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West Hartford Public Schools Honored as Cornerstone of Regional ‘Open Choice’ Program
West Hartford was one of five districts to participate in Project Concern when it was first launched in 1966.
Submitted by Amanda Falcone, CREC
West Hartford was there when it all began. It was one of the first five Project Concern/Hartford Region Open Choice Program districts, and the school district continues to participate in the program and to support its goals.
Other founding districts include Farmington, Manchester, Simsbury, and South Windsor.
“Our partner districts should be commended for their commitment to the Open Choice program and for their desire to improve academic achievement while simultaneously teaching acceptance and understanding,” said CREC Executive Director Greg Florio. “We appreciate the districts’ efforts and look forward to continuing our partnership.”
The Open Choice program, formerly known as Project Concern, was established in 1966. It is managed by CREC, and it offers Hartford students the opportunity to attend public schools in suburban towns and suburban students the opportunity to attend public schools in Hartford. These opportunities are at no cost to families, and the goals of the program are to improve academic achievement; reduce racial, ethnic, and economic isolation; and provide all children with a choice of high-quality educational programs.
In West Hartford, the conversation has shifted over the past 50 years. It is no longer about determining the benefits of an integrated education for minority or non-minority students, but about the rich benefits of an integrated education for all students.
In its first year with Project Concern, West Hartford enrolled 79 students who lived in Hartford. Enrollment in Project Concern/Open Choice grew steadily and peaked in the mid 1970s when the district enrolled 384 Hartford students.
Today, the district enrolls 166 students through the Open Choice program.
West Hartford Public Schools says its participation in the Open Choice program has positively impacted the district and the West Hartford community. Students of different racial, ethnic, and economic backgrounds bring different points of view that prompt robust dialogue and debate, and interactions and relationships promote understanding of racial and cultural differences and help to fulfill a moral and ethical responsibility to make local society and global communities a better place for everyone.
Always looking toward the future, West Hartford continues to examine and organize its systems, practices, and policies to promote awareness, inclusion, and equity in a number of ways. For example, the school district created the position of “Director of Diversity Advancement”, and that employee works to enhance the Open Choice program. It also established an Equity and Diversity Council to support and sustain a diverse educational community that is inclusive and equitable by examining, developing, and improving systemic practices, programs, and policies, and it recently engaged in a needs assessment to better understand how it can support educators and students enrolled through the Open Choice program. The assessment also looked at how the district can prioritize the use of available grant funding.
For West Hartford, being an Open Choice district hasn’t always been easy. Past and present accounts of West Hartford’s participation suggest that the school district had to overcome challenges, such as the negative perceptions that some suburban, white families held about Hartford students and families of color. There were also transportation and communication concerns.
Today, West Hartford’s schools believe diversity is their strength, and it is clear that the district worked hard to overcome those early challenges to reduce stereotypes, increase academic achievement, and strengthen relationships across demographic and geographic lines. Technological advancements have also helped the district.
“Over the past 50 years, West Hartford feels fortunate to have supported, nurtured, and educated hundreds of students from Hartford, and we look forward to impacting the lives of so many more,” said Tom Moore, Superintendent of West Hartford Public Schools.
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