The Hartford Board of Education Tuesday received its eighth member (and sixth parent), Julio Flores, sworn in after being appointed by Mayor Luke Bronin.  The Board also executed a nifty U-turn to gradually return the Journalism and Media Academy (JMA) to its original neighborhood school status at Weaver High School, bringing the effort to make it an integrated magnet school to an end.  These are two very important developments.

Mr. Flores, a South End resident, has chaired the School Governance Councils both at the Latino Studies Academy at Burns and at the McDonough Expeditionary Learning School – and also has served on the boards of numerous community organizations.  He is a parent who has been in the trenches when it counted.

With Dr. José Colón-Rivas now resigned from the Board to assume the chief operating officer position at the District, the fifth, mayor-appointed seat on the Board remains open.  It will be interesting to see what additional skill set the mayor taps to further strengthen the Board.  Going from six parents to seven can’t be the only goal.

Is De-Magnetize Even a Word?!

When Weaver High School re-opens in 2019 in a smaller and better-designed environment after its ongoing renovation, the plan is to return the Journalism and Media Academy to its original home there.  In the interim, the Board wants JMA to begin operating next July 1, 2017, not as a magnet … but as a neighborhood school … under the name The Thomas J. Snell Weaver Journalism and Media Academy.  Weaver “has great historical and emotional significance to the people of Hartford,” as the Board resolution Tuesday put it.  Here is the Courant article on this maneuver.

Notwithstanding regional marketing efforts, JMA has not attracted suburban white and Asian students; its enrollment has hovered at 200 students – half of the possible capacity at this beautifully renovated, former Barbour School on Tower Avenue.  While not meeting the integration goals of the Sheff v. O’Neill case, the school also has barred Hartford children from seats that must be held open for the non-enrolling suburban students, Board Chair Richard Wareing said – similar to other magnet schools that employ the same practice for compliance purposes.

The gravitation of JMA back to its Weaver home also opens the possibility to repurpose the nicely updated Tower Avenue facility for North End students now attending old and compromised facilities.  This is one key move in the District’s attempt to build out a long term facilities plan – an effort dubbed Equity 2020.

Ultimately, the Board has the authority to convert the status of JMA, just as it has done before with High School, Inc., Chair Wareing asserted.

Board Member Craig Stallings maintained that most of the community felt JMA never should have been magnetized in the first place.  With Kinsella and High School, Inc. slated to participate with JMA under the Weaver umbrella, he said, the prospects are exciting.  “This is going to be, in my opinion, the flagship for whatSheff should be in the future; not forced integration, but a gradual, general, voluntary participation from families who are willing to be a part of a social experiment to advance our community.  I am grateful for that, I am very thankful for that.”

The new Weaver, restoring JMA to the neighborhood, puts the focus on the kids rather than getting bogged down in politics, Board Member Karen Taylor added.  Board Members Stallings and Taylor are Weaver alums.

Here is the video of the meeting.

The Bottom Line.  Hartford, as a City – and with its Board of Education – needs to take a position on both the value of the Sheff v. O’Neill integration case so far … and how its parameters must be updated to help more Hartford students become workforce and college ready and more schools elevate their quality.  Achieve Hartford! will soon host a public program to shine a spotlight on what we can do together to address the obstacles facing Hartford children.  Not just to talk about it, but to spell out actions that are reasonable and impactful.