Jumoke Joins Varick Pastor In Charter Quest

Melissa Bailey PhotoFor his long-running dream to start a school for Dixwell and Newhallville kids, Pastor Eldren Morrison has a new partner—and a new ambitious proposal to open in August with 300 students.

Morrison (pictured) has teamed up with Family Urban Schools of Excellence (FUSE), the organization that runs the Jumoke charter schools in Hartford, in his latest proposal for the Booker T. Washington Academy, a new charter school he’s hoping to open on Blake Street this year. Morrison proposes opening in August with 300 students in grades pre-K to 3, then expanding to serve 651 kids in grades pre-K to 8 by 2019.

The state Board of Education, which ultimately decides whether the school opens, is hosting a hearing Thursday to gauge local support for the plan. The hearing takes place from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Metropolitan Business Academy at 115 Water St.; members of the public will be offered three minutes of speaking time each and a chance to submit written feedback on the plan.

The hearing represents the penultimate step in a years-long effort by Morrison to open a school to serve Dixwell and Newhallville, the two largely African-American neighborhoods he serves as pastor of Varick Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church.

“It’s a really big moment,” said Morrison, who’s 32. “To get this far in the process is very exciting.”

Click here to read his application.

As a charter school, Booker T. Washington would accept public-school students via lottery; the state would fund the school on a $11,000-per-pupil basis. It would get the freedom to operate on its own foundational charter, outside of New Haven’s traditional school district; its existence would depend on the state renewing that charter every five years.

Based on feedback at Thursday’s hearing, state education Commissioner Stefan Pryor will make a recommendation to the state Board of Education on whether to approve Booker T. Washington’s charter; the state board is expected to vote on the matter at its next meeting on April 2. The state budget includes funding for two more charter schools to open in the fall; hearings are taking place on four proposals this month. The state has 18 charter schools; Pryor has overseen the approval of several new charters after years of stagnant charter growth. Morrison has emerged as a frontrunner in the competition; Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has made at least two personal visits to Varick to support his effort.

This is Morrison’s third effort to seek state permission to open a charter school. This time, he brought in big guns from Hartford to bolster his application. Morrison and the board of volunteers he assembled to open the charter school has hired FUSE, a charter network that runs five schools in Hartford and Bridgeport, to run Booker T. Washington. FUSE is the evolution of Jumoke Academy, a charter school that opened in Hartford in 1997. Jumoke has since expanded into a district of three schools, one elementary and two middle, in Hartford.

After leading the Jumoke district, CEO Michael Sharpe (pictured) in 2012 got into the business of not just creating charter schools, but taking over failing schools as “turnarounds.” In 2012, Sharpe launched FUSE, which took over Milner School in Hartford, part of the state Commissioner’s Network of turnaround schools. FUSE hired away Karen Lott, principal of the Brennan/Rogers School in New Haven, to run the newly revamped Milner. In 2013, FUSE expanded to Bridgeport, launching another turnaround effort at Dunbar School. FUSE now serves 1,400 students, including 704 students in the Jumoke district.

In an interview Tuesday, Sharpe outlined an ambitious timeline to launch the sixth FUSE school, this time in New Haven. If the school wins approval at the April 2 board meeting, Booker T. Washington would need to find 300 students by summer’s end.

That’s an unusually large number of students to start with: 300 is the maximum size for a charter school allowed by state law without a waiver. Charter schools often start with just one or two grades in order to establish school culture and ensure a smooth rollout. Morrison’s previous proposal called for opening this fall with just 36 students, then growing slowly each year. Another charter school, Elm City Montessori, is opening this fall in New Haven with just 69 students.

“We do have an aggressive agenda in terms of start-up,” said Sharpe. But he expressed confidence that his group could get a 300-student school ready by August. FUSE and Jumoke have never missed an enrollment target, he said.

Morrison outlined some details of that agenda in an interview in his church office on Dixwell Avenue Tuesday. Sharpe joined by telephone.

Recruiting & Retaining Kids

Morrison said he plans to recruit heavily from the Dixwell and Newhallville neighborhoods; the school will also be open to students citywide. He and Sharpe were asked about the possibility of drawing students away from public-district schools in the neighborhood, such as Wexler/Grant School, which launched a “turnaround” effort three years ago, and Lincoln-Bassett School, which the school district is planning to revamp as a 6 a.m.-to-6 p.m. community school in the fall. Lincoln-Bassett already lost its 7th and 8th grades this year due to low enrollment.

Sharpe said opening the school should not affect the city’s main state funding stream, Education Cost Sharing grant. “Where we have to be careful is where we’re drawing the students from,” he said. The group will have to make sure students are coming “not just from one school.”

Morrison said he has spoken with schools Superintendent Garth Harries about how to “strengthen” the public school system by adding a good option for kids, while not undermining nearby schools.

Morrison said “there is more than enough need” among families in the Dixwell and Newhallville neighborhood for a quality education. He said he knows that because many families apply to schools in other parts of town. And many are not being served well, he said: “When you see high-school kids struggling to read,” he said, that’s evidence of an urgent need for better schools in the area.

Sharpe was asked about the potential for charter schools to push out kids who don’t meet academic standards or exhibit disruptive behavior or have special needs. He said Jumoke Academy schools don’t do that. Suspension rates are low, he said, and the district has “never expelled more than one student” in the history of the schools, since 1997. The annual loss of students in the three Jumoke district schools in Hartford is 1.1 percent, he said.

“We have an outstanding record of keeping our kids.”

Sharp’s group has come under fire for accepting too few English-language learners and special-needs kids. Just 4 percent of Jumoke Academy students received special education, compared to 13 percent in New Haven and 18 percent in Hartford, according to the CT Mirror. Sharpe acknowledged there is a “fairly low special education population at Jumoke,” but he argued that’s because the school district has a “tremendous staff” that works with kids early, addressing their needs before they need to be identified for special education. Morrison said his group is working on how to recruit and retain special-needs students.

The deadline to apply for New Haven’s magnet and charter school lottery is this Friday. The lottery is set to take place on April 9, which means Booker T. Washington would likely have to create a separate lottery for enrolling kids, unless the district makes special arrangements for applicants to that school to join the lottery at the last minute.

Small Class Sizes

If approved, the school would open at 495 Blake St., the former home of Metropolitan Business Academy, adjacent to the Early Childhood Learning Center. Morrison said his group is negotiating with the landlord and is ready to sign a lease and move in as soon as July 1. Eventually, Booker T. Washington Academy would seek to share a building with Highville Charter School, which is plotting a move to Science Park, Morrison said.

FUSE would hire staff and run the day-to-day operations of the school. Sharpe said FUSE has not identified a principal, but the organization has a “job bank” of candidates who have sent in applications, and he would draw from that pool to staff the school. Sharpe said FUSE aims to hire staff by July, when teacher training would begin.

The proposal calls for smaller class sizes, and more adults in the classroom, than New Haven’s traditional school district typically offers. Class sizes would be capped at 20 kids for pre-K, 21 kids for kindergarten, and 22 kids for grades 1 to 3, according to the proposal. Each classroom would have an “academic assistant,” or teacher’s aide, bringing the student to adult ratio to 1 to 11. That’s a lot smaller than New Haven’s public school district classes, which brim with 26 or 27 kids in the early grades. In the New Haven district, all kindergartens and about half of 1st grades are staffed with teachers’ aides; 2nd grades and higher are not.

As a charter school, Booker T. Washington would be granted extra flexibility to develop work rules outside of a union contract. Sharpe said the school would have a longer school day, probably about eight hours. In addition to the $11,000-per-pupil funding from the state, FUSE would apply for a half-million dollar grant from the federal Department of Education for start-up costs for new charter schools, Sharpe said.

FUSE will design the curriculum for Booker T. Washington, which includes after-school arts and music and “weekly character education classes.”

Morrison said his board hired FUSE after he met Sharpe about a year ago and was impressed with FUSE’s work in other schools.

“We realized how in synch our philosophy” towards students’ character, intellectual and spiritual development, Sharpe said. While Morrison and some other board members are active in his church, the charter school will have no official connection to the church, Morrison said.

Sharpe and Morrison said they expect Thursday’s hearing to go well. Morrison has spent several years meeting with community leaders and other organizations about the proposal; Sharpe has been involved in those meetings for the past year.

“We don’t expect we’ll get folks rolling in opposing the operation, other than your regular folks who oppose anything that’s a charter,” Sharpe said.


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posted by: darnell on March 12, 2014  1:45pm

Paul, when is the public hearing?

[Paul: Thursday night at 6 at Metropolitan Business Academy.]

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on March 12, 2014  5:22pm

Will the The state Board of Education make this part of the deal like New York is pushing.

The Charter Schools Act must be amended to include:

1. STUDENT RIGHTS – Charter schools MUST be required to retain Special Ed and
ELL students. No longer push out, counsel out or expel them out of the
2. PARENT RIGHTS – Every charter school board MUST have a parent
board member who is the President of the school’s independent parent
3. BILL OF RIGHTS – There MUST be a universal Parents Bill of
Rights and Students Bill of Rights for charter schools.
PARENTS ASSOCIATION – Every charter school MUST be required to have an
independent parents association.
5. CO-LOCATIONS – The state MUST develop a
better process in determining co-locations in public school buildings in New
York City because it is pitting parents against each other.
Part One.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on March 12, 2014  5:23pm

Part TWO.

& TRANSPARENCY – Charter school board members and employees MUST be held to
rigorous financial disclosure requirements and conflict of interest prohibitions
as all other organizations receiving public money. There MUST be more oversight
of Founding Boards. Board members MUST NOT be allowed to be permanent trustees.
All employees (principals, directors, staff) MUST not be allowed to serve on the
board. All schools must be audited by the State Comptroller.
CONTRACT & BY-LAWS – Every charter school MUST be required to post their
charter and by-laws online to increase accountability and transparency in
charter schools and their governing boards. Every board meeting MUST be held at
the school.
8. STATE RECEIVERSHIP – The state MUST have the authority to take
over a charter school and re-constitute the board of trustees.
ORGANIZATIONS – For Profit Management organizations MUST NOT be allowed to
manage charters. Public money should be spent on public students.
COMPLAINT & GRIEVANCE PROCESS – The state MUST develop a formal complaint
and grievance process that includes tracking and resolving issues within 30
11. TEACHER RIGHTS & PROTECTIONS – Teachers in charter schools MUST
be provided with whistleblower and job protections when exposing corruption,
financial mismanagement and corporate chicanery in charters. No teacher should
be fired for standing up for their students. E.g. East New York Prep Charter
12. CHARTER AUTHORIZATION – Authorization MUST only be granted by the
Board of Regents.

posted by: Noteworthy on March 12, 2014  6:18pm

If this doesn’t affect the ECS funding that goes to New Haven - does this mean the state is paying twice for the same kid? Presumably, the students will come from New Haven and New Haven will still be paid, but the kid will not be in NHPS or have a cost factor. Is this correct?

posted by: Theodora on March 12, 2014  6:47pm

Public tax dollars to prop up a church’s quest for a school. This couldn’t be a worse idea. If these folks are so passionate, let them cough up their own money or get out and raise money from willing participants. This greedy group should be denied.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on March 12, 2014  8:51pm

My bad forgot about this.

The Myth Behind Public School Failure
In the rush to privatize the country’s schools, corporations and politicians have decimated school budgets, replaced teaching with standardized testing, and placed the blame on teachers and students.
by Dean Paton
posted Feb 21, 2014


Infographic: Why Corporations Want Our Public Schools
Where’s the big money in privatization? Take it from the teachers.


posted by: Tom Burns on March 13, 2014  12:28am

Thanks for the application—but it can’t happen here—we have all the choice in the world and although your intentions are probably good—the idea of charter schools (as other than incubators of innovation) is absurd—Charter schools are the new discrimination against those of lesser means—New Haven is the epicenter of school reform and with the addition of any charters it will dilute what we are all about—do it somewhere else—not here—-we (the teachers, parents and students of real public schools) won’t allow it—please reconsider as we need your children in our schools and your energy as parents to provide an excellent education to all of our students—Charter schools only divide school communities—-we need you and your children in our system—and if you truly care about all kids—not just yours, then you will agree with me and join the real revolution in education here in NHPS—see you tomorrow—Tom

posted by: 14yearsinNHandgone on March 13, 2014  7:28am

How many children are there actually in the NHPS system?  Is there some kind of baby boom going on in New Haven, because this is most incredible school expansion I have ever seen.

Also, no thanks.  My tax dollars so these kids can essentially get a free private school education?  Nope.  Writing my legislator now.

Lastly, why is the school TWO MILES across town from where the good Pastor as his church, and from this community?  Why not build it there, make it a source of neighborhood pride?  Why bus some 300 kids across town every morning for years?  What kind of message does it send, that to build a good school they have to leave their neighborhoods behind and go to lovely Westville?  What’s up with that?  What happened to ties to the community and lifting people up where they are?

posted by: connecticutcontrarian on March 13, 2014  7:29am

am generally opposed to charter schools as little more than money grabs that further cement inequality.  However,  given the previous article about success rates for NHPS students I think this school may be an exception.  The students likely to attend this school are the very ones who seem to be struggling on all major indicators of educational success. If Morrison has a viable plan for helping these kids succeed while avoiding the usual charter school pitfalls I’m at least willing to hear it. Until then I’ll reserve my thoughts on publicly funding religious pursuits for another thread

posted by: JohnTulin on March 13, 2014  8:38am

Sharpe acknowledged there is a “fairly low special education population at Jumoke,” but he argued that’s because the school district has a “tremendous staff” that works with kids early, addressing their needs before they need to be identified for special education.


Every teacher in the room knows that is blatantly dishonest.

posted by: naturaleza on March 13, 2014  11:18am

A very well-intentioned plan that will have a debilitating effect on our community.

As mentioned above, removing vocal, active families from NHPS will leave the area public schools with an even more challenging task - educating black students from low income families that don’t have anyone to advocate for them.  Let’s help ALL students, not just those in the ‘know’.  Let’s improve our current options, not create more.

Also, this pastor attempted to open a school on his own, and suddenly passed the baton to Jumoke?  I’m sure Jumoke was very happy to have an opportunity to expand into New Haven (Hartford and Bridgeport)...when does it stop? 
What have you done to improve Lincoln-Bassett and Wexler/Grant?  What tremendous road blocks did you face that prompted you to start a very similar school serving a similar population?  What do you expect will happen?  Sounds like another AF school…just ask them to open another one, at least they have a strong presence here. 

Pastor - please reassess your decision to open another school in our community.  Focus your energies on improving what already exists.

posted by: Christopher Schaefer on March 17, 2014  7:39am

A different viewpoint: “One of America’s most promising educational experiments is under attack… a growing populism within the Democratic Party is giving teachers’ unions new influence. In urban areas especially, the most powerful unions are invariably the teachers’ unions, and the teachers’ unions are invariably hostile to charter schools—most of which are nonunion. That’s not the only reason teachers’ unions don’t like charters, of course. But let’s not kid ourselves—it’s the main reason. And it’s this freedom from union rules that helps make the best charters so successful…in states that adopt strong laws that hold charter schools accountable for their performance, the results can be extraordinary…black, Hispanic and poor students especially benefit from charter schools…Some argue that charters are a Trojan horse for wealthy conservatives who want to privatize education—a curious charge given that many donors are liberal Democrats” http://www.bloombergview.com/articles/2014-03-13/charter-schools-are-under-attack

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on March 17, 2014  9:18am

@Christopher Schaefer

You say liberal Democrats”.As brother Malcolm said.The white conservatives aren’t friends of the Negro either, but at least they don’t try to hide it. They are like wolves, they show you their teeth in a snarl. That always keep the Negro aware of where he stands with them,The job of the Negro leaders is to make the Negro forget that the wolf and fox belong to the same canine family, and no matter which one of them the Negro puts his trust in. He always ends up in the dog house-MALCOLM X

posted by: Christopher Schaefer on March 17, 2014  10:41am

Correction: I didn’t say “liberal Democrats”. The unnamed author of the linked article did. (The article’s byline is simply “The Editors”.) However, I totally agree that “the wolf and fox belong to the same canine family”. I hope someday the black community—specifically black voters—will figure this out. Meanwhile, our crony, careerist politicians of BOTH parties will continue to “laugh all the way to the bank”, as the old saying goes. Which is why politicians have no interest whatsoever in term limits. Why mess with a perfect system?—perfect for THEM.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on March 17, 2014  12:54pm

@Christopher Schaefer You said.Some argue that charters are a Trojan horse for wealthy conservatives who want to privatize education—a curious charge given that many donors are liberal Democrats”

Check out How much money they make pimping people of color with there schools.

Nice Work If U Can Get It
Posted on November 3, 2013
What’s behind those sky high charter salaries?

The eye-popping salaries commanded by some New York City charter execs are raising eyebrows.