Corporate Education Reform Industry targets students, parents and teachers of Clark Elementary School

Three days ago, in a post entitled NEWS FLASH: Pryor reportedly giving Hartford’s Clark Elementary School to Washington D.C. Charter School Chain, Wait What? readers learned of an apparent deal by Commissioner of Education Stefan Pryor and his senior staff to turn over Hartford’s Clark Elementary School to a major Washington D.C. based charter school management company despite the fact that the Clark Turnaround Committee, which is made up of local parents, teachers, administrators and Hartford residents, hadn’t even begun to identify which of five possible turnaround models they were interested in pursuing.

Out-going Hartford Superintendent of Schools Christina Kishimoto “nominated” Hartford’s Clark Elementary school for Governor Malloy’s “Commissioner’s Network” turnaround program.

State law requires that when a school is accepted as a Commissioner’s Network School, Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor must defer to the recommendations of the local Turnaround Committee except in extreme circumstances where the Turnaround Committee fails to adopt a turnaround plan or the plan is so inadequate that the Commissioner must take total control of the school.

But according to multiple sources within Pryor’s Office and in the Hartford Board of Education central office, Pryor and his sidekick, Turnaround Director Morgan Barth, have already decided to give Hartford’s Clark School to the Friendship Charter School chain, regardless of what the Clark Turnaround Committee may choose.

The Friendship Public Charter School chain is made up of six charter schools in Washington D.C. and another four schools that the company runs in Baltimore, Maryland.

Late yesterday, Hartford Courant reporter Vanessa De La Torre reported that a group of Clark parents, educators and administrators were flying to Washington D.C. to visit Friendship Charter Schools.  Apparently plans are already in place for Friendship Charter Schools to come to Connecticut in the next week or two.

In the Hartford Courant entitled Hartford Parents, Educators Visit D.C. Charter School, the Courant reported;

A 14-person delegation from Hartford that included six parents from Clark, two teachers, the principal and a district administrator flew out of Bradley International Airport Tuesday night and spent Wednesday visiting two sites of the Friendship Public Charter School in Washington, D.C.

The trip is research, they said. Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor has chosen Clark, a North End neighborhood school that has struggled with low test scores and chronic absenteeism, as a candidate to enter the state Commissioner’s Network after this academic year.

A state-mandated committee for Clark is now under deadline to create a detailed “turnaround” plan by April. That means the panel, which includes two union-appointed teachers, is rushing to explore school models that might best help Clark and its groups of students who are learning English or have special needs, said Soto, one of the committee’s parent members.

However, highlighting the corrosive power of the corporate education reform industry, the most bizarre part of the entire story is revealed when the Courant article added:

Hartford school board Chairman Matthew Poland denied this week that any school model is a favorite. So did community organizer Mayra Esquilin, executive director of Hartford Areas Rally Together, which received a $24,000 contract from the school system to guide Clark parents and community members through the turnaround process.

HART, the school system and the reform advocacy group Achieve Hartford! Funded the short trip to Washington, Esquilin said. The group was scheduled to return Wednesday night.

What the article didn’t fully explain is that although Superintendent Kishimoto hired the Executive Director of Hartford Areas Rally Together to “guide Clark parents and community members through the turnaround process,” Mayra Esquilin has repeatedly shown that she has a major conflict of interest in the entire situation.

Mayra Esquilin is not only the Executive Director of Hartford Areas Rally Together (HART), but she is also a member Achieve Hartford’s Board of Directors.

Achieve Hartford Inc. is not only paying for the airfare and hotel accommodations for the 14 members of the Clark Turnaround Committee to fly to Washington, but the corporate lobbying group has been one of the biggest supporters of Governor Malloy and Commissioner Pryor’s public school privatization efforts.

Esquilin and Achieve Hartford Inc. not only supported Superintendent Kishimoto’s failed attempt to close Clark Elementary and hand the building over to Achievement First, Inc. but also supported the outrageous and potentially illegal attempt to hand S.A.N.D. Elementary School over to Steve Perry’s private charter school company as part of a that secret Sheff lawsuit deal.

As the Hartford Courant reported previously, Esquilin was quoted as saying “that she and others canvassed the neighborhood over the past few days and found many parents who were uninformed — and in some cases, misinformed — about the SAND proposal.”

It is beyond incredible that the individual and corporate-funded advocacy group that supported destroying Clark and S.A.N.D elementary are now “guiding” Clark parents, teachers and community members through the turnaround process.

Talk about the foxes guarding the chicken hen-house.

And worse, the entire process may very well be short circuited if Stefan Pryor has already decided to hand the school over to an out-of-state charter management company.

Meanwhile, who funds Achieve Hartford Inc.?

According to Achieve Hartford’s own website, the education reform advocacy group is funded by some of the most powerful corporate education reform industry companies in the country including the Aetna, Prudential, Travelers, Bank of America, ING, The Phoenix and Metro-Hartford Alliance.

The potential for serious and illegal conflicts of interests are so great that it is hard to imagine that even these companies would risk supporting such an inappropriate use of their donations by Achieve Hartford Inc.

The extensive list of potential ethics violations will undoubtedly keep the Connecticut’s Ethics Commission and Hartford’s Ethics Commission busy.

For an example of Achieve Hartford’s conflict of interest read the newsletter article that can be found via the following link:

For the Hartford Courant article go to:,0,6213104.story

  • Linda174

    Also, maybe a direct quote from Clark parents is more appropriate. As written, it is the reporter’s assumption and she is editorializing in a news article.

    I wonder who the blogger is? Hmmmm?

    Why couldn’t the parents visit well funded schools right here in CT. Let’s say: West Hartford, Avon, Simsbury, Darien! Greenwich. Bus ride would have been cheaper.

    Then they could have purchased books for Betances, a reading lab school, without a library…although the former BOE chair is the head of city library.

    “It’s with that recent history in mind, Clark parents said, that they were particulary upset to read a blogger’s online post Monday asserting that the powers that be are determined to hand over management of Clark to the organization that runs Friendship charter schools.”

  • JMC

    It’s like 3-Card Monte – Whatever card you choose, that’s the one they wanted you to choose. Great article again, Jon!

  • Sleepless in Bridgeport

    This is exactly the kind of bullshit that the good citizen’s of Bridgeport told Malloy, Pryor, Vallas, and Finch they were not going to tolerate having crooked educational reform jammed down their throats. And they did it at the ballot box. I worry that the various ethic committees and legal entities are going to stick their heads in the sand just like the Hartford BOE and the Attorney “Do nothing” General choose to do. I was once proud to say I was a Connecticut Educator. Not any more.

    • Mary Gallucci

      Hartford needs to get rid of mayoral control of the BoE and appointed members of the BoE. The hand-picked members are utterly compromised. Hartford parents are, because of this stacked board, unable to flex their voters’ muscle.
      I really question the constitutionality of appointed boards.

      • Mary Gallucci

        So the LOCAL person and VOICE of PARENTS who is proposing a LOCAL charter school in Windham, Erika Haynes, got a trip to the D.C. area last year to look at a dual-language, or bilingual (the language is fuzzy but the privatizing is not) Montessori charter school.
        I am not sure who bankrolled that. Her “backers” and “in-kind” “pro-bono” donors are not listed, although I think that they need to be.

        • jonpelto

          Time to do some more FOI requests

        • JMC

          I wonder if Arne Duncan met them at the airport. When teacher advocate/actor Matt Damon arrived in DC to speak up for teachers and against testing – his Mom is an Ed. Prof. – Arne begged and pleaded with Matt to be allowed to meet him at the airport and ride with him into town. Matt refused.

  • Linda174

    Stop corporate takeover of our PUBLIC schools.

  • Linda174

    My child is an honor student, but my governor….

  • Mary Gallucci

    Now that I know how it works, I am going to propose a charter school for Windham and–as I will make clear to Pryor, wink, wink, nudge, nudge–the model charter school that I need to view is in the Bahamas.
    I’m sure our non-educator Commissioner will be happy to send me on my “fact-finding” mission.

  • JMC

    Is this an “escorted” tour? Are there “honey traps?” Will the free bennies result in photos? I wouldn’t be surprised. Of course, we’ll never know. That’s part of it too.

  • Linda174

    STANDARDIZED Lies, Money and Civil Rights: How Testing Is Ruining Public Education