Nationwide we are celebrating National Charter Schools Week, and noting how far the charter movement has come since the passage of the first charter law in 1991. But locally we are on the cusp of celebrating something equally as important, with the potential to change lives right here in our proverbial backyard. For the first time in four years, two new, high-quality charter options are being proposed to serve kids in our state: Danbury Prospect Charter School and Norwalk Charter School for Excellence. These would be the first new charter schools to open in Connecticut since 2014.

Charter schools have changed thousands of lives in our state through the transformative power of a great education. These schools have worked hard to meet and exceed state standards, all while benefiting from the flexibility of embracing unique approaches to learning. And these schools continue to work wonders for their students.

On the 2016-17 SBAC exams, more than 80 percent of charter students outpaced their district counterparts in English language arts and math. Seventy percent of students who attend Connecticut’s charters identify as low-income, and more than 80 percent identify as Black or Latino.

And in the last few years, three charter schools were named Schools of Distinction by the state. These kids prove that when given access to a high-quality education, ALL kids — regardless of their race, socioeconomic status, ZIP code or parents income — possess the potential for greatness.

We are also beginning to see the cyclical benefits of a great charter education. Young adults who were among the first children to be educated in these “laboratories of learning” are now returning to those very schools as educators and even parents. Many have become civically engaged, advocating on behalf of charter schools. And scores more are finding success in college, graduate school, career and beyond. These same kids who came from communities and backgrounds where the odds were stacked against them are now thriving, thanks in part to the strong foundation they received in a charter school.

And later this year, the Connecticut State Board of Education will have the opportunity to continue this trend by voting in favor of the initial certificates for Danbury Prospect and Norwalk Excellence. Together, these schools have the potential to bring a new option to two of Connecticut’s fastest-growing cities, and to contribute to the fabric of educational excellence for our state.

Danbury Prospect would be the city’s first-ever public charter school, and one of the only schools in the region to implement the highly renowned International Baccalaureate (IB) model. Danbury is also Connecticut’s fastest-growing city, and with that growth comes an unfortunate side effect: severe overcrowding of schools. Danbury Prospect would aim to alleviate that burden on existing schools, all while providing a wonderful option for city families.

Norwalk Excellence would be the sister school to Stamford Charter School for Excellence. Together, these schools would be affiliated with the already successful Excellence Community Schools network of K-8 academies throughout New York. Norwalk is another of the state’s fastest-growing cities, and is also facing extreme overcrowding among public schools. While one high-quality charter option exists in the city with Side by Side Charter School in South Norwalk, the addition of Norwalk Excellence would provide yet another quality choice for families and students.

What’s most important, however, is that families are demanding this option both in Norwalk and Danbury. At public hearings in both cities, we heard impassioned cries from potential students and families, as well as members of both communities. Together, their message was loud and clear: we want this choice in our city.

As the charter community has grown, so has the ever-increasing demand for these schools, and the cities of Danbury and Norwalk are no exception. We recently learned that in the state of Connecticut, the number of names on charter school waitlists has swelled from just under 7,000 names in 2016 to more than 13,000 names in 2018. These numbers are a testament to the type of education these schools are providing, and the fact that charters are a choice that continues to be fueled by two things: family demand and undeniable results.

As we reflect on National Charter Schools Week, we do so with renewed hope that locally, we will soon have even more reason to celebrate with the addition of these excellent new schools for the families of Danbury and Norwalk to serve more families and kids across our state.

Yamuna (Yam) Menon is Connecticut State Director, Northeast Charter Schools Network.

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