September 13, 2006
By ROBERT A. FRAHM, Courant Staff Writer
Hartford’ new superintendent of schools, hired for his pledge to turn around a struggling city school system, is a fan of a controversial federal education law that has drawn a lawsuit from state officials and criticism from many educators.
Steven J. Adamowski called the 4-year-old No Child Left Behind Act “a great step forward” in holding schools accountable for the academic problems plaguing many minority and low-income children.
“I think it represents the greatest piece of civil rights legislation since the passage of the  Voting Rights Act,” Adamowski said Tuesday at Hartford’s city hall, where he was introduced as the next leader of the city’s 24,000-student school system.
More than two-thirds of Hartford’s elementary and middle schools fell short of the standards of No Child Left Behind this year, and many have been singled out for corrective action in a process that Adamowski said mirrors an accountability plan he helped develop when he headed public schools in Cincinnati.
Adamowski’s pledge to hold schools accountable, including his record of shaking up low-performing schools in Cincinnati, was a key factor in selecting him in Hartford, officials said Tuesday.
“If we’re going to move forward as a district, we should all be held to standards,” said Andrea Comer, a member of the school board and of the search committee that recommended Adamowski. “I think we’re really, really lucky to get him.”
Adamowski, 55, an education consultant with the American Institutes for Research in Washington, D.C., will start his Hartford job in mid-November at an annual salary of $205,000 with a possible annual bonus of $20,000 based on reaching specific goals, including improved student achievement.
After being congratulated Tuesday by Mayor Eddie A. Perez, Adamowski drew cheers from parents, teachers and others at a school board meeting when he said, “This is really not a night for congratulations. … We’ll congratulate each other when student achievement goes up.”
In Cincinnati, where Adamowski worked from 1998 to 2002, he was credited with redesigning and decentralizing the school system. During his tenure, test scores rose and dropout rates declined. According to news accounts, his efforts drew praise from business leaders and others, but not everyone was pleased with what some described as an aggressive style.
He clashed with Cincinnati teachers’ union officials over some issues and pushed a pay-for-performance program that eventually was rejected by the union.
Cathy Carpino, president of the Hartford Federation of Teachers, said Tuesday she does not know Adamowski. But she said she has been able to work with previous superintendents such as Anthony Amato, Robert Henry and current interim Superintendent Jacqueline Jacoby, and “I don’t anticipate not being able to work with [Adamowski].”
Adamowski repeatedly stressed the theme of accountability Tuesday. His approach, he said, is “to give greater autonomy to those schools that are doing well [and] … intervene in those schools doing poorly.”
Last month, when the state released results of the 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 the state’s 169 municipalities.
Adamowski said his goal is to have a district where “average student achievement matches that of the rest of the state” and where students attend college at the same rate as state and national averages.
Adamowski’s support for No Child Left Behind could put him at odds with state officials who are suing the federal government. State Attorney General Richard Blumenthal has said he supports the goals of the law but contends it will unfairly cost state and local taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. Blumenthal took the case to court last year.
“I’m not sure if I was in that position, that would be the best use of my time and energy.” Adamowski said in an interview this week.
No Child Left Behind, the centerpiece of President Bush’s school reform agenda, calls for a broad expansion of student testing and a shake-up of schools that fail to make adequate progress. It holds schools accountable for the progress of individual groups of children, including minority students, children from low-income homes, non-English speaking children and students with disabilities.
Some educators have called the law too punitive or rigid, but Adamowski said he supports it.
“There’s a lot of tweaking that needs to be done, but conceptually it’s sound,” he said. “It’s going to be with us. It’s something that has raised the level of aspiration and achievement.”
Adamowski, 55, started his career as a teacher in New Haven, worked as school superintendent in Norwich and later held jobs in New Jersey and Missouri before taking the Cincinnati job.
His record of raising student achievement in Cincinnati was cited by members of the search committee, including committee Chairwoman Ada Miranda.
“We ended up with really high-profile candidates,” she said. “What made a difference with Mr. Adamowski is that he’s done it before. He exudes that confidence … that gives you the vision it can be done.”
Search committee member Sam Saylor, president of the PTO Presidents Council, said parents want a superintendent who can turn schools around and answer the question: “Why has success eluded us generation after generation?...
“At the end of the day, what made him the best candidate is that I wanted the fears of parents addressed, and he will be willing to do that.”
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at