September 12, 2006
By ROBERT A. FRAHM, Courant Staff Writer
A veteran education reformer who gained national attention for shaking up a troubled urban school system in Cincinnati will be named superintendent of schools in Hartford today.
Steven J. Adamowski grew up in Ansonia and will return to Connecticut to take on a school system that has made only halting progress under a long string of superintendents - despite efforts ranging from a state takeover to a failed experiment at private management.
For the past two years, he has been a consultant with a Washington, D.C., social science research organization, but he said he is eager to return to the challenge of running a school system, something he has done in four other cities.
"I've got one more of these left in me," Adamowski, 55, said Monday from the American Institutes for Research, where he is a senior fellow.
Adamowski, whose first job as a school superintendent was in Norwich, started his career as a teacher in New Haven and later was a principal in Farmington. He worked from 1998 to 2002 in Cincinnati, where he pushed for an aggressive series of reforms, including shutting down and reorganizing several low-performing schools. He will be introduced this afternoon at city hall by Hartford Mayor Eddie A. Perez.
The board of education is expected to appoint him at a meeting at 5:30 p.m.
"He's somebody who has a track record in urban education and has cut his teeth in the reform movement," said Perez. "He understands there is no excuse [for low performance] and that the expectations for our kids should be the same as for anybody in America."
Hartford's schools have undergone a turbulent year, with Perez taking over as school board chairman last December and Superintendent of Schools Robert Henry announcing two months later that he would resign at the end of the school year. Jacqueline Jacoby, a former Glastonbury superintendent, has been interim superintendent since June.
Last month, when the state released results of last spring's annual Connecticut Mastery Test, Hartford was at or near the bottom of the list in reading, writing and mathematics in every grade tested. The test was given to third- through eighth-graders in school districts serving all of the state's 169 cities and towns.
"None of this is easy work," Adamowski said, "but clearly ... in a system of 24,000 students the issues are more manageable than in a larger city."
He cited the school system's budget - about $2,500 per pupil above the state average - as an advantage. "In my view, this is not a system that is under-resourced," he said.
In Cincinnati schools, a district about 11/2 times the size of Hartford's, Adamowski was credited with redesigning and decentralizing the school system. He oversaw an improvement in test scores and a decline in dropout rates, and during his tenure the system was taken off Ohio's "academic emergency" list.
A profile of Adamowski in the Seattle Times - he was a candidate for superintendent in Seattle in 2003 - describes him as a no-nonsense reformer who drew praise from business leaders and others in Cincinnati. But the profile also says his aggressive style rankled some school board members and angered teachers' union officials.
He clashed with teachers over a pay-for-performance program that eventually was rejected by the union.
After Adamowski arrived in Cincinnati, he quickly polarized teachers and the school system and "turned us back to an adversarial relationship," Tom Mooney, former president of the Cincinnati Federation of Teachers, said in a telephone interview Monday.
Mooney, now president of the Ohio Federation of Teachers, said Adamowski got credit for reforms that were already underway before he arrived in Cincinnati. "I don't think there's any doubt he set back reform efforts rather than advanced them."
He added, however, "I'm not assuming Hartford is going to have the same issues. I hope he's learned to work with teachers."
Adamowski said, "It's fair to say much was accomplished with the [Cincinnati] union as a partner for reforms such as a school accountability plan, peer evaluations. ... At the same time, there was a sense when I came there, the district had become a district that worked well for adults but not for students."
"I certainly would look forward to working with the union in Hartford as a collaborative partner in reform."
Cincinnati school board member John Gilligan, a former Ohio governor, called Adamowski a good administrator and described him as "several jumps ahead of the run-of-the-mill superintendents."
"I think he was very good," Gilligan said. "He obviously knows the field. If he had any shortcomings, he was not very easygoing with board members and kept his opinions to himself. ... But, you know, he got the job done. I can't fault him for the final product."
Adamowski called Hartford "a city that has a lot going for it" and said Perez was a factor in his decision to take the job. "We had great chemistry. He's someone I'd like to work with."
Perez said Adamowski "knows the challenge we have in urban education. He knows it's going to take a heroic effort on the part of parents, teachers, politicians and, most important, students."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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