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Assistant Superintendent Plans To Apply For Adamowski Job

Kishimoto Cites Her Role In 5-Year Reform Plan


January 26, 2011

HARTFORD At press conferences and public meetings promoting the overhaul of city schools, there is one district administrator whom Superintendent Steven Adamowski routinely mentions in his praise.

Christina Kishimoto is a policymaker with one of the largest and most complex school portfolios in Connecticut. As an assistant superintendent, she developed Hartford's school choice program and has directed the redesign of low-performing schools into themed, career-oriented academies that have emerged in recent years.

Now Adamowski's top deputy for reform may also be a front-runner to succeed him as the next head of schools.

Kishimoto, 41, says she plans to be a candidate for the job that Adamowski is vacating this summer, and as a preview of her case before the search committee, pointed to her central role in the five-year reform plan that has produced an uptick in student achievement.

The board of education has expressed consensus in recent months on sustaining the current reform strategy, and made note, for example, of seeking a "reform-minded" leader in its job posting for Adamowski's successor. The board is also looking for internal candidates rather than beginning with a national search.

Aside from Kishimoto, Timothy Sullivan, principal of the Greater Hartford Classical Magnet School, has been outspoken about his desire to be superintendent. The system's chief academic officer, Penny MacCormack, declined to comment on whether she intends to apply.

School officials and insiders have been reluctant to talk publicly about specific candidates to avoid the appearance of influencing the search process, which has already been delayed a few weeks. But the search committee has a relatively short time to recommend its choice.

The 13-member panel, comprising mostly school board members, will accept applications until Friday and is scheduled to interview candidates the week of Feb. 7. The board still expects to vote on a superintendent at its Feb. 15 meeting.

If the board bypasses internal candidates, a national search would start. Adamowski plans to retire by July 1.

Kishimoto said she was "not looking to change or overhaul what I think is a great foundation" for reform in the district.

After eight years in higher education and four years as a consultant for the state Department of Education, Kishimoto joined Hartford's central office in fall 2005 and believes her work has been validated by a three-year trend of improved test scores gains, she said, driven largely by the redesigned schools.

"It shows that we really need to have a low, low tolerance for schools that are not performing well, and we need to intervene," said Kishimoto, who grew up in the South Bronx projects and now lives on a farm in Andover.

"Those are the things that a superintendent has to be able to respond to very quickly in the city of Hartford if we're going to turn around our city schools," she said.

Like Adamowski, Kishimoto demands fidelity to the reform vision and describes herself as a practical problem-solver. Her management style, though, is perhaps more "collaborative," Kishimoto said. Adamowski has been known for having a tense relationship, at best, with the teachers' union.

The high school graduation rate and college readiness are some of the issues that admittedly loom large for Kishimoto, who oversees 17 secondary schools, an alternative high school, six recently redesigned elementary schools and an adult education center.

"Our eighth-graders going into ninth grade are not as prepared as they need to be," Kishimoto said. And when it comes to inspiring students to go to college, "we're waiting too late."

Kishimoto said she expects the school system to close its achievement gap and to be viewed as a "model of success" in the state for other urban districts. Two years ago, she raised the city's high school graduation requirements to include more math and science courses, and recently helped secure a $13.3 million, five-year federal grant announced last fall to reduce the 48 percent dropout rate.

Kishimoto also wants to create in Hartford a collaborative similar to New Haven Promise, a partnership with Yale University in which students in New Haven who maintain good grades and attendance can receive a full-tuition scholarship to a public college or university in Connecticut.

She has a quick reply, too, for those who might criticize her work experience. While her resume includes being an assistant dean of student services at Wesleyan University and holding a doctorate in education administration from Columbia University, Kishimoto has never been a classroom teacher or a school principal.

"I would say Joel Klein just left the city of New York and had no education background at all," Kishimoto said of the lawyer and recent New York City schools chancellor.

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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