ISAAC attains diversity and excellence

Sixty years have passed since then U.S. Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision: "We conclude that, in the field of public education, the doctrine of 'separate but equal' has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal."

The barriers those words appeared to break down; the bright future of equal educational opportunities for minority and economically disadvantaged students those words appeared to portend, never became a reality for many and has slipped out of the grasp of many more. There is now much evidence that schools throughout the U.S. remain in or have returned to nearly total segregation.

A ProPublica investigation recently detailed, for example, many of the same schools in Tuscaloosa, Ala. that were viewed as a model of integration just a generation ago, now look "as if Brown v. Board of Education never happened."

Connecticut also remains far from a shining beacon of school integration. The New Haven-based advocacy group Connecticut Voices for Children rightfully raised alarms recently when it released a report showing the vast majority of Connecticut's charter schools are hyper-segregated, that is, have a more than 90 percent ethnic minority enrollment.

With the state's traditional public schools also continuing to reflect the highly segregated communities in which they are located, southeastern Connecticut residents should be especially proud this region is home to schools that are notable exceptions. Connecticut Voices for Children reported New London's Interdistrict School for Arts and Communication, along with the Integrated Day Charter School in Norwich, are two of only three charter schools in Connecticut meeting the highest standards of desegregation.

ISAAC's enrollment is just shy of 250 students in grades 6, 7 and 8. About 73 percent of those students, compared to 83 percent in New London's traditional public schools, are ethnic minorities.

This is mostly thanks to the group of founding parents who in 1996 envisioned a true multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-socio-economic status middle school serving 20 districts throughout the region.

As such, ISAAC's charter, approved in 1997, calls for half the school's students to be from New London and the other half to be drawn from suburban districts.

A vision alone does not necessarily translate into outstanding student achievement, but ISAAC demonstrates it's possible to have both. It attained the honor of being a School of Distinction this month in recognition of the overall progress its students have attained in all areas. In southeastern Connecticut, only Groton's Pleasant Valley School and Norwich's Thomas W. Mahan School also achieved the designation.

Executive Director Gina Fafard points to many factors for ISAAC student success. Among these are class sizes of 20 or fewer; a co-teaching model that teams regular education teachers with special education or English language learning specialists; project-focused, hands on learning; a heritage Spanish program; looping teachers through grades to strengthen teacher-student bonds; a school-based health center and a full complement of social work support and counseling.

The Connecticut Voices report yet again bolstered the one constant to debate about school reform: there are no simple solutions in education.

The report has charter school proponents reiterating that charters provide the only true educational opportunities to many disadvantaged students, while traditional public school advocates argue that state education officials are deepening the racial, ethnic and socio-economic divide with each new neighborhood-centric charter school they approve.

Desegregation alone does not lead to equalization of opportunities for all students, but Brown v. Board of Education provided a foundation upon which to build a more accepting and understanding American culture. Schools such as ISAAC are evidence the 60-year-old court decision truly can be lived.

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