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Hartford Schools Chief Lauds Gains, Cites Challenges

STEVEN GOODE

October 15, 2009

HARTFORD - Repeating an assessment that has come to define the city's schools, Superintendent Steven J. Adamowski said Wednesday that students continue to make both modest and significant gains, but warned that there are many challenges still to be met that could be made more difficult without more funding.

Adamowski, in his annual state of the schools address, praised city students, teachers and school leaders for improving reading scores at every grade level in the last school year, scoring the largest gain of any city school district in the state on the Connecticut Mastery Test for the second consecutive year, and improving the high school graduation rate from 37 percent to 42 percent.

Speaking at the Kinsella Magnet School for the Performing Arts, Adamowski also noted that the school system had succeeded in its goal of allocating 70 percent of its budget directly to schools, compared to less than 50 percent in 2006, while the remaining 30 percent pays for central office costs. He said instructional time had increased in the city's lowest-performing schools by 45 minutes a day.

Adamowski also pointed out disappointments in the last school year, including flat 10th-grade CAPT scores, stalled efforts to open single-gender schools and the loss of 250 jobs as the school system sought to address a deficit. The system cut 170 jobs the previous year and has reduced its central office staff from 226 to 96 employees in the last two years, Adamowski said.

"We know there is a tipping point," Adamowski said, referring to the effect the job losses could have on learning. "We don't know where it is, but we think it's getting perilously close."

Adamowski said he was also "frustrated" by a lack of commitment by the state and the region to address Sheff v. O'Neill racial quotas and a lack of increased education funding by the city and the state.

"There's a lot of lip service being paid. Outside of Hartford very little is being done," Adamowski said.

Looking ahead, Adamowski said the schools will face challenges in retaining talented teachers and administrators, meeting Sheff v. O'Neill requirements and operating for the next two years with flat or lower revenues.

"How we do that is going to be a determining factor of whether we can continue to improve at this rate," he said.

James L. Starr, executive director of Achieve Hartford!, a local education foundation created last year to focus on student achievement and sustaining reform efforts, said Adamowski's remarks and outlook were "on target."

"There's no question we have a long way to go," Starr said. "But in order to keep going you have to pause to celebrate [improvements]."

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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