Dunbar to be invited to Commissioner’s Network

Paul Laurence Dunbar School, Bridgeport

HARTFORD — A state budget gap that forced existing members of the state’s so-called Commissioner’s Network Schools to get less funding than they were originally promised — and a continuing state deficit that seems to put regular education funding in question — has not stopped Gov. Dannel Malloy from pledging to add more schools to the network.

One of those schools would be Dunbar School on Bridgeport’s East Side. A chronically-low performing school, Dunbar has been threatened with closure more than once over the past four years as the district struggled with a stagnant budget. Parents fought and won to keep it open.

Friday, Malloy announced that his upcoming biennial budget proposal will include an expansion of the network, which works to improve the state’s lowest performing schools and as a result narrow the largest-in-the-nation achievement gap.

The state Department of Education plans to “invite” six schools in to the network in the 2013-14 school year. Actually, the state more or less required Bridgeport’s participation in 2013-14 as part of its agreement to “loan” the district $3.5 million to close a 2011-12 budget gap.

Bridgeport’s Curiale School is one of four schools in the state in the network now. Last month, the state Board of Education was told the atmosphere at all four schools have improved but that improving student achievement is still very much a work in progress. Curiale received $1.3 million in extra funding, help from the state and the University of Connecticut, and just won state bonding for physical improvements. Because of the state’s fiscal woes, however, it has been asked to not spend $180,000 of the $1.3 million.

Malloy is proposing an additional $14.1 million over the biennium to the program statewide.

“For too long, we failed to bring about meaningful reform in our state’s lowest performing schools. The Commissioner’s Network is changing that by directing more resources to our students and making other meaningful changes to ensure that students have every available opportunity to succeed,” Malloy said in a prepared statement.

Commissioner of Education Stefan Pryor said the additional support will give the schools more resources and flexibility to improve academically.

Dunbar has 312 students in grades K-8 and, after Curiale, was one of the worst performing schools in the district and state. When the state began ranking schools based on performance, Dunbar was one of six “focus” schools in the district. Others include Black Rock, Batalla, Columbus, Johnson and Tisdale. On a new performance index developed by the state, which takes into account all student test scores, Dunbar scored a 38.3 which means all students are just above basic. A 100 percent score would mean all students score at goal on the Connecticut Mastery Test.

In addition to Dunbar, other schools invited to join the network next year include Briggs High School in Norwalk, Crosby High School and Walsh Elementary School in Waterbury, DiLoreto Magnet Elementary School in New Britain, and Windham Middle School .

All the new schools will develop committees to develop turnaround plans that face state review and approval in the  spring.

Linda Lambeck