Hartford Board Rejects Contract Extension For Kishimoto
By VANESSA DE LA TORRE
June 18, 2013
HARTFORD — The school board Tuesday night rejected Superintendent Christina Kishimoto's request for a two-year contract extension that would have kept her in charge of Hartford's education reform efforts through mid-2016.
Mayor Pedro Segarra said that he was "very concerned" the pace of reform wasn't moving fast enough and that the district needed a leadership change.
The board now faces finding a new superintendent in the coming year. Kishimoto's three-year contract expires on June 30, 2014.
"I am disappointed by the actions of the mayor and board this evening," Kishimoto said after the 7-0 vote. Board member Lori Hudson abstained and Luis Rodriguez-Davila was absent.
A teary Kishimoto then told her administrative staff, who remained in the Kinsella Magnet School auditorium past 10 p.m., "You're the best. ... I will continue to make sure the work in Hartford doesn't slow down."
"We look forward to your assistance in this transition," board Chairman Matthew Poland told Kishimoto.
Tuesday's emotional meeting was the culmination of days of closed-door talks, urgent phone calls and letter-writing from Kishimoto's supporters and critics. The vote came after a lengthy executive session in which Kishimoto made her last pitch to board members.
But the writing was on the wall: The board gave Kishimoto a strongly negative review of her job performance just nine months ago. Since that evaluation, which criticized the second-year superintendent in areas such as communication and meeting student achievement goals, there had been no dramatic change in the board's relationship with her.
Kishimoto, 44, is the city's highest-paid employee, with a salary of $231,000. Late Tuesday, she called it an honor to be the first Puerto Rican woman to lead Hartford schools.
"School reform is personal to me," Kishimoto wrote in a statement that she read after the board's vote. "My daughter and the children of thousands of Hartford families are the reason I believe so passionately in the important work we are doing to reform education in Hartford. We are changing the lives of thousands of children for the better. ...
"We closed the achievement gap by one-third," Kishimoto added.
Kishimoto, a former Hartford assistant superintendent, was appointed schools chief by a 6-2 board vote in 2011. That was a different board majority at the time — one that specifically sought a leader who would continue the reform strategies instituted by former Superintendent Steven Adamowski, such as student-based budgeting, principal autonomy and bonuses for staff at higher-performing schools.
It also was a board stacked with appointees of ex-Mayor Eddie Perez, who pushed to hire Adamowski in 2006. Those board members served on the selection panel that chose Kishimoto, a top Adamowski deputy.
When their terms expired and Segarra appointed five new board members in early 2012, including himself, observers wondered about Kishimoto's long-term job security. Segarra initially delayed her appointment in 2011 when he called for a national search, which was rebuffed. Segarra said he wanted board members who would be independent-minded.
"I had a feeling this day would come," said Shonta Browdy, a Hartford parent who supports Kishimoto and said the superintendent "wasn't accepted from the get-go."
Browdy alluded Tuesday night to the Hartford schools' turbulent history, with leaders coming and going in recent decades.
"We don't need a new change. ... Our kids have been through this over and over and over," she told the board.
Sam Saylor, a member of the search committee that brought Adamowski to Hartford, also supported Kishimoto. Ever since Saylor's 20-year-old son, Shane Oliver, died eight months ago in a fatal shooting, Saylor said he has asked himself if he did "the best I could do as a dad."
"Not everything is perfect," Saylor continued. Referring to Kishimoto, he said, "I think we should stay with the current flow ... not throw away people simply because of a difference of opinion."
But the majority of public speakers who addressed the contract extension Tuesday urged the board to deny Kishimoto's request. One father, who argued that parents haven't received enough "respect" and communication from the district, spoke as about 15 people stood behind him in solidarity.
Mayra Esquilin, executive director of Hartford Areas Rally Together, said the community organizing group did not support an extra two years for Kishimoto.
Adult-education students were furious over Kishimoto's proposal earlier this year to move their classes from Washington Street to Capital Community College on Main Street. The students, many of them parents of Hartford children, held up protest signs at a January board meeting as a HART organizer criticized Kishimoto for not speaking to students directly about the proposed move.
"There must be voice. There must be reciprocity," Esquilin said Tuesday. "This system has not included parents. We have been left out."
HART still supports the district's reform plans, she said.
Kishimoto orchestrated the redesign of low-performing schools into specialized academies as an assistant superintendent under Adamowski. A major element of Hartford's reform strategy are its smaller, career-oriented schools, regional magnet programs and traditional neighborhood schools.
In addition, Kishimoto helped put in place the citywide school choice program that allows parents to apply to have their children attend a school outside their immediate neighborhood. A student in the North End, for instance, can apply for the High School Inc. insurance and finance academy in downtown instead of attending the dilapidated and long-struggling Weaver High School.
With pride, Kishimoto noted Tuesday that the district recently hosted 14 high school graduations — a dozen last week alone, including separate ceremonies for the engineering and green technology, law and government, and nursing academies that now comprise Hartford Public High School.
Kishimoto also said the city schools have been working to improve communication with parents.
But Segarra essentially told her it was too late. A new leader will need to strengthen partnerships in the community, he said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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