Whatever you do, don’t mention the 800 pound elephant in the room!
State Officials promise a “new” Milner School in Hartford; But continue their unwillingness to address the biggest issue of all.
Last Friday, the Hartford Courant ran story about a meeting that took place at Hartford’s Milner Core Knowledge Academy. Milner is the Hartford school that Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor and Hartford’s superintendent of schools have identified as the prime target for becoming one of the state’s new Commissioner’s Network Schools.
As background, Governor Malloy’s new “education reform” law allows his Commissioner of Education to “take-over” a number of “low performing” schools around the state, at which time he would approve some type of turnaround plan or oversee the transfer of the school to some third-party.
According to their plans, by dangling out the promise of additional state funds, the state can convince the local board of education to hand over significant control of one or more of their schools to the State Department of Education.
According to the Courant story last week, “parents and union leaders, community workers, administrators and a state education consultant packed around a table in the school library” to discuss Milner’s fate.
While the Courant story covers what happened at the meeting, it fails to adequately highlight the uncomfortable truth that faces Milner and the other schools that are being offered up as “turnaround schools.”
First, despite a promise to dramatically increase parental participation in decision-making, the future of the Milner School has already been decided by state officials.
Second, the state’s promise of significant new funds to help these schools is a sad joke.
The Milner School educates some of the poorest children in the City of Hartford. Nearly 100 percent of Milner’s students come from households that are so poor that the children qualify for free school breakfasts and lunches. Approximately 40 percent of the students go home to households in which English is not spoken and as many as 1 in 5 students don’t even speak English.
At the recent Milner School meeting, one member of the Hartford School Board, Richard Wareing, observed that the major focus of the state’s entire turnaround program “should be providing ample services to English Language Learners and students with special needs who make up much of the enrollment.”
Although Wareing also noted that “the clocks don’t work; the carpet needs to be replaced…There is some correlation between our better schools and the quality of the physical environment…This is a new beginning. This is a new start. Make it new… Make it more inviting.”
The board member’s comments reveal the real side-story in Hartford, and in other poorer districts around the state. Schools are being offered up because local leaders think that it is the only way to access more money for their schools.
In fact, Malloy and the legislature did make $7.5 million available for schools in the Commissioner’s Network, but after the State Department of Education’s consultants are paid for, the remaining money won’t go far.
The truth is that the entire $7.5 million could be spent at just one school and they still wouldn’t have the resources they need to provide the quality education that those students deserve.
But even more telling is the reality that regardless of how much additional money Milner gets, Commissioner Pryor and the City of Hartford have already decided that the control and management of the Milner School will be given to the Jumoke Academy, a charter school company that has no experience educating non-English speaking students.
Over the years, the Jumoke Academy has actually failed to provide educational access to Hartford’s Latino and non-English speaking students. Yet despite that, Jumoke Academy will be playing the single most important role in “turning around” a school whose greatest barrier to academic success is the language barriers that its students face.
Addressing the audience, Jumoke’s CEO told parents that “our overriding theme is, it’s a family school…We try to create an atmosphere in the school where there’s a collaboration like a family.”
Creating an atmosphere where the school runs like a family?
Such a situation is hardly likely when the company running the school has never confronted, or even dealt with, the significant language barriers that face nearly half the people who make up that school’s community.
Here we have a new law granting a state official extraordinary power to take over local schools.
And in his initial action under the new law, Commissioner Stefan Pryor, a key player behind Achievement First Inc., the large charter school management company that runs twenty schools in New York and Connecticut, uses his position to take over a neighborhood school in Hartford in order to hand it over to a colleague in the Charter School industry.
In this case, to a colleague who has no background in providing the very service that the Milner School needs.
Once again, the word ironic certainly comes to mind.
Milner has become a prime example of the corporatization of American Education and how some public officials remain dedicated to talking a good game but failing completely to provide the real changes that are needed to improve the quality of education in our urban areas.
Had Pryor et. al. really been dedicated to turning around the Milner School, last Friday’s meeting would have been to lay out an aggressive agenda to provide outstanding programmatic initiatives that would address Milner’s English Language Learners and the students with special education needs who attend the school.
Meanwhile, how and why Commissioner Pryor gave out hundreds of thousands of dollars in no-bid contracts to some of his previous employees and companies he has done business with in the past, remains un-addressed.