By Rob Varnon (via stamfordadvocate)
STAMFORD -- Two entrenched factions met in the lunchroom at the Government Center -- one to attack and one to support a plan to start a new charter elementary school in Stamford, based on a Bronx, N.Y., model.
Fifty-two people spoke. The sides largely broke down as Stamford public school backers, administrators, board of education members and parents of students in the district, who were squarely against the proposal. Supporters were largely connected to theBronx Charter School for Excellence, the school upon which the proposed Stamford Charter School for Excellence would be modeled.
"Clearly, it's great for your kids," said Mayor David Martin, to the parents, students and teachers from the school. "The Bronx is not in any way, shape or form like Stamford."
That was one of the main points of opposition to the plan.
During the night, fewer than four Stamford residents spoke in favor of the plan, but lots of people from the Bronx -- parents, teachers and administrators -- spoke. The group brought about 19 students from the school to the hearing, and some of the kids held up signs saying Stamford needs choice.
The state Board of Education is considering the application to open a new elementary charter school in Stamford for pre-kindergarten through fifth grade. The school would open in 2015 and would eventually have 392 students. It would be largely paid for by the state, though Stamford would cover transportation services to the school and special education costs.
The state board has less than three months to vote on the proposal. Funding for two charter schools have been budgeted in this round, though the state board can vote to approve more. Several applications are in for Bridgeport, and the Stamford School would compete against those.
Stamford Public School Superintendent Winifred Hamilton has bristled at some of the characterizations of the district contained in the application and she defended the district's work on closing the achievement gap.
"Please do not ignore the wonderful work we've done in Stamford in our schools and for our families," Hamilton said, citing an 88 percent graduation rate for black students, just one percentage point off from the average for the district.
Hamilton indicated that those judging Stamford's work should take into account the whole process, from elementary school to graduation.
There were plenty of speakers who talked about the Bronx Charter School for Excellence, which has achieved success in the past.
Joyce Frost, a trustee of the Bronx school and a member of the group that presented the application, offered an olive branch at the beginning of the meeting, saying the school wants to work with the Stamford school district. She said the school's model of educating students involves partnering, teaching and learning from others.
That drew a snort from somewhere in the crowd.
The other major concerns from Stamford residents were that the new charter school would create a segregated school for minorities. They also worried the school would only be taking the best students, and there were concerns about the lack of local control.
Michael Arcano, the head of the Stamford teachers union, said in reading the application and researching the Bronx school, he understood it to be a parallel school, raising the question of whether it made sense to go forward with it.
Several people questioned a state policy that would pump money into charter schools instead of just boosting public education by investing more in existing schools.