Let's be honest. Hartford parents don't have a great reputation when it comes to showing up.
Even when the PTO arranged for a bus to take protesting parents to the budget hearing the other night, attendance was sparse — an observation that wasn't lost on two moms sitting in the back.
"It's pathetic, really," I overheard one of the moms say to the other.
"They talk a good game," the other replied, "but then look, nobody's here."
Then, minutes later, the bus pulled up outside the Learning Corridor's theater, where more than a hundred parents, teachers and students were chanting and holding signs against proposed budget cuts.
Wow, they said, pausing to take it all in.
I hadn't seen anything like this in a long time, I told PTO council President Milly Arciniegas, who was working the crowd.
How to explain it? Could be Arciniegas' feisty, take-no-prisoners style. Plenty of parents I talked to were certainly willing to give her the credit for such an impressive turn-out.
Not to mention the parents' frustration with the district's exclusionary style, which had been heading toward this boiling point for a while now.
And let's face it, cuts always get people riled up. Superintendent Steven Adamowski's proposal to cut 254 positions from the district certainly sent parents and teachers over the edge.
But as I talked to parents Tuesday, I realized that their presence wasn't just about layoffs or eliminated programs.
It was about respect — or the absence of it. Watching Adamowski, I could understand the parents' frustration over the way they feel they're treated in Hartford. He has a way of not answering questions that even irks board members. After Brad Noel couldn't get him to explain how fewer teachers, more students would work, Andrea Comer took a shot:
"Maybe I can ask the question another way," she said to booming applause from the packed public hearing.
Adamowski looked none too pleased. But then, what'd the man expect when working parents with kids to get off to school the next morning were forced to wait an hour and a half to speak?
It'd be easy for Adamowski to look at the parents as little more than annoying critics. He's the guy who has to balance a budget during difficult times and there are tough decisions that need to be made. No one's immune — not even kids.
But that would be the wrong approach, even for an embattled superintendent.
You see, beneath the anger and the outrage, there's an opportunity here.
For years, Hartford parents had a deserved reputation for unexplained absences in their children's educations.And one well-attended rally does not a reputation change.
But there they were, angry and frustrated, for sure. But, more important, looking to make a difference.
Step back for a second and look what that adds up to — a school system with needs to fill and parents demanding more for their children.
It's simple math, really.
Everywhere, businesses are trying to do more with less, looking for ways to get the job done with shrinking resources. That's exactly what Adamowski said the schools had to do, right?
So, it's time for Adamowski to get creative and call on those untapped resources. Are there musicians, artists, counselors, athletes in the crowd? Could they help out? Run enrichment programs after school?
Sure, there are logistical issues, union headaches, liability woes, but, hey, that's why Adamowski gets the big bucks.
There's a chance to do something different here. Shame on both sides if they don't seize the moment.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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