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OP-ED | Sort Out the FUSE Problems, But Don’t Forget the Kids

by Owen Francis | Jul 8, 2014 3:53pm
(6) Comments | Commenting has expired
Posted to: Education, Opinion, Bridgeport

We’ve seen a lot of news in the last few weeks about problems with Family Urban Schools of Excellence (FUSE) and their operation of schools in Hartford. But in all of the coverage, there has not been much talk about the students, like my own kids, whose school districts had failed them and whose lives have been changed for the better by attending a Connecticut charter school.

I understand how parents at Dunbar Elementary School in Bridgeport feel. Every day, as I send my kids to school, I am not thinking about the politics of education, or FUSE, the organization currently running Dunbar. Like Dunbar parents, I’m focused on making sure that they have finished homework and have their lunchboxes. I think about whether they are being challenged in the classroom, and whether they are learning. And I think about their safety.

There has been a lot to like in the turnaround at Dunbar this year as part of the state’s Commissioner’s Network. Most importantly, students are coming to school every day and they are learning, and it shows.

Before the school turnaround began, Dunbar’s academic record was terrible. According to the results of the Connecticut Mastery Test, fewer than one in 10 eighth grade students was at grade level in math, science, and writing skills; and slightly more than one in four could read at grade level — some of the lowest scores in the city of Bridgeport and in our state.

At the same time, student absenteeism rates were some of the highest in the state, and more than half of all students had been suspended.

Our community came together to transform Dunbar because we understood that our children deserved better and that this failing school needed new leadership. That need has not changed with the recent news about the organization that runs the school.

Since the turnaround began in September 2013, we have seen a transformation at Dunbar. Chronic student absenteeism has dropped from 25 to six percent — well under the state’s 11.5 percent average, and staff attendance is the highest in the district. Suspensions are down from 130 students with two or more the previous year, to only 41 this school year. And the percentage of first- and second-grade students who are considered to be “on track” has jumped by 25 percent.

With the turnaround came a longer school day, new and energetic teachers, and a community-service requirement for every student. Students were taught to respect and value themselves and their peers. I hear many students say that they feel safe at Dunbar for the first time.

Our community’s children, particularly those who have worked hard this year to be part of the Dunbar turnaround, deserve a plan for the coming years that builds upon this early success and keeps moving forward.

The mismanagement of FUSE and its impact on schools like Dunbar is heartbreaking and, frankly, infuriating for parents like me. Like everyone else, we want to understand how and why it happened, and we want the problems fixed.

But, while we’re fixing the problem with FUSE, I hope we can stay focused on improving schools for all kids. We want to make sure that the best-possible leaders and organizations are running schools. We need more excellent choices and more accountability for results, not less. Parents expect the best from our kids, and we demand the same of our schools.

As a charter parent, I urge the state and city boards of education to act quickly to restore stability at Dunbar and every FUSE operated school in Connecticut. But, I also urge everyone to remember that the Commissioner’s network — and public charter schools — have been life-changing for kids like mine. Let’s figure out what went wrong and fix it, but let’s not forget our focus: our children, and the great schools we’ve chosen for them.

Owen Francis of Bridgeport is a father of four children. Three of those children attend a charter school, but not Dunbar.

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(6) Comments

posted by: Bethy | July 8, 2014  5:40pm



posted by: state_employee | July 8, 2014  6:34pm

How about we fix all the schools, not just charters.  Every child deserves a good education, not just charter school children.

posted by: Pro-Public Education | July 8, 2014  9:13pm

Mr. Francis, Dunbar actually showed an increase in the CMT scores for 2012/2013, before FUSE took over it’s management. Overall attendance, is worse, not better. 8 teachers that FUSE hired resigned before the school year ended, three of them within 45 days of being hired. Why are you only quoting the suspension numbers for those that had “two” or more suspensions? Give us the data for ALL suspensions. Why are you only highlighting reading scores for second and third grade students? What about math and all the other students in 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th grade?

posted by: Pro-Public Education | July 8, 2014  9:27pm

Let me get this straight, according to the information listed at the very bottom of this Op-ed, you are a father of four children. Three of those children attend a charter school, but not Dunbar. And you think you have a right to right an Op-ed praising FUSE’s results at Dunbar, how pleased Dunbar students and parents are and then you list all these statistics that are not available on any website and we are expected to believe that FUSE, Northeast Charter Schools, ConnCan, Excel Bridgeport etc. did not write this for you and have you sign your name to it. PLEASE!

posted by: ABC | July 9, 2014  10:47am

Agree with state_employee.  Lets fix all schools.  How?  By dismantling the current ineffective system.

First, lets remember that “public” schools are not defined by who operates them (government employees).  They are public because they are supposed to SERVE THE PUBLIC on a tuition-free, non-selective basis.

Keeping this in mind, schools serving the public can be improved significantly through the notion of empowerment:

1.  Educators, not government bureaucrats ought to be running schools for the public.

2.  Empower parents to choose the best schooling option for their children.  Choice can be provided via creating a charter district like New Orleans, and/or the state can give every low income parent a voucher which can be used at private schools and public schools alike.

3.  Government should have the responsibility to regulate the schools but not to operate them. 

Some things to know about charters:

- Not all charters are alike (hence the name “charter”)

- Most charters in the country are not all that great.  And those that are as bad or worse than their neighboring district schools ought to be closed.

- Successful charters ought to be expanded and replicated as quickly as possible.

- Dumb politicians walk around spouting nonsense like “charters were created to incubate best-practices which could then be shared with the districts…”.

This is drivel. 

As long as public education is run by politically appointed bureaucrats who have no incentives to raise the bar on education quality - and the schools are necessarily mired in a collective bargaining system with its teachers, the education of the public will will never be what we need it to be. 

The DNA of the current system does not allow adoption at scale of successful charter practices.

Putting it another way, expecting the current public system to emulate some of the best practices of high performing charters is like asking an elephant to emulate the best hunting practices of a cheetah.

posted by: Kidz First | July 13, 2014  1:54pm

This post by Mr. Owens has given us another “teachable moment” to reflect upon in our charter school debate. His piece, extolling the goodness and virtues of Bridgeport’s charter school experience and performance at Dunbar is written ostensibly without any credible first-hand experience with FUSE. It also trumpets questionable statistics that don’t bear close scrutiny. It reads like a FUSE charter proponent trying to misdirect the discussion. The clear issues of Sharpe and his collegues is lack of accountability of millions in public funds that could have been put to use by BPS instead of used to line the pockets of Sharpe and his family members and cronies. Let’s see if ConnCAN is serious about helping to solve the problem, or is merely trying to protect it’s as yet unchallenged access to the taxpayers’ wallets.