The Stamford branch of the NAACP, local legislators, educators and community members met Monday evening at the Faith Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church to discuss the initial steps that need to be taken to create a new charter school.
At a previous meeting, the community leaders confirmed they were interested in creating a school to serve students in pre-kindergarten through third grade to address the persistent achievement gap. The group bounced around ideas regarding curricula, funding, location, governance, and ultimately decided that the first step must be to create an advisory board.
Jack Bryant, president of the NAACP Stamford chapter, said that after establishing an advisory board, the group could then establish a location, sources of funding, and a school leader.
According to Bryant, the achievement gap begins to appear with state assessments in the fourth grade and addressing the students beforehand could help prevent it. “Fourth grade is a very vital time for our students,” Bryant said.
Mary Jennings, director of literacy and social studies with Stamford Public Schools, noted the advisory board’s commitment is vital to the charter’s success. “The charter school movement requires a lot of time, money, and time seeking money,” Jennings said. “Getting a group of committed people is important in laying the foundation.”
Joining the group was Michael Thomas, vice president of external relations for Achievement First — a charter school company based in New Haven — and chairman of the New Haven NAACP chapter’s education committee. Thomas affirmed that Achievement First is not proposing to run the new charter school being developed, but he was there rather to give guidance on the process.
“The achievement gap is also a socioeconomic gap,” Thomas said. “From an economic and social justice standpoint, this is something we need to do.”
The discussion of charter schools and school choice is often one that causes friction between teachers unions, boards of education and communities. However, Mike Meyers, director of student support services with Stamford Public Schools, affirmed that the district is committed to closing the achievement gap. Meyers also noted that parent engagement in their child’s education was “the best weapon” in fighting the achievement gap battle.
Stamford currently has two charter schools, the Stamford Academy and Trailblazers Academy, both operated by Domus, a local nonprofit organization. Bryant said the Domus leaders were invited to the evening’s meeting, but because Domus’ schools target middle and high school students, the needs of this new school aiming to serve elementary students were much different. The group hopes to have a task force in place this week and will hold their next meeting at a date to be determined in February.