Update on Donnelly’s move from PR to Chief of Staff at CT State Department of Education

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Commissioner of Education Dianna Wentzel’s decision to shift Kelly Donnelly from serving as the agency’s PR person to Chief of Staff apparently comes with a $25,700 pay raise despite the fact that Donnelly has no education experience and her only education policy experience has been as the press person for the State Department of Education over the past two and a half years.

At the same time, with a Special Session of the Connecticut General Assembly scheduled for next week, today’s CT Mirror headline reads, Malloy’s ‘across-the-board’ cuts target education, town aid and social servicesThe CT Mirror explains,

To offset new taxes that have rankled business groups, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy proposed trimming up to 1.5 percent of discretionary spending in the new state budget. But the administration’s proposal shows the bulk of the cuts would be likely to fall on education, municipal aid, health care and social services.

And a key legislator has warned that most of those areas could face even deeper cuts once the new fiscal year is underway. That’s because the new budget relies much more heavily than past budgets on undefined savings — making it likely that the governor will need to order midyear cuts.

While Malloy proposes cuts to education, yesterday’s Wait, What? post, Kelly Donnelly to become Chief of Staff for Connecticut Department of Education, reported that,

The key role of Chief of Staff for Malloy’s State Department of Education will go to Kelly Donnelly who was brought in from New Jersey in December 2012 to serve as former Commissioner of Education Stefan Pryor’s PR person.

Although Donnelly has no work experience in public education and her only education policy experience is as the agency’s communications person, multiple sources confirm that Commissioner of Education Dianna Wentzel will by-pass numerous qualified professional staff to hand the Chief of Staff duties to Donnelly.

Donnelly was hired as Pryor’s Communication Director with a starting salary of $82,000.

In a follow up story the CT Post wrote,

“Donnelly’s salary will increase in her new job from $82,000 to $118,000.”

Actually, as a result of the pay raises ordered by Governor Dannel Malloy, Donnelly, who is listed as an Education Staff Assistant, is presently making $92,293.25 per year.

Assuming the $118,000 the CT Post is reporting is correct, Donnelly’s promotion to Chief of Staff comes with a $25,700 boost in pay.

Kelly Donnelly to become Chief of Staff for Connecticut Department of Education

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The key role of Chief of Staff for Governor Dannel Malloy’s State Department of Education will go to Kelly Donnelly who was brought in from New Jersey in December 2012 to serves as former Commissioner of Education Stefan Pryor’s PR person.

Although Donnelly has no work experience in public education and her only education policy experience is as the agency’s communications person, multiple sources confirm that Commissioner of Education Dianna Wentzel will by-pass numerous qualified professional staff to hand the Chief of Staff duties to Donnelly.

Donnelly will be replacing Adam Goldfarb, who resigned earlier this year soon after Stefan Pryor left Connecticut to become Rhode Island’s Economic Development Commissioner.

Goldfarb, a Yale Law School graduate, came with Pryor from New Jersey.  Goldfarb served as one of Pryor’s policy advisors in Newark, New Jersey and spent time as Pryor’s intern when Pryor worked for the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation.

Goldfarb was initially brought in under the title of Executive Assistant, but then immediately was made Chief of Staff with a starting salary of $99,000, up 33 percent from what he was making as Pryor’s assistant in New Jersey.  Goldfarb finished up his duty as a Connecticut public servant earlier this year with a salary of $116,000

You can read more about Pryor and Goldfarb at Oh, it’s good to be King, or at least Commissioner of Education and What is Commissioner Pryor’s Chief of Staff doing as the Vice President of a Charter School Board of Directors?

Donnelly was hired as Pryor’s Communication Director with a starting salary of $82,000.  It is unclear what her salary will be as the State Department of Education’s Chief of Staff.

Prior to coming to Connecticut, most of Donnelly’s experience was with political campaigns in New Jersey and Long Island although she did spend nearly two years in 2010-2011 with 1st Light Energy Inc, where she, “Oversaw residential and commercial photovoltaic (solar system) installations for the entire scope of the project.”

Donnelly, who is from Edison, New Jersey graduated from Notre Dame in 2002 with a BA in Liberal Studies.

One of Donnelly’s most recent responsibilities was serving as the agency’s spokesperson during the Malloy administration’s ongoing attempt to mislead, harass and bully parents who were trying to opt their children out of the unfair and inappropriate Common Core SBAC tests.  Her quotes can be found via any search about Connecticut’s SBAC testing scheme.

Norwalk School Board goes with Adamowski 5-4

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The Norwalk Hour reports,

NORWALK — The Board of Education appointed Steven Adamowski as the next Superintendent of Schools in a close vote of 5-4.

[…]

With concerns of Adamowski’s certification to be superintendent, he will first serve as Acting Superintendent until requirements are fulfilled.

Dr. Adamowski received a waiver from the Commissioner of Education in 2007, which is unlimited in its application to either school districts or time,” said BOE Chairman Michael Lyons. “Based on that letter, both Dr. Adamowski and PROACT felt that he was qualified to serve as a superintendent.”

The waiver was issued to Adamowski when he served as superintendent of Hartford Public Schools. Commissioner of Education Dianna Wentzell was willing to accept the waiver but gave Adamowski the option to either use the waiver or fulfill the certification requirements to avoid controversy about his status, said Lyons.

Adamowski opted to fulfill the requirements.

Lyons said the same method was used two years ago to appoint Dr. Manuel Rivera, who had the qualifications for superintendent but needed a course in special education. Rivera later showed that he met the requirement from his previous experience and was granted certification in July 2013.

“Adamowski will serve as acting superintendent as of July 15, 2015 and then upon completion of certification requirements, he will become superintendent for a term of three years from July 15, 2015 to June 30, 2018,” according to a post resolution Lyons read Tuesday.

The four dissenting votes came from Democrats Sherelle Harris, Migdalia Rivas, Rosa Murray and Shirley Mosby.

“We spent a lot of money on a search firm to do a vetting. This was one of the requirements for certification that the applicants had. My question tonight is how did that slip through the cracks. How did we not see this coming?,” said Mosby.

Rivas stated that she didn’t hear about many of the allegations involving Adamowski until after the selection of Adamowski was made public. She suggested the Board should table the vote until the end of the week until the allegations were investigated.

You read the full article at: http://www.thehour.com/news/norwalk/norwalk-school-board-narrowly-oks-new-superintendent/article_f7735aea-1490-11e5-b04f-2368f41b5c8e.html

Additional coverage can also be found at https://www.nancyonnorwalk.com/, which began its “news’ coverage by writing,

NORWALK, Conn. – A new era of school reform in Norwalk was ushered in Tuesday by the slimmest of margins.

The Board of Education voted 5-4 to make Steven Adamowski its new superintendent of schools after a discussion dominated by those who had problems with the appointment.

Adamowski, sitting in the front row, got a good look at the behavior of Norwalk’s fractious Board in public, as Migdalia Rivas rambled emotionally for 10 minutes about hurt feelings, Shirley Mosby said she wouldn’t be a rubber stamp and Mike Barbis flashed anger as he called Mosby out for her face-making.

PROACT Search LLC

Meanwhile, the search firm that recommended Adamowski to Norwalk, PROACT Search LLC, continues under a cloud of suspicion due to its founder and CEO’s involvement in a $20 million no-bid contract in Chicago.  Gary Solomon created and runs PROACT Search, the Supes Academy and Synesi Associates.  Solomon previously served as Chairman of the Chicago Board of Education and a series of contracts between his companies and the Chicago School System and his firms are reportedly under investigated by the FBI.  With the investigation growing, the CEO of Chicago’s school system who worked for some of Solomon’s company’s recently resigned.

PROACT was also fired last month by the school board in Lancaster, Pennsylvania when the local board of education “learned of disturbing allegations … that PROACT Search CEO Gary Solomon used racist slurs in some past emails.”

A number of other communities have terminated their contracts with PROACT in the wake of the Chicago allegations.

It remains unclear if members of the Norwalk Board of Education were fully informed about Adamowski’s involvement with Solomon and his companies.

Supes Academy lists Adamowski as one of its Past Teachers, Speakers & Advisors and the business tracking website ZoomInfo reports Adamowski is a “Board Member” of Supes Academy LLC.

Did someone give President Reagan a doctored resume for Steven Adamowski?

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Undaunted by the issues that are being raised and apparently determined not to provide any further opportunity for input, the Norwalk Board of Education appears dead set on voting at tonight’s meeting to hire Steven Adamowski to become that community’s $250,000+ a year superintendent of schools.

According to local media reports, a majority of the Norwalk board education members have already committed to Norwalk Board Chairman Lyons that they will vote in favor of Adamowski tonight…no matter what.

Perhaps the most ironic point of the entire situation is that Adamowski is a contender for the position because Norwalk’s superintendent of schools decided to leave Norwalk to become New London’s superintendent when Adamowski’s initial choice for the New London  job, “Dr.” Terrence Carter, became the center of a controversy when it was discovered that he didn’t actually have the academic degree that he claimed to have.

Carter claimed he was a “Dr.” but it turned out he wasn’t.

By comparison, Steven Adamowski definitely has a Ph.D.  According to the resume the Norwalk Board of Education was provided by the ProACT search firm, Adamowski received his degree from St. Louis University in 1996.  An online search will even lead to the dissertation that Adamowski wrote in order to earn that degree.

But what is especially intriguing is that seven years earlier, President Ronald Reagan appointed Steven J. Adamowski to become a Member of the Intergovernmental Advisory Council on Education.

And as part of that October 3, 1988 announcement, the President of the United States indicated that Steven Adamowski had a Ph.D. from the University of Connecticut and noted that he received that degree in 1987.

President Reagan’s October 3, 1988 statement reads;

The President today announced his intention to appoint Steven J. Adamowski to be a member of the Intergovernmental Advisory Council on Education for a term expiring July 27, 1992. He would succeed Gonzalo A. Velez.

Since 1987 Dr. Adamowski has been superintendent of schools for Chatham, NJ. From 1983 to 1987, he was superintendent of schools for Norwich, CT. Dr. Adamowski was assistant superintendent of schools for Portland, ME, 1979 – 1983, and principal of Union Elementary School in Connecticut, 1976 – 1978.

Dr. Adamowski graduated from Southern Connecticut State College (B.S., 1972), Trinity College (M.A., 1975), and the University of Connecticut (Ph.D., 1987). He was born December 9, 1950, in Derby, CT. Dr. Adamowski is married, has one child, and resides in Morristown, NJ.

President Reagan’s Announcement is stored in a variety of locations including at:

http://www.reagan.utexas.edu/archives/speeches/1988/100388h.htm

Perhaps President’s Reagan’s staff misread the materials Steven Adamowski provided the White House prior to being appointed to the position.  Perhaps there was a transcription error.  Perhaps Adamowski’s resume was silent on the issue and a pro-UConn Huskies staffer simply inserted the fact that the newest member of the Intergovernmental Advisory Council on Education had a doctorate from UConn when he actually did not have one.

When doing their background research, one would have thought that ProAct Search would have discovered the error and made note of it before passing on Adamowski’s name to the Norwalk Board of Education, perhaps they did.

We can be sure of one thing though, no questions or issues are important enough to slow down the Norwalk Board of Education.

Setting the record straight on Adamowski and Hartford

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Robert Cotto Jr. is a member of the Hartford Board of Education.  He is also a leading academic expert on education policy in Connecticut.  His articles have appeared in numerous publications and his writing and work can be regularly found in the Hartford Courant, CT Mirror and CT NewsJunkie.

Having seen witnessed Mr. Adamowski’s time in Hartford first-hand and written extensively about the challenges facing Hartford’s public school system, Robert Cotto Jr. sent the following letter to the Norwalk Board of Education today.

Letter to Norwalk Board of Education (By Robert Cotto, Jr. June 16, 2015)

This letter is sent in my capacity as an individual and do not represent the views of any organization I am involved in.  The views are my own.

Dear members of the Norwalk Board of Education,

Several newspapers recently reported that the Norwalk Board of Education would be hiring a former Superintendent of the Hartford Public Schools (HPS). As a Hartford Board of Education member since 2010 and an educational researcher, I write to raise concerns about claims made about the Hartford Public Schools between 2006 and 2011.

A press release from the Norwalk Board of Education suggests that HPS improved test results and graduation rates because of a change in policies and a new superintendent in 2006. It is true that HPS embarked on a policy of expanded school choice and hyper-accountability. This included closing schools and reopening them as themed academies.

However, there is little evidence that these policies alone resulted in improved achievement and graduation rates. As I wrote in The Hartford Courant in 2011, there was a mixed result from these policies – at best. Most importantly, the apparent “increases” only began when testing and graduation policies changed to artificially inflate this data.

Hartford’s “historic” test result increases only began when low-income, Black, and Latino students with disabilities were removed from regular tests and allowed to participate in a separate modified assessment in 2009. By 2011, 10% or more of all Hartford students, all with disabilities, were selected for a separate test. While this was happening, the HPS superintendent and administrators took credit. They also took bonus money for the subsequent increases, caused in large part by removing these kids.

I have written extensively on this issue. You can read my Op-Ed in the Hartford Courant, my report for CT Voices for Children, and my TEDx Talk at Central CT State University on the issue. This is not speculation, but fact.

Hartford’s graduation rate also has a number of question marks. Between 2006 and 2011, several policies changed that inflated graduation rates. First, the formula changed to calculate graduation rates. This new formula has excluded hundreds of Black and Latino students. They have been transferred out of their cohorts, and effectively removed from all calculations.

Second, online credit recovery and the policy of mandatory minimum grade of 55% inflated graduation rates. Online credit recovery, required by State law in 2010, meant that students that did not pass a course the first time were allowed to take the course online instead.

Hartford’s “F-55″ rule mandated that a student failing a quarter or semester would get a 55% percent. With this rule, a student could earn a 75% in one quarter and pass the rest of the course, even without doing any work or even showing up to class. The Hartford Board of Education never approved these changes for online credit recovery and the “F-55” policy.

The information is not new, but ignored. Elected board members in Hartford raised concerns about both the test scores and graduation rates with little response from the Superintendent or his successor. Interestingly, the video of the meeting in early 2011 where Board members confronted the superintendent about the test inflation was reported as “damaged”. This was the only missing or damaged meeting video in my six years of service.

Rather than outright success, much of what happened in Hartford can be explained by these data illusions. Also, the tremendous State investment in school choice, particularly magnet schools, under the Sheff v. O’Neill agreement has played a major role.

The Hartford Public Schools are still trying to recover from the considerable damage caused by the school “turnarounds” started in 2006 and the unregulated school choice system. Our district is in as much or more financial distress with the expansion of school choice programs beyond our ability to support them. Many of the “turnaround” schools have experienced their second closure and reopening. In many of the Sheff magnet schools and most of our non-magnet schools, our staff still struggles to meet the needs of all children. Even former proponents of these policies have come to question their viability and performance.

I believe deeply in the ability of our city’s children and families, mostly Black, Puerto Rican, and Latino folk, to succeed academically and thrive in life. That is what we have been doing for hundreds of years with substantially unequal and separate opportunities in education and the economy. Yet, the limited resources that sustained our Black and Latino communities are now diminished, dismantled, privatized, or provided to only selected students. These resources included broad academic curriculum offerings, sports, special education services, bilingual education, and libraries.

While you are free to make the decision that is best for Norwalk, I would recommend not to make that decision based on discredited claims about Hartford. What happened from 2006-11 in Hartford may have helped some kids, but came along with further marginalization of the most vulnerable children and families in our city. In Hartford, we are still working for equitable opportunity.

Sincerely
Robert Cotto, Jr.

Member, Hartford Board of Education

– See more at: http://commons.trincoll.edu/cssp/2015/06/16/letter-to-norwalk-board-of-education/#sthash.6WmgJGGa.dpuf

Why would Norwalk hire one of Malloy’s key witnesses against fair school funding for Norwalk

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There are many questions about why the Norwalk Board of Education would hire the extremely controversial and combative Steven Adamowski to be the community’s next superintendent of schools.

Adamowski has left a trail of destruction behind him.  One need only ask parents, teachers, school administrators and taxpayers in Windham, New London and even Hartford.

But above all else, not only is Adamowski one of Governor Dannel Malloy’s closest advisors and allies when it comes to education, Adamowski – who is presently on the payroll of Malloy’s Department of Education – is one of Malloy’s star witnesses in the effort to derail and destroy the critically important CCJEF v. Rell School Funding Lawsuit.

In fact, when the CCJEF v. Rell case finally goes to trial later this year, Steven Adamowski will be there.

But Adamowski won’t be there to testify on behalf of Connecticut’s public school students, teachers, parents and schools.  And he won’t be there to testify on behalf of Connecticut’s property taxpayers.

And he certainly won’t be there to testify on behalf of the best interests of Norwalk.

He will actually be there to testify against all of those people.

Instead, Steven Adamowski will be there to testify on behalf of Governor Dannel Malloy and his effort to stop Connecticut’s judicial branch from finally requiring that the state of Connecticut to design and adopt a fair and equitable school funding system.

The truth is that Steven Adamowski has already given a deposition in support of Malloy’s position and against the interest of Norwalk and all the other communities that are fighting so hard to force Connecticut’s elected officials to adopt a fair, equitable and constitutional school funding formula.

Here at Wait, What? I’ve called the CCJEF v. Rell lawsuit the single most important court case of our lifetime.   There are almost as many posts about the CCJEF case as there are against Adamowski.

CCJEF v. Rell is the case that correctly argues that Connecticut’s school funding system is unconstitutional and that Connecticut’s Governor and General Assembly have a fundamental duty to adopt a school funding formula that finally ensures that towns get the financial aide they need to ensure that ensure that every Connecticut child has the opportunity to succeed.

The CCJEF v. lawsuit is also proof that that there are some issues that are so important that the partisan divide that is undermining our nation is put aside.

It is an issue that is so vital to the future well-being of our citizens that Democrats and Republicans are actually willing to work together for the common good.

And it is a lawsuit that would probably benefit the children and taxpayers of Norwalk more than any other town in Connecticut.

And yet, the Norwalk Board of Education appears to be on the verge of handing control of their public schools over to someone who has is a star witness for Governor Malloy’s on-going attempt to undermine and defeat this critically important lawsuit.

For those who don’t know what the CCJEF v. Rell lawsuit is all about they may want to start by reading some of the Wait, What? posts on the issue.  See: NEWS FLASH: Kids win, Malloy/Jepsen lose as judge rules school funding trial to begin this summer and Whatever you do, don’t mention school funding and the school funding lawsuit! and Jepsen, Malloy and playing politics with the law…

Those who already know how important the case is and how hard Governor Malloy has been working to undermine the case should look to Norwalk’s own media coverage on the topic.

Start with the article written by the Norwalk Hour’s Korey Wilson who just a year ago published an article entitled, “Lawsuit against state aims to revamp educational funding formula,”

NORWALK — A lawsuit filed against the state nearly 10 years ago, which calls for a revamping of the Education Cost Sharing Formula, will finally go to trial in September.

The plaintiff in the suit is the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding (CCJEF), a nonprofit organization launched in 2004 by the mayors of several cities and now includes municipalities, boards of education, professional education associations, teachers and parents.

Read the Hour’s story entitled, “Rilling named to Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding; school funding lawsuit goes to trial in September,” which explained,

NORWALK — A landmark lawsuit by the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding to revamp school funding statewide will go to trial in September and Norwalk will have a strong stake in the proceedings and outcome.

Mayor Harry W. Rilling was recently appointed the to coalition’s steering committee.

“This is a way that we can fight for equal funding for our schools and our children,” Rilling said. “It’s my hope that we will prevail and that we will be able to reduce significantly the tax burden off the shoulder’s of our homeowners, who are being overly taxed for our educational system.”

The Education Cost Sharing Formula allocates state money to local school districts based, among other things, upon a city’s or town’s tax base, poverty and the number of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunches.

Local officials, from both sides of the political aisle, have long labeled the formula unfair to Norwalk. Norwalk is not alone in that belief.

Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding (CCJEF), a nonprofit organization, was launched in 2004 by the mayors of several cities and now includes municipalities, boards of education, professional education associations, teacher and other unions, parents and others.

In 2005, CCJEF filed suit against the state. In CCJEF v. Rell, the coalition alleges that “the state’s failure to suitably and equitably fund its public schools has irreparably harmed thousands of Connecticut schoolchildren.”

And definitely read about how Norwalk’s Mayor has been working so hard on behalf of the case in the article entitled, Rilling vows to obtain more state aid for schools

NORWALK — Mayor Harry W. Rilling on Monday vowed to become more active in the litigation aimed at getting more state aid for Norwalk schools.

Rilling said he has traveled to Hartford three times and has spoken with state budget Director Benjamin Barnes about changing the Education Cost Sharing formula but concluded the matter shouldn’t be left solely for the General Assembly to decide.

“We will also need a state constitutional mandate to make sure the educational needs of our children will be met,” Rilling said. “Therefore, I will continue to support the education funding lawsuit by maintaining Norwalk’s membership in the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding that was initiated by Mayor (Alex) Knopp and continued by Mayor (Richard) Moccia.”

The mayor said he plans to seek a more active role in the coalition by volunteering membership on the organization’s steering committee.

And then, after you understand just how important this lawsuit is to Norwalk and the students, parents, teachers and taxpayers of Connecticut, ask yourself…

Why on earth would the Norwalk Board of Education turn control of Norwalk’s schools over to someone who is not only on Malloy’s payroll but is actually one of Malloy’s most outspoken witnesses in a case that would benefit the children AND taxpayers of Norwalk.

For more about Norwalk’s history with this important case read, also consider reading the following articles from Nancy on Norwalk.

Norwalk bemoans inadequate state education funding

‘Unfair’ Connecticut education formula to be challenged this fall

Letter: The next fight for education funding

Norwalk Mayor’s Night Out focuses on finances

What will happen to Norwalk’s English Language Learners if Steven Adamowski becomes superintendent?

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Like communities across Connecticut, Norwalk’s public schools are witnessing a growth in the number of students who are not proficient.

As academic studies have shown, poverty, language barriers and unmet special education needs are the three major factors leading to the educational achievement gap.

In Norwalk, more than 1,300 students, accounting for more than 12 percent of the student body are such limited English language skills that they qualify for identification as English Language Learners.

While Spanish is the primary language spoken by the majority of Norwalk students who do not speak English, the Connecticut State Department of Education reports that nearly 4 in 10 (37%) Norwalk public school students come from homes where English is not the primary language and that, according to the state’s latest data, Norwalk students come from homes that speak 60 different languages.

As Norwalk contemplates who would best serve as their school superintendent, they should be especially cognizant of the policy issues surrounding how to improve educational outcomes for those students who enter the school system without the English language skills necessary to succeed.

A major 2013 investigative report produced by WNPR public radio entitled, “End of Bilingual Education in Windham Forces English Language Learners to Cope,’ looked into the impact of Special Master Steven Adamowski’s decision to eliminate Bilingual education in Windham Connecticut over the objections of students, parents, teachers and some local officials.

As the piece explained, the WNPR’s reporting on this critical issue was made extremely difficult because Adamowski refused to speak to the reporters.  The unwillingness to speak to the media required the respected news outlet to note in their report,

“Multiple requests by WNPR for an interview with Adamowski were unsuccessful.”

What was reported was the following;

As the number of Hispanic students in Connecticut’s schools continues to rise, the achievement gap between these students and their white classmates remains. Gaps can be found in every grade, in every subject, in just about every school district in the state. The highest percentage of English language learners can be found in the town of Windham. In the past year, there have been big changes there to the way Hispanic students are being taught.

[…]

A few years ago, newcomers to Windham would be placed in bilingual education, and transition over time into mainstream classes. The philosophy behind bilingual education is to teach kids using a mixture of English and their native language, so they can keep up with subject matter as they gradually master English. But that changed about a year ago, after Dr. Steven Adamowski was named Special Master for Windham’s schools.

In an effort to improve lagging test scores and move kids more quickly into mainstream classes, Adamowski took a different approach, ending bilingual education and moving to English-only. He allowed certain support programs for non-native speakers to continue, but essentially dismantled bilingual education throughout the district. Multiple requests by WNPR for an interview with Adamowski were unsuccessful.

Rose Reyes, who used to teach a second-grade bilingual education class in Windham, now provides Spanish support to kindergarten, first, and second graders. She worries that too many of these children are being tracked into special education. “When there’s so much English going on for a kindergartener,” she said, “there are two responses. Children either implode or explode. The children who are exploding, acting out, are now flagged as problematic, and then more support services or interventions are provided. However, the condition is that the interventions and services are in English.”

And what was the result of Adamowski’s extremely controversial changes?

As the WNPR investigation reported, student test scores actually declined.

Norwalk’s elected officials, school administrators, teachers, parents and community leaders need to ask the serious questions about Steven Adamowski’s commitment to students who come from households whose primary language is not English.

All children can learn, all children can succeed, but Mr. Adamowski’s track record indicates that he is unwilling to make the investments necessary to ensure that every child gets the support they deserve.

A report on Steven Adamowski and Windham – Because Parent’s Voices Matter

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The announcement that Steven Adamowski would be forced to release his grip on Windham’s public schools was met with a variety of emotions in the community.  The huge sigh of relief was combined with an overwhelming sense of anger and bitterness on the part of many parents, teachers and public education advocates who had watched in horror as Adamowski, Governor Malloy’s point person when it comes to taking over local districts, engaged in a campaign of disruption and confrontation leaving parents, teachers AND local officials stunned.

The voters of Windham were saddled with a Special Master as a result of some legislative language that was inserted deep within the 2011 State Budget bill.   Malloy’s political appointees on the State Board of Education then named Adamowski as Windham’s Special Master without an open process that even allowed for the community’s input. The process was a sad reminder that even the most sacred notion of local control can be destroyed in a moment.

There are numerous stories about Steven Adamowski’s arrogant and authoritarian “leadership style” and how he squandered a significant amount of money that the General Assembly had set aside to help improve educational opportunities for Windham’s children.

The CT Mirror wrote two major stories about Adamowski’s tenure as Windham’s Special Master.  CT school reform: 2 years under ‘special master’ and Connecticut sheds daily operations of Windham schools.  The articles are informative, but as parents and teachers out here in Eastern Connecticut will tell you, they only scratched the surface about the damage Adamowski did to the very schools he was sent to “save.”

The announcement that the Norwalk Board of Education is on the verge of appointing Adamowski as that community’s next superintendent of schools has re-ignited the bad memories that people in Windham have about Adamowski and his record.

A series of weekend conversations among those most knowledgeable about Adamowski’s time as Special Master in Windham produced the following article

Windham’s Experience with Special Master Steven Adamowski

There are those, some of whom apparently serve on the Norwalk Board of Education, who are enamored with the notion of “Education Reform” as trumpeted by non-educators like George W. Bush, Barak Obama, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, former Governor Jeb Bush and Governor’s such as Chris Christie, Andrew Cuomo and Dannel Malloy.

Rather than recognize that lack of educational achievement is driven by poverty, English language barriers and unmet special education needs, these “reforms” believe that answer lies in the Common Core, the Common Core testing scheme and a wholesale attack on teachers.

Over the years Steven Adamowski, formerly the Special Master of Windham, has worked to be seen as a leading school reformer.

However, those who have been most directly impacted by his actions are mystified that public officials would choose to hand their community’s students and schools over to him and his destructive leadership style.

Perhaps most important, Adamowski’s work in Windham was anything but efficient, effective or appropriate.

In fact, his tenure in the town was marked by clumsy, ill-advised policies that did little for the children of Windham, but served Adamowski well in creating the perception that he knew what he was doing.

In many instances, corporate school reformers have no more expertise than the next person on how to improve the public schools.  The reformers use impressive jargon and are fond of quoting “the research” to justify their labors. But close attention to what they are doing will soon reveal that, in so many ways, they are just making it up as they go along, trying this and that in a more or less opportunistic fashion. Although (like the rest of us) they have ideological predilections in their approach to education, they pretend that their point of view is value free truth or neutral “science.” They pretend that the corporatist managerial style they favor is simply the logical outcome of a “best practices” philosophy, confirmed by all “the research” as the only way to go. Reformers of the Adamowski mold will enact dramatic and far-reaching transformations to the local education system on the pretend basis that just about everything the town has been doing is simply wrong. But the point of these radical reforms is not to reconceive the system as such in a positive direction, but to radically destabilize it, making privatization initiatives much more palatable to some people in the local community.

Adamowski’s’ reign in Windham, as Special Master, was a disaster that made a bad situation worse. The State Department of Education took over Windham Schools because of a widening “achievement gap” between white and Hispanic students, and because the fiscal situation of the schools was far from healthy, as lean annual budgets failed to meet the real needs of the system. Windham is a poor town, with a fair number of people on fixed incomes and a sizeable cohort of landlords who live out of town. School budgets are invariably controversial. Cuts rather than increases have been the recent historical norm. The Windham school system clearly illustrates the inequities and injustices which arise from a school funding system strongly based in local property taxes.

Some people in Windham thought that the arrival of Special Master Adamowski would signal a moment of truth for the town. It seemed that once Adamowski took a close look at the recent history of Windham budgets he would be obliged to inform the community and the State that Windham’s children were not getting the support to which they were legally and morally entitled. But Adamowski decided to play politics. After years of enduring weak budgets, the school system was stressed even more by Adamowski, as he insisted on further cuts to make certain that the budget passed on a first town vote. This was a terrible strategy, both morally and politically. The not-so Special Master passed up a golden opportunity to educate the budget naysayers in the community; and he also sent the appalling message that the schools could function with LESS rather than more. Adamowski got his victory, as the budget passed on the first vote. But, his political victory was a hard defeat for Windham’s children, as now it will be even more difficult to propose realistic budgets in the future. Some Windham parents quickly realized that the Special Master had his own agenda in reforming Windham’s Schools and it was not at all clear that what he had in mind was good for the children.

The Special Master had secretive (possibly unethical) relationships with certain individual parents, but he made no special effort to engage the generality of Windham’s parents. He worked behind the scenes with one parent to bring an elementary charter School to Windham, but, even as he had the care of their children, to most parents, he seemed aloof and distant, like a colonial administrator among the natives. At no point did he hold a forum in which he sought an exchange of views with parents. It was as if the parents were irrelevant or invisible. Often, parents had no idea what was being done to Windham schools until they read about it in the local newspaper.

Adamowski is a true believer in the doctrine of “school choice,” wherein education is a “product” offered to “consumers” in a “free marketplace.”  As District Superintendent, Adamowski brought this dubious model to bear on the educational landscape of Hartford. He created numerous themed “academies” to “compete” with the local neighborhood public schools. Many studies have shown that school choice models are divisive and unequal: they tend to concentrate social and academic problems in certain schools and they wreak havoc with comprehensive education. The “school choice” model is most often applied to urban school districts, because the larger population makes a “portfolio” of schools a viable proposition. The model makes no sense at all in a small town or city, where there is only one high school. But this did not prevent Adamowski going out of his way to impose school choice on the district of Windham. For him, “school choice” is a formula to be applied at all times and in all places. With this end in mind, he made the unpopular decision to divide Windham High School into themed academies. Predictably, this division has been a source of community tension, as one academy is more esteemed than the other, and significantly out performs the other in standardized testing.

There was no demand from the Windham town folk for themed academies. In fact, students from Windham High protested the division of their school into two separate schools; and nor were the teachers enthusiastic about this major “reform.”  But Adamowski was not to be moved by the complaints of those he likes to call “the stakeholders.”  The Special Master had his mission to fulfill as a corporate reformer. In further pursuit of school choice, Adamowski bullied the local school board into accepting a student exchange with Parish Hill School in Hampton. A certain number of slots to Parish Hill would be paid for by the town of Windham. The Windham Board of Education initially did not support this proposal, as Windham is hardly in a positon to send town monies to another town! But Adamowski told them in no uncertain terms that he had the authority to carry out this policy, and he was going forward with it no matter what they said. This style of leadership is usually called dictatorship.

Adamowski made significant changes to the High School, mostly with an eye to creating “school choice” and keeping the budget super-lean. But his changes took services away from children to which they were entitled. Adamowski slashed bilingual programs, and he cut special education. He went after programs that did not fit into his dogmatic vision of academies as de facto separate schools.  Many teachers and support staff were demoralized by the rule of the Special Master, but living under dictatorship they could hardly voice their disapproval. Because Adamowski was given a free hand by Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor to do with Windham as he wished, the Teacher’s union had no choice but to appeal directly to powerful figures in the State legislature. Certain legislators came to understand that Adamowski was being loosed upon Windham by the Malloy administration to test the limits of corporate school reform in Connecticut. Malloy’s people only started to see things from another perspective when it became clear that Adamowski’s shenanigans might prove costly to the Democrats in local elections. Agreements were reached (in political circles) to rein the beast in, but the beast still had some leeway to cause havoc on the end of its leash.

The Special Master threw himself into the Windham Middle School turnaround, where he was definitely not wanted. The turnaround committee had to fight hard to carry out the legal mandate to redesign WMS in a way that it saw fit. Adamowski and Pryor wanted the Committee to do their bidding, which was to take the school in the direction of corporate reform. Once again, the meddling of the Special Master led to some high level wheeling and dealing in political circles. In the end, Malloy’s people did exactly what you might expect: they declared Adamowski’s disastrous rule in Windham a great success, and then they pulled him out, so that he might live to fight another day.  Anyone familiar with the details of Adamowski’s tenure knew very well that the Special Master had failed abysmally in Windham. Most of his “reform” policies have had to be discontinued, as people came to see that they would not work. They realize that the budget picture is as bad as ever. The Adamowski dictatorship led to more white flight, more attrition of veteran teachers, and more divisiveness in the town over the schools.

In sum, Steven Adamowski is a prime example of all that is wrong with corporate school reformers. They promise more than they can deliver, because they refuse to look at the real social and economic factors that impinge upon education. Instead, they offer the banal and stupid formulaic “solutions” dreamt up in Educational Leadership Programs and right wing business schools. The myth of the managerial expert is very damaging, because it shifts the education conversation away from important social issues like justice and equality to technocratic concerns like “accountability” and “efficiency.” Adamowski has an underserved reputation for effective reformism. Windham is no better off than before he arrived at Special Master and many who know Hartford will testify that his work there was disastrous. The question has to be asked: why aren’t Steven Adamowski’s failures taken seriously; why is he not held accountable for his poor decisions and terrible policies? The short answer is politics. The long answer is politics. Pity the children whose education has to suffer so that some people can play nefarious political games.

Those who participated and watched Steven Adamowski’s work in Windham know the truth.  While people of good will can discuss and debate the wisdom of various efforts to improve public education and reduce the achievement gap in the United States, no one who has experienced Adamowski’s reign would give him yet another opportunity to damage the children who need and deserve so much better.

Can Adamowski be named Norwalk’s Superintendent on Tuesday?

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On Tuesday, the Norwalk Board of Education plans to name the controversial Steve Adamowski as the district’s next superintendent of schools, but Adamowski lacks the state certification necessary to become a superintendent of schools as required by Connecticut law.

Adamowski’s educator certification lapsed in 2007 and he never saw fit to take the necessary steps to renew that certification.

Adamowski’s unwillingness to take the appropriate certification tests and participate in the required professional development training has, to date, prevented him from adding the time he has worked in Connecticut (since 2007) to his teacher retirement pension.

As previously reported here, Governor Malloy engaged in a failed attempted to change Connecticut’s teacher pension law in 2012 to bend the rules to allow Adamowski to add up to seven years of time to his Connecticut teacher pension.

The Malloy administration returned to the issue of Adamowski’s pension in the contract they provided him when he was retained as Windham’s Special Master, a contract that was funneled through the quasi-governmental agency SERC in order to avoid the State’s competitive bidding laws.  However, once again, the maneuver failed to get Adamowski extra years for his pension.

Journalist Mark Chapman has been covering the Adamowski developing story in Norwalk for the news site Nancy on Norwalk.

In his most recent article entitled, BoE release of super choice’s name greeted with mixed reaction, Chapman followed up on the Wait, What? observation that Adamowski does not have the certification necessary to be a Connecticut superintendent and that he would need another waiver from Malloy’s Commissioner of Education in order to take the Norwalk job.

Chapman writes,

 “Board of Education Chairman Mike Lyons said the allegations are not true.  ‘The ‘nonrenewable certification’ that Pelto refers to (which expired on 11/7/07) was replaced by a new certificate issued the day before its expiration (on 11/6/07). That certificate remains in effect. I’ll get a copy of it for you.’

Adamowski responded to a late email and elaborated further:

‘Connecticut laws allows ‘highly qualified’ superintendent candidates to receive a waiver of CT requirements (in my case I exceeded the Supt requirements but my CT elementary teaching certificate from the 1970’s had lapsed). There are requirements for this in the statute – you have to hold certification in another state and have at least 15 years experience as a superintendent. I received the waiver from then-Commissioner Mark McQuillan on 11/7/07.’”

While we wait for the Norwalk Board of Education Chairman Mike Lyons to produce the “new certificate” that Adamowski supposedly received, Adamowski’s own answer is a truer statement of events.

Thanks to an amendment to the educator certification law that passed on the last day of the 2007 Session of Connecticut General Assembly, Connecticut’s Commissioner of Education was able to waive Adamowski’s need for certification in November 200 so that he could continue to serve as Hartford’s superintendent of schools.

It was exactly that law that Malloy and Adamowski tried but failed to change in 2012 so that the uncertified Adamowski could go on to collect a pension from the State Teachers Retirement System despite the fact that pensions are only available to those that are certified.

As for the present law concerning the ability of a commissioner of education to waive the certification requirements for someone to become a superintendent of schools, the Malloy administration has sought and received changes two times over the past four years.

The first time was to try and bypass the law so that Paul Vallas could remain in Bridgeport.  The second time was to make it generally easier for non-certified individuals to become school superintendents in Connecticut.

The law now reads;

Sec. 10-157 (c) The commissioner may, upon request of an employing local or regional board of education, grant a waiver of certification to a person (1) who has successfully completed at least three years of experience as a certified administrator with a superintendent certificate issued by another state in a public school in another state during the ten-year period prior to the date of application, or (2) who has successfully completed a probationary period as an acting superintendent pursuant to subsection (b) of this section, and who the commissioner deems to be exceptionally qualified for the position of superintendent.

As the law now stands, Governor Malloy’s Commissioner of Education could waive the requirement that Steven Adamowski hold the necessary Connecticut educators certification to become Norwalk’s next commissioner.

However, the commissioner may only take that action if requested by the school board and if the commissioner deems that the individual – in this case – Steven Adamowski is “exceptionally qualified.”

Considering Norwalk’s Board Chair believes Adamowski has some secret certification it seems unlikely the Board has already asked for the waiver.

As to whether Adamowski is “extremely qualified,” there are many in Hartford, Windham and New London who would strongly disagree with that claim.

And Connecticut resident are not the only ones who have raised serious questions about Adamowski.

When the same ProAct Search firm tried to get Adamowski the superintendent’s job in Seattle, the Seattle times looked Adamowski’s background and found;

“[Adamowski] … was viewed as a very authoritative kind of leader.” According to the editor of School Administrator magazine 9/23/2003

“[Adamowski] was great at proposing reform, but he didn’t want to be questioned,” said Cincinnati School Board member Harriet Russell.

“Adamowski’s style ‘was my way or no way’ and ‘He is not a person who leads by building consensus among all stakeholders,'” according to the local teacher union leader.

Five months after he left, the district [Cincinnati] went back on “academic emergency” status.

Adamowski also faced serious criticism for his strong support for charter schools.  In an October 2011 editorial the Cincinnati Enquirer wrote;

“In 2000, the East End Community Heritage School, a charter school, opened with 186 students and a promise to better educate children with Appalachian roots and keep them in school to graduation.

In fact, its contract said 85 percent of students would pass Ohio proficiency tests within three years, a rate to rival top suburban schools.

Steve Adamowski, then superintendent of Cincinnati Public Schools, the school’s original sponsor, promised skeptics it would earn an acceptable state ranking within three years or give families a 180-day notice and close.

Three years later, it was in Academic Emergency. Its achievement was so low by 2006 that CPS dropped out as sponsor.”

A look back on Steven Adamowski’s Pension Farce

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Three years ago, hidden deep inside Governor Dannel Malloy’s 2012 corporate education reform industry initiative was an effort to give Malloy’s education adviser, Steven Adamowski, an extraordinary gift.

Had the effort gone as planned, Connecticut’s taxpayers and certified teachers would have been on the hook for paying Adamowski a significant pension for which he was not entitled.

As the Norwalk Board of Education prepares to appoint Steven Adamowski to the post of superintendent of schools, it seems like an appropriate time to take a look back on the Malloy-Adamowski escapade.

In fact, in a document provided to the Norwalk Board of Education by the controversial superintendent search firm ProAct Search, Adamowski wrote,

“I also played a role in drafting aspects of Connecticut’s omnibus school reform legislation of 2012.”

Yet in classic form, Adamowski fails to actually get around to explaining his personal financial interest in that legislation.

The extraordinary events surrounding Adamowski’s attempt to circumvent Connecticut’s teacher pension law first appeared in a series of Wait, What? posts entitled, Pension, Pension, who wants a Pension – Steven Adamowski this is your lucky day, A Hundred Thousand Dollar Plus Pension? The Adamowski Pension Controversy Part II and The Adamowksi Pension Farce: Part III

The following is an abbreviated version of the events that took place in the spring of 2012.

Fresh off being paid well over a million dollars to run the Hartford School System for five years, Steven Adamowski was appointed “Special Master” of the Windham School System Governor Malloy’s administration.

At $225,000 a year, plus benefits that included five weeks of paid vacation, three weeks of sick time and 100% paid health benefits for him and his wife, along with fully funded life and disability insurance, Adamowski’s role was to oversee Windham’s school system, including Windham’s $167,000 superintendent.

As we came to learn, Steven Adamowski wasn’t satisfied…

The issued stemmed from the fact that Connecticut law prohibited Adamowski from getting pension credit for his five years of work as Hartford’s superintendent.

The reason, because Adamowski doesn’t have certification to work in Connecticut and only certified teachers have their time applied to the Teacher Retirement Fund pension system.

While it is true that all school administrators and teachers – Except some of those working at charter schools – must hold state teacher certification, a legislative amendment passed just after midnight on the last day of the 2007 legislative session waived the certification requirement for one person – Steven Adamowski.

The law waived Adamowski’s need for certification in order to work as Hartford’s superintendent but it did not waive the law that only certified teachers can participate in the teacher’s retirement system.

Interestingly, at no time during Adamowski tenure as Hartford’s superintendent did he seek to renew is certification and thus none of those five years could be counted toward his future pension.

But Adamowski had one thing that no other non-certified administrator had – Steven Adamowski had Governor Malloy.

Despite Malloy’s constant refrain that Connecticut’s pension systems were unsustainable, as part of his 5,036 line education reform bill, Malloy’s operatives inserted a “technical” change to the state’s Teacher Retirement Pension Program starting at line 3,573.

The existing language of subdivision (26) of section 10-183b of the Connecticut General Statutes outlined who qualified for a teacher pension by defining the word teacher as “any teacher, permanent substitute teacher, principal, assistant principal, supervisor, assistant superintendent or superintendent employed by the public schools in a professional capacity while possessing a certificate or permit issued by the State Board of Education…”

Since Adamowski did have the certification necessary to qualify for the pension program, Malloy’s bill sought to add new sentence that would have required that a pension be paid to;

“A superintendent employed by a local or regional board of education on or after July 1, 2007, pursuant to subsection © of section 10-157, as amended by this act.

Malloy’s proposed change would have immediately added five years to Adamowski’s pension calculation.

With that change, not only would the un-certified Adamowski been able to get an extra five years but he would also have been entitled to buy two more years thanks to his out-of-state work.  The result would have been that Adamowski would have picked up a quick seven years when it came to calculating his pension.

But what Malloy and Adamowski never calculated was the impact if the whole charade became public, which it did.

As news of the special deal swept the capital, the Hartford Courant’s Rick Green reported that he had been told by numerous sources involved in the behind scenes negotiating on Malloy’s “Education Reform” bill that “there is no chance the Adamowski pension deal will see the light of day when the education committee begins discussing the legislation early next week.”

In addition, Rick Green went on to write, “not surprisingly, when I called around, nobody seemed to know who put the provision in the Malloy bill.”

But even as the special deal for Adamowski was slipping away, Joseph Cirasuolo, the Executive Director of the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents (CAPSS) sent out an email explaining that it was only fair that Adamowski get his Hartford retirement credits.

Cirasuolo explained,

“When Steve was offered the job of superintendent in Hartford, he told the Hartford Board of Education that he would not take the position if he had to go through the processes for getting certified as a superintendent in CT.

Steve had been certified as a superintendent in CT years ago when he was the superintendent in Norwich.  After he moved out of state to other positions, among them the superintendency in Cincinnati where he was just before he came to Hartford, he apparently didn’t record sufficient CEUs to keep his CT superintendent’s certification.

The Hartford BOE asked then Commissioner McQuillan [Governor Rell’s Education Commissioner] for a waiver of the superintendent certification requirements in Steve’s case and the Commissioner did what he had to do to obtain the waiver.

When this was done, everyone involved including Steve was of the understanding that Steve could count his years in Hartford toward his pension under the TRB.

Approximately four months before his date of retirement, Steve was informed by the TRB that because he was operating under a waiver certification arrangement during his time in Hartford, he couldn’t count those five years towards his retirement.”

However, truth be told, the law that was changed to allow the Commissioner of Education to waive the requirement that Adamowski needed to be certified in order to work in Hartford was in a completely different section of the state statutes than the pension requirements and there is absolutely no way to interpret that the legislature’s action also gave Adamowski the ability to count his Hartford time toward his pension.

Even Connecticut’s Attorney General, George Jepson, rejected Adamowski’s request to count those five years in an official ruling handed down in May 2011.

It was the Attorney General’s ruling that actually forced Malloy to try and sneak the Adamowski language into his Education Reform legislation.

But even Joseph Cirasuolo lobbying effort on behalf of the Steven Adamowski deal failed to persuade legislators and the before the General Assembly adopted Malloy’s Education Reform legislation the Adamowski’s pension deal was removed.

POST-SCRIPT

With the legislature decision in 2012 to reject Adamowski’s effort to get a pension without having the necessary certification, a reasonable person would think that Adamowski would finally do what every other teacher and administrator must do… get certified.

But has he done that?

Nope…

As of today, Steven Adamowski still doesn’t have the certification to work in a Connecticut school district…Yet the Norwalk Board of Education now wants to hire Adamowski as their superintendent.

Adamowski’s failure to get certified is now a problem for the Norwalk Board of Education.

Unless, of course, Governor Malloy and his administration are willing, once again, to cut a special deal for Steven Adamowski.

Stay tuned…

(Although you can probably guess what is about to go down.)

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