by Jeremiah Grace
Hartford is a national example of the success that is possible when school districts and public charter schools collaborate — and parents and students benefit most.
The Hartford Board of Education has voted to expand its nationally recognized collaboration with Achievement First, which currently operates three public charter schools in the city, serving students from grades K-10. Under the new agreement, Hartford will help Achievement First obtain facilities and funding needed to add 96 fifth graders at a fourth public charter school next year.
The school will add grades in subsequent years, and will grow into a full-sized middle school. The agreement continues successful training partnerships in school leadership and data-driven instruction between Achievement First and Hartford Public Schools.
Achievement First and the district also share student test scores for state accountability purposes.
The opening of a new Achievement First school in Hartford is a tremendous opportunity for Hartford families. Achievement First Hartford Academy Elementary and Middle Schools are already the highest performing neighborhood schools in the City of Hartford, according to Hartford Public Schools’ performance index. The elementary school is, by far, the No. 1 choice for parents of kindergarten students in the district’s citywide open-enrollment system. And, it is stable. The school has a low 6 percent attrition rate of students who leave for another school in the city.
This is a clear win-win for everyone, especially Hartford kids in need of better public school options.
But how did we get here?
In 2008, the Connecticut General Assembly created a pilot program for public charter schools and districts in the state’s three biggest cities to create these voluntary agreements.
Hartford Public Schools and Achievement First were the first ones to give it a try, and they were eventually rewarded for their pioneering spirit with significant philanthropic support. In 2010, Hartford received a $100,000 grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s district-charter compact initiative, which grew to a new $5 million grant in 2012.
Now, Hartford’s success is on the national radar. It was recently rated as one of the most successful collaborations by the Center on Reinventing Public Education.
This success also led state lawmakers, such as Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and State Education Committee Chairman Andy Fleischmann, to strip the “pilot” label and make this a permanent program in the state’s 30 lowest-performing school districts.
I’d like to commend them and other legislative leaders for leading the charge to expand this successful program.
As a regional organization operating in two states, we have seen some school districts go to great lengths to oppose the very existence of public charter schools in their towns — including illegally withholding money meant for students. We’ve also seen other district-charter partnerships fall apart. That’s why it’s heartening to see the relationship flourish as it does in Hartford.
There are still many inequities facing public charter school students in Connecticut – including a sizable difference in per-pupil funding – but, common-sense collaborations like these can help close that gap and give more children access to quality public schools.
Jeremiah Grace is Connecticut state director of the Northeast Charter Schools Network.