Connecticut Ed Reform Leader urges business leaders to say something when poor have too many children

“Speak your mind, if you think that it is not okay for a parent to have a fifth child when they are struggling to support one through four – right –speak it …”

 – Paul Diego Holzer, Executive Director of Achieve Hartford! Achieve Hartford! is the leading corporate education reform and charter school advocacy group in Connecticut’s capital city.

The well-paid spokespeople for the Charter School and Corporate Education Reform Industry are usually pretty good at staying on “message.”  Surrounded by public relations staff and consultants and aided by “media training” sessions, the proponents of charter schools, the Common Core, the Common Core Testing scam and various anti-teacher initiatives exude the aura of well-prepared snake oil salesman.

But from time to time, they drop their guard and their true opinions, philosophies, arrogance and ignorance come shining through loud and clear.

One of the most recent examples occurred last week, on September 17, 2015, when the Hartford Metro Alliance, which serves as the Hartford region’s major chamber of commerce, held their annual “Hartford Metro Rising Star Education Breakfast.”

The event was moderated by Oz Griebel, a one-time gubernatorial candidate and the President & CEO of the Hartford Metro Alliance.  The event featured a presentation by Hartford Superintendent of Schools Beth Schiavino-Narvaez, followed by a discussion with the superintendent and Paul Diego Holzer, the Executive Director of Achieve Hartford!, the Connecticut‘s Capital City’s leading corporate funded education reform advocacy group.

As Paul Diego Holzer addressed the status of Hartford’s public schools he began by complimenting Superintendent Schiavino-Narvaez, decried and then mislead the audience about value of the recent Common Core SBAC results and then turned his attention to the issue of poverty.  A partial transcript of the comments follows, the full video can been seen via the link below;

On the problem of poverty, Paul Diego Holzer explained;

I think there is a question that comes up often about poverty which is are we really going to fix this if you know the situations at home are what they are and I challenge us to think about our own expectations of families in poverty

[…]

If you don’t speak your mind on to this issue of poverty and on families and where responsibility lies –right – you’re not helping.

Speak your mind – right – if you think that it is not okay for a parent to have a fifth child when they are struggling to support 1 through four – right –speak it – we have to come together on this issue, but also at the same time think about what we are going to do for that family…

Putting aside the reality that the actual number of poor parents with four or five children in the school system is extremely low, the stunningly ignorant and disturbing approach to “doing something” about the crippling impact of poverty in Hartford is a stark reflection about how out-of-touch many in the Corporate Education Reform Industry actually approach the real issues that are limiting educational achievement in Hartford and other poor communities across Connecticut and the nation.

We know one overriding truth – poverty, language barriers and unmet special education needs are what limit educational achievement.

Anyone who would suggest that the problem is that people need to speak up, “if you think that it is not okay for a parent to have a fifth child when they are struggling to support one through four,” should not be part of any discussion about public education, poverty, children and American society.

Additional Background;

Achieve Hartford! is the corporate funded charter school and Corporate Education Reform Industry advocacy group that spends more than $1 million a year lobbying and advocating for more charter schools and the implementation of Governor Dannel Malloy’s “education reforms” in Hartford.

Achieve Hartford! even has a Chief Branding Officer.

The organization’s Executive Director Paul Diego Holzer collects upwards towards $150,000 to coordinate the organization’s activities. Holzer and Achieve Hartford! have been among the most vocal proponents of diverting scarce public taxpayer funds to Achievement First, Inc, the large charter school management company, to former charter school operator Dr.” Michael Sharpe and his disgraced FUSE charter school chain and Steve Perry, the controversial anti-teacher former Hartford school administrator and  self-described “most trusted educator in America,” who, thanks to Governor Malloy is opening his own privately owned but publicly funded “boutique” charter school company.

With an MBA in Education Management from Yale, Paul Diego Holzer, served as Achieve Hartford!’s Director of Education Programs where he managed the organization’s research and community engagement programs, before becoming the organization’s Executive Director.  Holzer was a founding board member of the YouthBuild Public Charter School in Washington DC

Achieve Hartford!’s Board of Directors is made up of corporate executives and business leaders heralding from the biggest corporations in the greater Hartford area including Travelers, New York Life Retirement Services, Hartford Healthcare, Prudential, Webster Bank, The Hartford Financial Services Group, MetroHartford Alliance, UnitedHealthcare, and others.

As stunningly disgusting and inappropriate as Holzer’s comments were, equally telling is that neither Oz Griebel, the moderator, nor Hartford Superintendent Beth Schiavino-Narvaez made any attempt to challenge Holzer’s outrageous comment or even sought to set the record straight about the poor families or that telling poor women not to have “too many” children is not a useful, meaningful or appropriate way to go about dealing with Hartford’s extraordinary poverty problem.

You can see Achieve Hartford!’s Executive Director Paul Diego Holzer’s comments via the following YouTube link – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aV4siK2XNtI  The Achieve Hartford! portion begins about 47 minutes into the video.

Bronin spokesperson behind Charter School Mailing thanking legislators for Education funding sent to Bridgeport and Stamford!

While some Hartford voters turn their attention to tonight’s Achieve Hartford! “education” debate between Mayor Pedro Segarra and Luke Bronin, the truth is finally coming out about Bronin and his ties to the charter school industry and their pro-Common Core testing, pro-charter school, anti- teacher and anti-public school agenda.

As anyone who has been watching the mayoral campaign in Hartford knows, Luke Bronin has been attacking Mayor Pedro Segarra for not getting more education funding from Governor Malloy for Hartford’s public schools.

However, what has remained relatively secret is that Bronin’s PR person is a well-paid adviser for Families for Excellent Schools, the New York based charter school industry group that spent more than $1 million lobbying Connecticut legislators on behalf of Governor Malloy’s proposal to divert millions of dollars in scarce state funds so that Bridgeport and Stamford could get new, privately owned, but publicly funded charter schools —- one of which will make former Capital Prep Principal Steve Perry very rich.

Now, with days to go until Hartford’s Democratic Primary, the truth is finally coming out.

Bronin’s Communications Director, Andrew Doba, who served as Governor Dannel Malloy’s mouthpiece  until this past January, is behind an expensive, glossy mass mailing that is being sent to voters across Connecticut to “thank” Connecticut legislators for successfully funding the new charter schools while utterly failing to adequately fund Connecticut public schools, including those in Hartford.

Doba, who is both Bronin’s PR person and the hired gun for the charter school industry has been on Twitter regularly attacking Segarra on Bronin’s behalf.

In one Tweet, Andrew Doba[email protected] wrote;

Will the layoffs of teachers and other staff that’s going to happen because of your budget help Hartford Public Schools? #AskSegarra

In another, Doba, who works for a New York based public relations company said;

With strong push from @GovMalloyOffice, Leg. made the right call in meeting its financial commitment to charter schools

And Doba also retweeted his client’s tweet which cheered;

Thank you to our state leaders who showed a strong commitment to ensuring access to great school #ForEveryChild.

Now, in a mailing that looks surprisingly similar to the glossy campaign pieces Luke Bronin has been sending out to Hartford voters comes a expensive lobbyist-funded brochure telling state legislators that they did a great job when they decided to fund privately owned charter schools… rather than doing what they should have done and provided Hartford and Connecticut’s other cities and towns with the money needed to adequately fund local schools.

The Charter School Industry mailing is going to voters all over Connecticut, including voters in Hartford.

As CT Newsjunkie explains in today’s article entitled, Special Interest Group Sends Mailing To Thank Lawmaker For Charter Funding

State Rep. Brandon McGee, D-Hartford, is being thanked with a glossy mailer from a special interest group that has spent more than $1.1 million this year lobbying lawmakers and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy to make sure two new charter schools were included in the state budget.

The mailer was sent to constituents in McGee’s district, which includes the northend of Hartford and parts of Windsor, by Families for Excellent Schools.

“More kids now have access to a quality education, which means more opportunity and a brighter future,” the mailer reads.

It asks constituents to call McGee and thank him for his commitment to Connecticut kids.

It’s unclear still how much money was spent on the mailers because the filings are not due to the Office of State Ethics until the next quarter. It’s also unclear exactly how many other lawmakers may have benefited from the mailers by the pro-charter school group.

“The mailer thanked a number of legislators for their support for great schools for every child,” Kara Neidhardt, a spokeswoman for Families for Excellent Schools, said in an email. “The cost of the entire campaign will be disclosed in the next filing.”

McGee, who works in the Capitol Region Education Council’s school choice office, said Wednesday that he’s not offended by the mailing. He said he supports choice programs and participated in the school choice program when he was a child.

[…]

This isn’t the first time a pro-charter school group has expended funds on McGee’s behalf. In 2012, when he first ran for his seat, a school reform group with ties to StudentsFirst, the organization founded by the controversial former chancellor of the Washington school system, poured nearly $32,000 into his race.

The budget approved by the legislature in June included $4.6 million to open two new charter schools in Stamford and Bridgeport. Malloy insisted the two schools remain in the budget despite complaints from some of McGee’s colleagues in Hartford and Bridgeport.

Families for Excellent Schools has lobbied hard this year for increased funding for charter schools. The group spent $1.1 million between January through June. It also hired public relations and political strategy firms that employ former Malloy staffers Andrew Doba and Roy Occhiogrosso.

Families for Excellent Schools held a rally on the New Haven green in December last year and one in May outside the state Capitol in Hartford. At the rally in Hartford, they spent $87,700 on transportation and $14,000 on food for the students and parents who attended.

You can see the complete MUST READ CT Newsjunkie article at:  Special Interest Group Sends Mailing To Thank Lawmaker For Charter Funding

And meanwhile, let’s get things straight when it comes to Luke Bronin and his campaign for mayor of Hartford;

Democrat Luke Bronin says it is Democrat Mayor Pedro Segarra’s fault that Democrat Dannel Malloy and the Democrats in the Connecticut General Assembly didn’t give Hartford more education funding.  Bronin even blames Segarra for any tax increases that were necessary as a result of the state’s failure to give Hartford the funding it needed. Bronin says he will cut taxes and provide more money for education…

At the same time Luke Bronin says that HE deserves a good chunk of the credit for Malloy’s 2nd chance initiative because has Malloy’s lawyer he was involved in the policy process in the Governor’s Office, but none of the blame for Malloy’s failure to properly fund public schools.

Meanwhile, Luke Bronin’s spokesperson’s New York based company received hundreds of thousands of dollars from the charter school industry for coordinating the lobbying campaign on behalf of the charter schools, a proposal that diverted Connecticut taxpayer money that should have been spent on public schools.

And behind all that is the reality that a number of the key players behind charter schools are among Bronin’s biggest campaign donors… money that is so important to Bronin that he refused to give back those funds and thus lost the endorsement of the Hartford Federation of Teachers.

Yup, Luke Bronin has arrived from Greenwich and is ready to save Hartford….

21,000 children head off to the 1st day of public school in Hartford, but not Luke Bronin’s

Last week Hartford, Connecticut parents got their public school children packed up, ready to go and sent them off to the first day of school.

But the man who aspires to be Hartford’s next mayor, and would have the responsibility of appointing a majority of the members of the Hartford Board of Education, wasn’t one of them.

Instead, Greenwich native Luke Bronin, who moved to Hartford and is running for Mayor, dropped his child off for their first day at the prestigious Renbrook private school in West Hartford, Connecticut where the annual tuition runs from $19,500 to $33,500 per year depending on which grade the child is enrolled in.

While the vast majority of children in the United States go to public schools, those with means have the choice to send their children to a public school or a private school.

Growing up, Luke Bronin only attended private schools.  Starting with the Greenwich Day School, where tuition starts at $33,500 for kindergarten and rises to $37,500 a year for the higher grades, Bronin then attended Phillips Exeter Academy, with a cost of $48,000 a year, although that does include the $180 a year “Linen Fee.”  Luke Bronin then spent ten years in the Halls of Yale, Oxford and the Yale Law School.

With privilege comes opportunity and while no one should ever begrudge a parent for doing everything they can to ensure that their child or children get a quality education, it is relevant when a politician who says he is ready to “turn-around” Hartford’s public schools won’t enroll his own child in the public school system he claims that he will serve.

As part of his campaign, Luke Bronin has been saying that taxes in Harford are too high and, if elected, he won’t raise them.

However, the harsh reality is that despite the fact that more than 80% of Hartford’s school budget is paid for by the State, Hartford’s public schools are inadequately funded.

Hartford class sizes are too large and there aren’t sufficient services to help students who come from poor families, those who aren’t fluent in the English language and those who need special education services.

So while Luke Bronin says he will “support” Hartford public schools, he is also promising not to increase revenue, which would leave Hartford schools with even fewer resources.

By comparison, while Bronin’s proposed policies would hurt Hartford schools, he is choosing a very different type of school for his own child.

According to Renbrook,

The Renbrook education is characterized by small classes and personal attention from faculty members. There are 189 students in Renbrook’s Upper School (Grades 6-9) and only 10-12 students in each classroom. In this small learning environment, students have the opportunity to ask questions, share ideas, and to learn from other students, as well as the teachers. Renbrook’s teachers are dedicated, passionate educators who support the advancement and achievement of each individual student.

The Student:Teacher Ratio at Renbrook is 7:1

The Student:Teacher ratio in the Hartford school system is more than double that number.

And in addition, while Hartford’s public school students, parents, teachers and school administrators are crippled by the Common Core, the Common Core SBAC testing scam and Connecticut’s unfair teacher evaluation system, Luke Bronin’s child is attending a school that DOESN’T adhere to the Common Core SYSTEM, doesn’t force children to take the unfair Common Core SBAC testing program and treats their school teachers like the education professionals that they are.

Bronin’s platform will lead to budget cuts for Hartford’s students, while his child will be attending a school that informs parents that Renbrook is located on;

Seventy-five acres of woodlands, wetlands, fields and gardens; four athletic fields, a high-and low-ropes course; three playgrounds, plus a natural pond for science study. Teaching space includes 11 buildings, 10 math, science and technology labs, seven music and art studios, two theaters, a dining commons, a Middle School Mathematics Center, and a 16,600 sq. ft. Library & Technology Center, heated and cooled with geothermal technology.

Meanwhile, many Hartford schools don’t even have functioning libraries and most certified library professionals have been laid off or their positions not re-filled.

This week, Achieve Hartford! Inc., the corporate funded education reform group in Hartford wrote,

The first day of school in Hartford Tuesday underscored the importance of community partnerships, parent support, and staff dedication. At Hartford’s Martin Luther King, Jr., Engineering and Green Technology Academy, and Breakthrough Magnet Schools, a key message was that, if indeed it takes a village to raise a child, a whole lot of villagers are on board.

Yes, as we know… It does take a village to raise a child!

It takes a village and sufficient public funds to provide a quality education to all of the children in Hartford and Connecticut’s public schools.

And it also takes elected and appointed officials who are committed to helping those public schools succeed.

If Luke Bronin wants to send his child or children to an elite private school and can afford to pay $20,000 a year, per child, to ensure they have a private school education, that is certainly his right as a parent.

But parents, teachers and the public in Hartford and across that state shouldn’t be fooled.  When the person who wants to be mayor, and who would appoint the members of the Hartford Board of Education, decides to enroll his child or children in a prestigious private school, rather than the city’s public schools, it sends out a powerful message about privilege and entitlement.

Of course, Luke Bronin isn’t alone when it comes to claiming that he is ready to oversee public schools while sending his own child or children to a private school.

Heck, even Arne Duncan, Obama’s Secretary of Education and leading corporate education reform advocate, claims that he supports public schools while sending his children to one of the most elite and expensive private schools in the country.

When the Corporate Education Reform Industry tramples the 1st Amendment

Fellow Education Blogger and Public Education advocate Marie Corfield (From New Jersey) has a blog today that will concern everyone in the battle to push back the Corporate Education Reform Industry.

Marie is a mother, artist, teacher, education activist, former NJ State Legislature candidate and is “that” teacher in the infamous Chris Christie You-Tube video of the thug bashing teachers.

Her blog is about the incredible maneuver being taken by the New Jersey Charter Schools Association and it highlights the despicable and UnAmerican actions being taken by the charter school industry and the Corporate Education Reform Industry.

Here in Connecticut there are a number of charter school front groups including ConnCAN, Northeast Charter Schools Network, Families for Excellent Schools, the Coalition for Every Child, the Connecticut Council for Education Reform (CCER), Excel Bridgeport, Achieve Hartford and others.

Marie Corfield writes;

When the facts aren’t on your side…

When you’re up against the wall…

When you’ve been caught with your hand in the cookie jar…

You take the cheap shot.

That’s what the New Jersey Charter Schools Association did last week when they filed ethics charges against Rutgers Professor Julia Sass Rubin who, along with doctoral student Mark Weber (aka. Jersey Jazzman) published this study on the segregationist practices of the state’s charter schools which concludes what we already knew (from JJ’s post):

New Jersey’s charter schools do not serve nearly as many children in economic disadvantage, who have special education needs, or who are English language learners as their host districts’ schools. 

Here’s the crux of the NJCSA’s complaint:

As an association of educators [more on this below], the NJCSA embraces the right of all educators to speak on matters of public debate. But the NJCSA and its members will not stand by as Dr. Sass Rubin devalues the reputation of our State University, a reputation that has been earned over years of excellence in research and academic achievement, to endorse her personal opinions and advance her personal advocacy interests. Because Dr. Sass Rubin has promised two further ‘studies,’ the NJCSA has filed this complaint today to ensure appropriate corrective action is taken before Dr. Sass Rubin releases her personal views as Rutgers research and creates further embarrassment for Rutgers University. (emphasis mine)

Does anyone besides me find it interesting that this press release is not on the NJCSA’s website? I mean c’mon, this is big ‘reformy’ news! Sadly, I found it on the uber-‘reformy’ and always entertaining (for its sheer lack of veracity) NJ Left Behind blog.

Why? Maybe because the NJCSA knows it got caught red handed. Maybe because they know these are not Julia and JJ’s personal opinions. The data they presented is right out there for the whole world to see on the NJ DOE website—data that the charter schools themselves reported. There was nothing to OPRA. Any 5th grader who knows how to do a simple web search can easily find it.

Ooops.

They’re backed into a corner and have nothing left to do but pull a trick out of the bag of their biggest cheerleader: Gov Christie. They launched a personal attack. They skirted the real issues and went for the low-blow. Educator/blogger Peter Greene reports

The NJCSA is behaving like a punk, and like a weak punk at that who lacks the tools or the skills to come at Rubin and Weber directly. And they have more work to do, because as Weber points out on his own blog, the conclusions have already been acknowledged as the truth by [‘reformy’ Newark Superintendent] Cami Anderson and [‘reformy’ Camden Superintendent] Paymon Rouhanifard, so NJCSA better start ginning up a full scale job-threatening division for the entire state.

You should read Marie’s full post.  It can be found at: http://mcorfield.blogspot.com/2015/01/njcsa-attacks-1st-amendment-rights.html

UPDATED AT 7:30 PM – Malloy administration and Hartford Mayor team up to undermine American Federation of Teachers and Clark Elementary

UPDATED with Hartford Board of Education vote.

With Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra leading the way, the Hartford Board of Education voted 7 -1 (With only Working Families Party Robert Cotto Jr. voting no) to ask Governor Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor, to short-circuit the legislative mandated school turnaround process and give Friendship Charter School, Inc. a no-bid contract to take over Hartford’s Clark Elementary School.

During the course of the discussion, the Hartford Board of Education chairman read letters from Clark Parents in favor of the move to give Friendship their school but failed to read letters from parents who opposed the give-a-way program.  In addition, the Board of Education dismissed the first hand reports that the so-called 10-1 vote in favor of Friendship  Charter Schools by the Clark School Governance was actually a vote in favor of having Friendship as an option but WAS NOT a vote exclusively in favor of the out-of-state charter school company.

Perhaps the single most important development at the meeting was the fact that the Mayor and administers with the City of Hartford admitted that the Malloy administration was behind the Friendship and that the city was told that Clark would lose the funds state funds if the parents, teachers and local officials did not agree to the Commissioner’s demand.

The Malloy administration’s willingness to abuse its powers and its commitment to privatizing Connecticut’s public schools apparently has no bounds.

UPDATED with email to Hartford Board of Education from Lakeisha McFarland (Clark PTO President and School Governance Council member)

When Paul Hozler, the Executive Director of the corporate funded education reform group Achieve Hartford! wrote to two high-ranking Hartford Board of Education administrators that he was concerned that,

“…The [Clark] parents seem to be playing into the pockets of the AFT,” 

Hozler revealed far more than he probably meant to about the strategy behind the on-going effort to hand Hartford’s Clark Elementary School over to an out-of-state charter school management company called Friendship Charter Schools, Inc.

As reported yesterday on Wait, What?, in a hastily called special Hartford Board of Education meeting scheduled for late this afternoon, Mayor Pedro Segarra and his appointed majority on the Hartford Board are expected to vote in favor of a resolution asking Governor Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor, to step in and unilaterally eliminate the involvement of the parents and teachers of the Clark Elementary School.

The rush to put an end to the legally mandated school turnaround process is part of a broader effort to ensure that Friendship Charter Schools, Inc. gets a lucrative state taxpayer funded management contract to take over the Clark Elementary School.

Sources inside the State Department of Education and within the Hartford School System now confirm what internal emails had already revealed.

Prior to the weekend of March 29-30, 2014, Commissioner Pryor, his turnaround team, the Hartford school administrators and a group of corporate education reform organizations were intending to allow the Clark parents and teachers to complete the legally mandated turnaround committee process.

The privatization proponents have envisioned a process in which the steps to reach consensus about Clark School would be achieved with a site visit to New York City and Cincinnati to provide the Clark School community with an opportunity to explore other turnaround options, in addition to Friendship Charter School.

However, growing concerns about the possibility that the Hartford Federation of Teachers (HFT) and the community organization known as Hartford Rising might convince parents to choose another management model for Clark Elementary School led the supporters of privatization to a last minute change of strategy.

Starting with a meeting on Sunday evening, March 30th, the public and private funded groups promoting Friendship Charter Schools, Inc. met with a small group of Clark parents to scare them into thinking that if they did not choose Friendship Charter Schools immediately, they would lose out on the Malloy administration’s promise to allocate $1.5 million to help enhance the Clark Elementary School.

The Clark School parents were told that the site visit to New York was postponed and that Clark parents needed to attend the State Board of Education Meeting on April 2nd and speak up in favor of additional funding for Clark. 

In an interesting twist, apparently Achieve Hartford!, Hartford Area Rally Together (HART) and the other groups failed to cancel the trip and a coach bus actually showed up at the Clark School to take parents to see the New York City schools, but the bus was turned away when there were no parents to go on the trip.

At the Sunday meeting, and in the days that followed, the corporate education reform groups also planned a demonstration that is set for this afternoon in which Clark Parents were told to come to the school, put on tee-shirts and march to the Board of Education meeting to demand that the Hartford Board of Education vote to ask the Commissioner to unilaterally give the management contract to Friendship Charter Schools.

The fact that the demonstration planning has been going on for days is particularly noteworthy since the notice of the Board of Education’s special meeting wasn’t even released until 5pm last night.

The coordinated effort to give Friendship Charter School a no-bid contract is not only evident in the package of internal emails but the effort has now been independently confirmed by people directly involved in the process.

And perhaps the most disturbing development in this whole, bizarre charade is that it appears to be nothing more than an attempt to undermine the Hartford Chapter of the American Federation of Teachers despite state laws that not only allow, but require, the full participation of teachers and their union in the turnaround process.

Making the situation even more disgusting, in an effort to cover-up the privatization strategy, the Malloy administration, Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra and the corporate education reform groups are trying to make it appear that the whole effort to close down the turnaround committee process is simply a response to “service” the Clark parents.

As part of that strategy, Mayor Pedro Segarra released a statement earlier today claiming that the vote to request Malloy’s Commissioner of Education to stop the turnaround process and simply hand pick Friendship Charter Schools is at the request of the Clark Parents.

Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra’s statement was as follows,

MAYOR SEGARRA statement on parents decision regarding turnaround plan for clark elementary school

— NEWS AND COMMUNITY STATEMENT—

 (April 8, 2014) Today, Mayor Segarra made the following statement regarding the proposed turnaround plan for John C. Clark Elementary School:

“It has always been my belief that when a school partners with its families and community groups, children will stay in school longer and have a better chance of success.  A critical component of a providing a quality education is making sure the parents have a voice in the school process.  Parents who are actively involved in their children’s education are helping to build a foundation for their children’s future success.  The parents at Clark Elementary School have actively engaged in discussions surrounding the reform process for the school and have made their desires clear.

“The Clark School Governance Council voted unanimously in favor of partnering with the Friendship Public Charter Schools to assist in the school’s turnaround work.  It is disappointing to see that despite this clear recommendation from the School Governance Council, the Clark Turnaround Committee failed to reach consensus on a plan that would have provided the Clark Elementary School with the resources that are needed for a successful turnaround plan.  As Mayor, I support the School Governance Council’s recommendation to partner with Friendship Public Charter Schools to undertake this important work.

“I am asking that Stefan Pryor, Commissioner of Education for the State of Connecticut, exercise his statutory authority and contact Friendship to formally request that they reconsider being the lead partner with Clark Elementary School.”

###

Mayor Segarra’s claim that he is “doing it for the parents” is particularly insulting since Hartford parents that have been directly involved in the process have made it clear that the purported vote in favor of Friendship Charter Schools was not intended to be a vote in favor of giving the contact to Friendship Charter Schools but only a vote that Clark parents wanted Friendship Charter Schools as one of the options on the table as they explored other potential management models.

But as we have learned over and over again, when it comes to the privatization of our public schools, the truth is a dispensable commodity for the Malloy administration.

4 P.M. UPDATE:

Earlier today, Lakeisha McFarland (Clark PTO President and School Governance Council member sent the Board of Education the following email;

Good Afternoon Mayor Segarra and Board Members,

My name is Lakeisha McFarland I am the PTO President, SGC member and turn around team committee member at Clark school. I feel it is necessary to inform you that the SGC 10-0 vote that everyone is talking and writing about was NOT to partner with Friendship but it was to ask them to return to the table to be considered as ONE of the options for Clark.  A couple of parents are being misled to change their voices completely. Our unified voice was to see other models and we refused to have Friendship forced on us as the option we must partner with. As the PTO President I am responsible for communicating with parents and the last meeting that was held we all agreed as a parent body that more options and other models needed to be visited.  It is unfair that an organization can change the minds of a couple and pretend that this is what the majority of parents want.  Despite the couple of parents that are being misled to believe that we must pick Friendship, parents at large still stand on our original demand of seeing more options other than Friendship. It is a sad day when an organization that is hired to get the consensus of the parents and stakeholders in the Clark community are doing the opposite and trying to deliver us to Friendship on a silver platter. Parents at Clark are asking you NOT to intervene in the process of the turn around team and PLEASE don’t take our voices away.

Sincerely,

Lakeisha

NEWS FLASH: Its official – choice means Friendship Charter School or nothing

In a brazen effort to hand over Hartford’s Clark Elementary School to Friendship Charter Schools of Washington D.C. and divert more scarce public funds to another out-of-state charter school management company, a special meeting of the Hartford Board of Education has suddenly been called for tomorrow to approve a resolution “requesting” that Stefan Pryor, Governor Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, use his authority to simply hand Clark Elementary over to Friendship Charter Schools without any further debate or discussion.

As reported in multiple blog posts here at Wait, What?, this extraordinary abuse of power has been playing out for the last few months.

The Clark School “turnaround” process has suddenly became a case study in how the corporate education reform industry really works.

And in this case, the concept of “school choice” has been corrupted to mean that Clark School parents, teachers and the greater community must accept Friendship Charter School as their new master or Commissioner Stefan Pryor will withhold $1.5 million that was allocated to improve the neighborhood school.

Of course, a large chunk of that “new” money will be used to pay for the “services” of Friendship Charter School.

Regardless of the political spin coming from the corporate education reformers, the truth is as follows;

When Clark Elementary School’s parents, teachers and community were told that their school was going to be handed over to Achievement First, Inc., the large charter school management company founded by Governor Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor…

The Clark parents said NO! – “We want Choices.”

And the Achievement First, Inc. proposal was defeated.

In response to this development, Commissioner Pryor, his senior staff, and high-ranking administrators for the Hartford School System decided that the new “choice” would be Friendship Charter Schools, a Washington D.C. based charter school management company.

Although the Clark parents continued to say – “We want Choices,” those in power decided “choice” is not the selection of multiple options but simply a decision of Friendship Charter School or nothing.

As internal emails, documents and first hand reports reveal, a strategy was developed by Pryor’s State Department of Education, Hartford Board of Education administrators and corporate education reform organizations to “persuade”  the Clark parents that handing their school over to Friendship was effectively their only choice.

To implement this political strategy of deception, state and city officials used a combination of public and private funds to pay for a campaign that was orchestrated and coordinated by a series of education reform groups including Achieve Hartford!, Hartford Area Rally Together (H.A.R.T) and Michele Rhee’s StudentsFirst.

The gory details will continue to leak out in the coming days, but the strategy reached its zenith today when these education reform groups handed out flyers instructing Clark Parents to meet late tomorrow afternoon at that Clark School, don tee-shirts and march to the Hartford Board of Education meeting to demand the Hartford Board of Education approve Friendship before the state withdraws the $1.5 million needed to help improve their school.

Gone is the discussion of providing Clark School parents with the range of choices they wanted to hear about.

Last week’s site visit to New York City that would have allowed Clark’s parents to examine other options was cancelled and will now not be rescheduled.

The group’s planned site visit to Cincinnati to look at other school options has suddenly disappeared, as well.

And the Clark School Governance Committee’s vote in favor of seeking multiple options has been “re-interpreted” as a vote for Friendship Charter School.

Check back for additional details as they become available…

But as far as the corporate education reform industry is concerned, the only thing that stands between them and control of another local Connecticut neighborhood school, its students and millions in taxpayer money that comes with it is the following resolution that will be taken up tomorrow at 5:15 p.m. by the Hartford Board of Education.

BE IT THEREFORE RESOLVED THAT: the Board hereby requests that the Commissioner exercise his statutory authority pursuant to Connecticut General Statute § 10-233h(d) and develop and impose a turnaround plan for Clark that includes Friendship as the lead partner with responsibility for the day-to-day management and administration of Clark; and

BE IT THEREFORE FURTHER RESOLVED THAT: if the Commissioner exercises his statutory authority pursuant to Connecticut General Statute § 10-233h(d) and develops and imposes a turnaround plan for Clark that includes Friendship as the lead partner with responsibility for the day-to-day management and administration of Clark then the Board will negotiate the financial impact of the plan with the exclusive bargaining units for Clark certified employees in accordance with Connecticut General Statute § 10-153S(c).

RECOMMENDATION That the Hartford Board of Education authorizes the Superintendent to approve the resolution requesting Commissioner’s Exercise of Statutory Authority relative to John C. Clark Turnaround Committee.

You can also read more about this developing issue at the Real Hartford Blog – http://www.realhartford.org/2014/04/07/boe-to-vote-on-edu-colonialism-at-clark-school/

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:  http://www.achievehartford.org/upload/files/10-31-13-EducationMattersEXTRA.pdf?utm_source=October+31%2C+2013+Edition&utm_campaign=2-16EM&utm_medium=archive

For the Hartford Courant article go to: http://www.courant.com/community/hartford/hc-hartford-clark-school-0213-20140212,0,6213104.story

No one is above the law, not even Capital Prep Steve Perry (a re-cap)

The Hartford Board of Education will be holding its rescheduled board meeting tonight at the Journalism & Media Academy Magnet School which is located at 150 Tower Avenue in Hartford.

The public may address the Hartford Board of Education at 5:30pm

The executive session on Capital Prep Principal Steve Perry has not been re-scheduled.

Considering the extremely serious allegations that have been brought to light about Capital Prep and its principal, Steve Perry, it is hard to imagine that Hartford Superintendent of Schools Christina Kishimoto plans to prevent the Board from having a meaningful discussion about Perry and his failure to uphold the fundamental principles, ethical behavior and regulations that apply to Hartford school principals.

A weekend Wait, What? post entitled “Hartford Board of Education’s “Perry Problem” must still to be addressed” highlighted a list of some of the issues that have been raised to date.  Those issues include:

  • Perry using his Twitter account to make threats that would have gotten a student or teacher arrested, suspended or fired, yet no action was taken by Hartford Superintendent Christina Kishimoto or the Board of Education to date.
  • Although Perry is responsible for an 800-student school, he has missed approximately 20% of the school days during this academic year qualifying him as “excessively absent” and a “truant” under the State Department of Education’s policies concerning school attendance.  If he was a student, the school would have been required to institute special efforts to try to get Perry back into the school.
  • To date, Perry has sent out more than 32,200 Tweets from his Twitter account, many during school hours.  A conservative estimate is that Perry’s obsessive Tweeting while working (Tworking) has cost Hartford and Connecticut taxpayers in excess of $12,500 in wasted salary payments and benefits to Perry.
  • When Perry is at school and not Tweeting, he is often conducting media interviews to promote his private speaking business.  The use of school time and resources to further his private company is a violation of Hartford ethics policies and state law.
  • Allegations continue to mount that Perry and Capital Prep are utterly failing to provide their special education students with the services required in each student’s IEPs (Individualized Education Plans).  The reports suggest that Perry and the school are in gross violation of federal and state law.  An independent investigation by the State of Connecticut and the Federal Government is needed, although there are new reports that such an investigation has already begun.
  • Parents and teachers report that abusive discipline policies continue at Capital Prep.  Perry’s policies lead to students being forced to stand during entire class periods, forcing students to stand during lunch, forcing students to sit at the “Table of Shame” and even more serious allegations of abusive discipline policies.
  • Parents and teachers also report that bullying continues to run rampant at Capital Prep and that Perry’s failure to fulfill his legal duties under Federal and State bullying laws is only the tip of the iceberg.  Direct reports and dozens of Tweets on the subject reveal that Perry has created an unhealthy workplace in which teachers and school staff are regularly bullied by Perry and his fellow school administrators.
  • And the list goes on… including allegations of telling selected parents to fill out applications in such a way as to ensure acceptance to the school or urging parents to falsify demographic information so that Capital Prep can collect extra public funds under the Sheff racial desegregation case and laws.

Meanwhile, Achieve Hartford Inc., the corporate funded education reform advocacy group came out swinging in a broad defense of Steve Perry.  Achieve Hartford Inc. claimed that concerns about Perry were nothing more than an inappropriate attempt to count the number of times Perry has used his Twitter account.  Of course nothing could be further from the truth.

You can read more about Achieve Hartford’s claim that Perry is above the rules and laws that apply to everyone else at: Corporate funded education reform group speaks out for Steve Perry.

And at the same time, concern about workplace bullying is garnering more and more attention.  The need for better enforcement of existing laws and a stronger workplace bullying law is covered in a Wait, What? blog entitled, “Workplace Bullying: Capital Prep isn’t the only abuser.”

Finally, Perry has the propensity to attack others for “making up numbers” while  excusing his own reliance on rhetoric that is not based on facts.

For example, in defense of his demand for a second “Capital Prep,” last week Perry Tweeted “Can someone explain how CPrep can currently have 2,300 apps” and yet isn’t getting another school.

Of course, hyperbole being what it is, according to the official documents only 700 not 2,400 of the applicants for the school lottery requested Capital as their first choice school.  The number Perry cites includes 1,700 students who actually chose a different school as their first choice in the upcoming lottery.  Considering 700 is a perfectly legitimate number, it begs the question about why Perry is just completely unable or unwilling to tell the whole truth.

Corporate funded education reform group speaks out for Steve Perry

After reading the latest from Achieve Hartford Inc., it is hard to know quite what to say.

In a not so veiled attack on Wait, What? and those who have been demanding that Perry be held accountable to the same standards that apply to everyone else, Achieve Hartford, Inc. asks

“Our hope is that Board members are not being asked to spend time contemplating the tweets of Dr. Perry, because if they’re being asked to spend time on that over the state of education in our city, then, ‘Houston, we have a problem.’”

Contemplating tweets? 

Houston, we have a problem?

When parents, teachers and fellow citizens speak out to remind our elected officials that now one is above the law, Achieve Hartford Inc. call is it “contemplating tweets”?

Are they talking about the Tweet that would have gotten anyone else arrested?

Are they talking about thousands of personal and business tweets while on the job, costing taxpayers more than $12,500 in wasted pay?

Are they talking about Perry using public time and resources to work on his private business – something that is actually illegal, as well as unethical.

Are they talking about the charges that Perry is violating federal and state law by not providing mandated services to special education students?

Are they talking about the incredibly serious charges of harsh disciplinary practices that have apparently crossed over to nothing short of child abuse at Capital Prep?

Are they talking about Perry’s failure to deal with bullying in a legally and morally responsible way?

What exactly is Achieve Hartford Inc. talking about?

Perhaps readers could help shed light on what they think Achieve Hartford  Inc. is suggesting and we can send any questions over to them.

Here is what Achieve Hartford actually put out:

 “Please bear with us for a history lesson: Last October, a Hartford Board of Education meeting centered on the performance of Capital Preparatory Magnet School.  The Board applauded school founder Steve Perry and asked him to share his strong student performance data and social-justice approach to preparing students for college.

About a month later, a behind-the-scenes plan emerged for Capital Prep to expand its model to SAND Elementary – with five days’ notice to the community.  The concept, using one of the best assets Hartford has at its disposal (and one located only three blocks away from SAND) seemed right for a district wrestling to replicate success.

Ideological and personal opposition to the proposed Capital Prep-Steve Perry partnership came from a handful of vociferous teachers and parents, all at one Board of Ed meeting. After the proposal was discussed in executive session, it was scrapped, just like that.

Mysteriously, the concept never re-surfaced. Indeed, there has been no mention of expanding Capital Prep since. Soon after that Board meeting, the blogosphere lit up about an offensive tweet sent by an offended Dr. Perry in relation to the proposal getting scrapped. In a matter of days, the focus on using Capital Prep to turn around a low-performing school was lost.

Last week, a Board executive session was slated to discuss Dr. Perry. With the snow postponing that meeting, that item has vanished from the agenda of the meeting rescheduled for Monday.

We are  wondering what could be so important that a closed discussion was needed – and then not needed –  concerning one of the few school leaders in Hartford achieving strong (not perfect) student performance.

Like him or hate him, Steve Perry does what most of us only talk about: prepare Hartford students for college.

Our hope is that Board members are not being asked to spend time contemplating the tweets of Dr. Perry, because if they’re being asked to spend time on that over the state of education in our city, then, ‘Houston, we have a problem’ … and don’t think it’s a problem that potential superintendent candidates will overlook. Especially since, right now, Capital Prep has received far more applications than most other magnet schools in the choice lottery, by a lot. “

Achieve Hartford, the corporate funded education reform group blames extraneous factors

The Hartford Courant article is entitled “Achieve Hartford:  A Rough Year For CMT scores.”  It reports that Achieve Hartford has released their assessment of this year’s Connecticut Mastery Test results.

Their observation is so absurd that we can virtually forego any introduction, conclusion or commentary.

Achieve Hartford writes, “One look at the summary data tells the story of 2013 test scores in Hartford. It was a rough year. The only interesting fact is that it seems to have been a rough year for almost all Districts in CT, as statewide, Grades 3-8 showed a significant decrease on average, showing potentially some extraneous factor related to this year’s test influencing the performance of students. This is little consolation for students, families, teachers, administrators and central office staff who are all working so hard to show gains in student performance.”

So let’s just get this right…

When it comes to Hartford’s public education system, these education reform proponents fail to support any policies aimed at reducing poverty, expanding services for non-English speaking students or enhancing assistance for students who need special education services.

They support a testing frenzy that includes standardized tests that aren’t aligned to what students are actually learning.

And then they have the audacity to say the “poor” test results of “extraneous factors” and are “little consolation for the students, families, teachers, administrators and central office staff who are all working so hard to show gains in student performance?”

A result of extraneous factors?

Are of little consolation?

Is it possible that these education reformers are simply too stupid to grasp that the test results don’t actually measure student performance?