Yesterday, Hartford Public Schools (HPS) announced it won a $5 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to expand collaboration between the public school system and charter schools in the city. The award was the result of more than a decade of work, where HPS has worked closely with Achievement First (AF) and Jumoke Academy to improve education outcomes for Hartford public school students.
One cannot overstate the importance of this announcement. Of the seven grants provided by the Gates Foundation, the award to Hartford was the largest. Larger than its grant to Boston. Larger than its grant to New Orleans. Larger than its grant to Philadelphia. And even larger than its grant to New York City.
Why? One driving reason is because this is work that HPS and its charter schools have long pursued. In Hartford, the public school system and the charter schools work in partnership (and have for many years). This was not a matter of HPS, AF, and Jumoke agreeing to do something if they won the grant. No, this is an acknowledgement of the years and years of HPS and AF collaboration to date. And it is an acknowledgement of the coordinated efforts HPS and Jumoke have engaged in, including working together at the Milner School this year.
The significance of this award was also seen in the comments coming from yesterday's event:
From Hartford Superintendent Christina Kishimoto, we heard "This grant will help Hartford Public Schools, Jumoke, and Achievement First build on the successful practices that each has to offer the others."
From Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, we heard of a commitment to student achievement and the need to offer a portfolio of public school options, recognizing "public schools don't all have to look alike."
From Connecticut Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor, we heard "We must be agnostic on governance and management. We must be focused obsessively on performance."
From Education Committee Co-Chair Andrew Fleischmann, we heard "These collaborations are the future of Connecticut ... We must do what is best for our children."
Such collaboration is both the future of Connecticut and is what is best for the kids of Connecticut. In cities like Hartford and New Haven, cities that have robust school choice programs, it is clear that traditional public school systems, magnets, and charter schools must work together. And when they do, as Hartford illustrates, the kids are the big winners.
Despite the rhetoric, we must not forget that charter schools are also public schools. They are also community schools. And they provide families with real choice when it comes to their children's futures.
Hartford should be congratulated for this important win. It validates much of the work and collaboration to date and is yet another signal that the city, its schools, and its kids are headed in the right direction.
We must also recognize similar collaboration in places like New Haven, where New Haven Public Schools and AF are collaborating around issues such as professional development and legal training.
And we must seek to ensure that the other eight communities with charters (yes, Connecticut, there are only 10 communities in the state that have charters) are pursuing similar paths of partnership and collaboration.
Student success is a team effort. It requires traditional public schools, charters, and magnets. It requires the hard work of educators and advocates, parents and policymakers. And it demands we look to best and promising practice, in whatever form, to continually improve our schools and the learning process for our kids, for all of our kids.