Hartford elementary parent seek to imporve performance of school

Hartford elementary parent seek to imporve performance of school


Hartford Avenue Elementary School stands at the intersection of Maryland and Hartford Aves. neatly tucked into the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee campus on the city’s East Side.

But while this public school is surrounded by an atmosphere of higher learning, an educational tempest is brewing inside.

Many of Hartford’s parents are complaining that the education their children are receiving is mediocre at best.

Though one might expect the school to have a cozy relationship with UWM, officials from the university have stopped using the school as a training ground for their education students. They have complained that many of the school’s classrooms no longer serve as good learning models and that the school needs time to work out its internal problems.

While Hartford is far from the worst in the Milwaukee Public School district, parents point to several areas of concern.

During the last school year (1993-’94), 65% of the fifth- grade students scored at or above the national average in a standardized math test, above the district’s average of 47% and the district’s goal of 50%.

But while 100% of the school’s white students scored above the state’s performance standard on last year’s Wisconsin Grade Three Reading Test, only 66% of black students did as well. Two years earlier the comparisons were 100% for white students and 83% for African- Americans.

Sixty-four percent of the school’s students are black and 24% are white. There are smaller numbers of Hispanic, American Indian and Asian students at Hartford, which specializes in communication arts.

A Call For Change

“It’s definitely a concern as an African-American parent,” said Lenny Brooks, whose daughter, Truscenialyn, is a fifth grader at Hartford. “It’s just another indication that some changes are needed.”

The parents want no less than a total makeover of the school with staff and administration working toward putting a redefined educational program in place by next fall.

An informational meeting is scheduled for 7 tonight at Hartford, 2227 E. Hartford Ave. In addition, the School Board has agreed to schedule a special meeting next month to discuss Hartford’s future.

The school’s Parent Steering Committee wants the School Board to create a task force to create a detailed accountability plan for students and teachers; design an interview process for new teachers; and establish a new governing body with a parent majority.

At a time when their children are competing with others who are getting cutting edge instruction in technology and benefiting from creative teaching techniques, telling parents that Hartford is doing better than other MPS schools doesn’t make them feel any better.

“Our kids go to Hartford, they don’t go somewhere else,” said Frank Martinelli, a member of the Parent Steering Committee who wants the best for his son, Frank, not a junior a first grader.

Negative Influences

The members of the Parent Steering Committee say they are not mounting an attack on the school’s principal, Catherine Washabaugh, or on individual teachers.

But parents such as Marty Josephson, whose daughter, Martha, is in first grade at Hartford, point to the school’s culture as having a negative influence on the staff.

Some parents who sit on the school’s Shared Decision Making governing body, say teachers on the committee view them as outsiders. “It just seemed it was very hard to make even little changes and move the school forward,” Josephson said.

The teachers union’s building representative refused to comment, referring questions to the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association leadership.

“I have the sense that the teachers by and large are interested in working for reform and working with anybody who wants to work with them,” said Sam Carmen, the association’s executive director.

“My guess is that if there’s some tension, it’s because teachers were left out of the process,” said Carmen, who was planning to meet with leaders of the parents group Monday.

But the parents aren’t the only ones who have noticed problems at the school. Principal Washabaugh said she was informed earlier this month by officials from UWM’s School of Education that they would no longer send field students or student teachers to Hartford.

Washabaugh said the officials told her that the environment in many of the classrooms was not a conducive setting for training prospective teachers. She said she was told that UWM was interested in returning when the school’s problems had been worked out.

“We sit on the campus of UWM,” Washabaugh said. “Shouldn’t we, with their help, be the best public school there is?”

Washabaugh, who said she has faced resistance to her efforts to improve the school from some teachers, supports the parents in their efforts to revamp the school’s program even though it could mean that she would no longer be the principal.

One new teacher, who asked that her name not be used, said the tension at Hartford was so thick that she noticed it almost immediately when she arrived in the fall.

Please do not cut following two graphsBoth Washabaugh and the parents say that they are in no way attempting to bash the teachers at Hartford. “I know we have some excellent, top-of-the- line teachers here,” Washabaugh said. “They need an atmosphere in which they can blossom.”

Brooks, one of the parents, compared efforts to improve the school to that of a parent shopping for a pair of winter shoes for their child. “Parents want the best,” he said. “They don’t want just any shoes, they want the warmest pair.”

Copyright 1995

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