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Excellent school series: Multicultural Magnet School

How a small but feisty school in Bridgeport, CT is overcoming the achievement gap.

By Connie Matthiessen


There is not much luxury at Multicultural Magnet School. Nestled in a cluster of buildings behind a chain link fence in a gritty corner of Bridgeport, CT, this K-8 school exhibits the frill-less utilitarianism of thousands of public schools serving poor kids across the country. The computers are old. The lockers have taken a beating. Almost all of its students qualify for free or reduced lunch.

But this word of the week — emblazoned on a colorful bulletin board with definitions in English, Spanish and Portuguese — hints at an educational philosophy in action. Though these children may not enjoy tennis courts or a “Project Adventure” gym available to the students in neighboring Fairfield, they will come away with one invaluable resource: an education to help defy the odds.

Where high achievement trumps high poverty

Located in the lowest performing urban school district in Connecticut, where one third of the children live in poverty and only 35 percent of the students are proficient, Multicultural Magnet School (MMS) stands out as a beacon of high achievement. Named a National Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education in 2007, MMS students score consistently higher than state averages (GreatSchools Rating 9). In 2011, test scores for MMS's elementary school students were more than double those of other Bridgeport elementary students and its middle schoolers scored almost three times as high as district peers.

Given the school is located in Connecticut, a state that's infamous for its educational achievement gap, makes MMS's performance particularly impressive. With the highest per capita income in the U.S., the state is a patchwork of lush bedroom communities like New Canaan (GreatSchools Rating 10) and Darien (GreatSchools Rating 10),  and hardscrabble cities like Hartford (GreatSchools Rating 2), Bridgeport (GreatSchools Rating 2), and Waterbury (GreatSchools Rating 3), where per capita income is roughly half the state average.

Bridgeport is the state's second poorest city, but it's located in wealthy Fairfield County (GreatSchools Rating 8), which a columnist called "the rhododendron-lined hedge fund capital of the universe." Not surprisingly, these extremes show up in the state's educational outcomes: the gap between test scores of low-income and minority students and their white, higher-income peers are among the highest in the nation.

So what accounts for MMS's success, given that it's located right in the center of a yawning achievement gap?

Connie Matthiessen is an associate editor at GreatSchools.

Comments from readers

"I go to this school! sure Im not rich but i get a good education. "
School entrance
Principal Helen Moran
Word of the week
"Different is dynamite"
Computer room