The activity of the “Special Master” who was appointed to oversee the schools in Windham is quickly becoming one of the most controversial developments in Connecticut’s education system.
Connecticut State Statute, Section 10-223e, was intended to allow Governor Malloy’s State Board of Education and his Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor, to, “assign a special master to administer the Windham school district’s educational operations and help it implement a plan to achieve adequate yearly progress (AYP) as a district in reading and math as required by the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act.”
On May 5th, 2011, the State Board of Education voted to make Steven Adamowski, Windham’s Special Master.” The motion was to, “to improve student performance in the Windham Public School District and to remove the Windham Public School District and its individual schools from the list of schools and districts designated as low achieving.”
The law was intended to, “improve” Windham’s schools, not “destroy” them. The law is actually about improving “reading and math” scores.
Instead, Special Master Adamowski, whose responsibilities have been expanded to also serve as Special Master of New London’s schools, has engaged in a reign of terror and destruction that appears to be far beyond anything even remotely permitted under the law.
While it is clear that some of Adamowski’s changes will undermine Windham’s community schools and hurt many of the community’s children, it remains unclear as to who, exactly, is being helped and who is making the money in this unwarranted attack on Windham’s public education system.
What is clear is that many of Adamowski’s actions have no relationship, whatsoever, to the concept of improving reading and math scores.
For example, let’s examine the incredible steps that Adamowski has taken to divert resources away from Windham High School, while using those resources to “reward” some and punish others.
In August of this year, Adamowski announced that he had negotiated a “deal” with Norwich Free Academy, which would make NFA one of six high school options for Windham students.
As part of his plan to “overhaul Windham’s schools,” the Special Master expanded the ability for some students to simply leave the district completely.
Adamowski’s deal would require Windham, one of the poorest towns in Connecticut, to pay the tuition for up to ten students to attend the privately run Norwich Free Academy. The tuition would be $11,020 per student, but the children would have to provide their own transportation for the 30 to 45 minute drive to Norwich.
Adamowski told one newspaper that, “he was charged with finding opportunities for Windham students, and forming a partnership with NFA fit perfectly with the goal of the Windham reform plan.”
Wait, What? The law says absolutely nothing that would remotely suggest that he was charged with finding opportunities for Windham students to go to high schools in other towns. In addition, syphoning off more than $100,000 a year from Windham’s school budget and giving it to NFA is hardly the mechanism for improving math and reading skills in Windham.
According to the reports, “it may only be 10 students now, but the new partnership between Norwich Free Academy and Windham High School has the ability to be expanded.” In fact, at a recent Windham Board of Education meeting there was talk of expanding to 25 students.
And bolstering NFA’s student count is certainly the goal of the school’s superintendent, David Klein, who told a reporter, “We certainly can accommodate more than 10 (students), but I would hate to put a number on it…We have 2,150 students enrolled this coming year. We’ve had 2,500 to 2,700 students in a single year in the past five to seven years, so we have the room and are looking to expand.”
It turns out that Special Master Steven Adamowski approached the privately run Norwich Free Academy in April, and the two parties successfully negotiated the plan to allow up to 10 Windham students to start at NFA this year.
But the story doesn’t stop there.
Putting aside the question of how children from low-income families would even get from Windham to NFA, is the broader issue of who gets to fill those slots.
What is known is that five Windham students started at NFA in August. Four were freshman and one, a senior, whose family had been paying the $11,000 tuition had the good fortune to be in the right place at the right time. Now the taxpayers of Windham and Connecticut are now paying that student’s tuition bill as well.
But why those four?
And what about others who wanted to shift to NFA?
One parent found out, the hard way, that it wasn’t a question of whether you wanted to go, but who you talked to that made the difference.
The Windham family made contact with both NFA’s registrar and director of student affairs. Both said they were aware of the contract between the two districts and invited the family down for a tour. The perspective student was given an admissions package. One form, an affidavit confirming the student’s residency and that the Town Of Windham would assume the cost of tuition, required the signature of the superintendent of schools. Windham’s superintendent signed the affidavit and wished the student well at his new school.
Later that very day, the superintendent called the family and explained that a mistake had been made. She was withdrawing her permission and signature.
The rationale for this late news was that it turned out that Adamowski’s “deal” with NFA only applied to Windham students who were entering the 9th grade.
When asked, the Chair of Windham’s Board of Education wrote, “I understand that details of the contract between the Windham School District and NFA is being revised to be more specific and avoid future confusion.”
Wait, so there is an agreement but it is being revised?
Meanwhile, despite repeated requests, the agreement has still not been provided.
But the whole episode raises even more questions.
Special Master Adamowski’s role was supposed to be to help improve math and reading scores in Windham. By what authority is he negotiating deals to send some students to schools that aren’t even close to Windham?
And considering the issues of poverty, language barriers and racial isolation, Adamowski decides to negotiate a “deal” that the Town of Windham will pick up the $11,000 tuition bill but won’t cover the costs of getting to students to that other school?
And while it is certainly understandable that NFA wants more students and needs more tuition revenue, what is Adamowski doing taking scarce taxpayer funds and using them to send students to a privately run high school, at the same time Adamowski is making drastic cuts to Windham High School’s programs.
There are times when people use the word criminal when they mean it is a really bad idea and then there are times that something is truly criminal because it is actually illegal.
Considering what the Windham law actually says, how individual students are being treated, and what Adamowski is doing, it is hard to know, in this case, which is the right way to use the word – criminal.