Hartford Superintendent made progress, but board frustrated
Hartford Courant Editorial
June 19, 2013
A lot of people didn't see this coming.
As a key assistant to Hartford school Superintendent Steven Adamowski, Christina M. Kishimoto helped develop the "portfolio schools" plan of themed schools that has dramatically improved test scores and graduation rates in the long-foundering city school system. When Mr. Adamowski completed his five-year tenure in 2011, Ms. Kishimoto was named to succeed him.
Bright, youthful and well-versed, she looked like an ideal choice to continue the reforms. But, as evidenced by the Hartford board of education's 7-0 vote Tuesday not to renew her contract, she apparently wasn't.
It's difficult in any field to follow a strong and successful leader such as Mr. Adamowski, and in retrospect, Ms. Kishimoto may not have been ready to do it. She is a skilled policy person who designed many of the new schools, but had not been a K-12 teacher, principal or superintendent. She had little administrative background and had no feel for the politics of the job.
School reform requires an engaged community. Ms. Kishimoto drew in the corporate community and attracted millions of dollars in outside money. But as comments at Tuesday's meeting made clear, she didn't reach a number of parents, some of whom initially supported her.
What seemed to frustrate board members was what they viewed as a missing sense of urgency on Ms. Kishimoto's part, particularly toward the non-magnet schools. Part of the new strategy involved the creation of magnet schools, some of which have succeeded beyond expectation. But only about 3,000 Hartford youngsters attend these magnet schools, and another 3,000 attend schools outside the city. That leaves 16,000 children in non-magnet schools of varying quality. Some are among the lowest-performing schools in the state. Board members said they pushed Ms. Kishimoto for credible plans to improve these schools, to no avail. All kids deserve good schools.
Also, some of the older school buildings are in serious need of repair. For example, a section of a ceiling collapsed in a classroom at the McDonough Expeditionary Learning School two weeks ago, sending a student and a teaching intern to the hospital with minor injuries. This could have been a lot more serious, and board members feel Ms. Kishimoto has not been as attentive to the condition of the buildings as they'd like.
Ms. Kishimoto has moved the ball in Hartford. The achievement gap has narrowed by a third, reading scores are up in several grades and more students are taking the SAT. She'll land on her feet. The board took the hard choice in not bringing her back. Now it's incumbent upon them to find a leader who will pick up the pace of reform.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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