“It’s an insult to call our community school ‘failing,'” said Clark School Governance Council (SGC) and Parent-Teacher Organization (PTO) member Gloribee Gonzalez after Monday’s meetings. “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,” said Gonzalez, a parent with three daughters enrolled at Clark School as well an an infant she plans to enroll in its pre-kindergarten program.
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.
“It feels like someone is trying to stick our community with a ‘scarlet letter,'” said Kimberly Daly, a fourth-grade teacher in Clark’s elementary school. “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,” said Daly, a member of the Hartford Federation of Teachers, AFT Local 1018, and the union’s representative at Clark School.
Daly’s comments refer to the October 23 announcement of the district’s proposed redesign plan, which would result in a phased-in take-over by charter operator Achievement First, Inc. A majority of Hartford’s Board of Education voted in August to expand the controversial private, for-profit network in the city over strong, vocal opposition from parents and advocates. At issue are the charter’s disciplinary record and discrimination against children with disabilities at its Hartford Academy Elementary School in the city’s North End.
“As educators, we know that our parents’ input is vital for success,’ said Andrea Johnson, a 35-year veteran teacher in Hartford Public Schools. “Right now, this community is telling their city and school officials, ‘hear our voices.’ As teachers, we’re obligated to do all we can to make sure they are heard,” said Johnson, president of HFT, AFT Local 1018.
Parents and residents of the North End Hartford neighborhood served by Clark School have reacted forcefully to the redesign scheme, focusing attention on district officials’ failure to engage the community. “We are frustrated and hurt by the disrespectful method and tone in which this ‘plan’ was presented,” Clark SGC Parent Chair Millie Soto wrote in an open-letter released two days after learning of the proposal.
“Hartford city and school officials have lost sight of what matters most,” said Melodie Peters, president of AFT Connecticut and a former state senator. “They’re calling it a ‘redesign,’ but to parents, students, and their teachers and classroom support staff, it feels like an exclusive, driven agenda. Displacing students at a community school that is making real progress is not what the promise of public education is about,” she said.
Peters’ comments refer to efforts by AFT and its members in Connecticut and across the country to reclaim the so-called “education reform” movement for the sake of America’s schoolchildren. It is based in part on the founding principle that strong, thriving community schools foster equally secure, prosperous communities. Clark’s development with input from all stakeholders and steady improvement over the past two years are an example of how to design and maintain successful community schools.
AFT Connecticut represents more than 29,000 professionals across the state, including 2,800 teachers, paraeducators, and classroom support personnel in Hartford Public Schools. Follow the union on Facebook at www.facebook.com/aftct.
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