“I am in control here” – A day in the life of Special Master Steven Adamowski

 “As of now, I am in control here, in the White House.” – Alexander Haig, Secretary of the State

It was March 30, 1981 and an assassination attempt sent President Reagan to the hospital.

Secretary of the State Al Haig called a press conference at the White House to announce, “Constitutionally, gentlemen, you have the President, the Vice President, and the Secretary of State in that order, and should the President decide he wants to transfer the helm to the Vice President, he will do so. He has not done that. As of now, I am in control here, in the White House, pending return of the Vice President and in close touch with him. If something came up, I would check with him, of course.”

But of course, Al Haig had his facts wrong since the US Constitution requires that the line of succession is the Vice President, the Speaker of the House, the President Pro Tempore of the Senate and then the Secretary of State.

The Haig moment is often used as a metaphor when someone inappropriately attempts to take power or control.

Just such a moment occurred earlier this week when Governor Malloy’s “Special Master” for New London and Windham, Steven Adamowski, informed the New London Board of Education that he and Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor were the ones truly in charge when it came to selecting a new local superintendent of schools for New London.

As reported by The Day newspaper of New London, Peg Curtin, the head of the New London Board of Education explained, “I would like to see the community be involved…”I would just want to make sure everyone is heard.”

The newspaper then goes on to report that, “As a result of the state’s involvement in the city’s school system, Adamowski said, he or the state commissioner of education could review the candidates the board decides to interview and eliminate any they find to be unqualified.”

Adamowski explained, “We will not be in a situation where I or the commissioner is in a position of having to veto something the board wants to do or tell you not to do something…We would like to simply make sure that the depth and quality of the candidates that go before you as finalists is sufficient.”


The Connecticut General Assembly authorized the State Board of Education, in very limited circumstances, to name a “Special Master” to help communities improve their schools.  The Malloy administration has used that authority in two cases – Windham and New London.

In both cases the result has been a disaster.

While the title “Special Master” is absurd and insulting, the law was never intended to create a dictator who would be in position to destroy a community’s right to control its schools.

And yet is exactly what has been happening in the two communities.

Adamowski’s rhetoric is nothing short of an “Al Haig moment” and the citizens of New London and Windham better reach out to their local state senators and representatives to insure this modern-day Al Haig doesn’t get away with claiming powers he does not have.

A perfect example of the problem appears in the very same Day article.  The paper reports, “Adamowski has previously recommended that the new superintendent’s salary be set to a competitive level, that he or she be given a three-year contract and that the renewal of the superintendent’s contract be determined solely by the results of a yet-to-be-adopted performance evaluation tied to performance targets established in the district’s strategic operating plan.”

A superintendent evaluation “determined solely by the results of a yet-to-be-adopted performance evaluation tied to performance targets?

(AKA standardized test scores).

With that approach, New London parents and their local representative must move quickly to take back control of their schools so they can hire a superintendent who has the ability to fulfill all the duties associated with the job.

Because, as every parent, teacher and school board members understands, a superintendent’s job is so much more than improving test scores.

Superintendents are responsible for recruiting and retaining good administrators and teachers, for making sure special education student get the additional help they need and deserve, for developing and implementing effective bi-lingual and English Language Learning Programs, for improving early education opportunities, for reducing bullying and creating safer school climates, for seeking ways to reduce racial isolation, for ensuring scarce resources are well spent and the list goes on and on.

Despite Steven Adamowski’s apparent wish, Connecticut’s “Special Master” Statute was never intended to allow Pryor, Adamowski or anyone else to make decisions that are solely within the purview of the local Board of Education.

And if Adamowski claims he has special powers then citizens need to ensure legislators act to protect them from that power grab.

Al Haig’s comments that day in 1981 made him the laughing-stock of the world.

Adamowski’s claim that as “Special Master” he has “super powers” is equally absurd.

Or as the case may be, hey Steven, “you’re doing a heck of a job.”

You can find the latest Day article here:  http://www.theday.com/article/20131206/NWS01/312069954/0/SEARCH

  • Patrick Walsh

    Wait, is the title of this individual actually “Special Master ?” In a nominal democracy with a legacy of slavery that you can still taste ?

    • jonpelto

      Incredible right?

      That is the official name for the position in the law – SPECIAL MASTER…. WTF

    • msavage

      I know, right? I felt a bit nauseous the first time I heard that term–I think it was announced by Coleman at a meeting in Windham.

  • Mary Gallucci

    Well, it’s already quite clear that Adamowski will have a big say in Windham’s next superintendent, after encouraging the craven Windham BoE not to renew the current Superintendent’s contract based on–student test scores! even though on numerous occasions it was pointed out that the tests are unfairly used when non-native English speakers must take them in English only; even when Windham students are used as guinea pigs to test-drive new assessments for private corporations; even when, after three rounds of poorly delivered “pilot” assessments that dragged on and usurped actual instructional time, students were then told to take the older tests (CMT or CAPT), whose format is so different that most students were confused and dazed. But Steven Adamowski sat by, preparing the sacrifice of Windham’s Superintendent of Schools.
    She apparently “scored” a 55 overall, and 6 Board members, lackeys of Adamowksi, promptly pressed the eject button.

    Hell, in Hartford Adamowski “improved” graduation rates by making 55 the lowest possible score a student could receive (thus, if a student got one answer in 10 right, which would result in a grade of 10, an F, the teacher had to plug in a 55–or the computer changed it automatically to 55). So, recalculating the Windham Superintendent’s score (not that I would ever rate a professional on such bogus measures as test scores), it looks like she should receive a 110 (55 + 55).
    Be that as it may, even the Windham BoE is under the impression that the Special Master law allows Pryor and Adamowski to dub anyone they choose to be Superintendent. Windham has also had one bout of the R.Rader of CABE treatment–it sounds quite similar to New London’s “forum”, although he did have to answer my questions (or avoid them), resulting in another elected BoE member insulting ME for bringing up points of law and the uber-embarrassing case of Paul Vallas.

    • msavage

      Yep, and certain idiot BOE members approved Adamowski’s decision DESPITE scores of parents, teachers and students, among others, standing up in support of Ana Ortiz at a public meeting.

  • Mary Gallucci

    Steven Adamowski has a quite exalted idea of what his powers are, so beware. No legislator in this area is willing to question any number of Special Master power grabs and budget shenanigans, so not only has Windham lost local control, none of our state reps can be bothered to protest this.

    • R.L.

      Vote them out! Vote them all out!

  • brutus2011

    I keep telling you all…it is the managers and NOT the teachers!

    This managerial mentality and perverse financial incentives as reaching full bloom after gestating for decades at the public school district level.

    We do not need more managers hovering above the classroom.

    We need qualified people to roll up their sleeves and teach our kids in the classroom!

    This is not rocket science…open your eyes…

    • msavage

      I’m pretty sure you’re preaching to the choir here.

  • Sleepless in Bridgeport

    Is that something like “Special Sauce” on the Big Mac?? I heard that when Adamowski moves on to Bridgeport he wants to be called “Grand Poobah”.

    • Mary Gallucci

      I would not wish the Special Master or Grand Poobah on anyone, much as I’d like to see him leave Windham where he has created such turmoil. I am not sure he would fancy going to Bridgeport–your citizens and parents have shown that they are a force to be reckoned with. You put the brakes on Paul Vallas!

      • Sleepless in Bridgeport

        Tar and feathers would have been more appropriate for the Chicago wonder boy

        • R.L.

          That or some strap up action.