WNPR

Parents, School Board Left Out of Decision to Move School for Gifted

Apr 5, 2015

The district is now seeking parent input, but some parents said it's too late.

The Renzulli School for the Gifted has been touted as a success story in Hartford, but now the city is moving the school to another location.

Three school communities are being affected by Renzulli’s move to the Rawson School, yet no parents were involved in this decision, and neither were the School Governance Councils nor the Board of Education. 

Oliver Barton, an associate superintendent who is overseeing the move, said the district didn't involve parents or the school board because “it’s a district-level decision.”

“The Board of Ed is responsible for policy decisions, not decisions of management or administration,” Barton said.  

Parent Worries 

Parents from both schools are worried about the move. Christin Goff has a son with autism who attends Renzulli.

"What they're doing is they're sending a message that parents don't matter, students don't matter and the gifted and talented do not matter," Goff said.

As the district explains the decision, enrollment is up at Global Communications Academy, and it’s down at Renzulli. So the district is shuffling a preschool currently housed at Global – the Hartford Pre-Kindergarten Magnet School – to Renzulli’s current building on Cornwall Street. Renzulli will be a separate school housed at Rawson down the street.

Budget problems are also a factor. Moving to Rawson will allow Renzulli to keep all its teachers. If Renzulli had stayed put, some teachers would have been laid-off, according to Barton.

Some services will be shared, but it remains unclear if Renzulli’s custodians will transfer to Rawson. Barton said that’s a facilities decision that will be made by that department.

Communication Woes

The decision to move the school might make sense for the district as a whole, but how Hartford came to that decision – and how that choice was communicated – is a problem for State Rep. Matt Ritter, who represents parents in that community.

Parents learned of the move through a flyer sent home in their children’s backpacks, a method that Ritter said would be acceptable it they were changing something minor, but not a school moving.

“If you’re going to move a school… you need to engage people,” Ritter said. “Communication is so important in every facet of life, particularly when you’re dealing with someone’s children. I don’t like how it was dropped on people.”

The district is now seeking parent input, but some parents said it’s too late. When the new superintendent, Beth Schiavino-Narvaez, was hired last year, she addressed concerns over community engagement in past administrations.

"I've heard many questions about [parent engagement] in this community and we wanted to make sure that we were explicit in studying the strengths and needs in that area as well," Narvaez said.

Hartford parents have a choice to send their kids to a number of different schools, but parents weren’t told about the Renzulli decision until after the choice deadline. This means that it’s too late to place their kids in another school, unless it’s the school in their neighborhood.

Barton, from the district, said the timing of the decision “is unfortunate.”

Renzulli parent Shonta Browdy said the district had talked about moving Renzulli last year, but parents were against it. It’s only been in its current building for a year.

The decision “didn’t go through any vote,” Browdy said. The School Governance Council was “created just for that.”

“We’re still getting furniture in that was purchased last year,” Browdy said. “This is the opposite of what’s supposed to happen.”

Signs reading “Save Renzulli” can be found throughout the school, and parents have started a Facebook page and Twitter hashtag around this effort.

Barton said he stands by the district’s decision to act independently.

"Change is difficult, and we're addressing the needs of a district with some 20,000 students,” he said.   

A Parent's Concern

But parent Christin Goff said that moving her son so late in the game could violate his right to receive appropriate special education services under federal law.

Her son thrives at Renzulli’s current location, because it’s quiet. She’s worried that being in a larger school, with more kids and more distractions, it could make it difficult for him to concentrate because of his autism.

As a student receiving special education services, Goff’s son has an individualized education plan, or IEP, which details services he’s supposed to receive along with various goals. Federal law requires a district to discuss with parents before a change of placement is made, such as if the district wants to move the student to another school.

Goff said she found out about the school moving two days after meeting with her son’s IEP team.

Barton said that special education services will not be altered, only the location of the services will change.

Andrew Feinstein, a special education attorney, said that a change of location could be problematic if Rawson’s environment makes it difficult for Goff’s son to learn.

“If it is a change from an appropriate environment to an inappropriate one, it is a change in placement,” Feinstein said.

There are roughly 90 kids at Renzulli this year, and only two have IEPs. Last year there were about 130 total students. 

Renzulli and Rawson teachers have also expressed frustration over their lack of involvement. Parents remain worried that this is the beginning of the end for Renzulli, and that it’s only a matter of time before it’s assimilated into Rawson.