And in Windham, parents and teachers speak out against Adamowski

Last week, at a forum sponsored by the Windham Federation of Teachers and the state chapter of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), parents, teachers and other local Windham residents met with State Senator Donald E. Williams, Jr. (D-29) and State Representative Susan Johnson (D-49) to voice their outrage about the way “Special Master,” “Special Deal” Steven Adamowski has been undermining Windham’s schools.

Now the question is what are State Senator Williams and State Representative Johnson going to do about what they heard?

The “Special Master” law that Williams and Johnson sponsored was supposed to give Windham (and later New London) additional state support and resources.

Instead, “Special Master” Steven Adamowski has spent millions of dollars in state and local funds to push his corporate education reform industry agenda on the unsuspecting students, parents, teachers and citizens of Windham and New London.

Adamowski’s dictatorial and autocratic approach has angered parents, demoralized teachers, stunned local officials and left the schools in those two communities in chaos.

One of the most serious complaints has been Adamowski’s complete unwillingness to include parents, teachers and local officials in the decision making process.

Adamowski has repeatedly failed to follow Connecticut laws concerning the role of local school governance councils.

In Windham, Special Master Adamowski has completely mishandled the Windham Middle School “Turnaround” process.  After months of work by a committee made up of local parents, teachers and administrators, Adamowski hijacked the process and demolished the locally grown plan by threatening Windham that it would not get state funds unless his proposals were substituted for the ones approved by the local committee.

When the committee balked at Adamowski’ effort, the Special Master, with the help and support of Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor, threated to reject the plan leaving Windham without the funds it needed.

At the forum, Senator Williams and Representative Johnson also heard about Adamowski’s on-going efforts to reduce or eliminate bilingual and English Language Learner programs in Windham.

Both Windham and New London have seen an influx of families who use a language other than English as their primary language.  Rather than rise to meet that challenge, Steven Adamowski has been forcing policy changes that teachers say are having a profoundly negative impact on students who need extra help to succeed in school.

Adamowski’s long list of failings has been well documented over the past two years.

What has also been well documented are the issues related to the way he has spent state funds.

Adamowski has spent upwards toward $2 million, almost all of it without utilizing appropriate competitive bidding processes.

Numerous consultants and companies that he has done business with in the past have benefited from his largess.

But nobody has benefited more than Adamowski himself.

During the past two years, Adamowski has collected a total salary of $450,000 plus full medical and dental insurance for both himself and his wife.

The state has also paid for his professional and general liability insurance plus a stipend to pay for his life and disability insurance policies.

In addition to his taxpayer-funded salary and benefit package, Adamowski was given 25 days of vacation time per year, 15 days of paid sick time per year and 3 days of paid personal time per year.  Overall this means that in addition to all the paid holidays, Adamowski was able to use or accrue nearly nine weeks of paid time off each year…that is four and half months of paid time over during the contract period.

And to top things off, just this past August, Commissioner of Education Stefan Pryor made Steven Adamowski a state employee.  The move was made before the State Board of Education had even decided whether to continue the Special Master’s role and the job Adamowski was given was never posted nor did he have to go through any process to get the position.

At last week’s AFT forum, State Senator Williams and State Representative Johnson heard about all these issues and more.

But to reiterate the obvious, the question is now what are these legislators going to do to stop Adamowski from doing even more damage to their community’s schools.

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.

Malloy/Pryor; It is time to come clean on “Special Deal” Steven Adamowski

Why did the Malloy Administration rush through hiring Steven Adamowski?

Why did Adamowski start in his new state position even before the State Board of Education voted to extend his appointment as Special Master for the Windham and New London school systems?

It turns out the answer, at least in part, can be found in the no-bid contract Adamowski was given in July 2011.

More than two years ago, with the support of Windham state legislators, State Senator Donald Williams and State Representative Susan Johnson, the Connecticut General Assembly authorized the creation of a Special Masters position with the adoption of Section 138 of Public Act 11-16.

A month later, without any open, competitive bidding or review process, Malloy’s Acting Commissioner of Education gave the Special Master’s job to Steven Adamowski by directing the State Education Resource Center (SERC) to hire him, a move that later drew a rebuke from the Connecticut State Auditors.

The contracted, signed July 25, 2011 provided that Adamowski would begin on August 15, 2011 and that, “The Agreement term shall be from August 15, 2011 to August 14, 2013.”  The amount of Adamowski’s compensation was set at $450,000 for the two year period.

Fast-forward two years later…

By stuffing Steven Adamowski into a state position effective August 30, 2013, the Malloy Administration was ensuring that Steven Adamowski wouldn’t miss a pay-period despite the fact that his no-bid SERC contract ran out effective August 15, 2013.

Although Adamowski has been making $4,327 every two weeks for the past two years, Commissioner Stefan Pryor cut corners to put Adamowski on the state payroll effective August 30, 2013 even though the State Board of Education hadn’t even voted to extend Adamowski’s term as “Special Master.”

Was the State Board of Education taken for a ride or worse, did they know that a special deal with Adamowski was already a done deal and chose not to say anything?

On September 4, 2013, the State Board of Education, under the leadership of Board Chairman Allan Taylor, voted to extend Adamowski’s contract as Special Master.  At the time, neither Pryor nor Taylor publically informed the State Board of Education or the public that Adamowski had already been hired by the state.

In fact, Pryor clearly implied, and his public relations staff confirmed to the media, that the vote would allow Pryor to hire (future tense) Adamowski as a state employee.

However, a set of state emails acquired this week reveal that Pryor’s staff was already working feverishly to get Adamowski on the state payroll long before the State Board of Education voted to allow Adamowski to continue his role as Special Master.

In an email dated Wednesday, August 28, 2013 (5:47 p.m.), for example, Stefan Pryor’s Chief of Staff, Adam Goldfarb, wrote to Malloy’s Office of Policy and Management saying, “the very time-sensitive durational position we discussed is heading to your approval queue.  Could you please do us a favor and look out for it?  Need to get it all the way done by Friday!  Thank you, Adam.”

The entire episode raises numerous questions, but the most significant question of all is what did the State Board of Education know and when did it know it?

If would be disturbing indeed if the State Board of Education knew about this charade and remained silent.

Special Master Steven Adamowski’s wild spending spree with Connecticut’s tax dollars

Since the Malloy administration gave Steven Adamowski his no-bid contract to serve as “Special Master” for Windham and New London, Adamowski has collected a salary of about $450,000 for himself and another $168,000 for his staff.  Add in over $140,000 more for health and insurance benefits, $17,000 for travel and $29,000 for equipment and it starts to become clear just how much Connecticut’s taxpayers are “investing” in Adamowski and his “management style.”

Equally troublesome is Adamowski’s free hand with the state’s check book.

According to documents collected from a series of recent Freedom of Information requests, over the past two years, Adamowski has been on a massive spending spree of public funds in his capacity as “Special Master.”

In addition to ordering local officials in Windham and New London about how they should be spending their funds, Adamowski has his own stash of state funds to play with.

Over the past two years Adamowski has spent $132,000 on engineering projects and studies with a company called Friar Associations (There was no competitive bidding conducted related to those projects).  Another engineering company, Gale Associates out of Weymouth, Massachusetts picked up another $15,250 courtesy of Adamowski.

The Center for Reform of School Systems, a consulting group out of Houston, Texas was given $39,000 in a no-bid contract to “provide 6 additional days of service for New London Special Master Grant Program.”

And the National SAM Innovation Project, a consulting operation out of the Jefferson County Public School System in Louisville, Kentucky collected $12,700 in another no-bid contract for services.

The law firm of Shipman & Goodwin received $34,000 (no-bid contract) and Adamowski dropped $12,370 on a company called Telogis for some refurbished computers, which came on top of his $29,000 equipment budget.

The organization called Leadership Greater Hartford was paid $34,000 to train Windham’s local school governance councils which is particularly ironic since Adamowski has consistently refused to include the school governance councils in key decision making, despite a Connecticut law that requires these local councils of parents, teachers and citizens to be consulted.

Another direct beneficiary of Adamowski’s spending has been CompassLearning, the Dallas based corporate entity that owns the rights to sell site licenses for the so-called Renzulli Academy.  Despite very strong opposition to Adamowski’s push to open Renzulli Gifted and Talented schools in Windham and New London, CompassLearning was paid $22,500 in public funds for Renzulli Annual Site Licenses for ALL Windham schools.

The Connecticut Science Center, the publicly funded science museum in Hartford, which was supposed to “partner” with Windham’s new STEM Magnet School, was paid more than $90,000.

And Teach for America collected a finder’s fee of at least $35,000 from Adamowski, on top of the $33,000 that Teach for America received from the Windham School System.  Wait, What? readers may recall that while TFA charges most cities $2,500 to $3,000 for each TFA recruit they place in a local school, Adamowski signed a deal with Teach for America that guaranteed them $4,000 per TFA recruit.

Add in another $72,000 for computer based “MAP Assessment testing” and tens of thousands of dollars that are simply listed as “teacher stipends” or “professional development” and we start to get a clearer picture of how the “Special Master” is spending taxpayer funds in a “special way.”

Perhaps the oddest expense of all are two checks totaling $125,000 that were written as part of Adamowski’s on-going effort to “persuade” the Town of Windham to purchase the propriety municipal finance software called MUNIS.  Adamowski has been engaged in a similar effort to force New London to choose MUNIS as their software vendor.

It all bring us back to the key question of why Connecticut’s legislators or Connecticut’s auditors haven’t stepped in to put a stop to Adamowski and his no-bid, no-rules spending spree of our scarce public funds.

Special Master Adamowski’s Failing Grade in Windham

As if the term “Special Master” wasn’t bad enough, the fact that Steven Adamowski’s insulting, arrogant and undemocratic style is moving Windham Schools in the wrong direction makes the whole situation truly offensive.

In a very enlightening article in the Reminder News, reporter Melanie Savage provides a window in to the devastation that Adamowski is visiting upon the students, parents, teachers and taxpayers of Windham.

With a growing Latino student population, Adamowski’s utter disregard for Windham’s bilingual and English Language Learner programs are a prime example of Adamowski’s approach to “education reform.”

Services for the district’s growing population of bilingual and English language learners have been virtually eliminated.

Despite the fact that intensive instruction is needed to provide students with the English language skills they need, Adamowski has systematically reduced intensive support programs and replaced them with what is being called “bilingual support.”

Morale among Windham teachers is extremely low and many of the communities’ best teachers are leaving to take jobs in communities where they are given the administrative support needed to properly service their students.

As one courageous teacher explained, “We’ve seen things happening that we know don’t represent the best interests of our students,” said Kathy Koljian, an English and language arts teacher at Windham High School. Koljian is the Teacher of the Year at Windham High School.

And Windham Middle School Teacher of the Year, Patty Roy added that Windham’s students are simply “not getting what they need…”

Even the most basic analysis of the situation reveals the absurdity of some of Adamowski’s actions.

The article reports that, “programs that were designed to support students struggling with behavioral issues have been dismantled. The Connections program at WHS and the Green Team at WMS were functioning very well for these students, say the teachers. But the programs have been eliminated, and the students returned to regular classrooms. This has affected students across the spectrum; needier students are not getting the support that they need, and average and above-average students are having their classrooms disrupted, according to the teachers.”

The reporter goes on to explain that, “Another hurried decision made unilaterally by the special master, said teachers, was the division of Windham High School into two separate academies – the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Academy and the Academy of Humanities and Arts. As teachers prepare for the second year since the change, ‘We still don’t have curriculum for either one,’ said Koljian. And this year’s CAPT scores show significantly lower performance by students in the Humanities and Arts academy than those in the STEM academy across most areas, suggesting that the academy model is serving to segregate students rather than unite them.”

Although state and local resources are extremely scarce, Special Master Adamowski has also dramatically expanded the number of administrators and diverted money toward hiring TFA recruits rather than teachers who went through Connecticut based teacher education programs such as those at UConn and Connecticut State University.

Certainly one of the most troubling developments has been Adamowski’s unilateral, and arguably illegal, maneuvers that will led to further racial and ethnic segregation in Windham’s Schools.

In two highly suspicious deals, Adamowski created new programs to allow a limited number of students to attend Norwich Free Academy and Parish Hill.  Calling it a “school choice” program, Adamowski’s initiatives drain resources away from Windham’s underfunded schools and because student transportation isn’t provided and neither NFA nor Parish Hill are equipped to provide meaningful English Language Learning programs, Adamowski’s plan is a de facto mechanism to discriminate against poorer students, those who aren’t fluent in English and those that come from families in which English is not the primary language.

While Connecticut’s Constitution and laws clearly forbid discrimination, Adamowski’s actions are taking Windham in exactly the wrong direction.

Taken together, the recent developments in Windham leave Adamowski with nothing short of a failing grade.

The question now is whether the Connecticut legislature will step in to reverse the damage being done by Governor Malloy’s Special Master.

You can find the full Reminder News article on Windham at: http://www.remindernews.com/article/2013/08/26/teachers-speak-out-about-changes-in-windham

Adamowski, Pryor and State Department of Education violate Connecticut Law on Windham Turnaround Plan…

The fundamental principle is pretty simple.  We are a nation of laws and when a law requires certain actions, failure to follow those rules is called “breaking the law.”

Incredibly, we seem to have entered a period in which a significant number of public officials seem to believe that they don’t need to follow that basic system.

In Bridgeport the law required Paul Vallas to complete a school leadership program in order to serve as Bridgeport’s superintendent of schools.  Instead of following the law, Paul Vallas, Commissioner Stefan Pryor and the State Board of Education tried to pass off a three-credit independent study class as a “school leadership program.”  Unwilling to fulfill their fundamental obligation to follow the law, Connecticut citizens had to sue and a judge ruled Vallas had violated the law.  Still unwilling to do the right thing, Vallas et. al. have appealed the decision to the Connecticut Supreme Court.

A similar disregard for Connecticut law is now playing itself out in Windham, Connecticut.

According to documents and emails acquired through freedom of information requests or provided by state and local officials, Commissioner Stefan Pryor, Special Master Steven Adamowski and the State Department of Education are violating the law that provides for the development of school turnaround plans.

The issue is that Governor Malloy’s education reform bill sets up a system of Commissioner’s Network Schools to focus resources on a set of schools that face the greatest challenges when it comes to academic achievement.

The law requires that a “turnaround plan” be developed for each school selected for the Commissioner’s Network and then provides for extra taxpayer funds that must be used to implement that plan.

The legislation was based on the notion that turnaround plans should be locally developed so that they would have the buy-in and support of local parents, teachers, administrators and communities.

However, we are quickly learning that Commissioner Pryor and his education reform entourage are unwilling or unable to contain themselves and have repeatedly overstepped their authority in an ongoing effort to force local communities to adopt their brand of so-called education reform, including the over-reliance on charter schools.

This failure to follow the law, as written, is most evident in Windham.

The language of the law states;

(1)  Upon the selection by the Commissioner of Education of a school for participation in the commissioner’s network of schools, the local or regional board of education for such school shall establish a turnaround committee for the school district.   To ensure the Commission of Education’s concerns are heard, the law provides for the Commissioner of Education, or the commissioner’s designee, to serve on the turnaround committee.

(2)  The turnaround committee shall develop a turnaround plan for such school.

(3)   If a turnaround committee does not develop a turnaround plan, or if the commissioner determines that a turnaround plan developed by a turnaround committee is deficient, the commissioner may develop a turnaround plan for such school in accordance with the provisions of this subsection and, if the commissioner deems necessary, the commissioner may appoint a special master for such school to implement the provisions of the turnaround plan developed by the commissioner.

(4)  The State Board of Education shall approve the turnaround plan developed by a turnaround committee before a school may implement such turnaround plan.

As noted, the language of the legislation is easy to understand.

In the case of Windham, Commissioner Stefan Pryor appointed one of his new staff members, Gabrielle Ramos; to serve as his representative on the turnaround committee that was formed to develop a plan for Windham’s middle school.  The committee spent months developing a sophisticated plan that would have helped transform the school.  The committee’s plan was based on proven methods to improve learning and was tailored to the particular needs of Windham’s student population, which has a large percentage of English Language Learners.

However, when it became clear that the turnaround committee’s plan did not include some of the specific reforms that Pryor and his senior team wanted, Pryor’s “turnaround chief,” Debra Kurshan, (who has since left the Malloy administration), orderered changes to be made.

In response, Members of the turnaround committee repeatedly asked Pryor and Kurshan, who have never spent any time in Windham, for an explanation as to why their preferred “reforms” would work better for Windham’s children than the ones they carefully devised based on their years of experience in Windham’s schools.  Neither Pryor nor Kurshan ever provided any answers.

Gabrielle Ramos, Pryor’s representative, stopped attending meetings and the turnaround committee was ordered to work with Special Master Steven Adamowski even though he was not a member of the committee and had no legal authority to instruct the committee on what to do.

Emails reveal that Adamowski’s unrelenting and dictatorial approach not only derailed the positive work of Windham’s turnaround committee but prevented the committee from following the process outlined in the law.

As a result of Adamowski’s illegal interference with the turnaround process, the children, parents, teachers and taxpayers of Windham are losing out since the effective turnaround plan that should be implemented is being held hostage by Adamowski inappropriate behavior.

As the situation reaches crisis level, now more than ever, the children and people of Windham need their local legislators, Senator Don Williams and State Representative Susan Johnson to intervene on behalf of their constituents and force Commissioner Pryor and his operatives to follow the law that Williams and Johnson voted for.

Is Special Master Adamowski next for the Court Room?

When Senator Don Williams and State Representative Susan Johnson developed legislation that allowed the Malloy administration to foist “Special Master” Steven Adamowski on the unsuspecting students, parents, teachers and taxpayers of Windham, Connecticut it was sold as a way to help Windham’s schools.

The result has been anything but helpful.

Special Master Adamowski’s arrogant, abusive and dictatorial actions have left the Windham school system in shambles while undermining the sanctity of self-governance, local control and the rights of parents and taxpayers to manage the affairs of their local school system.

It is becoming increasingly clear that Adamowski has violated the special master statute, as well as the state statute dealing with the Commissioner’s Network Schools and School Governance Schools.  Like the situation in Bridgeport, Special Master Adamowski has pushed his extremist corporate reform political agenda over the interests of the people of Windham.

Furthermore, in his effort to “win” at all costs, it would appear that Adamowski has left Connecticut law in tatters.

Instead of fulfilling their legal, moral and democratic obligations to their districts, State Senator Williams and State Representative Johnson have stood by as Adamowski has taken actions that directly hurt the interests of the majority of Windham’s school children and their parents.

While it isn’t too late for Senator Williams and Representative Johnson to act, their inaction leaves parents and public education advocates with no option but to consider legal action to stop Special Master Adamowski’s inappropriate actions and potentially significant violations of Connecticut law.

The examples of Admowski’s questionable actions are many.

In a recent Willimantic Chronicle article entitled, “Windham school board:  ‘No choice’ but to OK Parish Hill partnership,” the article states;

“The Windham Board of Education last month voted down a proposed partnership between Windham and Parish Hill, citing fears about “brain drain” sending Windham’s children elsewhere and about transporta­tion and more.

“Last week, state-appointed Special Master Steven Adamowski told board of education members they had three options.

“They could approve the memorandum of understand­ing (MOU) to establish the relationship, approve the MOU with modifications or step aside or let him approve it and try to appeal the decision to the state education commissioner.

“Given these choices, the board voted 7-1 to approve the MOU with modifications.”

However, the Special Master legislation that the General Assembly adopted and was signed into law by Governor Malloy doesn’t give Adamowski the authority to make such threats or force the local board of education to adopt such policies.

Even more seriously, Adamowski’s recent efforts to contaminate the turnaround plan for the Windham Middle School violates both his role as Special Master and is an affront to the Commissioner’s Network law that was part of Malloy’s education reform act.

Adamowski isn’t even a member of the Windham Middle School turnaround team, but has attempted to play an inappropriate and potentially illegal role in derailing the plans developed by local parents and citizens; plans that were well within the spirit and letter of Malloy’s law.

And finally, like Bridgeport’s pretender superintendent, Paul Vallas, Steve Adamowski has failed to fulfill the requirements of Connecticut’s school governance council law.  The law was specifically passed to guarantee local parental involvement in local schools.

Special Master Adamowski has completely failed to follow the school governance law.

Now, more than ever, the citizens of Windham need their elected officials to stand up and fight for the children, the parents and their community.

The question is will Senator Williams and Representative Johnson heed that call or will local parents and public school advocates be forced to bring a lawsuit simply to make sure state officials follow the laws that these legislators helped to create?