The Achievement First charter school group gears up to bring down suspension rate

Jul 8, 2013 by

equalaccessBRIDGEPORT — Six-year-old Christopher Tate is fidgeting in his chair and looking around — but not at the teacher — when Brandon Clark, a behavior interventionist, sidles up to him at Achievement First Bridgeport Academy.

Squatting beside Chris, Clark gently redirects his attention to his work and his teacher.

This is how behavior issues are often handled at the public charter elementary school, which has cut its rate of out-of-school suspensions by 64 percent in a single year and has never had in-school suspensions.

It’s also the kind of transformation that Achievement First leaders hope to make in their other schools.

The charter school organization, which has 10 schools in Connecticut, has come under scrutiny with the recent release of state reports that show that most of its schools have among the highest suspension and expulsion rates in the state, even for children in kindergarten and first grade.

The report showed, for example, that at Achievement First Hartford Academy Middle School, almost half the students were suspended or expelled at least once during the 2011-12 school year — the highest rate in the state.

This comes after settlement in late May of a complaint by parents filed with the Office of Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Education that said the middle school was discriminating against children with disabilities by suspending them excessively.

The civil rights complaint also mentioned a punishment that required students who broke lesser rules to wear a white shirt over their blue uniform shirt and forbade them any interaction with other kids — a measure that an attorney in the case said felt like “school-sanctioned ostracism.”

At a recent State Board of Education meeting where the charter for the Hartford school was up for renewal, Dacia Toll, president of Achievement First, pledged to cut the suspension rate at the middle school by 50 percent or more next year. The school also plans to review its disciplinary procedures.

“With a level of embarrassment, I admit to you, we were not focused on this,” Toll said. “You have my unambiguous, personal commitment that we will significantly reduce these numbers.”

Estela Lopez, a State Board of Education member, was not so sure that would be easy.

“When 50 percent of the middle school students go to suspensions, that’s a culture,” Lopez said. “Changing cultures is usually the hardest part. It’s harder, perhaps, than improving students’ performance.”

The state board approved the charter renewal for the Hartford academy, but for three years instead of five. Achievement First must also submit a plan for reducing suspensions by the end of July.

The Reflection Room

There is an urgency in the tenor of the classrooms at Achievement First schools; a sense that every second must be used for learning. Even on the last day of school at the Hartford middle school, a history teacher has a tightly structured lesson that students are clearly enjoying. She uses a timer to ensure that small tasks — like moving the desks into a U-shape for discussion — don’t take longer then necessary.

via Achievement First: The Achievement First charter school group gears up to bring down suspension rate – Hartford Courant.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Related Posts


Share This

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.