Sources: Hartford Board Unlikely To OK Extension For Kishimoto
By VANESSA DE LA TORRE
June 18, 2013
HARTFORD — — Will Superintendent Christina Kishimoto get the contract extension she wants?
Urging Mayor Pedro Segarra and the board of education not to "cast a cloud of uncertainty" over the city schools' reform plans, Kishimoto has asked the board to approve a two-year extension Tuesday that would keep her employed as Hartford's schools chief through June 30, 2016.
Sources indicated Monday that the board is likely to reject that request, barring a major, last-minute shift in the board's opinion of Kishimoto. A rejection would mean that Hartford would need to find a new leader for the school system before Kishimoto's three-year contract ends in mid-2014.
It is customary for superintendents to ask for an extension at least a year before their contract concludes. If the request is rebuffed, it gives both sides time to plan for a transition.
On Monday, Kishimoto said she remained positive and would not speculate on what she might do if the board did not extend her contract. She emphasized that she is "fully committed to this work in Hartford ... This is important work and it changes us as much as it changes the lives that we impact."
Kishimoto, 44, moved her family from an Andover farm to Hartford when she took the superintendent's job in 2011. She expects her daughter, a seventh-grader, "will remain in Hartford Public Schools and graduate from Hartford Public Schools," Kishimoto said in an interview in her Main Street office.
Kishimoto plans to make a final pitch to the board in an executive session at Tuesday's regular meeting at Kinsella Magnet School of the Performing Arts. Board members would then vote on the contract extension.
"Though no one person is indispensible, at this critical juncture, it is of utmost importance not to create uncertainty around the continuity of leadership of the school system," Kishimoto wrote to Segarra and school board Chairman Matthew Poland last week.
Not receiving a contract extension, she added, "will impact the pace of our reform, potentially reduce the commitment of outside investors and disrupt a well-established relationship with state, regional, and national reform leaders."
Richard Wareing, a lawyer, said Monday that he was willing to listen to Kishimoto but plans to vote against the extension. The current board's relationship with Kishimoto has been fragile, at best.
"It's hard to imagine that something said in one evening, one night, will overcome 1 1/2 years of being on the board," said Wareing, who has previously criticized Kishimoto for poor communication. "My opinion was formed over 18 months of observation, working with other board members and talking to stakeholders in the community."
Several other board members, including Segarra and Poland, declined to comment before Tuesday's meeting.
Segarra has had a bumpy history with Kishimoto: In Feb. 2011, hours before the former board planned to appoint her as the next Hartford superintendent, Segarra convened a last-minute press conference to call for a national search. An angry Kishimoto, one of two internal candidates, blamed "politics."
The board called off its appointment ceremony but eventually rescheduled and voted 6-2. The two elected members who voted against her, Robert Cotto Jr. and Luis Rodriguez-Davila, remain on the board.
Segarra later appointed five new members to the nine-person board, including himself, creating a new majority with four-year terms in early 2012.
Kishimoto, a policymaker, joined the school system's central office in October 2005 and became an assistant superintendent under former Superintendent Steven Adamowski. In that role, she helped implement the citywide school choice program and directed the redesign of low-performing schools into themed academies, such as the Latino Studies Academy at Burns School and the Culinary Arts Academy at Weaver High School.
Last September, in a scathing annual review of Kishimoto's job performance, the board stated that "limited course offerings and narrow school themes may diminish the overall quality of education."
When Kishimoto assumed the top job two years ago, she said, she told the previous board that she would need a 5- to 8-year period to lead Hartford's 13-year reform plan to close the achievement gap in math and reading.
Currently in phase two, Kishimoto highlighted the reading gains for grades 4, 5, 7 and 8 in 2012 and said the district's graduation rate has improved to nearly 65 percent, up from 29 percent in 2007.
But critics have argued that the 13-year plan, which would come to fruition in the 2018-19 school year, is out of reach and closer to 20 years despite a trend of incremental improvements. One of the board's major concerns is that the pace of reform is moving too slowly, sources said.
Scores on the Connecticut Academic Performance Test for 10th-graders have remained stagnant, for example. Kishimoto received a 56 percent rating on her performance evaluation nine months ago, in part because she did not meet numerous student achievement targets, such as a third-grade reading goal.
Those quantitative benchmarks represented 60 percent of her evaluation. The 2013 Connecticut Mastery Test scores are expected to be released in July.
While Kishimoto stuck to the 13-year timetable Monday, she said reform work is complex and "there will be years when there are ups and downs."
Among the areas the district must focus on is improving services for students learning English, Kishimoto said. In Hartford, where more than 70 languages are spoken, nearly one of five students is identified as an English language learner.
Kishimoto has counted state Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor, college presidents and members of the business community among her supporters. Earlier this year, she launched Hartford Promise, a college scholarship fund that raised an initial $4.1 million from corporations and philanthropists. The school system also has magnet school partnerships with a few area colleges.
Ed Klonoski, president of Charter Oak State College in New Britain and chairman of the Hartford Consortium for Higher Education, which includes leaders from Trinity College and the University of Hartford, wrote a letter to Segarra dated Friday that backed Kishimoto and her "energized vision."
In addition, Ramani Ayer, the former CEO of The Hartford who now sits on the board of directors for Connecticut Council for Education Reform, has publicly called on Segarra and the board to give her a contract extension. Ayer has donated $300,000 to Hartford Promise.
But Janice Flemming, CEO of Voices of Women of Color, a consulting firm that has held community meetings on education issues in the city's North End, reached out to the mayor and board Sunday with her own letter citing the "unacceptable disconnect between the superintendent, her administration and families in Hartford."
Flemming said parents and students at Global Communications Academy were "kept in the dark" over recent news that the school's partner, the nonprofit Say Yes To Education, was leaving Global.
The board reached what Poland considered a make-or-break point with Kishimoto in September over chronic problems with communication. Board members said they were not receiving enough information before votes.
"We must ask ourselves whether she is the right person with whom to entrust the education of more than 20,000 kids," Wareing said at a heated board meeting Sept. 25 that left Kishimoto near tears.
The board released its review of Kishimoto's job performance the day after that verbal lashing. Under the category "Board-Superintendent Relations," the board gave her a 1.6 rating out of 5. The evaluation also criticized her management skills.
Kishimoto, whose current salary is $231,000, pledged to improve her communication but disputed the overall review. She irked the board two weeks later when she asked for a $15,450 performance bonus through her lawyer, a request that was withdrawn after it became public.
Tuesday's meeting is expected to begin at 5:30 p.m. at Kinsella, 65 Van Block Ave.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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