Stamford charter school hopes to open Norwalk location

A public hearing is planned for 6:30 p.m. Wednesday in City Hall, concerning the Norwalk Charter School for Excellence. (Contributed)

Updated, March 15, copy edit. Updated, 9:30 p.m.: Quote clarified. 

NORWALK, Conn. – A Stamford charter school is seeking to open a charter school in Norwalk.

A public hearing on the Norwalk Charter School for Excellence is scheduled for Wednesday evening in City Hall.

The school would “transform the educational landscape of the Norwalk region with a school that will elevate every child, family, and the community,” the application filed Aug. 15 with the state Department of Education states.

Several charter schools applied, with five moved forward to the next step, ConnCAN community organizer Toni Williams explained Saturday. Two applications for Danbury charter schools were also in the group that moved ahead.

It’s been more than four years since the state approved a new charter school, the CT Mirror reports. State law was recently clarified to make it clear that a state DoE approval does not guarantee funding, while also mandating that the DoE review charter school applications every year, the Mirror said.

Norwalk Charter School for Excellence would open in 2019 with 56 children in pre-kindergarten, 56 children in kindergarten and 56 children in first grade, the application states. The school would add a grade every year to serve pre-kindergarten through fifth grade in 2023-24.

Quentin Phipps, director of advocacy & policy for Stamford Excellence, did not reply to a Saturday email from NancyOnNorwalk.

Phipps in July posted an announcement on the Facebook page Norwalk Parents for Education, advertising a petition in support of the charter school proposals.

As of Saturday, there were no signatures on that petition.

There are 70 signatures on petition pages included with the application to the state.

Mayor Harry Rilling, the Norwalk Board of Education, the Rev. Lindsay Curtis, Norwalk Housing Authority Commissioner Deidra Davis, former Common Council member Amanda Brown, Side by Side Charter School Executive Director Matthew Nittoly, Northeast Charter Schools Network Connecticut Policy Manager Christopher Harrington and the Norwalk Branch NAACP in July submitted identical letters offering “enthusiastic support” for the Norwalk Charter School for Excellence, which are included in the application.

“There is a need for additional high-quality early public education options in Norwalk, where Norwalk Excellence intends to open to meet the challenging needs of our children,” they wrote. “… (W)e are certain Norwalk Excellence will help underserved Norwalk children attend the best high schools and colleges in the country.”

The application states:

“Norwalk Excellence is proposing a comprehensive PK-5 program, with a potential request for expansion to include a middle school model upon renewal. While serving as an independent and self-sufficient public charter school entity, Norwalk Excellence will be affiliated with the Stamford Charter School for Excellence (SCSE, Stamford Excellence) as both schools will be modeled after the highly successful Bronx Charter School for Excellence (BCSE, Bronx Excellence), named a 2012 National Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education.

“Norwalk Excellence will also be informed by the two years of operation and lessons learned by Stamford Excellence of implementing the model successfully in Connecticut. Norwalk Excellence will enrich this model to one that is more relevant to the students and families of Norwalk, while offering the community an enhanced educational option based on a nationally recognized, evidence-based, and successful program. Norwalk Excellence will duplicate many of the key design elements, strategies, and best practices that have proven successful, particularly for students who have struggled in traditional district schools. The program is designed specifically to address the individualized needs of the students and promote maximum achievement.”


There was nothing on the city’s website or on the Norwalk Public Schools website Saturday to indicate that there is a public hearing Wednesday.

That’s because it’s a state DoE hearing, Williams said.

The hearing is at 6 p.m. Wednesday in the City Hall community room. Williams said there is a hearing Tuesday evening in Danbury for a Danbury charter school.

ConnCAN is not involved with organizing the hearing but she is working to alert parents to speak, Williams said, explaining, “I am reaching out to some parents and residents in Norwalk to attend and also support more options in Norwalk.”

Tours of the Stamford Charter School for Excellence are available Monday and Tuesday, Phipps said in an email forwarded by Williams. Curtis is also leading a tour on March 20.

Curtis in an email wrote:

“Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it.

“Our wonderful city, Norwalk, is seeing great growth and progress and we need to be leaders in ensuring equity for all of those we serve.

“I proudly serve Norwalk ACTS, the leading partnership of over 100 civic leaders, educators and organizations working collectively to achieve the mission of enriching and improving the lives and futures of all Norwalk’s children from cradle to career.  I believe ALL children have the right to a high quality education to prepare them for success as adults.

“A few years ago, I was introduced to Dr. Charlene Reid, the executive director and CEO of Excellence Community Schools.  She invited me to Bronx Charter School for Excellence, a Blue Ribbon School in the Parkchester area of the Bronx.  I was impressed seeing hundreds of students that reminded me of the children of Norwalk; all of whom were engaged in their academics and sharing their plans for college.  I wondered what if we had a school like this in Norwalk…

“Excellence Community Schools have been working hard to open Norwalk Charter School for Excellence.  We need your help in making Norwalk Excellence a reality.   I’m personally inviting you to join me in touring Stamford Charter School For Excellence on March 20th. I want you to experience with your own eyes, and see why Norwalk Excellence would be a great addition to our Norwalk educational community.”


Board of Education Chairman Mike Barbis on Saturday said he wasn’t sure if there was a hearing this week.

“I haven’t followed it very closely as I don’t think there is much of a chance of it going far – charters are funded by the State and the State has frozen the program,” Barbis wrote.

It’s a process, Williams said. First there’s the hearing, and then the Department of Education reviews the application again.

“Then the funding doesn’t happen until 2019. That’s a different process, of funding it,” Williams said.

“As an individual, I do support charter schools,” Barbis wrote. “I do believe that all students should have choices – both within the local public school system as well outside of the local public school system.  I’ve always believed that and continue to.”

He continued, “The funding comes directly from the State – the State has not increased what they pay per charter pupil for a number of years and I don’t believe they have approved any new charters in the last few years…. Charters don’t impact NPS – financially or otherwise. We have no say in how they get approved.”


Diane Lauricella March 12, 2018 at 7:53 am

@barbis “The funding comes directly from the State…Charters don’t impact NPS – financially or otherwise”.

Something does not add up here…if State BOE funds a Charter School with our taxpayer dollars INSTEAD of sending those $$$ directly to , for example, our Norwalk BOE budget needs, how can Chairman Barbis’ statement make sense?

Elsa Peterson Obuchowski March 12, 2018 at 10:40 am

Thank you, Nancy and team, for notifying the general public about the Wednesday 6 PM public hearing, and about the existence of this application and how far it has advanced without much public notice.
It would have been a shame if the only people who knew about the hearing were those wanting to speak in favor of this plan.
When Mr. Barbis says “We have no say in how [charter schools] get approved,” he means the Board of Education has no say, is that right? Or does “we” mean we as citizens have no say?

Bob Welsh March 12, 2018 at 1:33 pm

I share Diane’s question. I’ve read of numerous examples in other states where charter schools drained badly needed resources from public schools. Why is this not a concern in Norwalk and in CT?

If the state will pay for charter schools but won’t increase or decrease Norwalk’s ECS funding, would a raft of new charter schools accomplish more state funding for Norwalk?

Debora Goldstein March 12, 2018 at 2:38 pm

If going down this road, the City of Norwalk ought to be sure there is a contingency plan in place. Not all charters succeed.

The Norwalk BOE will also have to be aware of the demands they impose on the public school system. Often charters will borrow/share with public systems to support learning in areas where the charter doesn’t have the infrastructure (think athletic fields, for example).

There is also the possibility of cherry-picking high performing students or deselecting those with special needs, leaving the public schools with additional expenses, and artificially deflated performance on test scores.

Nonpartisan March 12, 2018 at 10:05 pm

I have spent a lot of time in both public and charter schools. In nyc they are a major part of the solution ( thank you Giuliani)

Charter schools have an advantage over public schools in that

1- they can require parental involvement as a requirement for enrollment
2- they are not bound to archaic union work rules or salary requirements.
3- they create competition- which is always beneficial to the consumer ( students and taxpayers)
4- they do this while still bound to state ed requirements.

Go go go

Sue Haynie March 12, 2018 at 11:52 pm

Charter schools Are public schools and they offer parent choice. Norwalk Excellence would be educating Norwalk students in Norwalk schools, easing over-crowding.

Norwalk Excellebce wiill also offer many perks, things like longer school days and Saturday Academies which traditional public schools simply can’t afford to do.

@non-partisan brings up valid points too.

Claire schoen March 13, 2018 at 10:55 am

Norwalk has had success with a charter school in the form of Side by Side – why not see what this proposal can offer? In terms of funding, it’s simply coming from another bucket at the state level – at the end of the day it’s our tax dollars, but the charter dollars don’t take away from existing programs in the NPS system.

Donna Smirniotopoulos March 13, 2018 at 12:54 pm

Some charter schools outperform local public schools. And some do not. Achievement First is a good charter school company. In Hartford, however, they were put on probation due to excessive suspensions and inadequate teacher certifications. Reading the tea leaves, one might suspect that the powerful state teachers unions are uncomfortable with an alternative route to gainful employment as a teacher in the state of CT—one that does not force teachers to cough up $1000 of their take home pay to feed the beast.

South Norwalk parents will not get a Neighborhood primary school once the school projects are completed. Maybe Achievement First type charter school would serve this area well. Charter schools have demonstrated their usefulness in urban areas.

The complaints against Charter Schools coming from the NEA claim the children are at a disadvantage, a claim I find disingenuous at best. Charter schools have a line of accountability from teachers to students and parents that does not exist in public schools.

Another Opinion March 13, 2018 at 1:47 pm

Per today Hour article on the story, . . . “Norwalk Public Schools is in its fifth year as an Alliance District, making it one of the 30 lowest performing districts in the state, and noted performance gaps among subgroups of students who are English Language Learners, who have a disability and who are of a minority.

These facts highlight the need for more equitable and high quality options for the families in Norwalk,” the application stated.”

While conflicted on Charter schools as a whole, I do agree that city statewide schools such as NPS will have ever growing challenges with closing achievement gaps due to the influx of ELL students and will be ever dependent on higher funding measures mainly through higher property taxes. As such, would it make sense for Connecticut, a sanctuary state, to have a statewide response and coordinate inner city ELL programs to build efficiencies and lessen the drain on city resources? Perhaps it is time to start rethinking the local response to a large funding mandate in the years ahead. Of course, this may also carry unintended legal challenges but at least worthy of discussion.

Nonpartisan March 13, 2018 at 10:36 pm

@ another opinion

Why do we have to have sanctuary policies in norwalk?

Do we have to have illegal apartments that strain city resources without “paying their fair share”


Debora Goldstein March 14, 2018 at 11:51 am

And with regard to whether these schools are taking resources from public school systems, it happens directly and indirectly. The trend has been for charters to seek space-sharing in public facilities and to sue public school districts for shared access to facilities, because they cannot fund facilities on their own.


The National Charter School Resource Center says this in this report (https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwiihv2fjuzZAhUQ0FMKHXoCCN4QFggnMAA&url=https%3A%2F%2Fcharterschoolcenter.ed.gov%2Fsites%2Fdefault%2Ffiles%2FFinding%2520Space.pdf&usg=AOvVaw1BCqXasqzDlkyTYig4K2tV):

…shared facilities provide charter schools and their students with access to
amenities – such as gyms, libraries, and cafeterias – that charter schools may otherwise have found
too expensive. This perceived advantage is reflected and validated by data on access to amenities
which show that a higher percentage of charter schools in district-owned spaces have playgrounds,
athletic/play felds, gymnasiums, full-service kitchen facilities, and libraries on the school grounds
than charter schools in non-district owned facilities.9 Shared space can also eliminate the need to
focus on facility-related issues like maintenance and repairs…

And this report from the National Conference of State Legislatures says (https://www.ncsl.org/documents/educ/CharterSchoolFacilities.pdf)

Sharing School District Facilities
An emerging trend in charter school policy is to improve charter school access to school district buildings that are either abandoned or have unused space. Using existing district buildings often provides a charter school with a facility designed for educational purposes at a much lower cost than privately leasing or purchasing a facility.
One policy some states have adopted is called “right of first refusal.” Under this policy, charter schools have a right to request to use vacant or underused public buildings before the buildings can be used for any other purpose. Unless school districts have a valid reason for rejecting a charter school’s request to use a district building, the charter school is allowed to occupy it. Other state policy options include limiting the amount of rent a school district can charge a charter school for a district building and requiring districts to offer long-term leases to charter schools.

Using Operating Funds for Facilities
When charter schools fail to acquire adequate facility funding, they are forced to redirect some of their general per-pupil allocation to pay for facility maintenance and construction. This results in less funding for instruction and support services for students compared to traditional public schools that have more access to local facility funds. The amount of operating revenue spent on facilities decreases when charter schools are located in district-owned buildings, but is highest when a charter school has purchased its own facility.
Texas, the average charter school spends an estimated $849
per student from operating funds on facility needs; this
amount is enough to hire four additional teachers.

Donna Smirniotopoulos March 14, 2018 at 6:39 pm

Excellent research, Debora. Charter Schools certainly present a conundrum for parents, students and public school districts. School choice is particularly valued in poorer, more urban districts with greater minority enrollment. For many families, access to a charter school is the closest they will never get their kids to an elite private education, which is available to the privileged few. When I moved from a suburban public school district where we had been subjected to forced busing to a private day school, I was puzzled to hear more than one girl express enthusiastic support for busing “to redress past wrongs”. Her words. The politicians whose daughters were my classmates were enthusiastic supporters of public education. But it was a “good for you, not for me” approach. I’m surprised DeVos is such a lightening rod for not having sent her kids to public school. This is the norm in these circles, not the exception. But as Debora has noted, providing choice without decimating the public schools is a delicate balance, but maybe one worth investing in for the sake of those who can neither afford to move to a higher performing district nor the price of private school tuition.

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