[A long but important post] Tomorrow, (Oct 2nd) State Senator Don Williams and State Representative Susan Johnson are scheduled to meet with their constituents about the damage “Special Master”, “Special Deal” Steven Adamowski is doing to their community.
The children, parents, teacher and taxpayers of New London deserve a similar meeting with their elected officials.
No matter how well intentioned the effort to install a “Special Master” for Windham and New London may have been, legislators should recognize that Steven Adamowski has undermined the fundamental rights of those two communities while significantly damaging the local school systems in the name of corporate education reform.
With virtually no over-sight or appropriate checks and balances, Steven Adamowski has collected more than $500,000 in salary and benefits over the past twenty-four months and has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in public funds on no-bid contracts with people and companies he has worked with in the past.
Rather than step in to stop Adamowski’s abuses, state officials, led by the Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor, have provided Adamowski with cover.
The latest, and most egregious of these actions was to give Adamowski a six-figure state job before the State Board of Education even voted to extend Adamowski’s role as “Special Master”
Adamowski’s unsupervised expenditures should have been enough to convince legislators to repeal the Special Master legislation. But sadly, Adamowski’s damage goes far beyond how he has expended public funds.
“Special Deal” Adamowski has earned that name over and over again; the time has come for Connecticut’s elected officials, and especially Windham’s state legislators to put an end to Adamowski’s reign of abuse.
As State Senator Don Williams and State Representative Susan Johnson review the facts, they should pay special attention to the following issues;
- The role of “Special Master” was intended to augment local control by administrators, teachers, parents and taxpayers. It was never intended to destroy the rights of local citizens to run their schools. In the United States, no one, especially in the Constitution State, deserves to be treated like second class citizen but that is exactly what has happened in Windham (and New London). When it comes to setting public policy and the use of public funds, Adamowski has consistently undermined the right of self-governance and has conducted himself in an autocratic and dictatorial fashion.
- Legislators may have believed the Special Master legislation was a mechanism to get more attention and financial support for their district’s schools, but the process has become a tool for Governor Malloy, Commissioner Stefan Pryor and Steven Adamowski to push their politically driven corporate education reform agenda. Windham’s students, parents and teachers have become guinea pigs in a failed education reform experiment that undermines the role of teachers, privatizes local education and seeks to pigeon-hole students into pre-determined categories and outcomes.
- Sold as a way to institute an additional level of professional management over Windham and New London, the Special Master has spent minimal time in the districts, less time in schools, and virtually none observing teaching and learning. He has made virtually no effort to get to know the community or is constituencies and has taken no time to learn about the impact his policies are having on the students, parents and teachers who have been forced to live with them.
- Despite Adamowski’s rhetoric to the contrary, the percentage of the Windham Public School budget allotted for central office administration and administrators has expanded while that for teachers and support staff has dwindled.
- Adamowski’s so-called re-design of Windham High School has had profoundly negative consequences. It was redesigned by outside consultants with no knowledge of Windham and there were no meaningful or truly substantive opportunities for students, parents or teachers to influence the proposed revisions.
In today’s world – whether a student is college bound or not – citizens need access to comprehensive and broad based educational opportunities. However, Adamowski’s “redesign” has had the exact opposite effect. For the first time in generations, students aren’t allowed to take a range of classes or work with a breadth of teachers.
- Adamowski’s refusal to allow the popular DECA program to continue at the school, because it did not have a place within the narrowly drafted specifications, undermined an extremely important option for students. Its demise undermined moral, student opportunities and made a mockery of the major financial and time investments that had gone into the creation of the program.
- Windham’s schools are becoming polarized islands where students are being shunted into sub-categories that limit their interaction with other students. For example, an analysis of the proportion of students in each “academy” qualifying for special services clearly indicates that the schools are attracting students with different levels of academic preparation that will impact the appearance of academic performance and flies in the face of the state’s historic commitment to comprehensive education for all students.
- Even the most uninterested observers understand that Steven Adamowski’s incredibly outrageous violation of the letter and spirit of the State’s “Turn-around” law has been well documented. Windham’s community driven Windham Middle School Turn-around Committee successfully developed a comprehensive plan that fulfilled all of the goals outlined in Connecticut’s law. However, Commissioner Pryor and Special Master Adamowski’s unreasonable interference and demands undermined the process and derailed what was in the best interest of Windham, its students, parents, teachers and taxpayers.
- Similarly, Adamowski has made a mockery of Connecticut’s School Governance Council laws. While more than $20,000 in taxpayer funds and hours and hours were spent training the participants of Windham’s school governance councils, no meaningful effort was made to utilize these legally mandated entities. In fact, in the recent Windham Middle School Turnaround Plan debacle, the Windham Middle School Governance Council wasn’t even properly included in the process.
- One of the Special Master’s most significant and troubling failures occurred in conjunction with the Natchaug Elementary School, whose roof was deemed unsound. These students are still educated in Windham Middle School because of avoidable delays in securing funding to repair the roof, delays on the parts of many, but most noticeably on the part of the special master who has been aggressive in addressing issues he cares about. Because of this, Windham Middle School, a school that has been experiencing much general turmoil, is also limited in how it can use its space to redress school climate problems and educational grouping concerns. Latest reports are that the Special Master’s failures to resolve the school roof problem will Windham and State taxpayers hundreds of thousands more than would have been necessary if he had resolved the problem in a timely fashion. The Natchaug situation also provides evidence of Adamowski’s unwillingness to properly follow Connecticut’s school governance laws.
- The Special Master’s unauthorized and inappropriate effort to force “school choice” or “one-sided regionalization” went well beyond his statutory authority, has generated ill-will and exacerbated racial and ethnic isolation in a community that was already grappling with segregation and isolation. His move not only created a substantial drain of students, reduced the size of the district, exacerbated the stress on the operating budget and but violated the spirit of Connecticut law.
- In particular, in some cases (i.e. NFA), the lack of providing transportation for students means that only privileged students can take advantage of the option. Students and families with financial need were given little to no “choice” opportunities, while those from families with resources were given far greater choices, at taxpayer expense. In Connecticut, the notion of school choice was created to provide opportunities to reduce racial and ethnic isolation. Under Adamowski’s approach it has done opposite, a move that could very well be unconstitutional in Connecticut.
- With a growing Latino population in Windham, Steven Adamowski’s approach to bilingual education and English Language Learners has been particularly abysmal. Under the guise of bringing the district into “compliance,” the special master drastically altered and reduced bilingual supports in Windham. Under Adamowski’s approach, “compliance” was re-defined as meaning that there would be the “option” for the placement of bilingual students directly into mainstream classes with the nominal support of co-teachers or paraprofessionals. Because of the scarcity of staffing resources, practically speaking this has meant that scores of ELL students spend time in class each day with absolutely no support, an much of the time sharing a paraprofessional with others at ineffective student/staff ratios.
Bilingual specialists in the district, along with many teachers and administrators understand that this is not a viable model. In fact, a growing number of professionals consider the model of bilingual education in Windham to be outrageously inappropriate. Adamowski’s failure to implement or even allow the development of effective bilingual and ELL programs is violating student rights and insulting and demeaning Windham’s Latino population.
- Adamowski’s efforts to “streamline transportation costs” have led to multiple problems including pre-school parents having to pay for services (which led to underfunding since so many parents are so poor that they had no co-pay under the needs-based sliding scale); last minute and problematic changes in the daily schedules of schools driven as they tried to accommodate the transportation contract and inappropriate expansion of the “walking” zone.
- A contract with Teach for America (TFA) was signed after only minimal public discussion of the presumed benefits and potential dangers of bringing in untrained novice teachers. One of the most pressing problems in lower income communities is the high rate of turnover among teachers. Using TFA recruits further exacerbates that problem. In fact, as a result of Adamowski’s approach and policies, turnover in Windham has reached record levels. Furthermore, the TFA-Windham contract is more costly than that of any other community in Connecticut and, as with TFA contracts elsewhere, the agreement fails to provide Windham with a mechanism to add bi-lingual teachers.
- NWEA Testing system. The special master devoted at least $65,000 in public funds to purchase the controversial NWEA MAP testing resources. The pedagogical value of the test is extremely limited and the decision to proceed with this expenditure was never properly discussed with local policy makers or voters before the purchase. Students have been required to spend many more hours being assessed rather than taught, and the primary purpose of the test is to give evaluators some (specious) date on teacher performance.
And the list of “Special Master,” “Special Deal” Adamowski’s failures goes on and on.
The people of Windham and especially the community’s students, parents and teachers need and deserve public officials who have the courage and conviction to make a real difference in these troubled times.