Why did the Hartford Board of Education decide not to extend Superintendent Christina Kishimoto's contract? We made this very difficult decision because we take educational reform seriously.
The board is fully committed to educational reform and to furthering its success. The board, the mayor, the community, corporate leaders, school administrators, teachers, parents, students and other stakeholders all have made significant investments in improving the educational experience of students in the district. Superintendent Kishimoto has contributed to this progress — and we appreciate her efforts over the last eight years.
But in today's complicated environment of standards-based reform, the leader needs to be able to improve the district as a whole. To do this, the superintendent must understand how to work with leaders in the district to improve the entire system — and refuse to settle for isolated pockets of success, however significant.
The board believes that progress has been made since the beginning of the reform initiatives in 2006 and that a culture of reform has successfully taken root in our city. Yet the board also believes that this culture of change must be nurtured, that the pace of reform must be accelerated and that the scope of our efforts must truly include every school, to ensure an equal chance of success for every child now. Everything is on the line here, and nothing less than a heart-and-soul commitment to this change will meet the board's obligations to its 25,000 students and to the broader Hartford community.
We believe that every child can learn and has the right to learn. School leaders must take immediate action in the following areas to create new momentum:
Clarity about organizational goals and how they will be achieved.
Critical need for greater stewardship of key partnerships such as those with the mayor, police department, school unions and the Capitol Region Education Council.
Greater vision and strategic thinking regarding the desired mix of charter, neighborhood, academy and magnet schools and evaluation of what is working, gaps, demographic needs, etc., as well as the ability to make necessary adjustments in the Hartford schools, as circumstances warrant.
Acceleration of parent engagement, deployment of resources and establishment of partnerships that work to educate and involve parents in student education. With strategies to address language and socioeconomic factors that can create barriers to successfully engaging the majority of parents in our district.
Targeted and sustained focus on low-performing schools to ensure adequate resources, staff and partnerships are in place to support turnaround.
Address system-wide barriers to improving the quality of education such as problems with the implementation and management of English Language Learner and special education services.
More effective management and execution of critical initiatives; system-wide implementation of best practices; improved communication with the board, parent groups and with groups within the school organization; and better utilization of senior school administrators.
Leadership must be measured against the answer to the key question: When will all of Hartford's schools be successful? Simply put, leadership can only be measured by how quickly and effectively it moves the Hartford school district toward its goal of a successful school for every child.
Superintendent Kishimoto has pledged to work with the board to ensure a smooth leadership transition during the last year of her contract. In the near term, that means we will stay the course and begin, with the help of the community, the selection of our next leader.
In the long term, parents can expect greater engagement in a system where they are part of the educational process. And in the long term we seek to reverse the tragic fact that students who enter our schools today will likely graduate from a system that will still have an achievement gap — that's simply not acceptable after spending untold millions on reform so far.
This is not a test nor is it purely theoretical, it is work — hard work. That work is not being discarded by this decision; rather we are seeking to escalate the next phase of reform built on a platform of innovative, managerial, entrepreneurial and engaging leadership.
Reform is all of us. We cannot do less for Hartford's children.
Matthew K. Poland is chairman of the Hartford Board of Education.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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