Bridgeport · In the State

New Beginnings Family Academy’s Ronelle P. Swagerty Schools Detractors On Charter Innovation

As of late, collaboration between charter schools and traditional public schools has been a big topic of discussion in Connecticut — specifically, whether charters are working as the “laboratories for innovation” that they were meant to be (which, in itself, is debatable).

The reason for the sudden uptick in focus is pretty obvious.

With the governor announcing that he’ll be proposing a new funding formula in February, special interest groupsnamely, state teachers unions want to cast charters as the enemy. Hence the CEA’s misleading report on Charter School Management Organizations (CMOs). In a similar vein, Stamford Advocate Columnist and Education Attorney Wendy Lecker recently interviewed Robert Cotto, Hartford BOE member and anti-reform activist, allegedly trying to set the “facts” straight on charter schools. The result, unsurprisingly, was entirely one-sided.

In a recent Op-Ed for the Connecticut Post, New Beginnings Family Academy’s Chief Operating Officer Ronelle Swaggerty takes Lecker to task, schooling her on the “facts:”

“Lecker and Cotto also fail to acknowledge that charter schools open only in the state’s 30 lowest performing school districts, and these districts are quite often black, brown and/or lower-income. It should come as no surprise then that the student body of many of our schools tends to be a microcosm of the communities they serve.

Certainly, if we had the legal ability to open a charter school in a Greenwich or a West Hartford, this would not be the case. Lecker and Cotto’s attempt to label this as segregation is both unjust and untrue.

Furthermore, if they want to know something about charter school innovation, I would welcome them to take a tour of my school, where we employ a progressive educational model that weaves trauma-sensitive, emotionally responsive practices into each and every classroom. Similar tactics are employed at several of our fellow charter schools, including Path Academy in Windham, and two schools Lecker and Cotto attempted to call out in their article: Trailblazers Academy and Stamford Academy.

We are among several charters focused on educating the whole child by re-thinking what school can and should look like. I’m pretty sure that by any definition, that’s exactly what innovation looks like.

To focus solely on test scores from schools that work with some of our state’s highest need and most at-risk kids — kids who were failed by district schools in the past — is a disservice not only to these schools, but to the population of kids and families they serve.

And yes, FUSE management and Jumoke Academy were hit by controversy several years ago. But what happened there is not synonymous with all charter schools. The charter school community used what happened with FUSE as an opportunity to support even stronger accountability and transparency for our schools, something we welcome.

It also sounds like Cotto may need some help in figuring out how charters help district schools. I’d point him to Common Ground in New Haven, where students provide technical assistance to district schools looking to start urban farms. Or Great Oaks and Park City Prep in Bridgeport, which were part of a working group that brought district, charter and magnet schools together to share ideas and best practices. Or Side by Side charter school in Norwalk which works closely with the district on everything from teaching to learning to after school programming. Our schools continue to exist as laboratories of learning, regularly sharing best practices with the district because at the end of the day, we believe all public schools should be good schools.

And lastly, the notion that transportation costs are covered for all charter school students is absolutely false. In fact, transportation continues to be one of the biggest hurdles for most charters, as districts are only obligated to cover transportation for charter school students who live within their district. For example, a student attending ISAAC in New London from another district may take a bus to the nearest magnet school, but must then disembark and walk the rest of the way to their school, because that’s the law…”


To read Swagerty’s full Op-Ed, here’s a link


What do you think?

More Comments