Three years ago Hartford Mayor Eddie
Perez eased out former schools chief Anthony Amato, an ambitious
big-picture type with a prickly personality. He turned to Amato's
lieutenant - an affable, earnest administrator known for his attention
Now, as Robert Henry prepares for his
exit - and Perez certainly is not blocking the path - it looks like
the district is once again seeking one of those "Big Vision"
How about a compromise? In the employ
of the Hartford school district is a man whose motto is "Think
Big." He's a charmer and a challenger, well-connected in the
corporate and philanthropic worlds and in the neighborhoods.
John H. Motley also has a track record
of getting things done and is known for a no-excuses demeanor when
it comes to business.
Forget the title of superintendent;
appoint the 63-year-old Motley CEO of the Hartford schools. Pair
him with an education and curriculum second-in-command, then watch
what happens when mediocrity is not tolerated.
"That could work," said James
Thompson, a retired Simpson-Waverly School principal now working
as a consultant for the state. "Especially with a guy like
Motley who has demonstrated success as a leader. He has credibility."
Thompson was one of the school system's
highest-achieving administrators, leading an impressive surge in
academic achievement at his school. Kathy Greider is another high-flier.
She was promoted to a district administrator last year after remarkable
success as principal at Dwight Elementary School, named to a national
Blue Ribbon list of urban schools showing significant improvement.
Greider would also consider an unconventional pick as schools chief
- but said it's imperative that a curriculum-oriented lieutenant
be hired as the No. 2. She cited Denver as an example.
Michael Bennett, a former chief of
staff to the Denver mayor, parlayed his Ivy League law degree, corporate
experience and political acumen into the school chief's job there.
He chose former New York administrator and Hartford assistant schools
superintendent Jaime Aquino as his chief academic officer. The Rocky
Mountain News described Aquino as "a rising star in K-12 circles."
"The academic and instructional
piece is very important in a leader," Greider said. "If
they were to go with a different model [in hiring a schools chiefs]
they'd have to find a person that is very, very strong in curriculum,
paired up with that superintendent."
Motley, who declined comment for this
piece, is a past president of the St. Paul Travelers Connecticut
Foundation. He gave out about $10 million to civic organizations,
special programs and school groups, but not before challenging folks
on why they needed the money and insisting on financial accountability.
He has a law degree and corporate senior
leadership experience in real estate and restructuring loans. Motley
is also past president of the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art's
board of trustees and is a member of the Connecticut State University
system's board of trustees.
He is guy unafraid to ask "why?"
He'd want to know why the system can't
do a more comprehensive job in tracking the rate of high school
graduation. He'd want to know why the school board has been asked
to approve funding for programs that have already been started.
He would ask to see accounting ledgers on how federal dollars are
spent on school programs. And Motley would want to know why the
literacy rate - particularly among fourth and ninth graders - is
Henry hired Motley last year as the
district's executive director for external affairs. His job is to
raise money, leverage outside resources, bring a fresh set of eyes
to the operation and inject a can-do perspective. Henry has diminished
Motley's role in recent months, some believe due to Motley's close
ties with Perez.
If hired as CEO, Motley would go in
knowing it's a three-year job. His mission: Make the attainment
of a college education the ultimate expectation in the system; realign
resources to duplicate the pockets of success in the district; reinforce
discipline. Then, at 66, it'll be time for him to move on.
Amato was brought in to sink and raise
the ship. Henry was there to steady it.
Motley would get it moving and doing
things differently - thinking big.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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