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Capital Prep Charter School Middletown decides against ex-juvenile detention center location

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By: Cassandra Day via The Middletown Press

MIDDLETOWN — The group behind a proposed Capital Preparatory Middletown Charter School said Friday it will no longer pursue the idea of building a facility at the former state-run Connecticut Juvenile Training School, a location that members of the public opposed.

“We are sensitive to the fact that there are children and families who are dealing with the institutional harm incurred through CJTS,” a statement said. 

“While we believe that transformation is possible on all levels,” the statement continued, “we are not tone deaf to the needs and perspectives of the community we want to serve, and acknowledge the painful symbolism of this building.”

Just a few days remain for members of the public to submit testimony on the proposal to bring a Capital Preparatory charter school to one of two locations in Middletown.

The Connecticut State Department of Education recently held a public hearing at Vinal Technical High School to solicit feedback from the community about an application for a social justice-oriented school that eventually would serve students in kindergarten through second grade and grades 6-12.

Individuals with concerns about the charter school coming to town and those who oppose the plan have taken to Facebook, posting their opinions on various local pages.

Mark Davis, father of children at Farm Hill elementary and Beman middle schools, attended the meeting. He and some 14 others — mostly parents, but also teachers in nearby schools — began meeting afterward to discuss the matter, and to ask the state to delay or reject the application, he said.

Now, about 70 people comprise the group, Davis said, many who weren’t aware of the hearing.

The meeting was “very, very heavily attended,” CSDE Communications Director Eric Scoville said, by residents, stakeholders and students from other Capital Prep schools.

The institution has facilities in Bridgeport as well as Harlem and the Bronx, N.Y.

Such hearings are held, according to Scoville, when a charter school application scores highly and looks as though it is going to be approved.

During the evening, Davis said, cheerleaders from other Capital Prep locations conducted a sort of “pep rally” during the hearing.

Because so many people associated with other Capital Prep schools were there, residents worried they wouldn’t be able to offer their input before time ran out, he added.

Because of that, Davis asked the chairwoman whether some city residents waiting to provide testimony could be moved up the list.

About six Middletown community members were allowed to speak, “to balance that as much as we possibly could,” Scoville said. 

Davis is among those who felt there was insufficient time between when the hearing was noticed in the newspaper, Feb. 9, and the Feb. 15 hearing date. It was held in person and the discussion was not livestreamed or recorded, according to Scoville.

“We are aware of the complaints out there, and we’ve been receiving them, so this will go before the board and they’ll determine what the next steps will be,” Scoville added.

Bishop William J. McKissick Jr., president of the Middletown Area Ministerial Alliance, wrote a letter to The Press Feb. 20, explaining that traditional public schools may not work for everyone.

“The prospect … has brought hope to many of our parishioners because they will now have a choice of where to educate their children. Choice is nothing new in Middletown,” McKissick wrote.

“We have four high schools, and yet there never seemed to be a reason to rally an entire community to support school choice. Students need that opportunity,” he said.

McKissick cited disparities in suspensions and chronic absenteeism among Black and Hispanic students in Middletown schools, as well as children in those groups being “more than twice as likely to not finish high school on time compared to white students.”

The Capital Prep model, McKissick wrote, accepts scholars in all grades, the majority of whom are at least three grade levels behind in math and English language arts.

These schools “have a documented history of advancing those students a year and a half per year, resulting in 100 percent of their graduates being accepted to four-year colleges in each school over the last 18 years,” he said.

Bridgeport Capital Preparatory School Head of Schools Steve Perry is the contact person for the application. Attempts to reach him were unsuccessful.

Many locals were also frustrated that the hearing took place only a day after the Middletown Board of Education meeting, where they could have asked questions, Davis said.

A number of well-known individuals are listed as founding members of the proposition, including heads of several churches, a representative from the Middlesex County NAACP, and Middletown Board of Education.

“This model is very much needed in Middletown, and interestingly, it is where Capital Prep was born,” the application said. “Capital Prep Middletown will be a replication of the existing schools run by a nationally acclaimed, minority-led charter management organization,” it continued.

Middletown “exceeds the poverty levels of neighboring counties (12.3 percent versus 10 percent) and the state as a whole (9.8 percent). Both the median household income ($62,022) and the per capita income ($38,345) are less than household and per capita incomes in surrounding areas and in the state overall,” the application said.

Two sites were originally mentioned as possibilities: land between Cross Street AME Zion and Shiloh Baptist churches off West Street, and the former state-run Connecticut Juvenile Training School on Silver Street, which closed in 2018.

Lorenzo Jones, co-executive director of the Katal Center for Equity, Health, and Justice in Hartford, released a statement Feb. 15 addressing CJTS, which, he wrote, “has a documented and notorious history of neglect and abuse of young people, ranging from the use of chemical agents, excessive restraint, and solitary confinement.”

Also, a Change.org petition was recently set up by Kasia Lekarczyk, a Middletown mother of two young children, one who attends a city elementary school. 

“CPrep will funnel out the resources from the public schools to CPrep, and even a few students leaving Middletown Public Schools for CPrep, and taking funding allocated for them, will significantly change the financial landscape for that school,” she said Friday.

If even one student leaves a city school, Lekarczyk said she believes it will create a “ripple effect” at their former school.

“The financial impact of money ‘following the child’ to a charter school affects the remaining public school students,” she said. “When multiple students leave a public school, taking money that had been budgeted for their education with them, the effects can shake an entire school’s foundations.”

Also, Lekarczyk said, charter schools “inadequately” serve children with special needs.

Daniel Long, a city resident and research scientist at the NEAG School of Education at the University of Connecticut, analyzed CSDE data. He has children who attend Macdonough and Beman.

He stressed that his findings do not represent the opinion of NEAG or UConn.

Long’s data suggests that only 14 percent of students meet benchmarks on at least one college readiness exam versus 15 percent in Bridgeport and 36 percent in the state, he wrote.

Among Black students, Long wrote in his assessment, Capital Prep Harbor performs about equal to the state average, and about equal to city public schools on the Smarter Balanced Assessments for third- to eighth-grade students, as well as the percent of eleventh- and twelfth-grade students meeting the benchmark on college readiness entrance exams. 

Long, who is Latino, said Thursday that Capital Prep doesn’t “offer a model that will improve the academic performance of Black and Latino students because students in their schools perform equal to, or worse than, similar Middletown students.”

Many have said on social media that they’re curious about local student enrollment. Scoville said entry is not exclusive to Middletown, and each eligible applicant will be offered a placement or be put on a waiting list through a random lottery.

First preference, after the first year, will be given to returning students, who will automatically be assigned a space at the school to return, he said, while second preference will be given to siblings of students already enrolled or siblings of a student whose name is drawn in the lottery.

Third preference are children of employees, up to 15 percent of the total school’s population. Fourth will be for students in the community; and fifth preference will be for Connecticut students outside Middletown.

Comments may be emailed to felicia.canty@ct.gov or Robert.kelly@ct.gov until Monday. The board will take up the issue Tuesday at its office, 450 Columbus Blvd. in Hartford, and is expected to make a decision that evening.

Proceedings are expected to be livestreamed on the CSDE website or CT-N Connecticut Network.

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