Hartford's public school system is no stranger to turmoil at the top crippling reform efforts and hurting students. At one point, remember, the board of education was so dysfunctional that the state had to take control of Hartford schools for several years.
Sadly, the adults are at it again, with a war between Board of Education members and Superintendent Christina Kishimoto.
Board members — most vocally, new members appointed by Mayor Pedro Segarra who joined the board in February — complain that the superintendent treats them like they are a rubber stamp. They don't intend to be one.
What's more, the board has just given Ms. Kishimoto a critical evaluation.
Both sides are at fault. Still, it would benefit Hartford students if the relationship between the board and the superintendent could be salvaged. We hope it's not too late.
Ms. Kishimoto is a reformer and a worthy successor to her predecessor in the Hartford job, Steven Adamowski, with whom she worked to redesign city schools and improve test scores and graduation rates.
The simmering animosity boiled over last week when the board rejected the superintendent's proposal to renew a $100,000 contract with the College Board to provide free in-class Scholastic Aptitude Tests for all city high school juniors and seniors.
Board members complained that they hadn't seen the contract and wanted more time to question the superintendent about how the testing fits into the school district's college readiness plan. "There was a presumption [by Ms. Kishimoto] that the board would just sign it. That happens too often. It just isn't going to happen again," board chairman Matt Poland said later.
This was not a good issue for the board to use to vent its frustration over Ms. Kishimoto's failure to communicate. Their initial refusal to sign the $100,000 contract with the College Board panicked some students who wanted to take the SAT, forcing them to scramble to come up with money for the cost of the test and late fees and to find an alternative site to take it. The school board left the students in the lurch — at least until members approved the College Board contract a week later.
Nor should board members have been so publicly critical of the superintendent as they have been the past two weeks. There is no point in humiliating her.
Mend It, Don't End It
Why should this fractured relationship between the superintendent and board be mended? Because of Ms. Kishimoto's record and ability and the board's interest in improving student performance.
Ms. Kishimoto knows reform. She's top-notch at it, as her supporters point out.
There is no question that her skill set is missing strong communication ability, however. She definitely needs work on informing the board and answering members' questions.
It isn't a good sign that her office is referring calls from journalists to her attorney.
However, in a letter e-mailed Wednesday to Mr. Poland, the superintendent pledged to take steps immediately to improve communications, including advising board members monthly of coming contracts and arranging one-on-one meetings with board members.
That's a start.
Mr. Poland, as board chairman, might take reciprocal steps to build a good relationship with the superintendent. Ultimately, the sustainability of the reform effort rests with the board of education.
There's a lot of talent in the superintendent's office and on the school board. It should be used on behalf of students, not wasted on petty turf battles.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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