Senator Williams/Representative Johnson: Windham’s children, parents, teachers and taxpayers deserve better

[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.

  • Mary Gallucci

    Let’s not forget how Adamowski interfered with Natchaug’s School Improvement Grant (SIG). First, it is in doubt whether Adamowski should have been allowed to do anything with Natchaug, even as Special Master, because Natchaug was already under state and federal scrutiny as a recipient of the SIG. Regardless, Adamowski added 5th grade AND increased the Natchaug school population by one entire class per grade in the last year of the SIG (the SIG is written with specific actions in mind–professional development tied to curricular changes that will take place over the duration of the grant–so adding both staff and 70-80% more students, plus another grade, in the third year contradicts the entire purpose of the grant– (see p. 15; 22 on PD; 25 family engagement; 30 budget; 60 original student data). Note also that, under the category of Instructional Reform (how Orwellian!), it mentions tests, but NOT NWEA! which Adamowski added in year 3, totally unnecessarily!
    As a parent of a child who attended Natchaug for the duration of the original grant timeline, I demand an audit of this grant, its finances, and its compliance with the federal legislation.

    • Mary Gallucci

      I think it is necessary to stress the enormous disservice Adamowski did in interfering with the SIG grant.
      For the first time in years, Natchaug students were enjoying “specials” on a regular basis, such as art, music, and library. They had additional tutoring and academic support. Many of the funds were being disbursed wisely, and there was a wonderful improvement in morale across the board. The new principal had a vision and he worked very well with the teachers and staff. Even members from the State Department of Education noted all the positive sentiments and the happiness of the children.
      Since I had had children at Natchaug for several years before the SIG grant, I was very gratified to see that at last all students were enjoying support and showing that, given the resources and the investment of a strong reading program, math, and enrichment, they could make real progress.
      But Adamowski could not let them have their three years–which might have been extended through external funding and was supposed to continue at the district level. Adamowski tore this away from the students of Natchaug, and their decline is thus all the more tragic–and indicative of their lost hope. Adamowski snatched Natchaug’s victory and drove the school into defeat instead. Unfortunately, the Windham Board of Education never made a peep about this, when I brought it up again and again; I also brought it up at the State Board of Education, called the Turnaround people at the SDE numerous times, and wrote, emailed, and called Susan Johnson and Don Williams. They have all failed the children of Windham, especially those of Natchaug.

  • Sleepless in Bridgeport

    I can’t believe there is a bigger jackass then Paul Vallas, but just when you think it can’t get any worse (oh hell I am an optimist)…… It gets worse! Where is the quiet CEA while all this is going on? What about a survey to its members……. You know like a “how am I doing?” for Stephan Pryor. What recommendations do they have for election day?

  • buygoldandprosper

    One can only hope for the best BUT in a one party state Williams ( the cupcake legislator) and Johnson are part of the problem and hardly the cure. They will not rock the boat or upset Dan’s teacart but it is a start I suppose.
    If this state had an Attorney General…now THAT might be useful!

    • buygoldandprosper

      And don’t forget! You are all invited. Tap the HELOC for some rare, beefy fun, sponsored by a lobbyist even more disgusting than Roy-The Maggot!

      Tonio Burgos
      invites you to join him for lunch with
      Governor Dan Malloy
      Friday, October 4th, 2013
      At Capital Grille
      120 Broadway
      On Nassau at Pine Street
      New York, NY
      Co-host — $5000
      CDP Founder — $1000
      To rsvp, please contact Samantha at 212-566-5600 or [email protected]
      Contributions are not tax deductible for federal income tax purposes. Your contribution will be used in connection with federal elections and is subject to the limitations and prohibitions of the Federal Election Campaign Act.
      Thank you for providing the following information required by law.

      ___ Yes, I am looking forward to attending the event

      ___ I will not be able to attend the event, but please accept my contribution

      Please make contributions payable to “Connecticut Democratic State Central Committee – Federal Account” and mail to: 330 Main Street, 3rd Floor, Hartford CT 06106

  • Castles Burning

    My deepest wish for some resolutions so that those in Windham are able to put their ideas for improvement into effect and that “things,” such as the leaky roof that might need addressing, get taken care of. May the damage be stopped before it goes any further. Reading such a catalog as reported here (and, of course here previously) is heart-wrenching.

  • Linda174

    Senator Williams and Representative Johnson,

    I suggest you listen to the people. That’s who you represent. That’s who will or will not vote for you next time. It’s time to pay attention.

  • Linda174

    To Mrs. Johnson and Mr. Williams, from the Windham children:

  • Linda174

    One more visual for you:

  • jrp1900

    The Adamowski reign in Windham has been something to behold. The schools in Windham are troubled because the town is troubled: Windham has high rates of poverty, and is overly reliant on property taxes for funding schools. Many of the taxable properties in Windham are owned by out-of-town landlords, who are generally averse to raising taxes. The divide between Willimantic and Windham is profoundly economic, and there is a fair degree of racism that enters into the equation, as Willimantic is majority Latino, while the Windhams are predominantly “white.” Over a good span of time, the State of Connecticut has been grossly negligent of Windham: the State has failed to meet its obligations under the Educational Cost Sharing Formula. (When Dan Malloy was Mayor of Stamford he was well aware of what this means for local school budgets. Now that he is Governor, he pretends ignorance). The school infrastructure in Windham is in desperate need of renovation. Buildings have not been maintained. And every year school budgets are cut down to the bone in an effort to placate a mad faction of “fiscal conservatives” who make the Tea Party look like moderates. As a distressed community, Windham has many children in need of special education services. And as destination for many new immigrants, it has a fair population of students who require English language training. In short, Windham is a complex, interesting town with a lot of problems but also with potential and promise.
    And so what does Steven Adamowski do when he comes to town as a Special Master? Does he educate himself about the complexities of the town? Does he make an effort to listen and learn from the various town residents? Does he think about the town in relation to the screwed-up system of education in the State of Connecticut? No, Mr. Adamowski does none of these things. No sooner had he set up shop in Windham and he began the process of completely DISMANTLING the school system that was in place. From his first day in town, Mr. Adamowski has treated Windham as a golden opportunity to enact his putrid agenda of corporate school “reform.” Windham is a small town, but, as Jonathan says, Adamowski has thrown everything from the reformer’s playbook at the town–more administrators, TFA, “school choice,” charters, STEM academies, anti-union management goals, more standardized testing and “assessments,” more consultants, more outsourcing, more, more, more….., etc, etc. It seems not to matter to Adamowski that half these initiatives are absurd and cannot work in a town as small as Windham. He only seems to care about putting these initiatives in place. Once they are in place, he feels that “reform” has been achieved. He doesn’t have much to say when his bogus reforms lead to even worse educational “outcomes” for children who are already struggling.
    To my knowledge, Adamowski has not spoken of poverty, racism, homelessness, and despair as key factors in “underperforming” schools. He has not spoken of the peculiar politics and tensions that beset the Windham school district. He has not spoken of the State’s failure to comply with its own laws in supporting schools. He has not spoken of the travails of Windham school teachers, who are among the lowest paid teachers in the State. He has not spoken of the challenges that young children encounter in going to schools that are not properly appreciated. Instead, he has put the focus on disciplining teachers and introducing divisive “market principles” that will benefit only a privileged few. He has taken money from the starved Windham school budget and offered it up to NFA and Parish Hill–and Windham residents have had no say at all in these remarkable developments.
    Jonathan’s list of Adamowski’s failures is absolutely damning of the sorry rule of the Special Master. I hope that Sen Williams and Rep Johnson are serious about scaling back the powers invested in Adamowski’s office. And I hope they will resist the pressure that is bound to come from Malloy’s people, that the best course here is to leave things alone. The Special Master is intolerable presence in Windham and this needs to be stated, and held fast to, in no uncertain terms.

    • Linda174

      Bravo! He’s not very creative or innovative. He peddles the same snake oil wherever he goes. This was all very predictable, wasn’t it?

      • jrp1900

        Linda 174: You could not be more right that it is all very predictable. Adamowski recently said, in regards to the poor test scores in Windham that occurred AFTER his “reforms”: “Sometimes in taking two steps forward, you have to take one backwards.” This vapid cliché is the best he can do to explain the failings of his great initiatives. It’s just the kind of predictable bullshit you would expect from someone who does not have a leg to stand on…

        Argh! How do they get away with it??!

    • Mary Gallucci

      Yes, yes, and yes! brilliant stuff.

      • Linda174

        This guy or gal is a genius….Adafraudski should be nervous. I suggest a face off and charge admission or take bets on who is the better debater. The funds will fix the Natchaug roof.

  • Vi

    This is a public meeting. 6 PM at Windham Town Hall.

  • Charlie Puffers

    Adamowski did the same things in Hartford. There is now a two tiered system of the haves and the have-nots. The idea that competition is good for schools makes no sense unless you believe that some students are losers. Ms. Johnson and Mr. Williams please let your consciences be your guide. Adamowski and Pryor need to be gone. There policies are bad for public schools and unfair to students. It;s time to make some changes.