Help Hamilton Avenue

FI-EditorialThere was much said at last week’s Board of Education meeting but it seemed like there were few answers in the hours of discussion about racial imbalance and facility utilization.

A new plan was offered by Superintendent William McKersie that has the full support of the district’s principals, but seems to be a bit short on specifics on how to address those two issues. Of course, any plan to address any issue is going to involve some degree of crossing your fingers and hoping that it all turns out OK, but more specifics are needed about how his plan will benefit student achievement.

Right now on the board there’s a lot of debate about compliance with the state vs. creating new magnet programs and represents a visible split among members both philosophically and politically. But where is all this talk going to lead? The clock is ticking.

What is all of this going to mean for the kids of Greenwich, especially those who most need the district’s attention as shown by the widening achievement gap this year in standardized test scores? People heard a lot about “choice” and “innovation” last week, but the word parents most want to hear is “achievement.”

It’s true that one year does not a trend make and there had been progress in shrinking the gap, but any kind of achievement gap between minority and low income students and their wealthier counterparts in town is discouraging. That’s what made some comments at last week’s meeting so striking. Has the town failed Hamilton Avenue School by not even trying?

That’s a stark way of putting it, but there’s a lot to be said and none of it good. Hamilton Avenue is one of the two schools in the district in racial imbalance, and it has also struggled with that achievement gap. Its magnet program was supposed to address that, but how could it, one parent noted, when it was never given the chance to succeed?

Parents and students in the Hamilton Avenue area have had to put up with far more than their fair share of challenges. The neighborhood’s historic school building was allowed to fall into disrepair thanks to years of neglect. The construction was besieged with incompetence, mismanagement and some of the most awful luck imaginable. But this was all supposed to be made better by the new “renaissance school” magnet program that would draw from all over the district and make Hamilton Avenue the kind of destination parents get on waiting lists for like at the International School at Dundee.

Yet it took parent Bob MacIntyre to remind us that this ballyhooed program never was implemented. Sure there were sweet enticements to students like swimming and ice skating at the Greenwich Boys and Girls Club, but former Superintendent Freund cut those years ago. That leaves the excellent Suzuki violin program, but what else? Pre-K? That’s excellent, but not enough. Mr. MacIntyre showed that promises were made that the district never even came close to delivering on for Hamilton Avenue.

The magnet program at the school has been declared a failure, but Mr. MacIntyre, whose son went through six years at Ham Ave, noted that it’s wrong to say that because it was never in place. How is anything going to work if it doesn’t get the resources and commitment to make it happen? He can’t be the only Hamilton Avenue parent to feel this way.

Much new focus is going to be on what will happen to Parkway and North Street schools, but there should be more on what will happen to Hamilton Avenue to give its students the resources and advantages they need to show they can achieve just as well as Riverside School.

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