The Hartford Board of Education may soon launch a national search for a new school superintendent to replace current school chief Steven Adamowski, who will be leaving his post this summer.
Two current Hartford School employees expressed interest in the superintendent’s post after Adamowski announced he was leaving: Assistant Superintendent Christina Kishimoto and Tim Sullivan, Principal of Greater Hartford Classical Magnet School on Woodland Street. Both candidates have supporters on the Board of Education, but no decision has been reached yet. A vote is expected at next week’s board meeting, if the stalemate continues, the national search will be launched. Sullivan’s mother-in-law, longtime Board of Education member Elizabeth “Brad” Noel has stepped down from the board until a new superintendent is chosen to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest.
Both Sullivan and Kishimoto are expected to remain in the running for the school’s top spot during the national search. This week, The Hartford News will report on its interview with Sullivan. Next week, we’ll report on Mike McGarry’s interview with Kishimoto.
Tim Sullivan is a lifelong resident of Hartford and currently resides in the West End.
He had originally planned on a career in business after graduating from Wesleyan University. But, while on a train ride through East Germany, he suddenly made a decision. “I was thinking about how much I enjoyed coaching and working with kids and, all of a sudden, that was it. I decided to become a teacher. When I got off the train, I called my mother and said, ‘Get the application for Saint Joe’s.’”
Sullivan soon completed his teacher certification program at Saint Joseph’s College and began teaching history and social studies at Weaver High School in 1989. He taught at Weaver from 1989 - 2000. He also coached golf and indoor track and was assistant coach of the school’s championship football team. He is currently a baseball coach in the RAGO Little League in Elizabeth Park.
In 2000, Sullivan switched from teaching to administration and became Assistant Principal of Bulkeley High School. After that, he worked for one year in the school system’s central office as the district-wide scheduler for the 8th-11th grades. In 2004, he became the first principal of Classical Magnet School. The school was based on a successful program which had operated at Hartford Public High School and Quirk Middle School from 1983-2004. Drawing on students from over 25 towns, Classical Magnet has become one of Hartford’s most successful schools. Last year, Sullivan was named co-principal of the year by The Connecticut Association of Schools.
Sullivan said the sweeping changes instituted by Adamowski were necessary because many Hartford parents had lost faith in their neighborhood schools. “Most of the structural changes that Adamowski put in place will have to stay,” said Sullivan, “things like student-based budgeting, empowerment, choice and so on. That was phase one, and it was structural and largely internal. Now it’s time for phase two.”
Sullivan said phase two of school reform in Hartford should primarily involve giving the community and the system’s teachers ownership of the reform process. As an example, Sullivan pointed out that parents at Martin Luther King, Jr. School on Ridgefield Street were “not brought to the table” when central administration proposed closing the school. Parents protested and the school remained open.
“The foundation has been laid, now we’ve got to work more collaboratively,” said Sullivan, “with parents and with organizations like CREC (Capital Region Education Council), the state legislature and city hall.”
Sullivan said this collaboration should also extend to Hartford teachers. “There has never been a successful organization in which the employees did not fully believe in the organization’s philosophy. We have to get the teachers on board...In the past, it was the teachers blaming the parents [for low levels of achievement in Hartford schools]. Now the parents and the administration are blaming the teachers. We have to get all three working together toward a common goal. There has to be a higher level of trust and collaboration.”
Sullivan said there are two ways of looking at running the Hartford School System. “First is to make the schools better in order to have a better school system. The second way to look at it is that you’re there to make a better community overall and the schools are a big part of that...I definitely have the second philosophy. I want the school district to be a key element in the broader process of improving Hartford...We all have to think about the community as a whole, including the superintendent.”
As an example, Sullivan pointed out that Weaver High School’s indoor pool has been closed to the community for over two years because one of the principles of the current administration is to not expend funds for anything not directly related to educating students – and it costs money to staff the pool with lifeguards and other personnel. “But if you look at it from a community-wide perspective, if you ask yourself whether the benefit to the community is worth the small expense, then you’d probably say yes, open the pool,” said Sullivan.
Some supporters of Kishimoto, Sullivan’s rival for the superintendent’s job, say he lacks experience at the top administrative level. Sullivan counters that, “I have an understanding of this community on a very deep level. I know these parents, and I know what they want for their children. That understanding will help me overcome the learning curve that other administrators with more experience don’t have to deal with. In addition, I have worked as a teacher in the Hartford Public Schools. I have a real understanding and a sensitivity toward the employees.”
Backers of Sullivan see him as an end to the long line of school superintendents who work in Hartford for a few years and move on to another job. Sullivan agrees. “I don’t have to overcome a credibility issue. I’m involved in Hartford. I won’t just leave.”
Sullivan summed up his qualifications for the school system’s top spot this way. “If you could have 43 schools as good as Classical Magnet, you’d jump at the chance. I can do that,” said Sullivan.