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‘Hartford Kids Can’t Wait’

by Madeline Stocker | Jul 10, 2014 4:34pm
(7) Comments | Commenting has expired
Posted to: Education, Hartford

Madeline Stocker photo

Hartford parents walk to the state Education Department on Capitol Avenue

(Updated 10:32 a.m. Friday) Hartford parents, children, and education activists marched Thursday on the state Department of Education to rally against what they defined as the “egregiously inadequate” educational opportunities for Hartford’s minority students.

The demonstration was meant to call attention to the lack of school choice that remains 25 years after the landmark Sheff v. O’Neill desegregation lawsuit was filed.

Out of the 20,000 applicants to the state’s charter and magnet schools, 6,377 are Hartford residents. Three thousand Hartford students remain on the wait list for magnet and charter school seats.

“How can we as a community, as a city, as a state, look at one child and say, ‘You deserve an education,’ and look at another and say, ‘There’s no opportunities for you at this time; maybe next year, maybe in two years, maybe by the time you’re finished with school and there’s no college that will take you, because you can’t compete?” Evelyn Richardson, a Hartford parent, said during the rally.

Richardson and other Hartford parents would like the state to make sure all Hartford students have access to a higher-quality education. They realize that their appeal may be met with opposition, but research shows that children who attend integrated magnet schools perform better than children attending Hartford public schools.


According to a report released in September 2013, the difference in performance between Hartford students who attend integrated magnet schools or suburban schools and those who remain in the isolated Hartford public school system is dramatic. The report says 41 percent of Hartford resident third graders attending magnet or suburban schools tested at/or above the 2013 reading level, and only 26 percent of third-grade Hartford resident students were reading at/or above the same level in Hartford’s public schools.

The difference in performance only increased as students progressed through the school systems to the 10th grade, with 22 percent of Hartford resident students attending magnet or suburban schools at above the 2013 reading level, and only 5 percent of Hartford public school 10th graders at or above the level.

Other reports have shown the benefits of an education from an integrated magnet school — or a school with a relatively diverse racial and socioeconomic constituency — is more expansive, with higher racial and socioeconomic diversity “contributing to higher literacy, behavioral climate, instructional organization, and high school graduation rates.”

Lourdes Fonseca, a parent of two former Hartford students who also is listed as a Community Programs Coordinator/Parent Organizer for the education reform agency Achieve Hartford, said she’s experienced the difference between the two systems first-hand. She said one of her sons attended Hartford public schools and one attended and graduated from a magnet school.

“My son [who attended the magnet school] graduated, went to college, and has a job,” Fonseca said. “My other son graduated from a regular high school, reading at the seventh grade level, and couldn’t make it through community college. He had to do all of the remedials over again, and he couldn’t do it. He gave up.”

Christian Ortiz, a recent graduate from the Hartford public school system, had a similar story, and told the crowd that he was “failed by the system.” Ortiz, who applied annually to magnet and charter schools throughout his elementary, middle, and high school career and was continuously denied, attended seven schools, was held back twice, and dropped out once.

“I wanted a school where the atmosphere and culture promoted learning rather than violence, and where the teachers held students to high standards and encouraged academic achievement,” Ortiz said. “I don’t think that’s too much to ask.”

To both Ortiz and many Hartford parents, a “high-quality education” is one that is offered through Hartford-run magnet schools, the Capitol Region Education Council’s magnet schools, or the suburban school districts that have agreed to be part of the umbrella of the Open Choice Program. Open Choice allows public school students in Hartford to attend suburban schools.

In addition to voicing concerns regarding the achievement gap, parents with children in Hartford’s public school system have brought to light the difficulties that come with the wait list process. According to Hartford grandmother Debra St. Germain, the “convoluted” workings of the wait list process have prevented one of her two grandchildren from accessing kindergarten.

Madeline Stocker photo

Elizabeth Horton-Sheff

St. Germain said that because her family was never notified of the outcome of the 15-day lottery process, her 4-year-old granddaughter, Janessa, could not enroll in the public school system after being denied access to the surrounding magnet schools, as there was “simply no room left.”

St. Germain’s daughter, who wants to live in Hartford, may be left with no choice but to find an apartment in West Hartford in order to guarantee her children attend a good school.

Although St. Germain has expressed her frustration over the system’s inadequacy, thousands more have benefited from it. As it stands, approximately 41 percent of all minority students have gained access to integrated magnet and charter schools around the state. While many parents believe it to be too small a percentage, the figure shows a drastic increase in the number of integrated magnet schools available to Hartford students, who, up until 1997, only had one “reduced isolation” option.

The change in educational opportunity for Hartford students started with the Sheff v. O’Neill court case in 1989, when Hartford mother Elizabeth Norton Sheff challenged then-Gov. William O’Neill to put an end to the racial and socioeconomic isolation of Hartford school children.

Currently, Sheff’s attorneys are working to negotiate an expansion of magnet schools with the state.

“Parents want strong schools for their children,” Kelly Donnelly, a spokesperson for the state Education Department, said. “Charters and magnet schools are one part of our larger effort to ensure that all students, regardless of race or income, have access to a high quality public education that can help them reach their potential.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: We updated this story to reflect Lourdes Fonseca’s role as Community Programs Coordinator/Parent Organizer at Achieve Hartford!

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(7) Comments

posted by: Chien DeBerger | July 10, 2014  5:41pm

These parents have got to get involved in their own home situations. Stop looking to government to fix them. Put the fathers back in the home. Stop rewarding single family households with higher entitlements. Sociological studies continue to prove the value of the nuclear family and government continues to encourage its destruction.

posted by: Parent and educator | July 10, 2014  7:12pm

If 6,377 of 20,000+ Hartford students are applicants to state charter and magnet schools, how do they get the percentage of 41% of Hartford students in integrated schools, as per Sheff?  I note that in the article, there do not seem to be any parents from charter schools—which are typically more segregated even than traditional Hartford public schools.
Why isn’t the state, and the city of Hartford, insuring that all Hartford schools are excellent, in good repair, rich in resources and extracurriculars?  Even if the state is committed to magnet schools, that is no reason to neglect schools with thousands of Hartford students.

posted by: brutus2011 | July 10, 2014  8:40pm

brutus2011

In my opinion, these folks are dead wrong.

The solution is not to leave our community schools and go to magnet schools, charter schools, or suburban schools.

The solution is find the social will to get involved with our youth. And to marshall the political will to vote for those who believe in our communities, our schools, and our kids.

Who are they? I can tell you who they are not.

They are not those who currently are in our mayor’s offices, on our Board of Educations, and administering our public school districts.

Whom shall we trust?

Besides ourselves, we should ally with public school teachers and devolve all power and control to each individual school with parents, grandparents, caregivers and teachers working together to first set calm and sane school-wide learning environments and then to purpose cooperation between community members and teaching staff.

And remember that a child’s first and most important “school” is his or her home and community.

It is time we take local control and responsibility for our children.

posted by: ABC | July 11, 2014  8:00am

Sounds like Brutus is advocating for charter schools.

What to do:

1.  Put educators, not politically appointed bureaucrats in charge of public schools;

2.  Let parents choose where their child goes to school.  btw - choosing a neighborhood school is perfectly fine.  But so is sending their child to a theme school or a private school via a voucher;

3.  Government ought to relinquish operating control of all public schools.  Let it step back into what government should do - regulate quality, ensure equity, and insist that the educators are being effective.

Don’t be bamboozled by people who would deny your child what is in their best educational interest.  People who are against parental choice on these pages clearly have a vested financial interest in maintaining a monopoly system.

How many of the same teachers who Brutus and others think should run the city schools even choose to live in places like Hartford?  Less than 25% of them. And while they draw a paycheck from these failed schools, they sure as hell don’t send their kids to these schools - yet they say that YOU should be forced to send your kids to these same “drop-out factories”. 

And that’s what the parents in this story are saying. 
They are sick and tired of being told what to do by folks who live in Farmington and West Hartford, and who already have options for their own children. 

And it needs to be said
The purveyors of the current system are:

Employed by that system;

Reject any effort to have meaningful teacher quality evaluations;

And are mostly white and far more affluent than the families that they seek to relegate to the failed public schools.

posted by: brutus2011 | July 11, 2014  1:09pm

brutus2011

Well, “ABC,”

the good news is that you are finally learning ... but you still have more to go ...

1. the issue is to get rid of bureaucrats
2. teachers are not bureaucrats
3. and not all white people should be blamed for our social status—why? because as long we continue to blame others for our ills, then we render ourselves powerless to effect change for ourselves…even if that change is to take up arms to “Live Free or Die”

Frankly, we should have risen up in arms 200+ years ago…we would have all been killed but at least we would have went out on our feet…much better than having to watch our young men shoot each other in the streets…

posted by: art vandelay | July 12, 2014  6:31am

art vandelay

The problem with inner city schools can easily be seen every day on the Maury Povich Show.  Case closed!

posted by: RogueReporterCT | July 15, 2014  12:33am

RogueReporterCT

Hartford parents are right to take back the debate. The sad state of their underfunded school districts are being exploited by corrupt education “reformers” to push charter schools, a dumbed-down Common Core and payola-ridden “college readiness” schemes. Let real education reform be what gives urban students greater opportunity, not cover for conspiracies to take that opportunity away.