February 17, 2006
By RACHEL GOTTLIEB, Courant Staff Writer
Back in November, on the eve of a charter
change that would give the city's mayor increased power over the
school system, state education officials made it clear that they
were looking for "consistency and accountability."
Three months later, the city's mayor
- who, because of that charter change, now doubles as school board
chairman - is hustling to find a superintendent to take over for
Robert Henry, whose resignation becomes effective in June.
State education officials are taking
"We're monitoring this. We stand
ready to assist them or help them in any we can as they move forward,"
state Education Commissioner Betty J. Sternberg said through her
spokesman, Henry Garcia.
Mayor Eddie A. Perez is confident he
will find a new superintendent by June 30.
But David Larson, executive director
of the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents,
is less optimistic. It will take months to hire a search consultant,
identify finalists and interview them - at a cost of about $30,000,
he said. Then, sitting superintendents generally give their own
boards three months' notice before they leave, he said.
"I would be very surprised if
they have somebody in place by next January," Larson said,
unless the board promotes a candidate from within Hartford's school
Superintendents can be hard to find,
Larson said, and 11 school districts in the state, in towns as diverse
as Greenwich and South Windsor, are looking for superintendents.
Most of those jobs are easier than Hartford's.
"Hartford school superintendency
is one of the most difficult in Connecticut," Larson said.
"Unless it's somebody coming up from the district, you need
a veteran. This is not a district you cut your teeth on."
Perez said he and his board of primarily
appointed members will create a vision and a set of expectations
and look for a superintendent who can carry that out. Perez's priorities
are to increase enrollment of city students in four-year colleges
and increase the number of students attending preschool. Implicit
in that is a priority to improve student achievement and lower the
Hartford also is carrying out the state's
obligation to create new magnet schools each year to reduce the
racial and economic isolation of the city's poor and minority students.
The pool of qualified superintendents
around the nation is small, experts say. Still smaller is the number
of leaders equipped to take on the complexities of large urban districts.
"There are distinctive features
in urban environments that make it tough," said Steven Tozer,
director of the urban education leadership program at the University
of Illinois School of Education in Chicago. "Scale matters.
The larger the scale, the more difficult it is to ensure quality
leadership in each school. Leadership is key."
Hartford has six high schools, four
middle schools, 27 elementary schools and two schools for grades
6 through 12 plus sundry academies for limited grades or learning
disabilities and a large adult education program.
With so many components and constituencies,
it takes considerable time for a superintendent to learn about the
district and then create change.
"You cannot start new reform efforts
every three to five years. Change takes time. You can't change a
culture in 20 minutes," said Richard L. Schwab, dean of the
Neag School of Education at the University of Connecticut.
Henry was named superintendent just
over three years ago.
Perez is not alarmed by the prospect
of losing a superintendent in three to five years. The key to a
longer tenure, he said, is success. "Once the person's successful,
they can stay as long as they want."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at