Foxes guarding the chicken coop or Hartford politics as usual.

With relatively little fan-fare last fall, Board of Education Chairman Matt Poland appointed a 13 member search committee to choose a new superintendent of schools for the Hartford School System.

Poland, who is not only appointed to the Board of Education by Mayor Segarra, is also the Director of the Hartford City Library, an organization which receives the vast majority of its funding from the Mayor and Hartford City Council.

In his announcement Poland appointed four members of the Hartford Board of Education to the search committee, including himself, but committed to give up his spot to a new member following their swearing-in ceremony in December.

In addition to the four members of the Board of Education, Marlene Ibsen, a Travelers executive was appointed to the Search Committee as a representative of the MetroHartford Alliance business group. Oz Griebel is president and CEO of MetroHartford Alliance and has been one of the leading advocates for the corporate education reform agenda in Hartford.

What makes the appointed especially interesting is that Travelers is the chief corporate sponsor of High School, Inc., “a four-year college prep school for Hartford Public School students in grades 9-12 who are interested in pursuing careers in the insurance and financial services industries.”

Last month, the Hartford Board of Education was presented with a secret “Sheff lawsuit plan” that called for opening up two new magnet schools in Hartford and handing Capital Prep and the S.A.N.D. elementary school over to a private company set up by Capital Prep Principal Steve Perry.

Citing the lack of any public hearing or public input into the controversial plan, the Hartford Board of Education rejected the secret deal.

However, three weeks ago the Hartford Board of Education reversed course and with no public hearing or public input, authorized “the state and district to convert High School Inc….to a Sheff magnet school beginning with ninth grade in 2014-15 and gradually expanding to 12th grade by 2017-18.”

The deal will divert hundreds of thousands to the Travelers’ affiliated school despite the fact that “the school has posted low scores on the Connecticut Academic Performance Test. This year, only 5 percent of 10th-graders met the state’s goal in mathematics this year, while less than half of the school’s test-takers were proficient in math, science and reading. Travelers supported the conversion to a magnet program, according to [Hartford school] board member Cherita McIntye, who was involved in negotiations.”

However, despite the appearance of a potential financial conflict of interest, Travelers will continue to serve on the Hartford Superintendent Search Committee.

Another member of the Hartford Superintendent Search Committee is Capital Community College President Wilfredo Nieves. While Nieves is widely respected for his leadership at Capital Community College, the college desperately needs to find additional revenue and additional tenants to fill unused space at the College.

Over the past few years, Governor Malloy has made the deepest cuts in state history to Connecticut’s public colleges and universities. More than anything else, Connecticut’s colleges now need to find additional revenue, whether through tuition increases or revenue from new tenants.

The secret Sheff deal has also included authorizing Capital Community College to open a magnet school despite the fact that Capital Prep Magnet School used to be affiliated with the college before Capital Prep broke off on its own.

As with the Hartford High Inc. magnet school deal, three weeks ago, the Hartford School Board reversed itself on the Capital Community College proposal and voted 6-1 to allow “state and school officials to move forward with creating Capital Community College Senior Academy, a magnet school to be established for 11th and 12th graders next year in partnership with the community college in Hartford.”

Again, despite the appearance of a potential financial conflict of interest, the President of Capital Community College remains on the Hartford Superintendent Search Committee.

Another member of the Hartford superintendent search committee is Mayra Esquilin, the executive director of HART (Hartford Areas Rally Together).

Esquilin is not only a member of Board of Directors of Achieve Hartford Inc. the leading corporate funded education reform organization in Hartford, but even after being added to the Superintendent Search Committee, Esquilin and Hartford Areas Rally Together submitted a proposal to the City of Hartford in response to a Request for Proposals for a community based organization to rally parents at the Clark School to support handing their school over to Achievement First, Inc. the large charter school management company co-founded by Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor.

Although the $19,400 contract went to another organization called the Multi-Cultural Community Alliance, Esquilin has been extremely outspoken in favor of restructuring S.A.N.D. elementary, the school that was supposed to go to Perry’s private company as part of the secret Sheff Deal.

According to a recent Hartford Courant article, Esquilin said “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 isn’t exactly clear who is paying Esquilin and HART to work on the S.A.N.D. school effort (watch for an upcoming Wait, What? post on the topic), but despite appearance of a financial conflict of interest, Mayra Esquilin remains on the Hartford Superintendent Search Committee.

And the list goes on…

Considering the size and diversity of Hartford, it is either a sad commentary or an incredible message that the powers that be appointed a number of people with direct or potential conflicts of interest to the search committee for the most important non-elected official in Hartford.

Meanwhile, according to a Hartford Courant story yesterday entitled, Hartford Picks Iowa Firm For Superintendent Search, “The city’s superintendent search committee has chosen the Iowa firm Ray and Associates Inc. to find the next schools leader for Hartford…The contract with Ray and Associates to conduct a national search should total no more than $24,000, according to school board Chairman Matthew Poland.”

School Choice or Extortion (By Wendy Lecker)

Public education advocate and fellow commentator Wendy Lecker has an outstanding piece in this weekend’s Stamford Advocate and other Hearst Media outlets about Hartford’s recent “school choice” debacle.

You can find Wendy’s piece at: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Lecker-School-choice-or-extortion-5022275.php.  Below is a somewhat longer version.

Both do an excellent job laying out the issues surrounding Achievement First, Inc., Capital Prep and Hartford’s Clark and SAND elementary schools.

The entire story is a great case study in how the corporate education reform industry is trying to destroying our public education system and how parents, teachers and communities can fight back.

School Choice or Extortion (By Wendy Lecker)

Driven by their Madison Avenue advertising mentality, the corporate education “reform” industry’s narrative seeks to convince our nation’s citizens that our public education system is failing,” parents need market-based “ school choice” so their children can escape dismal neighborhood schools.

A primary solution, according to these education reformers is to remove public schools out of the control of local community school boards and hand them over to boards made up of corporate leaders or even hand them over to private management companies.

As a result of this business first mentality, rather than properly fund neighborhood schools, officials in Chicago, Philadelphia, New Orleans, New York and even right here in Connecticut push a political agenda in which underfunded community schools are closed and replaced with privately-run “schools of choice.” In nearly every case, our most vulnerable children are the first to be excluded from these “new” schools, while the remaining students are faced with barely-trained, inexperienced and often temporary teachers.

One of the most interesting developments has been the fact that voters simply don’t buy the corporate education industry’s version of the world.

In a recent 2013 Phi Delta Kappan/Gallup national poll on public education, the largest majority of parents ever recorded gave their community schools a grade of A or B.

The fact is most parents do not think their schools are failing their children. The poll revealed that the majority of parents trust teachers. The most serious problem facing public schools, according to parents polled, contrary to claims by reformers, is the fundamental lack of adequate funding, with school overcrowding being the second most serious concern cited by parents.

Rather than close and replace their schools or fire their children’s teachers, the vast majority of parents in the United States want their schools funded sufficiently so they have the capacity to provide all children with the resources, services and support they need to succeed.

A powerful example of the clash between reformer rhetoric and parent reality can be found in Connecticut’s Capital City.

In recent weeks, parents from two community schools have risen up to successfully oppose proposals by Christina Kishimoto, Hartford’s outgoing “reform” superintendent, and Governor Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor to hand over their neighborhood schools over to private companies. Neither school community was consulted before the plans were developed.

The reformers initial proposal was to hand Hartford’s Clark Elementary school over to Achievement First, Inc. the charter school management company co-founded by Commissioner Stefan Pryor.

Almost 18% of Clark’s students have disabilities, and 15.2% are English Language Learners. Clark’s school governance council has begged the district, in vain, for additional resources, including teachers, a psychologist, a guidance counselor and basic school repairs such as a functional heating and cooling system.

Only 6.7% of Achievement First’s students have special needs, 6.7% are English Language Learners. Moreover, Achievement First has the highest rate of suspensions in the state for children under 6 years old, and has been investigated and cited for federal violations in mistreating students with disabilities.

Upon hearing of the proposed Achievement First takeover, Clark’s parents fought back.   They openly feared that their special needs children would “not have a place” at an Achievement First school.  One parent said “Our teachers work very hard and they love our kids.” Another remarked that when children do not listen, Achievement First suspends them. “Our teachers find a way to keep them in school, find out what is behind their [behavior].”  Noting the school was praised by the district in 2013 for its academic progress, a parent declared, “We didn’t ask for our school to be redesigned but only for supports to keep making improvements.”

In the face of the strong opposition from parents, the mayoral-controlled majority of the school board backed down.

The same scene recurred about a week later.  This time the Hartford BOE was presented with a plan to hand the SAND elementary school over to Steve Perry’s new private management company. Perry currently heads Hartford’s Capital Prep Magnet School.  Kishimoto and Pryor tried to shift both SAND and Capital Prep to Perry’s company.

At Capital Prep, 6.3% of the students have disabilities, 3.4% of the students are English Language Learners, and 51.4% are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch.  Mr. Perry bills Capital Prep as a “no excuses” school. The school has a high attrition rate for teachers and students; and allegations of bullying abound.

Mr. Perry has been absent for almost 20% of the year so far, traveling and giving speeches. In one speech, he claimed that public schools are “over-feminized.”

In SAND school, 14.9% of the children have disabilities, 21.4% are English Language Learners, and over 95% of the children are eligible for free-or-reduced-priced lunch.

Parents came out to contest the “hostile takeover” of their school. One student claimed that “Capital Prep does not understand the [SAND] students” and feared that Capital Prep would “kick [neighborhood kids] out.” Another remarked that “We know these teachers and they know us.” He continued,” If you want kids at SAND to learn better, give kids the same support you do at fancy schools like Capital Prep. If I had fifteen kids in my classroom and two teachers, I would learn better too.”

The school board backed down again.

But this retreat may only be temporary. The school board subsequently met in private, in executive session, and emerged with another “turnaround plan.” Digging up an obscure law, the board suggested finding a school to become a “lighthouse” school.  A lighthouse school is an existing school that is “redesigned” to have a specialized curriculum and be open to intradistrict and interdistrict choice.  Such a school would be eligible for additional funding if it is subjected to this “redesign.”

According to approach being taken by the corporate education reformers, the only way parents will get more resources for their inadequately funded schools to acquiesce to a redesign- a redesign that will necessarily disrupt their school community – fire teachers, exclude children.

But of course, that is not really school choice- in the real world it’s called extortion.

It remains to be seen whether Hartford officials will listen to parents- those who know best what their children need. If they don’t, as one parent reminded Hartford officials- “We voted you in. We can vote you out.”

You can read the piece in the Stamford Advocate here:  http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Lecker-School-choice-or-extortion-5022275.php

 

 

Hartford’s Clark Elementary School Community says “NO” to takeover

Achievement First, Inc. the large charter school company that was co-founded by Governor Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor, is continuing its campaign to get the Hartford Board of Education to close the Clark Elementary School and hand it over to the charter school operator.

In response, Hartford parents, teachers and community residents are fighting back.

The blog Real Hartford has a great summary of recent events in an article entitled “N” is for No: Community Speaks Against Closure of Clark School.”

In addition, according to a press release from the coalition formed to fight off the Achievement First attack, “Scores of neighborhood residents, civil rights activists, education advocates, teachers, classroom support personnel, and legislators” joined together last week to “speak out against proposed displacement of Clark School students.” 

The event, last week, was put together by the Clark School’s Parent-Teacher Organization (PTO) and School Governance Council (SGC). 

According to Clark School PTO President and SGC member Lakeisha McFarland, “Many of our parents are upset because we feel our school is being snatched from us… It’s very painful for our parents. Our kids are succeeding and they’re making it seem like they’re failing.”

Joneisha Brown, the parent liaison at the Clark School for the district’s Title I Program added, “I can’t support a scheme that breaks-up families or disrupts our children’s education… I don’t think it’s fair to the children to ignore the good things that are happening at Clark; we have a long way to go, but let us keep going.”

One of the issues Clark parents are raising is Achievement First’s apparent inability or unwillingness to provide services to Hartford’s Latino children or children who requires extra special education services.

As the follow chart reveals, Achievement First has completely failed to take its fair share of students who face language barriers such as needing extra help with English.

Year Achievement First % English Language Learners Hartford % English Language Learners
2010- 2011 4.6% 17.7%
2009-2010 4.8% 17.5%
2008-2009 0 14.4%

 

You can read the Real Hartford Blog summary of developments at: http://www.realhartford.org/2013/11/07/n-is-for-no-community-speaks-against-closure-of-clark-school/

Kishimoto’s Agenda: “Process for Identifying Schools for Redesign”

The Hartford Board of Education will be holding a “Workshop Meeting” tonight, November 6, 2013.

Before the meeting, parents, teachers and public school advocates will hold a press conference about Kishimoto’s plan to close Clark School and hand it over to Achievement First, Inc.

The press conference and rally is in response to the Hartford Board of Education Agenda tonight that reads:

“Process for Identifying Schools for Redesign”

In the real world, we would call the phrase, “process for identifying schools for redesign,” Doublespeak.

“Doublespeak is language that deliberately disguises, distorts, or reverses the meaning of words. Doublespeak may take the form of euphemisms (e.g., “downsizing” for layoffs, “servicing the target” for bombing), in which case it is primarily meant to make the truth sound more palatable. It may also refer to intentional ambiguity in language or to actual inversions of meaning (for example, naming a state of war “peace”). In such cases, doublespeak disguises the nature of the truth. Doublespeak is most closely associated with political language” – Wikipedia

The term is usually associated with George Orwell’s book, 1984.

In this case, Hartford Superintendent of Schools has identified a group of “failing schools.”  Her plan is to close two of the schools and hand one over the Achievement First Inc. and the other to Steve Perry’s Capital Prep Magnet School.

A “process for identifying schools for redesign” really means – how does Kishimoto and her supporters pull this off without students, parents, teachers, public school advocates, voters and residents getting in way.

The primary tactic will be to continue to limit public information, limit public input and use doublespeak to make bad things look good.

First up is Kishimoto’s plan to close Hartford’s Clark School and give it to Achievement First, Inc. the large charter school management company co-founded by Governor Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor.

Achievement First, Inc. already owns one school in Hartford.

And Achievement First, Inc. is notorious for failing to take its fair share or provide adequate services to Latino students, students who face English language barriers and children who require special education services.

For example:

The number of students coming from households where English is not the primary language.

Year Clark School Achievement First
2011-2012 26% 8%
2010-2011 26% 5%
2009-2010 26% 5%

 

The percentage of students requiring special education services.

Year Clark School Achievement First
2011-2012 18% 7%
2010-2011 16% 8%
2009-2010 14% 8%

 

The number of experienced Special Education Teachers and Special Education Paraprofessionals.

Year Clark School Achievement First
2011-2012 19.5 2
2010-2011 17.5 1.5
2009-2010 14.5 1.5

 

Teachers: Average Number of years of experience in education.

Year Clark School Achievement First
2011-2012 18.9 years 2.4 years
2010-2011 16.2 years 2.2 years
2009-2010 13.2 years 2.0 years

 

% of Teachers with Master’s degree or above

Year Clark School Achievement First
2011-2012 76% 40%
2010-2011 72% 34%
2009-2010 70% 28%

 

But the parents and teachers of Clark School, along with the Hartford Federation of Teachers and other public school advocates are fighting back.

Here is the latest from Clark’s parents and teachers…

“Clark Rising” is a response to the proposed take-over of Clark School.

WHEN:  Wednesday, November 6 at 5:00PM ahead of the Hartford Board of Education workshop meeting at 5:30PM.

WHERE:  Jumoke Academy Honors at Milner, located at 104 Vine Street in Hartford’s North End.

WHAT:  Parents of students at John C. Clark, Jr. Elementary and Middle School will discuss the recently announced “redesign” and hand-over of the community school to a charter operator. They will be joined by local community activists, civil rights leaders, and Hartford Public Schools teachers and education support staff who are supporting the parents’ efforts.

INFO: The “Clark Rising” movement is a grass-roots response to the proposed displacement of Clark School students in order to make way for the expansion of charter operator Achievement First. The press conference is being organized to announce efforts by the parents of the community school’s students in advance of an expected vote by the Hartford Board of Education on the proposal.

Hartford’s Clark School parents, teachers and community fight back!

The battle to fight off the “Hostile Take-Over” of Hartford’s Clark School is growing.

Last week Hartford Superintendent of Schools, Christina Kishimoto, announced plans that she wants to close Hartford’s Clark School and hand the building over to Achievement First, Inc., the larger charter school management company that already has one school in Hartford but was promised another by Mayor Pedro Segarra and the majority on the Hartford Board of Education.

This week, a Hartford Board of Education sub-committee heard from Superintendent Kishimoto, Achievement First, Inc. and the Clark School’s parents and students.

Despite growing opposition to the plan, Kishimoto is pushing the Hartford Board of Education to vote on her Clark School Closure proposal at its November meeting.

Meanwhile, despite the mounting evidence that Steve Perry’s claims of success at Capital Preparatory Magnet School are fraudulent, Perry and Kishimoto are still moving forward on plans to close another Hartford school and hand it over to Perry.  To date, Perry and Kishimoto have failed to identify what Hartford school they intend to take-over.

Back at John C. Clark, Jr. Elementary and Middle School, Hartford Public School teachers, para-educators, and classroom instruction support staff are joining parents in the fight to stop Kishimoto’s plan to destroy their neighborhood school.

A primary complaint about Kishimoto’s plan is that that not only has the Clark School been making progress in improving its academic performance, but the Superintendent’s actions violate Connecticut’s school governance council law.

Connecticut’s school governance law requires that local School Governance Councils (SGCs) be included in major policy decisions about the school.

But Hartford’s Superintendent completely failed to properly include Clark’s School Governance Council in this “bait and switch” maneuver.

Failure to properly include school governance councils was one of the items that got Paul Vallas, Bridgeport’s faux Superintendent of Schools, sued earlier this year.

According to a recent American Federation of Teachers – Connecticut Chapter press release, Gloribee Gonzalez, a Clark School Governance Council (SGC) and Parent-Teacher Organization (PTO) member explained that “It’s an insult to call our community school ‘failing’…Throwing the word around to justify a hostile take-over is not acceptable. And it dismisses all that we’ve accomplished by working together as a community.”

The press release reports that “Gonzalez’ comments refer to claims by district Superintendent Christina M. Kishimoto that Clark was selected for “redesign” as a privately-operated charter due to prolonged failure to make necessary improvements. However, its students are performing above the minimum proficiency threshold permitted to allow targeting a school for “turn-around” under Hartford Board of Education policy. Additionally, Clark has been part of the city’s nationally-recognized Community Schools Initiative since 2011, enabling students and their families to receive “wrap-around services” from neighborhood non-profits.”

In an open letter to Hartford Board of Education members, Clark School Governance Parent Chair Millie Soto added that “We are frustrated and hurt by the disrespectful method and tone in which this ‘plan’ was presented.”

And according to the AFT-CT press release, Kimberly Daly, a Clark School teacher said that, “It feels like someone is trying to stick our community with a ‘scarlet letter…Calling us a ‘failing school’ to allow outsiders to take-over is no way to treat the community we serve. The students and their parents deserve better than that.” Daly is a member of the Hartford Federation of Teachers, AFT Local 1018, and the union’s representative at Clark School.

The trauma now facing the students, parents and teachers at Clark School is reflective of a much bigger strategy on the part of the corporate education reform industry to close public schools and hand them over to private entities.

Massive school closure operations are underway in cities like Chicago and Philadelphia.

In Philadelphia, approximately 40 percent of all public school students are now being diverted into charter schools.

Here in Connecticut Governor Malloy and Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor have been using a variety of techniques to expand the reach of corporate charter schools.

In Hartford, the Jumoke Academy charter school was given control of the Milner School while in Bridgeport the Jumoke Academy was given control of the Dunbar School.

In both cases the charter school management company with no experience working with non-English speaking children was given schools with significant numbers of non-English speaking students.

Although charter school companies like Jumoke Academy and Achievement First, Inc. have been unwilling to take their fair share of students who face language barriers and children who have special education needs, Malloy and Pryor have been diverting millions of dollars away from public schools to finance charter school operations.

As the following two tables indicate, the Clark School situation would be one of the most egregious examples of this practice to date.  In fact, to even suggest that Achievement First, Inc. should take the place of the Clark School is an incredible insult, especially to the Latino community and to parents whose children need additional special education services.

The number of students coming from households where English is not the primary language.

Year Clark School Achievement First
2011-2012 26% 8%
2010-2011 26% 5%
2009-2010 26% 5%

 

The percentage of students requiring special education services.

Year Clark School Achievement First
2011-2012 18% 7%
2010-2011 16% 8%
2009-2010 14% 8%

 

(Updated) Superintendent Kishimoto’s “end justified the means” form of a School Redesign Analysis

According to Hartford Superintendent of Schools Kishimoto, a key issue behind her decision to close Clark School and hand it over to Achievement First is because of “Declining Enrollment”

Declining Enrollment?

In 2012, the 8th grade class at Clark Elementary has lost 7% of its students since 5th grade

In 2012, the 8th grade class at Achievement First had lost 22% of its students since 5th grade

Meanwhile, in preparation for a rush vote to close Hartford’s Clark School and hand it over to Achievement First, Inc., Hartford Superintendent of Schools Christina Kishimoto has provided the Hartford Board of Education with a “School Redesign Analysis” that attempts to justify her proposal by literally selecting only those measurement criteria that will bolster her fraudulent claims.

The memo explains, “In order to make a redesign recommendation to the Superintendent of Schools, a performance analysis was carried out on three (3) of our district’s Northeast Neighborhood schools. The analysis was conducted in accordance with the district’s redesign/repurposing policy, which seeks to provide all children with high performing schools. The analysis was based on the following data points:

  • District OSI scores
  • Enrollment Data (Five-year trend)
  • Socio Economic Status percentages (Five-year trend)
  • School Attendance Rates (Five-year trend)
  • Student Retention Rates (Five-year trend)
  • School Building Capacity

Note that there is absolutely no reference to the fundamental issues associated with students that face language barriers, students that require special education services or issues related to having qualified teachers who have the experience and skills to face those vitally important issues.

If a graduate student at an institution of higher education tried to submit a paper with such a flawed analysis they would be given an “F” and sent packing.

To suggest that a school re-design analysis can be done without considering students’ language barriers and special education needs is beyond incompetent.

Here are just a few of the criteria NOT INCLUDED in the Superintendent’s analysis that wrongfully concludes that it is in the best interest of Hartford’s students to close the Clark School and hand it over to Achievement First, Inc.

The number of students coming from households where English is not the primary language.

Year Clark School Achievement First
2011-2012 26% 8%
2010-2011 26% 5%
2009-2010 26% 5%

 

The percentage of students requiring special education services.

Year Clark School Achievement First
2011-2012 18% 7%
2010-2011 16% 8%
2009-2010 14% 8%

 

The number of experienced Special Education Teachers and Special Education Paraprofessionals.

Year Clark School Achievement First
2011-2012 19.5 2
2010-2011 17.5 1.5
2009-2010 14.5 1.5

The one thing we know about dealing with the issues associated with poverty, language barriers and special education needs is that students need teachers who have the training, experience, ability and willingness to step forward and teach in some of the most complex and challenging classrooms in the country.

And when it comes to identifying successful teachers, here are just two measures of the difference between what is available to the students of the Clark School versus the students who attend Achievement First, Inc.

Teachers: Average Number of years of experience in education.

Year Clark School Achievement First
2011-2012 18.9 years 2.4 years
2010-2011 16.2 years 2.2 years
2009-2010 13.2 years 2.0 years

 

% of Teachers with Master’s degree or above

Year Clark School Achievement First
2011-2012 76% 40%
2010-2011 72% 34%
2009-2010 70% 28%

 

How the Hartford Board of Education responds to Kishimoto’s flawed “re-design analysis” will signal Hartford parents, teachers and citizens about whether they have a Board of Education that is interested in what is best for Hartford’s students or whether they are more dedicated to handing Hartford’s schools and the soul of Hartford’s public education system over to the corporate education reform industry.

The Board of Education should start by ordering Superintendent Kishimoto to provide the board with a “redesign analysis” that is not misleading and intellectually dishonest.