The last two weeks in Hartford education have centered on the relocation of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. School in North Hartford.  Parents and teachers at the school, having been through four years of broken promises, are united in their dissatisfaction with their relocation space – the Lewis Fox building next door.  Their ask/ demand?  To stay in MLK for another year until a long term plan is worked out with the recently-launched Equity 2020 school consolidation process.

A flurry of important issues provide the context for this battle, including the fact that, by temporarily relocating the students out of MLK without plans for renovating MLK (note: the mayor has declared no funds exist for any major building renovations), the Hartford Board of Education may be forced to vote on the closure of MLK school – a decision that carries with it incredible weight.  The Equity 2020 process has begun, but not in time to determine the future of the MLK school or building for this upcoming school year.

Here’s a recap of what has happened so far:

  1. Exercising their voices, members of the community held a rally last week to articulate their demand to stay at MLK for one more year, and later pointed out that the temporary space actually doesn’t fit the entire school (keeping the entire Pre-K-8 school together is desired by many).
  2. Though brand new, Board Member Tiffany Glanville, a parent of children who have only known the MLK building as their Hartford school building (albeit attending West Middle temporarily located at MLK), articulated her response to the rally in an OPED in the Hartford Courant.
  3. Her opinion drew the ire of MLK school SGC parent co-chair Natalie Langlaise, who sent a letter to the entire Board, reaffirming the community position.
  4. The Board has found space to keep the entire school together at Fox, but other issues with the move remain unaddressed.
  5. What will happen next?  It’s unclear.  But the mayor’s next town hall, next Tuesday at the Artist Collective, will focus on the state of North End schools.

While conflict is no one’s favorite state, we view what’s happening in Hartford right now as an opportunity to engage in the more ambitious goals of student achievement – and hope others do as well.  The North End quandary presents an opportunity for teachers and families to have an honest conversation about school quality, not just school buildings, and for district leaders and Board of Ed members to build bridges deep into the community – bridges cemented in TRUST.

So What Should Happen Next? 

We are hoping to see face to face, open and messy discussion on the future of MLK school and building, in the hopes that most people agree on what is in the best interest of children, with an eye on academic quality both in the short and long term.

There is a lack of trust in the community – including on the Board of Education – that the District is able to provide a high-quality education to the students of MLK school.  That lack of trust – built over years of broken promises to invest there – makes MLK parents and teachers feel that staying put gives their kids and teachers a better learning environment.

The mentality, perhaps rightly so, might be:  Why trade one substandard condition for a potentially worse condition?  That same lack of trust makes Board members want those students to get out of the current substandard conditions they’re in, as soon as possible.  It is that same lack of trust that can be a foundation to build trust, with honest, face-to-face conversation among all who care about children in Hartford.

Our hope is that through more tough conversations, over time, we can accomplish two things:

  1. Begin to have  much bolder conversations that identify ways to get more Hartford students into higher quality learning conditions, whether at magnet schools with empty seats, combining schools too small and lacking resources, creating more seats at Hartford’s highest performing schools, or making more strategic investments in schools that can turn around; and
  2. End the divide between Hartford residents and the Hartford Board of Education (five of whom now are parents) elected and appointed to make decisions on their behalf.

What’s taking place right now at MLK is messy, but it is an opportunity.