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Schools Facing Radical Change

City Superintendent Will Seek Biggest Overhaul In Decades

May 23, 2007
By ROBERT A. FRAHM, Courant Staff Writer

Hartford's top school official will call today for a massive shake-up of the city's troubled public education system by closing failing schools, breaking up large high schools and giving students a broad array of new choices.

School Superintendent Steven J. Adamowski's plan would radically alter the 24,000-student system by creating choices such as a year-round elementary school, all-boys or all-girls academies and high schools specializing in subjects ranging from nursing to military studies.

He will outline the plan later today for the school board, proposing a series of small to medium-size specialty schools that would replace failing schools and become the centerpiece of an effort to shore up lagging academic performance.

"This is an issue of closing the achievement gap," Adamowski said. The traditional 20th-century model of schools, he added, "is not working for us."

The plan would mark the biggest change in decades for a school system that has gone through a series of superintendents and tried remedies ranging from a failed experiment with private management to a state takeover of the city schools in the 1990s.

Across the nation, many school districts have expanded choices through the creation of magnet and charter schools, but the Hartford plan, if adopted, would be one of the most ambitious anywhere.

The plan would begin taking effect in 2008, with most schools ready within five years and the entire plan completed within a decade, Adamowski said.

The proposal is the latest and most dramatic so far to come from Adamowski, a veteran school administrator who was hired last year to try to turn around a school system whose test scores are among the worst in the state.

He has already called for other major changes, including reducing the size of the central administration and giving greater autonomy to schools that demonstrate success.

In today's proposal, he will recommend converting the city's schools "from a bureaucratic, dysfunctional, low-performing school system to ... a system of high-performing, distinctive schools of choice."

That system would include a range of new schools, including new Montessori schools for children from primary grades through high school, charter schools modeled after the successful Amistad Academy in New Haven, a rigorous International Baccalaureate school and even a boarding school.

One proposed school for teenage mothers would include infant and toddler care.

Other suggestions include:

  • A year-round school for children in grades kindergarten through 8.
  • A British primary school modeled after traditional West Indian schools.
  • A "core knowledge" school based on an approach outlined by author E.D. Hirsch in his book "Cultural Literacy," calling for the teaching of basic factual knowledge required to function adequately in society.
  • Schools linking elementary, middle and high school students in specialties including visual and performing arts and international programs such as Asian or Latino studies.

The new schools would replace some of the city's lowest-performing schools, Adamowski said. In addition, the city's large high school buildings, such as the newly remodeled Hartford Public High School, would be reconfigured to house several of the smaller specialty schools, he said.

Adamowski will recommend using Hartford Public as a temporary site for the Pathways to Technology school while officials look for a permanent location for the magnet high school.

Adamowski's plan also would make use of some existing schools of choice such as the Breakthrough Magnet School, the Capital Preparatory Magnet School, the Greater Hartford Classical Magnet School and the University of Hartford's High School for Science and Engineering, but the city needs more choices for families, he said. Many children are on waiting lists for those schools and other magnet schools in and around Hartford.

"Right now we have a dual system of schools - a few high-end magnet schools that do relatively better and the schools where everyone else goes ... which are not doing well," Adamowski said. "We want to provide all students with a choice, not just those who are lucky enough to win an admissions lottery."

His proposal does not call for more financial support, but some of the specialty schools would require partnerships and support from other agencies or businesses, he said. He is proposing, for example, new technical programs in cooperation with the state technical high school system and a financial services high school operated in collaboration with insurance companies.

Under the proposal, the city would be divided into four zones for children in grades K-8, giving free busing to students and allowing them to choose from schools within each zone. High school students would use public transportation under an open enrollment plan allowing them to attend any school in the city.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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