As we celebrate
National Charter Schools Week across the country, we take note of how far we have come since the nation’s first charter school law was passed in the United States back in 1991. Since 1997, when Connecticut’s first charter schools opened, generations of lives in the state have changed. We have charter school graduates now sending their own children to charters. We have charter school alumni who are now serving in government. Many have chosen to return to their communities to work at the very schools that have changed their lives. And in untold other ways, we have thousands more making their communities and our state better. But despite these successes, our state’s ability to open more public charter schools or keep up with current demand continues to be an incredible challenge. For example, Connecticut currently has more than 13,000 names on waiting lists for charter schools, but we have not had a new charter school open in four years! But Connecticut has the chance—very soon—to change that. That’s because the Connecticut State Board of Education now has the opportunity to approve or deny the initial certificates for two new charter schools: Danbury Prospect Charter School (Danbury Prospect) and the Norwalk Charter School for Excellence (Norwalk Excellence). We know that families and communities are demanding these options, and we implore our state board to approve these new schools.
New Charters Can Relieve Overcrowding and Enhance Educational Options
Danbury Prospect would be the city of Danbury’s first-ever public charter school, and would help solve a huge problem: extreme overcrowding in the district schools. As Connecticut’s fastest growing city, Danbury has simply not been able to keep up with demand for school seats. Danbury Prospect would be one of the only schools in the region to educate students using the highly renowned
International Baccalaureate model. The school has committed to hire a diverse group of educators who could help open the eyes of their students to all of the possibilities that exist for them. In short, Danbury Prospect would help alleviate overcrowding while providing an excellent educational option. Norwalk Excellence would be the sister school to
Stamford Charter School for Excellence, and together, these schools would be affiliated with the already successful Excellence Community Schools network of K-8 academies throughout New York. During the local hearing for the application of the school, parents from Stamford Excellence spoke movingly about the opportunities that have been provided to their children since the school opened several years ago. One family praised their son’s reading skill. Another spoke of their daughter’s goal to become a doctor. All gave thanks for the stellar education Stamford Excellence is providing, which allows their children to reach their full potential. Norwalk Excellence would provide the same opportunities for Norwalk families. Perhaps most importantly, both Norwalk Excellence and Danbury Prospect would give parents what they deserve: choice when it comes to their child’s education. Parents of means exercise educational choice all the time. These two schools would extend choice to parents in Danbury and Norwalk who may not be able to easily move or to afford private school, but still want a local, affordable choice in where they send their children. And all children—no matter their parents’ income, ZIP code or the language they speak at home—can learn. Our state’s charters are proving that every day. In Connecticut, we are on the cusp of showing more children and communities the life-changing differences that public charters can bring. Our schools work alongside other types of public schools and within their communities to enhance and enrich their neighborhoods. They change lives. As we celebrate this week, we’re also hopeful about the future here in Connecticut. We hope that in just a few short weeks, we can celebrate two new schools being added to our state’s public charter school community and the opportunities we know they will provide to even more of Connecticut’s children.
Photo courtesy of Northeast Charter Schools Network.
Yamuna Menon is the Connecticut state director of the Northeast Charter Schools Network. She has more than a decade of community organizing and educational experience.