Public Hearing Boosts Charter School

IKE SWETLITZ PHOTO“I want to raise my family in this city, and I am scared to do that because of our school system,” said Jamilah Prince-Stewart.

Prince-Stewart (pictured) spoke out at a hearing Thursday night at the Metropolitan Business Academy on the establishment of a new charter school, the Booker T. Washington Academy. The school is a joint project of Pastor Eldren Morrison and Family Urban Schools of Excellence (FUSE), which runs the Jumoke charter schools in Hartford, and hopes to open with 300 students on Blake Street in the fall.

A staunch supporter of the creation of the charter school, Prince-Stewart choked back tears as she thanked Morrison and others who helped bring the proposal to the table.

“You give so much hope to the people who live here,” Prince-Stewart said.

About 100 people attended the hearing, ranging from Prince-Stewart’s 9-year-old cousin to a union president. The meeting lasted about an hour and a half. It began with an introduction by Morrison and Michael Sharpe, CEO of FUSE, and continued with public testimony. Of the 26 who spoke, 23 supported the proposal, two opposed, and one voiced concerns while expressing support.

Both New Haven Mayor Toni Harp and Dixwell Alder Jeanette Morrison sent representatives to the hearing to convey their support for the school. Phyllis Silverman, special assistant to the mayor, offered testimony on Mayor Harp’s behalf.

“Mayor Harp wants to assure you that you will have her administration’s full cooperation in implementing the proposed Booker T. Washington Academy charter school,” Silverman said. She invited anyone with questions or concerns about the proposal to contact Mayor Harp.

Two local teachers brought those concerns directly to the meeting. One of them, Eric Maroney, agreed that there is a public school crisis in New Haven, but expressed many concerns with charter schools. He called charter schools a financial drain on public schools, unproven to deliver better results, reliant on inexperienced teachers, and prone to push out undesirable students. He particularly emphasized the last point.

“Every October or November in my classroom, I receive new students,” Maroney said. These new students had been removed from charter schools after the school year started. Maroney said it is difficult to create a productive classroom climate when the composition of his class changes midway through the year. While he acknowledged that this wasn’t a direct critique of Booker T. Washington, he said that it was important to mention at the meeting because it shed light on education in New Haven.

Both teachers received markedly less applause than any other speaker.

David Cicarella, president of the New Haven Federation of Teachers, said that he does not oppose charter schools, but he withheld direct support for Booker T. Washington. He said he is concerned with the practice of charter schools sending children back to public schools after disciplinary or academic issues.

“We are starting to create two public schools systems,” said Cicarella, “where charters keep the best students and return those who just don’t seem to fit in.”

Cicarella said that he is “encouraged” to hear that the organizers of Booker T. Washington want to work with New Haven Public Schools and teachers. He received more applause than the two teachers who spoke.

Sharpe, in his opening remarks, said that he looks forward to working with the teachers union. “We think that’s very, very important,” he said. Before the meeting started, Morrison said that teachers at Booker T. Washington would not need to be unionized.

FUSE officials also responded to prior published criticism about some of the Jumoke schools’ low levels of special needs students.

“We have exited children from special education because their previously identified exceptionalities have been mitigated by solid teaching and learning,” said Leanne Masterjoseph, Chief Academic Officer at FUSE.

While teachers and administrators talked shop, residents spoke of larger societal issues. One local parent said that the progress our society has made toward racial integration is all for naught if children aren’t well-educated.

“Others used to fight to sit at the milk counters and lunch counters,” said Khadijah Muhammad. “But today our children can’t even read the menus.”

Muhammad grew up in New Haven and has four children. One son is a freshman at Central Connecticut State University, and one daughter is one track to graduate with a GPA of 3.5 and a full scholarship to Susquehanna University. Both finished their high school education at public charter schools. Muhammad said that more New Haveners need to have such opportunities.

Prince-Stewart was one of the lucky children. She was able to attend a private school and graduated from Yale University in 2009. While at Yale, she noticed a difference between her classmates and her family members.

“A lot of the kids that I went to school with were legacies because their parents attended the school,” Prince-Stewart said. “My legacy to Yale was that I’ve had numerous cousins and an uncle that worked in the dining halls.”

Two of Prince-Stewart’s cousins—younger cousins, who are not working for Yale Dining—also attended the hearing.

“One day they’re going to go to college. They’re going to be businessmen. They’re going to raise families,” Prince-Stewart said. “I hope and pray that when they do, we’re going to have more Booker T. Washingtons to send them to.”

One of Prince-Stewart’s younger cousins, John Sayles, echoed Prince-Stewart’s sentiments by reading a prepared statement. Prince-Stewart held up the microphone.

“I think all kids should have a good school to go to,” Sayles said. “I think all kids should have the choice of what schools they go to, and I think Booker T. Washington would be a great choice.”

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posted by: Theodora on March 14, 2014  9:02am

So why is it a good idea to hand over millions of taxpayer dollars to unproven people who run a church?

If suddenly it is okay to fork over money to church efforts, why don’t we first assess how well the city’s Catholic schools are doing and give them money to fortify their efforts before handing anything over to these jokers.

posted by: Jill_the_Pill on March 14, 2014  9:06am

Could the state require, as part of granting a charter school’s charter, that it must keep any student who starts in September at least through the following June?

posted by: mechanic on March 14, 2014  10:14am

“We are starting to create two public schools systems,” said Cicarella, “where charters keep the best students and return those who just don’t seem to fit in.”

I have a problem with this statement, referring to some children as the “best” children.  The children removed or sent from or who voluntarily leave charter schools often have disciplinary issues or other academic or behavioral challenges.  Saying that the charter schools keep the “best students” implies that these are worse students, that some children are better than others. 

While I know what Cicarella meant, as union president I would expect him to use language that is more respectful of the students that he is supposed to be a leader in educating. By saying that the charter schools keep “the best students,” he is sending the message to the community and to his teachers is that NHPS has the worst students.

Connecticut Children’s Hospital has the slogan, “Kids are great.  We just make them better.”  Cicarella, Harries, and NHPS would do well to project a similar attitude.

posted by: robn on March 14, 2014  11:14am

Jamilah Prince-Stewart’s story is one I’d like to hear often but with a different ending. I’d like New Haven to be a place where young successful African Americans want to stay and start a business and raise a family after they’ve succeeded academically.
Does New Haven Promise have any requirement that children helped with tuition must spend some significant block of time in New Haven? Could New Haven craft a version of Yale Homebuyer program that grants a modest but significant property tax credit for New Haven college graduates who homestead in neighborhoods that need stabilization?

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on March 14, 2014  1:33pm

How come the public school system stop the Comer School Development Program?It works better then a charter School.

How It Works
Like the operating system of a computer that allows the software to do its specialized work, the Comer Process provides the organizational, management and communication framework for planning and managing all the activities of the school based on the developmental needs of its students. When fully implemented, the process brings a positive school and classroom climate, stability, and an instructional focus that supports all of the school’s curriculum and renewal efforts.Three structures comprise the basic framework on which the Comer Process is built:The School Planning and Management Team develops a Comprehensive School Plan, sets academic, social and community relations goals, and coordinates all school activities, including staff development programs. The team creates critical dialogue around teaching and learning and monitors progress to identify needed adjustments to the school plan as well as opportunities to support the plan. Members of the team include administrators, teachers, support staff, and parents.The school staff was then able to integrate development and learning and to help students begin to take responsibility for their own learning and behavior. The outcome was that relationship and behavior problems were sharply decreased and academic achievement was greatly increased. And simultaneously the adult stakeholders promoted their own growth and development.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on March 14, 2014  1:42pm

Do not be deceived about these charter schools which divert public monies to private schools.  If the public school is failing than implement policies to strength public schools and hold people accountable.

My Bad.How about charter-school segregation.

posted by: Tom Burns on March 15, 2014  1:38am

Hey three-fifths—always thanks for the support—-there should be NO charter schools in CT—they are the new discrimination and support the haves and beat on the have nots- by the way WE are bringing Comer back in a big way—every school, every teacher—-next year—you are the first to know—CT must end the charter school charade now—if this school Jumoke/Fuse gets approved—then we are done with collaboration and partnerships——their proposal is for classes with 21/22 students with two adults in the room at all times—their proposal is for an abundance of technology—and other things the public schools can only dream of—and we will pay for transportation and special ed. costs w/o having a say in how the school is run—not even sure teachers must be certified—-but who cares, right?  Maybe I as a school counselor should practice brain surgery on you—or a Math teacher at one of our schools should be your financial advisor—cause of course anyone can teach——right?—I challenge any person/human being to teach for just one semester and see how they make out—call me and I will make it happen—and I will enjoy watching you teach our children—YOU will quit within two weeks—you will run and hide—yet you actually think you can pass judgement on my heroes(public school teachers)—well you can’t until you spend a couple of weeks in their shoes—if you can read this, thank a public school teacher—Love you Ms. Weigh, Ms.Brown, Ms. Shea, Ms. Flanagan, Ms. Quinlan, Mr. Gregoraitis, Mr. Capone (I remember them all—K-6) and I am sure they remember me—and not in a positive way, most likely—they all may be spending time in the after-life now but they made a difference in my life—Thanks to all my public school teachers—Tom