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.

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.