NAACP head wants all-male charter school

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The Stamford Advocate (Connecticut)
By: Maggie Gordon
November 15, 2010

STAMFORD -- Jack Bryant, president of the Stamford NAACP, is launching an exploratory committee to investigate the feasibility of an all-male charter school in Stamford.

"We (in Connecticut) have the largest achievement gap in the nation. And most of that is because of the preparation of our kids in pre-K through third grade," Bryant said. "It's common sense that if we compensate them, and get those students ready, when they get to the fourth grade and start taking the (Connecticut Mastery Tests) it would help close the achievement gap."

Bryant said he hopes to use Jumoke Academy in Hartford as a model for the school. When it opened in 1997, it served 125 students in kindergarten through third grade, and has since expanded to serve 432 students through eighth grade.

"What we're trying to do here is concentrate right now on kindergarten through third grade, and the 125 students seems to be a good amount to focus on right now," Bryant said. But unlike the Hartford charter, which serves both boys and girls, Bryant said he would like to focus on educating only male children.

"I visit a lot of college campuses, and the ratio of male-to-female, it really breaks my heart," Bryant said.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 56.9 percent of students enrolled in college during the 2007-08 academic year were female and 43.1 percent were men.

"So I'm always thinking about how we get our young men in college, rather than in jail. We have to start at the beginning, and the beginning is pre-K," Bryant said.

According to 2010 CMT results more elementary-school girls are reaching proficiency in writing than boys in both fourth and fifth grades. Girls are also outperforming boys in fourth-grade reading; the percentage of fifth-grade boys and girls who reached proficiency in reading was exactly the same: 70.9 percent. But the percentage of elementary-school boys who scored at or above the proficient level in both math and science was greater than the percentage of girls who did so at all grade levels tested in the CMTs, according to data provided by the state.

While there are no all-male or all-female charter schools in Connecticut, there are some single-gender charters in other parts of the country, according to Tom Murphy, a spokesman for the Connecticut Department of Education.

"You can do it, but you have to offer the program to everybody, and if a female wants to attend, (she) must be granted that opportunity," Murphy said.

In time, Bryant hopes to expand his seedling idea to a school that would serve boys from kindergarten through 12th grade, he said.

"I want a 100 percent graduation rate and 100 percent acceptance rate for college for these male students, which would be awesome," Bryant said. The committee he is composing would be instrumental in figuring out just how to make that happen.

"I think with a charter school, we can focus more on the close relationship between teachers, parents, students and the community all together," he said. "I personally think a longer school day would be better."

Bryant said he is not yet certain whether that means extending school hours, or adding a sixth day per week. It's something the committee would look into, he said.

He plans to host a meeting later this week for members of the community to discuss the possibilities. From there, he hopes to propel the committee into action "as soon as possible."

This year's deadline to apply for a charter from the state has already passed. According to an Aug. 30 letter from Connecticut Commissioner of Education Mark McQuillan, the application deadline was Oct. 29.

The state is currently evaluating several applications for charter schools, according to Murphy.

"Right now we have about seven or eight applications that have been submitted," Murphy said Friday.

When an application is received, it is first evaluated by the Department of Education, before being forwarded to the State Board of Education and going on to public hearings. Schools that are approved will receive a charter from the state, as well as a $9,300 per-pupil grant to fund the new academy.

That amount of money is actually less than the amount Stamford Public Schools uses in its budget; in the 2009-10 school year, Stamford Public Schools spent an estimated $15,927 per pupil, according to budget documents.

The number of charter schools funded is directly linked to the amount of money the state's education department has in its budget.

"Obviously we can't fund all of them, and we have to rank-order them in terms of quality and their capacity to do what they're supposed to do," Murphy said. "We also look at geographic areas so we can offer these types of choices around the state."

This is the first time the state has had an application process for several years, according to Murphy.

"We did not ask for applications last year, because we have not been able to expand the state budget for charter schools beyond the current charters," he said. "It's likely we'll have another competition next year, but if there are no dollars available, there could be an evaluation and a public hearing, and schools could not receive the money. So it's being affected by the recession, without a question."

There are 18 charter schools in the state, serving approximately 5,000 kids, Murphy said. Two are located in Stamford, and run by the non-profit organization Domus: Trailblazers Academy, a middle school, which was certified in 1999; and Stamford Academy, a high school, which opened in 2004.

Staff Writer Maggie Gordon can be reached at maggie.gordon@scni.com or 203-964-2229.

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