Frivolous spending or best training for Hartford educators?

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Hartford's Breakthrough Magnet School Named #1 Magnet School in US, 2015 by Magnet Schools of America National Organization of 3800 schools

On Friday, May 27, the Hartford Courant ran an article headlined “Narvaez (Superintendent of the Hartford Public Schools) Imposes Travel Limits, 33 Went to Miami, Ran Up $61K Bill” by education news reporter, Vanessa De La Torre. This news was reiterated on June 6, in Ms. De La Torre’s report of the Board of Education voting on a reduced budget and in a Courant Editorial headlined, “A Dunce Cap For Junket” on its Opinion page on June 7.

The Magnet Schools of America organization and its offerings have played a great role in the success stories of magnet schools serving Greater Hartford since the 1997 Sheff vs. O’Neill court ruling.

From its nearly 3,800 member schools nationally, this organization seeks applications annually from magnet school leaders to be scored by a panel of educators for consideration for its national awards of merit for schools “demonstrating a high commitment to academic standards, curriculum innovation, desegregation/diversity efforts, specialized teaching staffs, and parent and community involvement.” It also calls for proposals from its member schools for presentations to be delivered at its largest conference each year with standards stipulated, insuring the highest quality of workshops.

Attendance at this national conference, held in a different U.S. city each year, is an amazing experience for educators. Firstly, the array and caliber of workshops is high quality and cutting edge. The offerings in each time slot over three days cover elementary, middle, high school and district-level content, over a broad range of school themes, as well as the latest models of answers to magnet school challenges.

There are plenary speeches throughout, presented by the leading names in American educational research and a day of scheduled local area magnet school site visits, again covering varying themes and school age levels. This is among the best coverage of the latest educational research and development, and their applications for educational leadership, found in our nation each year.

There are hundreds of thousands of dollars allocated in education budgets each year for teachers’ and educational administrators’ professional development by school districts (Hartford Public Schools included) across our country, but most of this training pales by comparison to what is offered for this purpose at the MSA National Conference.

In addition to the above-named great training and networking available to conference participants, the exposure for them to the number of schools, professionals and districts across our nation dedicating themselves to the development of “quality integrated education” is an “a-ha experience” of the highest order, as to how large a national movement magnet schools are, and of which each of the conference attendees is an essential part!

At some point each person “gets it” and it hits one with a “POW,” just how critical our daily work for quality integrated education is to the success of our nation.

Budget considerations notwithstanding, it behooves superintendents, mayors, legislators and citizens alike to understand that budget allocations for school leaders at this national conference is a bargain, given the public’s return on investment.

Hartford Public Schools must step back and reflect on the spectacular rise in quality, nationally acclaimed schools in our midst, from the number “0” at the time of the Sheff court decision in 1996 to a number in the teens at present when considering all magnet schools serving Greater Hartford. We must also consider the extraordinary reality that demand exceeds supply for magnet schools from applicants in the thousands from Hartford and suburban Sheff towns.

Having a growing number of racially integrated schools worthy of national recognition means we’re on to something that our nation needs critically right now. School leaders in these schools have learned what works.

The guidelines for the M.S.A merit awards advise our principals what this level of excellence requires and the national conference school visits, workshops and exposure to national researchers show principals what it looks like and how to get there.

The MSA has named Hartford the Magnet School District of the Year for 2016, “a school district that exemplifies a commitment to equity, excellence, diversity, as well as highly sustained support for magnet schools.” We must continue this progress until quality integrated education is available to all, ending the racial and economic isolation, spawning the CT Sheff v. O’Neill court case and its just ruling and backing many Americans’ current claim that “All Lives Matter.”

Norma Neumann-Johnson is the Director of Breakthrough Training Institute, Educational Educational Consultants in Character Education, Social Emotional Learning, Mindfulness and PK-8 education.

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