And Henceforth Ye Shall Call Him – “Special Master”
Remember back when Connecticut politicians used to talk about the sanctity of “local control.”
It turns out this precious concept applies to everyone except our state’s poor and minority communities. In those places that state of Connecticut has the right to tell them what is best.
While the Bridgeport school take-over fiasco garnered attention in recent months there was a lot less coverage about the Connecticut State Board of Education’s vote to “take over” the Windham School System. Last spring the State Board directed Acting Commissioner George Coleman to find a “Special Master” to take over the day-to-day control of Windham’s schools
Steven Adamowski, the outgoing Superintendent of Schools in Hartford was the state’s pick and Adamowski is now being paid $225,000, plus benefits that include five weeks of paid vacation, three weeks of sick time and 100% paid health benefits for himself and his wife. The state will even pick up the $3,900 for his annual life and disability insurance.
In addition to the cool title and the big bucks Adamowski has been given “super powers” to manage the school system, oversee the school budget, develop and implement an improvement plan and “offer incentives for new, highly trained educators to work in Windham.”
And it’s not one of those fly in consulting contracts. The law keeps the “special master” in place until “one year after the district achieves adequate yearly process in reading and math under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.”
The Department of Education said they picked Adamowski due to his record in Hartford and his long standing commitment to “education reform.” According to the biography he provides to organizations where he is going to speak, as Hartford’s Superintendent he “engineered one of the most comprehensive urban school district overhauls in the country. He has introduced an all-choice system of high performing schools, reduced the number of middle schools and has created smaller career-oriented academies.”
Some of those who were on the front lines in Hartford’s school system might call the superintendent’s claims hyperbole. When Adamowski left his post last year, Hartford School Board member Robert Cotto Jr. wrote in the Hartford Courant that “Test score improvements in math and reading were inconclusive. For every new student who passed the math and reading test, the district removed one student from standardized testing. For two years, his administration omitted 8 percent of students from regular testing. The greatest factor causing the apparent district improvement was the removal of low-scoring students from the testing sample.”
Hey, if you can’t get the test scores up high enough, just don’t have the lower performing students take the test.
But Hartford is now behind him and Adamowski is focusing his attention on saving Windham.
His first few months as Special Master have not been without controversy.
One of his first acts to was to claim that Windham conducts more early childhood education than is required and went on to implement a significant restructuring that cut back on the town’s highly accessible early childhood program.
[The move was especially ironic considering early childhood education is considered the single most important factor in producing better educational outcomes for students and Governor Malloy’s “education reform plan” calls for expanding the amount of early childhood programming in those districts that have lower test scores]
Special Master Steven Adamowski also announced that he was going to save money by eliminating Windham classes that have less than 15 enrolled students. The decision falls heaviest on high school students taking advanced placement courses. You can be sure wealthy suburban school districts aren’t cutting back on the number of advanced placement courses.
[Once again, it was an ironic move considering the cut will dramatically reduce the number of Advanced Placement courses which not only provide high achieving students with additional educational opportunities but significantly help students get into college. Last year Windham had over 190 students in advanced placement courses and its “Project Opening Doors” was so successful that Windham was picked by Exxon/Mobil as a National Science and Math Initiative school. Of the 14 television commercials Exxon/Mobil produced for the National Science and Math Initiative advertising program, 3 were shot with Windham Students].
Yet another example of Adamowski’s new Windham policies relates directly to his mandate to offer incentives for new, highly trained educators to work in Windham.” Instead of recruiting experienced bi-lingual teachers who have the skill set and experience to work in such a challenging school system, Adamowski decided that he would utilize Teach for America students. Not that there is anything wrong with utilizing Teach for America recruits but in most cases these young people have five weeks of training and no classroom experience. Their energy and commitment is great but with many certified and qualified Connecticut teachers (including bi-lingual teachers) on unemployment, why not make an extra effort to identify and recruit the highly trained educators that his contract demands.
[Again, ironic considering all the rhetoric about creating jobs for Connecticut residents and ensuring those Connecticut teachers have the full range of skills needed to make a difference].
On another front, Adamowski also spends a good deal of his time speaking and advocating for “education reform”. He on a board of the National Council on Teacher Quality, an organization that some would call the one of the most anti-teacher union advocacy groups in the country.
He also spends a lot of time traveling around the country speaking to groups associated with the education reform, charter school and anti-teacher movements. His speaking engagements have even taken him to the American Enterprise Institute, the oldest and one of the most ultra-conservative business groups in the country. To date, I’ve never seen any documentation about who has been picking up the tab for these speeches and whether he will continue to do them now that he is part of the State Department of Education.
Finally, one of his most interesting connections he has is with Achievement First Inc, the charter school management company and ConnCAN, Connecticut’s charter school advocacy group.
Last year, when Achievement First was fighting to open charter schools in Rhode Island, RI-CAN (the Ocean State’s ConnCAN affiliate) ramped up a major public relations effort to soften opposition to the out-of-state charter school chain.
As the very moment the issue was coming to a head, Steven J. Adamowski submitted a commentary piece to Rhode Island’s major newspaper.
The piece read “when I took over as superintendent of the Hartford Public Schools in 2006, one of the first things I did was to call Dacia Toll, the president of Achievement First, to ask her to bring her high-performing school model to my district.
Under the terms of the arrangement, Hartford Public Schools provided a physical plant, utilities, custodial and other support services, while Achievement First provided the instruction and operated the school according to its successful model.
The results have been nothing short of astounding and rewarding.”
Okay, but putting aside the fact that (1) a number of Achievement First schools have not been making adequate yearly progress in reading and math as required by the federal No Child Left Behind Act and (2) the charter schools that Adamowski is bragging about are even more racially isolated than the public district school in Hartford that were – themselves – deemed illegally isolated and (3) while Hartford’s district schools needed more money he was quietly siphoning off scarce Hartford public school funds to give to Achievement First…
It is certainly curious to note that when the state of Connecticut was working to retain him to save Windham’s public schools he was busy helping Achievement First break into Rhode Island.
Achievement First, the same company that is the single biggest beneficiary of Governor’s Malloy’s “education reform” plan here in Connecticut.
Wherever you turn – they they are.