State wins grant to shake up weak schools

Some of Connecticut’s lowest-performing public schools could qualify for up to $2 million by agreeing to undergo major shake-ups under a $25.7 million federal stimulus grant announced Thursday.

To be eligible, the schools would have to take steps such as replacing principals, overhauling curriculum, hiring new teachers, or converting to charter schools.

Gov. M. Jodi Rell announced the award of the federal School Improvement Grants, saying the money will be used to turn around schools serving some of the state’s poorest children.

“While Connecticut has some of the highest performing schools in the world, we also have schools that serve large populations of children who live in poverty, resulting in one of the largest achievement gaps in the nation,” the governor said in a press release.

Low-income and minority children have consistently lagged behind more affluent and white students on statewide and national tests of reading and mathematics.

Five school districts are eligible to apply for the awards, along with the regional education agency ACES in North Haven and Stamford Academy, a charter school. The districts include Hartford, New Haven, New Britain, Bridgeport and Windham.

In addition to hiring new or additional staff members, schools might use the money to extend the school day, reduce class sizes or provide extra training for teachers. One possibility would be to close a school and send students to other higher-achieving schools.

“These are major restructurings they have to agree to,” said Thomas Murphy, a spokesman for the State Department of Education. “They have to do a real turnaround to transform the school.”

In Hartford, officials have already identified six of the district’s 47 public schools as possible candidates for the stimulus grants, said David Medina, a spokesman for the school district.