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In Hartford Schools' Marketing Campaign, A Softer, 'Positive' Approach

Vanessa De La Torre

November 23, 2011

The instrumental music in the new TV ads evokes green pastures and peace on Earth.

Such is the turnaround in tone for the city schools' "Say Yes To Hartford" marketing campaign, which in its battle to retain students has gone for a softer message after drawing controversy months ago for a perceived attack on the state's Open Choice program.

On Tuesday, the school system launched its latest pro-Hartford advertisements that will air in English and Spanish-language media, including a 30-second TV spot that highlights Travelers as much as the city schools.

The video commences with an eager boy in a classroom, alone, trying on a pair of men's black leather Oxford shoes. In a similar scene, a girl picks out a pair of women's pumps.

The camera shows each taking a couple of steps, then a female narrator starts the pitch.

"Hartford public schools give your children all the tools to fill the shoes of important business leaders such as Travelers Insurance, one of the many companies that partner with our schools," a woman says.

Text on the screen notes that Travelers is a sponsor of High School Inc., a city school in downtown that focuses on finance. For three seconds, two teenage students in their blazer-and-khakis school uniforms are shown standing with two company executives.

"Apply today," the female voice concludes. "Deadline is January 31st."

Parents of students who will enter transitional grades in fall 2012, such as kindergarten and ninth-grade, have until that date to submit their top school picks for the city's own choice program featuring 40-plus neighborhood and themed schools.

If a child dreams of a particular career, "there is a Hartford school to match that interest, backed by a strategic partner," said Wilson Camelo of Bauza & Associates, the Asylum Street firm that the schools hired for the TV, radio and print campaign.

A divided board of education approved the $183,500 contract with Bauza last month; some members voted against it because of the "Choose Hartford" spring ads that Bauza also produced that dismayed Sheff advocates, who believed it undermined the landmark desegregation agreement.

Approved by the administration of former Superintendent Steven Adamowski, that ad campaign sought to dissuade parents from entering the state's Open Choice program and lottery. The TV spots featured numbered balls rolling in a lottery cage, with the selected ball marked "NO" in red letters.

"Your child's education is a right, and not a game," a Hartford school teacher told the camera. "Why risk their future on a lottery and then a waiting list?"

Superintendent Christina Kishimoto has offered no apologies for those ads, and instead has emphasized the school system's need to compete with the state's marketing efforts to draw Hartford students. But Kishimoto also assured the board there would be a more upbeat message for the new campaign.

By October 2012, the state can meet the Sheff terms if 80 percent of Hartford students are attending a school of their choice, which can include a city school.

Among the people at Tuesday's campaign launch was Philip Tegeler, one of the original attorneys for the Sheff plaintiffs and now a staff coordinator for the Sheff Movement Coalition. He stood in the atrium of 960 Main St., occasionally with his arms crossed. Another Sheff advocate, Liz Dupont-Diehl, also was present.

After viewing the advertisements, Tegeler clapped with the rest of the small crowd. "I think it's a very positive message that Hartford is sending with this ad campaign," Tegeler said. "We've moved on."

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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