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Hartford Superintendent: 'Successes Come With More Challenges'

Adamowski Gives Final State Of The Schools Address, Lauds Teachers, Students And Administrators

Steven Goode

October 29, 2010

In his final state of the schools address Thursday, outgoing Superintendent Steven Adamowski praised students, teachers and administrators for the academic gains they have made in the past three years, but cautioned that there is much work still to do and systemic changes need to continue.

Adamowski arrived in 2006 with a promise to spend five years in Hartford and turn around a school system that was in steep decline. Graduation rates were abysmal and the schools were struggling to conform with the settlement of the Sheff v. O'Neill discrimination lawsuit. The state had taken over operation of the schools from 1997 to 2002.

On Thursday, Adamowski pointed to improved scores on standardized tests. For instance, city students outpaced the state average increase on the Connecticut Mastery Test and Connecticut Academic Performance Test. The high school graduation rate increased from 29 percent in 2006 to 50 percent in 2010.

The superintendent said the district was also proud to have two administrators win Connecticut Association of Schools awards, one for best secondary school principal and the other for best first-year principal in the state.

But he said the "successes have come with more challenges."

Adamowski said two years of essentially flat education aid funding from the state has resulted in the elimination of 350 positions, including 150 teachers. He said the schools need to be prepared to run a leaner, more fiscally efficient operation where per-student spending is reduced from a high of $15,000 to about $12,000.

Adamowski said the schools also need to do a better job of serving the needs of middle school students, and that the school day should be increased for all students to mirror the longer school days of surrounding, successful districts, such as West Hartford, where the school day is seven hours and 30 minutes, compared to Hartford's six hours and 45 minutes.

Schools spokesman David Medina said Thursday that an exact increase in the school day has not been decided yet and that it will be part of negotiations in the upcoming teachers contract.

In the past three years, Adamowski said, city schools have significantly imporved their leadership structure and use of date. But a key component in the future will be increasing the focus on teaching and identifying effective, and ineffective, teachers.

"We want to recognize and award teachers that add value," he said. "This spring we will have the capacity to do that. That will be our stepping-off point to tying student achievement to teacher performance."

Medina said the issue will also be part of negotiations in the new teachers contract, but added that Adamowski would like to see a similar model to the one implemented recently in the Los Angeles public school system.

Adamowski said his administration was also working to end nepotism in the schools, which in the past have had hundreds of teachers who were related to administrators.

"We want to end the practice of 'it's more important who you know than what you know,' " he said, adding that the district must also discontinue a seniority policy that is strictly based on years of service and doesn't take into account the special training needed in many of the city's themed schools.

"I view this as the greatest civil rights issue of our time," Adamowski said. "For students to have the best teacher, not the most senior."

Jim Starr, executive director of Achieve Hartford!, the local education foundation monitoring and supporting the school system's reform efforts, also applauded improved test scores and other benchmarks that show that city students are closing the achievement gap. But he said that challenges remain.

Despite three years of improvements, Starr said, only 27 percent of city third-graders read at grade level, compared to the state average of 57 percent. Also, only 37 percent of Hartford's seventh-graders are considered at grade level in math, compared to 69 percent statewide. Starr added that while the graduation rate has improved significantly over three years, it is unacceptably low and brings with it "enormous ramifications."

School board Chairwoman Ada Miranda said Thursday that Adamowski had followed through on his promise.

"You told us it could be done and you have kept your word. Thank you Dr. A," Miranda said. "Together we have set the transformation machine in motion and not only proven the skeptics wrong we have proven our students right."

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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