In an attempt to close the achievement gap between Hartford students and those from other parts of Connecticut, educators in Hartford have enlisted the help of a New Haven charter school that is among the best in the state.
Amistad Academy — a charter middle school less than two miles from Yale that posted some of the largest student performance gains in 2006 — will be used as a model for the creation of new charter schools in Hartford. The first step will be to open an elementary and middle school called Achievement First Hartford Academy in September 2008.
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The new school, named after the New Haven-based nonprofit Achievement First, which founded Amistad, will fit into a larger plan developed by the Hartford Board of Education and new superintendent Dr. Steven J. Adamowski. As part of the board’s new “reform agenda,” students and their parents will be allowed to pick from among a variety of schools in order to find one that meets their individual needs, said Hartford Public Schools spokeswoman Robyn Belek.
Achievement First’s role will be to provide another option for students and their families during the school selection process.
“You need a variety of schools and a variety of choices,” said Pat Sweet, spokeswoman for Achievement First. “Dr. Adamowski has concluded that one of the choices he wants to offer is a high-performing charter school, and we fit right in with his plan.”
Hartford is by far the lowest-performing school district in Connecticut, according to Marc Magee, director of communications and research for ConnCAN, a nonprofit in New Haven dedicated to closing the state’s achievement gap. No less than 95% of students in Hartford public schools qualify for free or reduced lunch, and the high school graduation rate is below 30%.
This trend is a manifestation of a broader problem in Connecticut, which has the largest achievement gap between rich and poor students of any state, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
“The thing about Hartford is not that they don’t have great schools, it’s that they don’t have enough of them,” Magee said.
While the challenges facing Hartford schools are daunting, Magee points to schools like Amistad that have made great strides in closing the achievement gap.
“Some people say that the achievement gap is not fixable,” said Magee. “However, we’ve looked at different schools that have beaten the odds. Amistad, for example, has gotten dramatic results.”
Matt Taylor, principal of Amistad, explains that high-quality teachers with high expectations have been the source of the school’s success.
“Instruction is very gain-driven,” Taylor said. “We build a school culture focused on student achievement.”
This culture is evidenced by the myriad of posters that adorn Amistad’s halls, projecting phrases like “Whatever it takes,” “No excuses,” and “Success starts here and now!”
Achievement First has already created 11 other schools in New Haven, Bridgeport and New York. Some have doubted that Achievement First would be able to repeat its Amistad success at other sites, but Sweet said the accomplishments of the 11 schools prove that the model can be replicated.
The organization’s most recent additions were Achievement First Bridgeport Academy and Achievement First Bushwick Charter School in New York, which both opened a few weeks ago in time for the 2007-2008 school year.
“All of Achievement First’s new schools have drawn from the Amistad experience,” Sweet said.
After the construction of new schools in Hartford and Bridgeport, Achievement First hopes to have 6,000 students enrolled at all of its campuses across Connecticut.