme academies in place of the comprehensive high school.

"We will not stand for Hartford Public High School becoming a job factory. Critical thinking is necessary for a democratic society," Ionno said.

Superintendent Steven Adamowski conceded that his administration needs to do a better job including parents and pledged to reach out before the board takes a vote on the plan next month.

Weaver High School, the lowest performing high school in the city, and Bulkeley are in for some big changes, too.

Adamowski's vision calls for converting the school on Barbour Street currently used by Hartford Transitional Learning Academy into a high school for 400 to 450 students who are now bused to Weaver from the northeast section of the city. As it is, he said, half of the city's transportation budget goes to busing students from the northeast neighborhoods to Weaver, in the northwest section.

It's ironic, Adamowski said, that the city spends so much money transporting students to the lowest performing school. At Weaver, just 31 percent of the students are proficient at reading, according to the 2007 Connecticut Academic Performance Test.

Weaver, meanwhile, with its park-like grounds, stands on the most beautiful and spacious property that the district owns, but the prison-style building is among the worst structures, Adamowski said. So he'd like to build another school on the property while the existing Weaver remains in session and then destroy the building or put it to some other use if the city wants it. A new Weaver High, like Hartford Public, would be divided into theme academies such as culinary arts, journalism and other themes.

Bulkeley's structure would be somewhat different, with the school being divided into a lower school for grades nine and 10 and an upper school for grades 11 and 12. To move from the lower academy, where students would be assigned to teams of teachers, to the upper academy, students would have to earn a certificate of initial mastery, Adamowski said. Students could take whatever time they need to earn that certificate, he said, so while some might just take a year and a half, others might need 2 1/2 years, plus summer school.

The upper school at Bulkeley would have specialized programs such as one for teacher prep and one for horticultural sciences.

The board on Tuesday appointed Gail Green as acting principal of Bulkeley's upper school and Oscar Padua as acting principal of the lower school, marking the first step toward the school's transformation.

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.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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