More Funding = More Diversity
Addressing the Issue of Racial Imbalance in West Hartford’s Magnet Schools
By Amanda Gurren and Emma Hayes
HARTFORD, CT–On Wednesday March 6th, the Connecticut State Board of Education assembled at the Capitol Building in Hartford, Connecticut. Members of the Board, including Commissioner Stefan Pryor, opened with kind words in remembrance of a colleague, Ellen Camhi—a member of the State Board of Education since March 2011. Camhi was regarded as having “a fierce commitment to providing opportunities that would result in significant improvements to academic achievement for all students, including those who need greater assistance.” After kind words and memories were shared amongst the Board, a brief time was allotted to members of the audience. They were then given the opportunity to voice their concerns regarding pressing education issues of the Connecticut public school system. Invitations were extended out for the Board to attend. Concerns of escalating racism in the schools were voiced and emphasis was placed on the need to close the student achievement gap across the state. Members of the West Hartford Board of Education then came to the floor to address the racial imbalance in the Florence E. Smith STEM School and Charter Oak International Academy in West Hartford. The meeting continued as scheduled.
The West Hartford Board of Education along with the district’s superintendent passionately began proposing their plan to promote racial diversity in two of their magnet schools, with the hope of approval from the State Board of Education. The eyes of the West Hartford Board of Education members lit up with great hope for the community as they began to explain their proposal. The audience was asked to direct their attention to their right, where a plasma television screen fiercely projected a simple yet efficient power point and in essence, the vision held for the future of West Hartford.
The reason for this meeting was due to a report received by the Connecticut State Board of Education on May 17th 2012. The report revealed that the Florence E. Smith STEM school and Charter Oak International Academy were deemed racially imbalanced. The Connecticut State Board of Education subsequently asked the West Hartford Board to come forth and explain ideas to fix the racial imbalance within the schools. The West Hartford Board accredited their failure to overcome racial imbalance in their magnet programs to the lack of available magnet slots in the respective schools. Their vision for West Hartford is that all of the schools reflect the rich diversity found in the community as they achieve at the highest level. In addition they expressed their hopes to start at pre-school, confident in the belief that the earlier the youth embark upon education, the more of an impact education will have upon the children.
Similarly, the vision they have for Charter Oak International Academy is that of a magnet where students from all over the area are eager to attend due to its unique educational offerings—“The school that everyone wants to attend,” a member of the board exclaimed with utmost enthusiasm. The board smiled in agreement. The representative continued, voicing his hope that the school will be composed of an expressive, curious, collaborative, and creative student body with an enhancement of academic achievement.
The proposal is to increase the proportion of magnet students to approximately half the student population of each school by increasing classroom space. The West Hartford Board proposes to add onto Charter Oak’s building, a luxury Smith does not have due to lack of space. Yet they propose to set aside fifty spaces at Charter Oak to accommodate transfer students from Smith. Specifically in attempt to draw students from other attendance zones, the West Hartford Board intends to expand out-of-school activities and gifted level instruction for all grades. They also propose having math acceleration for kindergarten to fifth grade students as well as the option for eighty students to enroll in a pre-kindergarten program.
The West Hartford Board is thus requesting grant funding for the purpose of school construction in accordance with Section 10-286h of the Connecticut General Statutes, which allows construction reimbursement for schools deemed as “diverse” by the state. Although both magnet schools are technically considered racially imbalanced in the eyes of the state, the section says “If one or more schools under the local board’s jurisdiction is racially imbalanced and such board has demonstrated evidence of a good-faith effort to correct the existing disparity in the proportion of pupils of racial minorities in the district, as determined by Commissioner of Education”, a district is suitable for the grant.
The West Hartford Board appeared incredibly eager to begin the project and expand both schools’ influence over the community of West Hartford. Their vision, however, cannot become a reality without the proper funding. They express their acknowledgment of the racial imbalance, but draw everyone’s attention again to the plasma screen television and begin reading down the bulleted list at the steps they have taken thus far. They argue that they already have extended the distinctiveness of the offerings at each respective magnet school—International Baccalaureate (IB) at Charter Oak and STEM at Smith. Additionally, the board has increased the marketing effort for both magnet schools, in hopes of attracting a larger and more diverse applicant pool. Although there has been a recent improvement in results, the numbers will not get below the 25% threshold with the current approach alone and thus, more funding is a vital component for the success of their proposal.