Friday, May 23, 2008

Parents Alarmed That Middletown's Macdonough School May Close


Courant Staff Writer

May 13, 2008


— With one hand pressing her 3-month-old baby to her chest and her other handing out fliers to passing parents, Izzi Greenberg waged a battle to keep the doors of Macdonough Elementary School open Monday.

"Are you coming to the council meeting tomorrow?" Greenberg, executive director of the North End Action Team, asked a parent in front of the Spring Street school Monday afternoon. "Here, did you get one?" she asked, thrusting a flier at another woman with a kid in tow.

Activists like Greenberg and parents have grown increasingly alarmed at talk that the board of education might shutter Macdonough because of the city's budget crunch. It's a move they said would deal a blow to the North End and guillotine a campus that serves some of the city's most disadvantaged children.

Closing Macdonough is one of three options the board of education is weighing as it faces a possible $3.2 million gap between what the superintendent requested in funding and the $69.3 million Mayor Sebastian Giuliano allotted the district in his March budget proposal, said Ted Raczka, the board's chairman.

The other two options are closing the sixth-grade-only Keigwin Annex, layoffs and cost-cutting across the district.

The board will know more after tonight, when the common council sets a city and school budget. Raczka said the district could save $1 million a year by closing Macdonough, which he said was singled out because, with an enrollment of 224 students, it's the smallest school in the district.

"Do I want to close any school? No. Closing schools is not what I got involved with the school board to do," said Raczka, who praised Macdonough but said there was a 60 percent chance it would close.

"But I'm almost $3.2 million short, and something is going to have to be done. So what's the least detrimental to the district as a whole?"

That does not satisfy parents, activists, or even Giuliano, who mentors Macdonough students and said the board should mothball Keigwin before it considers closing Macdonough.

He said it would be "irresponsible" to take "the most disadvantaged kids in the system and bus them all over town, instead of going to a neighborhood school that provides them with the services they need."

Macdonough has long been a point of pride for North End residents. Housed in a two-story brick building with a stone archway that proclaims it was built in 1924, it is one of the city's last true neighborhood schools, where parents still stroll down the block to pick up their kids.

The school also serves a high number of minorities and low-income students. This year, 68 percent of the student body are minorities and 77 percent qualified for free or reduced-price lunches.

That makes having a school that's close by of paramount importance to neighborhood parents, said Greenberg of NEAT. "Low-income people may not have access to transportation," she said, "so it's important that we have a school that's walkable and accessible."

Its neighborhood appeal aside, though, Macdonough is also one of the district's lowest-performing schools. Last year, it tested at or near the bottom in the district on the Connecticut Mastery Test in math, reading and writing.

Given that, Macdonough supporters like Greenberg acknowledge that some parents might support closing the school and busing students to higher-performing campuses.

But they also argue that Macdonough is on the cusp of a turnaround. They praised Jon Romeo, the principal hired this year, as high energy and innovative, and they said the board of education should lend the school support.

"They should be devising a plan to improve the school," said Ed Corvo, a parent who has twin sons who attend Macdonough. "Not walk away from it."

Ariel Santos echoed similar sentiments as he waited outside Macdonough Monday afternoon for his son and daughter to emerge. A repairman in Hartford, Santos recently moved to a house across the street from the campus.

As he clutched Greenberg's flyer, which proclaimed "The Future of Macdonough School is in Danger!", Santos reflected on how his kids had learned more at Macdonough in eight months than they had in Hartford schools over the course of years.

"They've been good to my kids," said Santos of the school's teachers. "I don't want to see the school close."

The common council meets tonight at 6 in the council chambers at city hall.

Contact Charles Proctor at

Copyright © 2008, The Hartford Courant

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