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Poverty Stricken City Launches School Reforms

Connecticut, home to some of the wealthiest and most destitute towns in the country, has the nation’s largest student achievement gap, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

This gap is most severe in Bridgeport, Conn., one of the poorest cities in the United States based on the percentage of children living at or below the federal poverty line. In Bridgeport Public Schools, fewer than half of the 21,000 students are proficient in math and reading, according to the Connecticut Department of Education, and the high school graduation rate is 55 percent.

To step up efforts to find solutions, Baptist faith leaders in Bridgeport organized the Education Empowerment Summit on April 10, to start a citywide discussion about education reform. The summit brought together state Commissioner of Education Stefan Pryor, Bridgeport Superintendent Paul Vallas, Mayor Bill Finch, and other city and state officials to create a coalition around improving Bridgeport’s education system.

As part of the effort, Vallas is creating new programs, such as restructuring high schools into smaller academies. “What we see in urban communities across the country are school systems that set kids and adults up to fail,” Vallas said during the summit. His plans include expanding summer school, purchasing laptops for high schools students, and increasing teacher diversity by recruiting more candidates from historically black colleges. The district will also open three new science magnet high schools and a military academy in the fall, as part of a high school transformation plan to raise graduation rates.

The coalition formed during the summit will continue to meet to create action plans around supporting school reform, says Jeri Powell, state director of the Great New England Public Schools Alliance, a nonprofit education reform group formed through the national political lobbying organization StudentsFirst. “In order for true transformative change to take root, we need everyone at the table,” Powell says. “The key focus is making sure the resources that are needed for the classroom are getting to the classroom.”

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