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Community to Hartford Officials: “Our School is Being Snatched from Us”

“Many of our parents are upset because we feel our school is being snatched from us,” said Clark School PTO President and SGC member Lakeisha McFarland. “It’s very painful for our parents. Our kids are succeeding and they’re making it seem like they’re failing,” she said. SGCs were created by the Connecticut legislature in 2010 to enable parents, school staff, and community leaders to work together to improve student achievement.
 
McFarland’s comments refer to the justification for the proposed redesign of the Clark School made by school officials since the take-over scheme was announced on October 23. The superintendent has publicly called the school “failing,” yet in August praised Clark students for “sustaining and accelerating the progress” reflected in improved 2013 Connecticut Mastery Test scores.
 
“I can’t support a scheme that breaks-up families or disrupts our children’s education,” said Joneisha Brown, the parent liaison at the Clark School for the district’s Title I Program. “Especially since we’ve started to make progress. 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,” she said. The Title I program provides federal funding through the State Department of Education to local districts for schools with high percentages of children living in poverty.
 
Brown’s comments refer to Clark’s participation since 2011 in Hartford’s Community Schools Initiative, which provides students and their families with “wrap-around” services through a partnership with local service agencies. In June, Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra accepted the National Community School Award for Excellence from the Coalition for Community Schools at an ceremony in Washington, D.C. recognizing the program. Clark’s lead partner is the Village for Families and Children, and also receives support from several other community organizations, including the Salvation Army, as well as the University of Connecticut.
 
“It’s important that every child is given an opportunity to succeed,” said Kianna Shannon, a parent with three children currently attending the Clark School, including one in the Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) program and another who receives special education services. “I want to speak on behalf of the population of children learning to speak English as well as the children who have special needs, which would not be served if this was to go through,” she said.
 
Shannon’s comments refer to the high percentage of children enrolled at the Clark School who are English Language Learners (ELLs) and who require special education supports. In an October 29 letter to parents, the district’s director of school design and programming would not commit to maintain ABA classrooms at the Clark School. He also indicated that “mainstreamed” special education students would transition to the proposed charter operator, the controversial Achievement First, Inc. The outfit settled in June with parents who filed a federal civil rights complaint over discrimination against children with disabilities at its Hartford Academy.
 
“This summer, we knocked on doors all over Hartford, asking residents what they think about our schools,” said Ana Cruz, a volunteer with the Connecticut Center for a New Economy’s (CCNE) Hartford Voter Project. “No one said they wanted to give the schools away. No one said they wanted to close their school. Parents want more programs for kids with learning disabilities, more bilingual education…more community programs,” said Cruz, whose nephew was displaced when the Barnard Brown Elementary School was closed to make way for the Capitol Preparatory Magnet School.
 
Cruz’ comments refer to the responses of neighborhood residents to the CCNE canvass, many of whom cited programs available to families of students at the Clark School. A food pantry,  adult financial literacy classes, a nutrition initiative, and an available health clinician are examples of some of the services provided through partnerships with local non-profits.
 
“We make a difference in the community,” said Ermelinda Morizio, a special education teacher in Clark’s elementary school. “I’m so happy and pleased to see the families of the special education children I serve standing here together, uniting to back-up their community. To split up families is not right,” said Morizio, a member of the Hartford Federation of Teachers, AFT Local 1018.
 
Morizio was joined by fellow educators and support staff who serve Clark’s students, as well as members of local civil rights groups and Hartford’s legislative delegation. They all pledged to stand by the parents and residents of the community who deserve to have their voices heard and respected by city and school officials.
 
“The issue is process right now,” said State Representative Brandon McGee (D-5), whose district includes the North End neighborhood served by the Clark School. “What we have to continue to do as legislators and as community leaders is to support all of the parents in this room — and those who are not here — so that we are providing quality education,” he said.
 
Rep. McGee’s comments refer to the superintendent’s apparent planned redesign of the Clark School without meaningful parent and community involvement prior to the public announcement of the scheme. The recommendation to begin the phased-in closure of the school is expected to be voted on by the Hartford Board of Education at its regular November 19 meeting.
 
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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