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High Marks For City Schools

Administrators See Lessons In Hope, Rebirth While Touring Revitalized Classrooms


August 30, 2010

HARTFORD As he walked the halls of Hartford Magnet Middle School on the first day of classes Monday, Superintendent Steven Adamowski paused to consider what has changed since his first bus tour of city schools four years ago.

One of the things that struck him, he said, was that he had a longer list of success stories to consider this year.

"There's a lot more to choose from," Adamowski said, adding that he could have added a dozen more schools to the list to visit Monday.

Hartford Magnet Middle School, the city's highest-performing school, was the third stop on a four-school tour designed to give about 40 administrators, teachers, business leaders and school board and city council members a peek at reborn, renovated and improved schools.

It was a glimpse at what officials hope will be the future of Hartford schools and its 23,000 students. Some schools have struggled, but many have been on the rise in recent years as a result of ongoing school reform efforts. The system has made gains on standardized tests for three consecutive years, and the graduation rate is also on the rise.

"People like to see their investment," Adamowski said as the group was treated to a variety of student musical performances in the hallways of the Learning Corridor, a group of schools across from Trinity College. An award-winning marching band played for the visitors as they got off the bus.

The tour began at the former Barnard Brown School on North Main Street. The building, renovated at a cost of $24.7 million, was built in the 1920s and is now the home of the Classical Preparatory Academy Magnet School, a year-round school for Grades 6 to 12 that reports sending 100 percent of its graduates to four-year colleges since its first graduating class in 2006. The school, formerly at the G. Fox Building downtown, moved into its new quarters in July.

Adamowski said the formerly dilapidated, poor-performing Barnard Brown School serves as a metaphor for the city schools' reform efforts.

"The whole school has had a great resurrection," he said.

The second stop was America's Choice at SAND School. The neighborhood school for kindergarten to Grade 7, across North Main Street from the Old North Cemetery, began operating last year and immediately raised test scores by nearly 15 percent, the second-highest increase in the city.

Principal Desi Nesmith told the visitors that there were several keys to the swift turnaround, including staying faithful to its learning model, which includes a 2.5-hour daily literature block; building parent and student support; and having a core of committed teachers.

The tour concluded at the Annie Fisher STEM Magnet School. The kindergarten-to-Grade 8 school on Plainfield Street is the first STEM-themed school (for science, technology, engineering and math) in the state. The Connecticut Science Center has joined with the city schools to provide teacher training for the next three years. Annie Fisher School is designed to send properly prepared students to the nearby University High School of Science and Engineering. The cost of the renovation there was $25.8 million.

Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra popped into several classrooms on the tour to say hello to students and faculty.

"I want to show the administration and the schools that I want to be part of the commitment to build momentum for the success of our children," Segarra said.

Linda Kelly, president of the Hartford Foundation for Giving, said Monday that she has been on every bus tour. "It just re-energizes my thinking and hopes for Hartford schools, students and families," she said.

For Adamowski, who is in his last year as superintendent, Monday's bus tour was bittersweet.

"You invest a lot of your life in this," he said. "It's hard to give it up."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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