J. Leon Smith has joined the Center for Children’s Advocacy as a Program Attorney for the Center’s newly-created Alternative School Reform Project. Attorney Smith has been an attorney and advocate for the past 11 years, working with youth from impoverished and disadvantaged backgrounds.
Attorney Smith began his career in 2001 as a juvenile court public defender, first in Rhode Island and later in Massachusetts. He subsequently managed his own law practice devoted primarily to juvenile court advocacy and services and assistance for youth who had fallen through the cracks and could not access the aid they desperately needed.
He has experience on public policy issues in the juvenile justice system on the local and national level, and is familiar with reforms and interventions used to benefit youth in the educational system. Attorney Smith is a 1999 graduate of New England School of Law in Boston, MA.
The Center for Children’s Advocacy’s Roadmaps to Health Community Grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) supports the Center’s Alternative School Reform Project – to improve alternative education programs in Connecticut. The grant supports the Center’s work with a coalition of agencies in Bridgeport to upgrade and standardize programs that routinely provide alternative means of education for youth not attending regular high schools. The Center for Children’s Advocacy was among 18 grantees selected from more than 400 applicants.
Data released recently revealed that the gap between Connecticut's overall graduation rate and the graduation rate for economically disadvantaged students was 21 percentage points — the largest gap among all the states reporting data. The 62% graduation rate for economically disadvantaged students in Connecticut is among the worst in the country. The state has similarly abysmal graduation rates for African-American students, Latino students and students with special needs. Alternative schools in Connecticut contribute to this problem, as they impact thousands of Connecticut students, are not required to meet state education standards and have extremely low graduation rates. Educational attainment has profound effects on the health of individuals and their communities. By advocating for alternative schools that meet state education standards, the Center for Children’s Advocacy and the coalition will improve opportunities for youth to graduate high school.