Community organizer Janice Flemming stands at a Weaver High School classroom chalkboard, scribbling notes about a recent forum the school's PTO hosted.
"What went well?" Flemming asks a group of seven PTO members, who have gathered at the school for the second time that week.
One by one the women in the classroom recap the highlights of the forum, where Superintendent Steven J. Adamowski met with about 100 parents and community members to discuss concerns about the future of Weaver High School.
The weekly leadership training session at Weaver resembles an athletic team analyzing its performance after a big game. Flemming is the coach; the PTO parents, the players. And the game is navigating the city's changing school system.
Using curriculum she developed to help empower parents, Flemming has been consulting with different PTO groups for the past year. First it was Fox Middle School. Now Flemming works with Weaver and Wish Elementary School. Next, Flemming plans to help parents at M.L. King Elementary School.
"I think parents are starting to really question things," Flemming said. "All across the board, we're trying to get to where we're stronger."
Flemming, who is a community organizer at the Blue Hills Civic Association, said helping parents become advocates for themselves is another way to help Hartford's children. Her leadership training sessions are lively, and direct the parents to think beyond the walls of their school. Flemming coaches them on how to ask the right questions, how to reach the right people and how to keep the school district leaders accountable for what they promise.
"This is a new era for the PTO," said Weaver parent Precious Ross-Ellis at the training session last week. "This is not normally how we think."
One result of their leadership training was the forum the Weaver PTO discussed last week. Members said they were pleased with the way the forum with Adamowski turned out. They got about 100 people to show up, and said they felt that Adamowski had really listened to them.
"I went away thinking that our feelings were heard," Ross-Ellis said during the session.