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Festive School Greeting Yields To Serious Talk

October 13, 2006
By RACHEL GOTTLIEB, Courant Staff Writer

Struggling schools in Hartford that have undergone restructuring but whose students continue to do poorly will be closed, the city's new superintendent of schools told an audience of parents, students and teachers at a welcoming ceremony for him Thursday night.

The event opened with a rousing performance by the Fox Middle School drum line and Bulkeley High School cheerleaders, but Mayor Eddie A. Perez's remarks and a speech by Superintendent Steven J. Adamowski were sobering.

"This leader is going to ask us to focus on a five-year plan and that means there is going to be some pain upfront," said Perez, who also serves as chairman of the board of education. "But out of that pain will come an education for our children that is second to none. I am very, very hopeful. If we believe that every child will be successful, not only will no child be left behind, every child will be ahead of where they are today."

Adamowski, who was in town for the day but won't accept the mantle of superintendent until next month, followed up with hints about the pain to come.

"We have islands of excellence throughout Hartford," he said. "Our challenge is how do you bring this to scale? We will give greater freedom and autonomy to schools doing well. It means intervening in schools that aren't doing well. And in schools that continue to do poorly despite intervention, we need to close and redesign those schools and start over again."

The hopeful crowd was undaunted. There was no deafening silence or boos, and even some scattered applause. When parents and teachers lined to shake Adamowski's hand after the event, representatives of some of the most struggling schools were among the people in line.

"I think he's here to do a good job," said Rosemarie Easterling, who has sent children to Milner Elementary School and works in its cafeteria. Milner is among the city's most troubled schools, but Easterling didn't seem overly concerned about potential closure.

"We hope that won't happen,"she said. "We want the best education there is for our kids. In order for that to happen, we all have to work together."

Daneisha Thompson, whose child attends Fox Middle School, didn't seem alarmed by the threat of closure either. "I don't care if he closes schools as long as my son is in a good school," Thompson said.

In Cincinnati, Ohio, where Adamowski was superintendent for nearly five years, he closed and reorganized schools in an aggressive effort to reform the district.

Central office won't be spared either. Adamowski said his first order of business will be to reorganize staff, though he didn't say whether that means changing assignments or letting people go.

Facing Adamowski from the stage, Sam Saylor, president of the PTO president's council and the event's main organizer, acknowledged the new chief's businesslike demeanor but expressed optimism that a team spirit of sorts will emerge. "There's a rumor out there that you are not the huggable, lovable type, but by the end of your tenure in Hartford, you will be the huggable, lovable type," Saylor said.

Adamowski promised to be accessible to parents and to treat them "as a valued client." He said he would not have accepted the job if he did not feel confident that he could raise the district's performance to the state average and send children off to college.

"If we want different results," he said, "we have to change the design. We have to reorganize ourselves."
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.

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