It's too easy to turn Mayor Eddie Perez's latest power grab into a joke. First there were the by now tired "King Eddie" quips when he appointed himself to the board of education and got himself elected chairman.
There was Perez's Type A personality on full display at his first board meeting Tuesday night, when he needled veteran board member Elizabeth Brad Noel for skipping a step in the proceedings: Nominations before oath of office, Perez corrected.
And then came the press release from his office Wednesday with the subject line, "Hartford: City of One." It was actually about some poverty program, but it was irresistible under the circumstances. Suddenly, Hartford is a city of one - Perez.
Jokes aside, Perez's unprecedented move to control the board of education is a risky, some would say, foolish, move.
This is a school system people are running from. Just ask Beverly Ramsey, who said Tuesday night that she's watched several friends move out of Hartford because of the schools.
"I've considered it myself," she said.
Despite various attempts to turn the schools around - including a state takeover - it has been impervious to a solution. Low test scores, poor student behavior and parental apathy persist. On any given day in the city, more than 200 students are on school-sanctioned vacations called suspensions.
So, it was understandable that while politicians and political groupies made snarky remarks - anyone have a throne? - parents in the crowd had few complaints about Hartford's big guy suddenly becoming bigger. Wasn't as if anyone else had done a bang-up job so far.
"I am in full support of the mayor," said Milly Arciniegas, who was at the meeting with her eighth grade son, Gabriel.
That said, she wasn't there to show her support. Arciniegas was there to say that after years of believing she was doing exactly what she needed to ensure her son's academic success; she was now questioning all of his scholastic achievements.
Until last week, she said, she was confident that her son's academic future was bright. He's been an honor student at Kennelly Elementary School since the third grade. He mastered the mastery tests. His mom is PTO president.
Academic discipline and parental involvement - isn't that what everyone preaches as the secret to success?
But then it was time for 13-year-old Gabriel to write essays for the Connecticut International Baccalaureate Academy in East Hartford and Glastonbury High, and the reality of a Hartford education stared her in the face in the form of an essay that was nowhere near the level she expected.
"It read like a sixth grade essay," she said.
Arciniegas was stunned. Gabriel hadn't brought many essays home from school, she said, but he always got A's in English and scored high on the writing portion of the mastery tests.
Gabriel was unhinged. "I felt like such a loser," he said.
His mom went to the school, looking for help and some explanation.
But over the weekend, she decided it would do her no good to blame his teacher or the principal.
"It was a systemwide failure," she said.
So she went to the board of education meeting, armed with letters for each new board member detailing her situation and asking for a private tutor.
Gabriel was prepared to speak, but the night's festivities took over.
In a moment of adolescent clarity, he aptly observed: If I was doing this bad, then can you imagine the other kids who are behind me?
It's a scary thought - and exactly what Perez is up against.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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