FAIRFIELD, Conn. – Fairfield Public Schools might expand its pre-kindergarten program to Dwight School next year. Superintendent David Title hopes the move will help McKinley School move toward compliance with the state’s racial imbalance law.
“It will not get us down to the where McKinley is at the average of the rest of the district,” Title told the Board of Education Tuesday. “But I think it will get us into compliance and buy us a couple years with the state.”
Connecticut State Law says that no school can have a nonwhite student population of more than 25 percentage points above its district’s average. McKinley School had 45.7 percent minority students in 2011-2012. Fairfield’s average was 18.89 percent, making McKinley’s difference less than two points above the threshold.
Fairfield has been on notice about McKinley’s racial imbalance since 2006. Since then the school board has tried two plans to correct the issue temporarily. The first concept was an “opt-in/opt-out” program, which allowed families from McKinley’s district to apply to go to a different school, and families from other districts to request to attend McKinley.
Last year the school board decided to expand its preschool program for low-income students at Burr Elementary School, and to move McKinley’s preschool to Fairfield Warde’s Early Childhood Center. Preschool students tend to have a larger minority percentage than the rest of the elementary school, so moving students helped offset the imbalance.
Children in the Burr program also had the option of staying there through fifth-grade, which the school board hoped would boost the district’s average while bringing down McKinley’s nonwhite population. Title has proposed expanding the program to Dwight to have the same effect.
Not every student in the prekindergarten program would come from McKinley’s district, since the program is open to all Fairfield residents. But “we have not had a problem diversifying Burr,” said Anna Cutaia-Leonard, the district's elementary education director.
The school board is also considering ending the opt-out program at McKinley, and keeping just the opt-in side. The families that decided to leave McKinley were not overwhelmingly nonwhite, Title said, so the program had no effect on racial balance. The students opting-in, however, did help improve the ratio.
State Education Commissioner Stephan Pryor gave his approval to the plan, but the state Board of Education would need to sign off on it after Fairfield’s school board makes the plan official next month. But even then the idea is only a temporary solution, Title said.
“We have to get under 25 [percentage points above], but even there I think the push is to go even further,” Title said. “So the closer we can get to 15, the less chance that they’ll be at our backs.”