A few hours ago I posted this blog entitled – “What is the truth about the new Windham STEM Magnet.”
Just a little while ago I received a response from the Chairman of the Windham Board of Education. Since the entire Board was cc’d on the email, I am reprinting it below my original post.
Following that is a quick note that I sent back to the Chairman.
It would appear that the offensive language was, at some point, removed from the Windham STEM magnet operating agreement.
I’m glad the issues appears to be resolved, I apologize if, at any point, I provided the wrong information, and I especially want to thank all the people who took the time to learn more about this important issue.
A major controversy is brewing about the operating agreement that will govern Windham’s new Charles H. Barrows STEM Academy. Recruitment for the K-8 magnet school is beginning and the school will be opening in September 2013.
The Agreement, as proposed by Windham’s Special Master Steven Adamowski and approved by the Windham Board of Education, includes the concept that “New students entering beyond grade 3 must be reading at grade level.”
As Windham’s Board of Education Chairman explained in a recent email, “That language is in a section referring to students who transfer into openings in an ongoing Magnet School class. It does not apply to ANY student applying to enroll in initial classes during the startup period nor to students applying to pre-school or kindergarden once the school is fully enrolled.”
However, to be clear, as described, the policy would prevent students who are not reading at grade level from transferring into the school, even if there were available seats and even though the school will already have reading and special education services to support those students who began attending the school in their kindergarten year.
There is no question that the members of the Windham Board are well-meaning, dedicated people, but the policy raises extraordinarily serious questions about whether they were misled and whether such a policy has any right to exist in a public school.
In his email, the Chairman of the Windham Board of Education went on to note, “That provision is in the operating plan because reading at grade level for grades 4 to 8 is a requirement of the national STEM curriculum standards. Obviously, the Charles H. Barrows STEM Academy is not going to achieve that standard in its early years, and reaching the standard will be one of the first challenges the faculty of the school faces.”
In a follow-up email, the Chairman reiterated his point saying, “My understanding is that reading at grade level is a standard component of the STEM curriculum. That’s why the language regarding transfer students exists.”
Apparently the Windham Board of Education adopted this policy based on the information that they were provided and that, I believe, is the crux of the problem.
In the last three days, I’ve had the opportunity to speak with STEM magnet school administrators in Connecticut, Massachusetts and New York.
The administrator in Massachusetts said that they know of no program in that state that restricts the enrollment or transfer of students based on reading level.
In New York, where a group of the STEM magnets receive federal funding, the administrator said such a restriction would be illegal and violate the requirements of the federal grant.
And here in Connecticut, the answer was that they don’t know of any STEM Magnet where this type of restrictive provision was in place.
As a group, these STEM administrators condemned the wording of the Windham policy using terms like immoral, reprehensible, not in the best interest of children, discriminatory based on student’s socioeconomic status, race and ethnicity, probably illegal under federal special education statutes and would dramatically and disproportionately prevent Latino and other non-English speaking students from getting a high-quality STEM education.
To a person, they thought such a restriction was or should be illegal.
So what exactly is going on here?
In the summer of 2009, Windham’s local officials, school administrators, teachers and parents joined together to lay out a plan for a new magnet school to be built in the community.
After months of work, the group proposed the creation of a magnet school focused on Environmental Science and Cultural Studies. The plan was designed to take advantage and celebrate “the unique character of the community: the natural history, cultural heritage, and ethnic diversity that characterize Windham.”
Then, fast forward to the summer of August 2011.
As a result of a special legislative changes, the State Department of Education named Steven Adamowski, Hartford’s former Superintendent of Schools, to the post of “Special Master” for Windham.
Within weeks, the Windham Magnet School Building Committee was persuaded to drop its idea of creating an Environmental and Cultural Magnet School and making Windham’s new magnet school at Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) School.
The Norwich Bulletin covered the developments writing,
“Windham school’s Special Master Steven Adamowski has unveiled a plan to create the state’s second science, technology, engineering and math kindergarten through eighth grade school.
The first K-8 STEM school, as science-, technology-, engineering- and math-geared schools are known, is in Adamowski’s former district, Hartford.
Windham was building a magnet school before Adamowski’s arrival; however, it was slated to be an environmental sciences and culture magnet. He immediately changed the school’s direction, calling the original plan too soft.”
Adamowski said it would be better to model the new Magnet after the Annie Fisher STEM magnet school in Hartford and that he had already asked the principal there to consult on Windham’s project and she had agreed.
The Annie Fisher STEM magnet is certainly a school to admire. Although it only opened in 2009, last year the school was named one of American’s 269 “National Blue Ribbon” schools. As the Hartford Courant noted at the time, “The national award marks the school’s academic achievement and efforts to close the achievement gap…”
The Courant article went to quote Annie Fisher’s Principal, Melony M. Brady, as saying “Receiving the National Blue Ribbon Award is an honor that validates how a community, with one common vision, dream and belief that every single child deserves a phenomenal educational experience, will surpass academic expectations and beat the odds…It is without the shadow of a doubt that this acknowledgement recognizes the power of collaboration, partnership and educational autonomy that drives reform.”
But here is the kicker!
The Annie Fisher STEM Magnet DOES NOT HAVE the provision requiring students to be reading at grade level. The successful Annie Fisher STEM magnet is doing what magnet schools are supposed to be doing – using a lottery to ensure fairness and then providing every child who access to a quality education.
As noted in a previous Wait, What? post, In Connecticut, interdistrict magnet schools receive special funding BECAUSE they are supposed to “reduce, eliminate or prevent the racial, ethnic or economic isolation of public school students while offering a high-quality curriculum that supports educational improvement.”
Furthermore, According to state law and regulations, “All students in the school districts participating in the magnet school program are eligible. No student may be denied enrollment because of race, color, national origin, sex, disability, genetics, age, religion or any other basis.”
Yet preventing students from transferring into the Charles H. Barrows STEM Academy, if they aren’t reading a grade level, will effectively discriminate against students that are poorer, students who aren’t fluent in English and students who require special education services.
The policy is immoral, unethical, and unfair and will lead to real (defacto) discrimination which would violate Connecticut law and the Connecticut Constitution.
And yet, recruitment for the new Windham STEM Magnet is moving forward.
On Monday, February 11th, 2013 there will be a Windham STEM Magnet School Open House for Windham families at the Windham Middle School and applications for Windham families to attend the new STEM Magnet are due by Friday, March 1st, 2013.
Meanwhile, on Wednesday, March 5th, 2013 there will be a Windham STEM Magnet School Open House for Out of District Families at the Mansfield Public Library and the deadline for Out of District Families to submit applications for the new STEM Magnet are Friday, March 29th, 2013.
Everyday that this issue goes unresolved is a day that the parents and students of Windham and the region are being misled.
Finally, one overriding question is why hasn’t the State Board of Education and Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor, engaged in this vital discussion?
Oh, and one additional note: The new website for the Windham STEM Magnet is here: http://www.windham.k12.ct.us/schools/chbsa/index.html and that links to the Operations Plan for the new STEM Magnet which is here: http://www.windham.k12.ct.us/downloads/schools/chbsa/STEMOperations_Plan20120616.pdf
Call it a strange coincidence, but the language revealing that any student beyond the 3rd grade must be reading at grade level in order to transfer into the Windham STEM Magnet is missing from the version of the document on the Windham STEM Magnet school website, even though the wording was adopted by the Windham Board of Education and is part of the Operations Plan available elsewhere on the Board’s website.
For the earlier Wait, What? blog posts on this issue read here: Windham’s Charles H. Barrows STEM Academy: The problem is even greater than it first appeared and here: http://jonathanpelto.com/2013/02/06/what-are-windham-education-officials-hiding/.
Chairman’s response 2-10-13
I disagree that there is even a minor controversy brewing. You are referring to an earlier draft of the the Charles H. Barrows STEM Academy’s operations plan than the one currently on file with the State Department of Education. It happens, that until you raised the issue, I did not have a copy of the latest operations plan. A copy of the plan on file with the SDE has been placed on the Barrows Academy website <http://www.windham.k12.ct.us/downloads/schools/chbsa/STEMOperations_Plan20120616.pdf>. We’ll do our best to make sure it remains current if it is edited in the future, as it may well be.
You’ll note that the language on the qualifications of transfer students has been removed from plan. However, I’m told that there are magnet schools in Connecticut that do have academic restrictions in their transfer policies, and we may ask our administration to document those IF the Board of Education ultimately decided to consider such restrictions.
This is NOT an urgent issue for Windham because we will not have any transfer students before the 2014-15 school year, and it will be several years after that before we have achieved the reading at grade level standard for the students attending the Barrows Academy. Hence, if academic restrictions on transfer admissions does make sense, it won’t be operative for some years in the future.
We do thank you for bringing the issue to our attention. We have asked the administration to include this issue among others in a presentation at a regular meeting after the close of the initial lotteries and decisions by potential partner districts (possibly on April 10). As I noted earlier, this question may be a total not-starter because our District’s commitment is that ALL of our students be reading at grade level by grade three, and our intent is that we maintain that standard through high school. So, when it comes to transfers into the Barrows Academy, the greater issue will be what is the most appropriate environment for students requiring remedial services to receive them.
While it is critical that the Barrows STEM Academy be a successful school, we do not intend that it become an elite school. We expect all of our schools to meet the same level of student performance. We will be selecting students to attend the Barrows STEM Academy by an entirely nondiscriminatory lottery; it follows that that students in any of our schools have the same ability to achieve success; therefore, performance standards will be the same for all.
My email back to the Chairman just now;
Thank you for the update.
Odd that when I raised this very issue – repeatedly – with the State Department and the Windham School administration – no one bothered to respond that the final operating agreement didn’t include the offensive and inappropriate language.
I may very well have missed it, and if so, I apologize, but it appears that when the Windham Board of Education voted on the STEM Operating Plan, the reading at grade level for transfers was most definitely part of the plan. In fact, the document the Board voted on included a number of changes in the plan (all in red) but NONE OF THEM related to the reading at grade level requirement.
Is it your understanding that the Board then voted again on the Operating Plan and this time removed that requirement?
Certainly neither the State Department nor the Windham Administration has the authority to file an operating plan that is different than the one approved by the Board.
Finally, I will respectfully disagree with you as to whether this is a pressing or controversial issue or not. The initial marketing and discussion surrounding the STEM Magnet will create the image that the school will live with for years to come. Even this provision didn’t “kick-in” until year two, parents considering sending their children to the new STEM and the taxpayers who pay for that have a right to know that a system was being considered that would have treated those students in a way they weren’t being treated at any other public school in northeastern, Connecticut.
The question is not whether children should be reading at grade level. We all want all children to be reading at grade level and that should be the stated goal in every school, but the fact is, whatever the truth may be about how the policy was changed, the Windham STEM Magnet had language which turned that goal into a mandate – a mandate that would have kept talented students from trying to get a STEM based education simply because they weren’t, at that time, reading at grade level.
And we all know what that means, students from poorer background, those from non-English speaking families and those in need of special education services would have been turned away.
It begs the question – who would have put in such a horrendous proposal.
That said, I’m very glad to hear that the provision is gone and I appreciate all the time and effort you went through to set the record straight.