Hartford School Superintendent Steven Adamowski met with members of Hartford’s Working Families Party (WFP) Saturday afternoon and said his plan for revamping the city’s school system is an absolute necessity.
Adamowski said “Hartford, historically, has not had a good record for sustaining plans [to improve the school system]. We can’t give up when the going gets tough...If we stop now, our children will have to settle for the status quo and the status quo right now is unacceptable.”
Adamowski is in the process of creating an “all choice” school system for Hartford and is also redesigning selected schools with a history of poor performance. This “redesign” involves implementing a new educational model, such as the Montessori system, at each school. Adamowski said he believes the school system can handle the redesign of about five schools per year. “It’s not easy. We have to repair the airplane while it’s still flying. We can’t just land it, let all the kids out and take them back when it’s fixed,” he said.
To illustrate the need for change, Adamowski said only about one third of the city’s third graders are reading at their grade level. He also said that only about one third of Hartford students who start high school make it all the way through to graduation. Lack of a high school diploma will make things difficult for young people trying to find a job in a world where more and more employers are requiring college diplomas. “The data we have shows that approximately 80 percent of all the jobs our students will be applying for will require a college degree,” said Adamowski. “Most of the 20 percent of the jobs that are left are in the service industries and basically that means becoming one of the working poor.”
WFP member Urania Petit said when she was growing up on the island of Saint Lucia, she was taught how to read by her teacher – who was also her neighbor. But in Hartford, she said, most teachers live in the suburbs and do not interact with students outside of the classroom.
Adamowski acknowledged the problem, saying, “Currently about 94 percent of our teachers live outside the city...this is a dangerous situation, almost a colonial situation in which those who cook and clean live here and the professionals come from the outside.” He did add, however, that he is currently in the middle of negotiating a new contract with the teachers and, while he is not allowed to discuss the details of those negotiations, “the issue of residency and incentives [to live in the city] was a high priority.”
Adamowski began his talk by reminding those in attendance that a recent study had shown that Connecticut had the highest achievement gap between rich and poor students in the nation. Many of the Hartford school system’s problems can be traced to the fact that each of the state’s 169 towns operate their school systems independently while other states take a more regional approach. “If we had a county-wide or regional school district, I assure you it would be a very different picture...We are challenged because so much need is concentrated in one place.”
Although the Sheff vs. O’Neill court case was designed to end the racial, ethnic and economic isolation of school children in Hartford and other major cities in Connecticut, much of that isolation remains.
While 11 of Hartford’s 45 public schools are now “magnet schools” and accept students from the suburbs, Adamowski said, “so far there have been no takers for a host magnet school in the suburbs. In my view, this is intolerable. Hartford is the only district in the region doing anything about the Sheff decision.”