Trailblazers Academy

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Stamford, Conn.
(203) 977-5690

Objective: Provide education and other services to at-risk middle school youth.

In a Nutshell: Trailblazers Academy is a community-based organization charter school for 108 students who have struggled in mainstream schools and benefit from a smaller setting. Trailblazers also hosts a five-week summer school session for students and runs a free summer camp for its students and 200 other disadvantaged 12- to-15-year-olds.

Where It Happens: The state gave the academy a large space (eight classrooms, a lunch room and a large lecture hall) in the J.M. Wright Technical School, a vocational-technical high school.

When It Began: September 1999.

Who Started It: Domus Foundation, a community-based nonprofit agency founded in 1972 as a group home for boys. It now runs an independent living program for employed and college-enrolled foster-care children, a juvenile justice center and a training institute for youth workers across the state.

Who Runs It: Mike Duggan, executive director, ran a CBO school for the Brooklyn, N.Y., nonprofit Good Shepherd Services before coming to Domus in 1991. Associate Executive Director Mark Redmond ran St. Christopher’s residential treatment center in Westchester, N.Y., until 1998.

Early Obstacles: Connecticut funds its charter schools through the state legislature on a strict per-pupil allotment that does not favor a student-to-teacher ratio as small as Trailblazer Academy, which has a limit of 12 youths per class.

How They Overcame Them: Domus convinced the Stamford school district to pay for all teachers, education assistants and their benefits. “We [argued that] certain children in the mainstream schools were not succeeding and that a different approach was required to educate and help them, and eventually the board understood and did the right thing,” said Duggan.

Cost: The annual budget is $1.6 million.

Who Pays: The Connecticut Department of Education pays $756,000 and the Stamford Board of Education pays approximately $734,000. The after-school program, which provides athletic and educational activities until 8:30 p.m., and the summer program are funded through a $330,000 U.S. Department of Justice COPS grant. An annual golf outing and fund-raising letter campaigns help pay for other expenses.

Who Else Has Kicked In: The academy raises about $80,000 each year from foundations and groups including the YMCA of Stamford and the Fairfield Foundation. The Stamford Police Department provides school resource officers.

Youth Served: Middle-school students from Stamford, more than 90 percent of whom are minorities. Parents choose whether to send their children to the academy — the mainstream schools cannot assign students there.

Youth Turn-On:
Students get the individual attention they need to succeed in school, and the school has started a competitive athletic program.

Youth Turn-Off: The academy has a school uniform and a longer school day than the mainstream schools.

What Still Gets in the Way: Trailblazer’s COPS funding will end in December, and the difference will have to be met through massive fund-raising. Duggan says the academy is applying for more federal and foundation money, but it will not have school resource officers on staff for the next school year.