The battle to save Windham and stop Special Master Steven Adamowski…before it’s too late

Tom Drewry is a teacher in the Windham Public Schools and a Willimantic resident.  Until recently he held a position with the Windham Federation of Teachers.

Tom is also one of the most articulate, dedicated and forceful advocates for the students, parents, teachers and citizens of Windham.

One of the most important agenda items as this week’s State Board of Education meeting was whether the State of Connecticut should continue to force Windham and New London to suffer under the “oversight” of a “Special Master” and whether Steven Adamowski should continue to serve as the State’s Special Master for those two communities.

The agenda for the State Board of Education’s meeting was published less than 24 hours before the meeting was to be held and during the “public input” portion of the meeting, members of the public were required to limit their remarks to no more than three minutes.

As we’ve learned in recent years, the notion that the State Board of Education is a public entity and its primary purpose is to serve the public seems to be a concept that eludes some members of the Board.

Of course, as we now know, even before the public comments were taken, the members of the State Board of Education had already decided to extend Adamowski’s tenure as Special Master and had even decided to make him a state employee.

The following link will take you to the full written testimony of Tom Drewry.  While the State Board doesn’t seem to be impressed or persuaded with the educated assessments from those living under Steven Adamowski’s autocratic rule, the citizens of Connecticut deserve to know the truth.

And it is exactly that truth they will get from reading this testimony.

Windham’s Adamowski Experience:  Thomas Drewry, Testimony for State Board of Education 9-5-13

 “I also wish to speak briefly against the resolution to extend the term of the Special Master to Windham.  I had been checking for an agenda for this meeting for weeks for assurance that the Commissioner’s Network was indeed on the agenda- no sitting member of the Turnaround Committee was ever informed of the meeting, no less asked to attend.  When the agenda did appear yesterday, I was surprised to see that also on it was a resolution to extend the appointment of the special master.  That such important information was not publicized until last minute seems an indication of a lack of willingness to entertain public input on vital and controversial decisions.  It disturbs me further that few people knew that such an extension was required at the point: if I have spoken about the status of the special master position with lawmakers, local board members, lawyers and union officials seeking specifically to find out when and how he is appointed, contracted, evaluated and reappointed.  It is an unjustifiably and undemocratically murky process if extensions can be generated with fewer than twenty-four hours for citizens to prepare to deliver testimony at an earning work-morning meeting.

To be straightforward on the central issue, I believe that an extension of the special master’s appointment in Windham is disastrous for my community.  The reasons are legion, and include, of course, what I’ve written about above regarding the Commissioner’s Network.  Others will flesh-out the story of his destructive reign, though I have spoken and written about it elsewhere.

I feel I must point out that I feel a bit resentful having to make my desperate appeals on matters of education to a board of education on which exactly one educator sits.  No other board or committee of this state government is constituted in such way where the non-experts decisively outnumber the professional experts.  This is not a statement about the intentions or personal investment of any individual member.  Rather, it is a critique of an institutional culture that actively denigrates educators and in the process puts politics before children.  I believe that state legislators need to consider a measure that would guarantee that at least fifty percent of the appointees to this board have had substantial classroom experience.”

Note:  I urge Wait, What? readers to take the time to read through Tom’s entire testimony.  It speaks the truth and lays out the facts in a way that should worry every single parent and citizens of Connecticut.

The actions of Governor Malloy, Commissioner Stefan Pryor, Special Master Steven Adamowski and the others pushing Malloy’s corporate education reform agenda are undermining the sanctity of our public education system.  The damage is occurring quicker in some towns than in others.  Windham and New London are presently “ground zero” in this effort to destroy our public schools….but every public school in Connecticut will be impacted by these so-called “reform” programs.

Again, Tom’s full testimony can be found at http://www.scribd.com/doc/166041994/Windham-s-Adamowski-Experience-Thomas-Drewry-Testimony-for-State-Board-of-Education-9-5-13 

What the Hell is going on: Pryor and State Board of Education make Adamowski a State Employee

At yesterday’s State Board of Education meeting Governor Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor, recommended that the Board of Education grant Steven Adamowski a one-year extension in his role as the Special Master for the Windham and New London school systems.

And then, in a surprising and extraordinary turn of events, Pryor announced that Special Master Steven Adamowski would become a state employee rather than continue on as a consultant through the State Education Resource Center (SERC),  SERC being the agency Pryor used to hand out over half a million in no-bid contracts to various companies that helped him write Malloy’s education reform bill.

As reported by the Hartford Courant’s Kathy Megan, Pryor and his spokesperson explained that Adamowski’s position “belongs” at the state agency. They also announced that Adamowski’s salary would be reduced from $225,000 plus benefits to $162,000 plus benefits in order to make it “comparable to other top-level salaries in the department.”

Wait, What? readers will recall that Governor Malloy’s original education reform bill included special language that would have retroactively added five years to Steven Adamowski’s Connecticut Teachers Retirement Pension.

With the addition of his time as Special Master and his ability to purchase out of state time, the Malloy/Pryor maneuver would actually have increased Adamowski’s annual pension by as much as $35,000 or more per year.

However, as a result of the publicity generated by the media coverage (see Wait, What? blog links below), Connecticut legislators removed the Adamowski gift from the final bill.

Now two years have gone by and, out of the blue, Commissioner Pryor and the State Board of Education announce that Adamowski will be no longer be a paid consultant but will become a state employee and is willing accepting a $63,000 pay cut.

Since Adamowski’s compensation package at the State Education Resource Center included a generous health insurance package, it stands to reason that this latest move is somehow related to trying to boost Adamowski’s taxpayer funded pension.  However, it is not clear yet how the move would actually increase the Adamowski’s annual pension.

What is clear is that some extraordinary deal has taken place, but it is a deal hidden from public view.

Connecticut State Government continues to face a fiscal crisis and hundreds of vital state positions are going unfilled including critical vacancies at the state Department of Education.

In fact, the more one understands about the decision to make Adamowski a state employee, the more serious are the questions that are raised.

The Special Master position WAS NOT part of Commissioner Pryor’s infamous departmental reorganization plan that was approved by the State Board of Education in 2012.  This means the position for Adamowski doesn’t even exist under Pryor’s operating plan.

Of course, any new senior position would have had to have been approved by the Office of Policy and Management, the Department of Administrative Services and the Governor’s Office.  Yet no mention was made yesterday that such a process had been successfully pursued.

Even if a new senior position at the State Department of Education had been created, state laws and regulations would have required some sort of effort to post the position and there would have had to have been some type of recruitment and review process before the state position could have been filed.

But in this case, no position was posted and no recruitment or review process took place leading up to the decision to make Steven Adamowski a state employee.

Equally troublesome is that the decision to make Adamowski a state employee was clearly made prior to the review process that was required before the State Board of Education could extend Adamowski’s role as Special Master.

And all of these issues are clouded by the notion that this effort is somehow related to a renewed attempt to get around the General Assembly’s decision to keep the Malloy administration from boosting Adamowski’s pension by tens of thousands of dollars a year.

The Special Master system is an unfair and destructive program to begin with.

Steven Adamowski, in particular, has used the position to undermine the fundamental rights of students, parents, teachers and local officials in Windham and New London.

The Special Master program should be eliminated but instead, yesterday, the State Board of Education took made a truly unprecedented step to continue the Special Master’s role and reward Steven Adamowski for his failures.

The entire situation should leave the people of Windham and New London, ever very other state employee and every Connecticut taxpayer asking the question….What the hell is going on…?

Governor Malloy has an obligation to immediately step forward and fill in the missing pieces to this controversy.

If Malloy doesn’t reveal what is going down then the Connecticut General Assembly must act to force the Governor and his appointees to come clean on exactly why this inappropriate action has been taken.

You can find the Hartford Courant’s story about yesterday’s meeting here: http://www.courant.com/news/education/hc-state-board-education-0905-20130904,0,4111459.story.

And if you want to read more about Malloy’s effort to pad Adamowski’ pension, here are some of the earlier Wait, What? blog posts;

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

The Adamowksi Pension Farce: Part III

Heeee’s Back: Malloy Ally Adamowksi Continues to Maneuver for a Larger Teachers Retirement Pension.

The Adamowski Pension: A Story of one Education Reformers Sense of “Entitlement”

 

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

Special Master Steven Adamowski: Busy exceeding his authority…at taxpayer expense

As Rome burns, Adamowski tells Windham taxpayers which companies to hire and what they must do with their public funds….

(An update on Windham by Jonathan Pelto and Mary Gallucci, a Windham parent and education advocate)

As a result of inadequate state funding, Windham’s public schools are among the most underfunded in Connecticut and Windham taxpayers are consistently being told they need to put in more money to keep their schools afloat.

Windham’s lack of resources was one of the reasons the Connecticut General Assembly went along with Governor Malloy’s proposal to install a “Special Master” to oversee Windham’s Schools.

When passing the Special Master Law, the Legislature also allocated an additional $1 million per year to help fund Windham’s schools.

Of course Steven Adamowski’s $225,000 salary came out of those funds, as did his tens of thousands in employee benefits and a secretary housed in Hartford.

Since then, Windham’s parents, teachers and taxpayers have learned, the hard way, that Adamowski somehow thinks that money is his to dish out, rather than belonging to Windham and its schools.

Over the last few months, Steven Adamowski announced that “he” had $125,000 to contribute toward an incredibly expensive proposal to combine the financial systems of the Town of Windham and the Windham School Systems.

Just last month, the Willimantic Chronicle newspaper reported that the Windham Town Council had approved a $114,000 contract to pay the consulting firm of Blum Shapiro to serve as the project manager for Windham’s financial management project.

Now comes word that the Windham Board of Finance will discuss and possibly take action today to allocate $448,000 to acquire the proprietary “MUNIS Financial System.”  Apparently the $448,000 is only a portion of the cost that Windham will incur.  There are unpublished reports that Windham will also have to come up with $399,000 for a company called Tyler Tech and at least $20K for the Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology to host the new system.

While Windham’s school are facing unprecedented financial problems, Adamowski is going well beyond his statutory authority and diverting scarce state funds to leverage Windham’s financial decision about what software to purchase.

It will come as no surprise that one of MUNIS’ existing clients the City of Hartford, Connecticut where Adamowski served for five years as superintendent of schools.

Lost in the rush to purchase the MUNIS system is that the Town of Windham currently uses a software package provided by a company SunGard.  Purchased a decade ago, Windham has spent significant amounts of money upgrading the system and there are certainly communities that successfully use SunGard instead of MUNIS to handle coordinated town and school finances.

As the saying goes, the whole thing seems increasingly odd.

Especially considering when Adamowski’s duties were expanded to oversee the New London School System the first thing he did was inappropriately STOP their attempt at a coordinated consolidation of their town and school finances system.  See: http://nlweb.sx.atl.publicus.com/article/20120704/NWS01/307049912/Special-master’s-action-to-halt-consolidation-effort-in-New-London-criticized.  At the time he made of point of saying such a move required picking the right software.

And meanwhile, when it comes to following the law, just try to find the competitive bid that is required on a project of this magnitude (For example, any bid in excess of $5,000, Windham Ordinance 2-84).

The time has come for Connecticut’s State Auditors to look into how Steven Adamowski is using the funds allocated by the Connecticut General Assembly.

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?

Special Master Steven Adamowski helping to ensure Malloy’s defeat…

As we know, Commissioner of Education Stefan Pryor and faux Bridgeport Superintendent of Schools Paul Vallas have been engaged in a wholesale effort to alienate Connecticut’s teachers, parents and the tens of thousands of voters committed to public education.

But whatever damage Pryor and Vallas don’t complete, we can count on Special Master Steven Adamowski to ensure that Governor Dan Malloy becomes unelectable.

When teachers, parents and other pro-public education advocates become aware of a series of recent emails authored by Special Master Adamowski, in addition to actions he has taken in Windham and New London, it will become increasingly clear that Adamowski and his defenders at the State Department of Education have continued to disenfranchise students, parents and educators. Adamowski has trampled the rights of teachers, parents and local officials through his unending and potentially illegal manipulation of the Commissioner’s Network and Turnaround programs.

Instead of protecting the public interest, Commissioner Stefan Pryor and his soon to be ex-turnaround officer, Debra Kurshan, have allowed Adamowski to consistently disregard or derail portions of Governor Malloy’s education reform law.

The damage could go well beyond Governor Malloy.  If local legislators such as State Senators Don Williams and Andrea Stillman don’t act quickly to protect the interests of their districts, Adamowski’s dictatorial and counter-productive strategies could swamp these popular legislators.

By allowing Adamowski to overrule local officials and the input of local citizens, Senators Williams and Stillman risk suffering significant political fallout since they voted for Malloy’s education reform bill but then failed to ensure that the new law was properly implemented in their districts.

Local State Representatives Susan Johnson (Windham) and Ernest Hewitt (New London) could face similar problems.

According to emails and calls between Steven Adamowski, Debra Kushan and various local officials, the Malloy Administration inappropriately modified and contaminated locally developed turnaround plans in Windham, while equally disregarding required citizen participation in New London.

The resulting plans could inappropriately damage the collective bargaining process and would decimate what could have been locally-developed model programs for educating students in Windham and New London.

The students most at risk from Adamowski’s unilateral intervention in Windham and New London are the large Latino populations in both communities.

While the short-term political fallout will certainly damage Governor Malloy, local state senators and state representatives will also likely be blamed as teachers, parents and pro-education community activists become increasingly aware of the damage being perpetrated by Adamowski, Pryor and Malloy.

Check back in the coming days for additional Wait, What? blog posts that will examine Adamowski’s inappropriate efforts to undermine the Windham turnaround process, as well as his efforts to move New London’s school system in exactly the wrong direction.

Meanwhile, Malloy’s Special Master Adamowski joins Vallas in the land where laws don’t apply….

Re-posting from June 28, 2013

As the Malloy/Pryor/Vallas illegal strategies for Bridgeport collapse —- watch out because the citizens of Windham and New London are under assault as a result of the fact that Special Master Steven Adamowski has joined Vallas in the land where laws don’t apply….

Last month, the Connecticut Education Association filed a complaint against Paul Vallas, the pseudo Superintendent of Bridgeport’s school system.  The complaint focused on the fact that Paul Vallas was breaking Connecticut law “by not allowing teachers, parents, and community leaders to participate in the educational process” as required by Connecticut’s School Governance Council law (Connecticut General Statutes Section 10-223 j.)

As the CEA documents revealed, the Connecticut General Assembly and Governor Malloy claim to be strong supporters of School Governance Councils, the system that was put in place to ensure that parents, teachers and the community have a greater voice in local education decisions.

But as readers of Wait, What? know, Paul Vallas has systematically undermined the role of parents, teachers and anyone else who has the audacity to question his dictatorial approach to decision-making.

For example, Vallas’ predilection for signing no-bid contracts, co will costing Connecticut and Bridgeport taxpayers millions of dollars over the coming years.

While Vallas’ efforts to block community, parent and teacher involvement are well documented, knowledgeable observers note that Special Master Steven Adamowski has violated these same laws just as much, if not more than Vallas.

Adamowski serves as the Malloy Administration’s hand-picked “Special Master” for the Windham and New London schools systems.  Not surprisingly, he received the $225,000-a-year plus benefits job via a no-bid contract that was run through SERC, the State Education Resource Center.  SERC is the same vehicle that Malloy’s Commissioner of Education used to give no-bid contracts worth hundreds of thousands of dollars to a series of out-of-state consultants who were retained to help Malloy and Pryor develop Connecticut’s “education reform” bill.

As observers have reported, Adamowski’s wanton disregard for School Governance Councils (and turnaround committees) in Windham and New London not only violates Connecticut law, but has systematically crushed the democratic rights of the citizens of those two communities.

Adamowski’s alleged actions include failing to provide parents, teachers and the community in both Windham and New London with the opportunity to review the fiscal objectives of the draft budget for the school and provide advice before it was submitted to the superintendent, the failure to allow School Governance Councils to participate in the hiring process of administrators, refusing to provide ample involvement in analyzing school achievement data and school needs relative to the improvement plan for the school, failing to allow School Governance Councils to assist local schools principals when making programmatic and operational changes for improving school achievement.  And the list goes on and on.

In New London, Adamowski even mishandled the legal process surrounding the evaluation of the local superintendent by instructing the local board of education to evaluate the superintendent in executive session, six months after the end of the year, in direct violation of state statutes.

When the Connecticut Education Association filed their complaint against Vallas, Commissioner Stefan Pryor, Vallas’ friend and confidant, was quick to dismiss the complaint.

Considering the evidence against Adamowski appears to be just as strong, if not stronger than the case against Vallas, let’s hope parents, teachers and community leaders in New London and Windham will bring a similar complaint against Special Master Adamowski.

Of course, Commissioner Stefan Pryor will probably work just as hard to stonewall action against Adamowski, but at least the people will know that violating the law will not go unnoticed.

Meanwhile, Is Special Master Adamowski trying to destroy Windham’s School System?

Windham Connecticut has about 3,400 public school students, of which about 62 percent are Latino.  In total, 7 in 10 Windham public school students are minority.

More than 75 percent of the students come from families that qualify for free or reduced priced lunches.  One in four aren’t fluent in English and nearly 40 percent go home to households where English is not the primary language.   In addition, approximately 16 percent of the students receive some type of special education services.

The Windham School System is a prime example of the challenges that come with poverty, language barriers and the need for special education services.

In response to these problems, legislation was adopted that allowed Governor Malloy to appoint a Special Master to oversee the public schools.  The Malloy Administration’s choice to serve as Special Master was Steven Adamowski, Hartford’s former uncertified Superintendent of Schools.

Adamowski has brought new meaning to the term “bull in a china shop.”

Unwilling or unable to follow rules, regulations or common cooperative behavior, Adamowski has instituted a variety of “reforms” that have left the community, its students, parents and teachers reeling.

Two of the most incredible developments have been Adamowski’s decision to sign a deal with Norwich Free Academy and Parish Hill Regional School District that could divert upwards of $1 million and 100 students from Windham to Norwich or Parish Hill  Since these “deals” only cover tuition and not transportation, the maneuvers disproportionately help families with higher incomes and hurt those who can’t afford to pay the significant costs of transporting their children the half an hour or more to the other schools.

As disturbing is that fact that neither Norwich Free Academy nor Parish Hill is particularly prepared to provide services to those facing English language challenges.

While more than 25% of Windham’s students aren’t fluent in English, only 4% of NFA’s students are English Language Learners and according to the State Department of Education, Parish Hill has NO English Language Learners.

Putting aside the fact that the Special Master legislation doesn’t appear to provide Adamowski with the authority to negotiate or implement these types of “Open Choice” plans is an even bigger legal and ethical issue.

As Special Master, Steven Adamowski is Governor Malloy’s representative.  Instead of promoting efforts to decrease racial and ethnic isolation, Adamowski has taken steps that will dramatically increase the “de facto” segregation in Windham.  Such an action is morally outrageous and almost certainly illegal and unconstitutional.

Every parent, not only those of Latino background, should take immediate notice of the inappropriate and racially and ethnically insensitive policies being implemented by the Special Master and demand that Governor Malloy intervene immediately to reverse Adamowski’s policies.

The Special Master Law was aimed at repairing Windham’s School System, not making it more racially and ethnically isolated.  Adamowski’s actions to date are reprehensible.

Another boondoggle in the making: At a cost of more than $12 million to CT Taxpayers

On Wednesday, June 5, 2013 the Connecticut’s State Board of Education is scheduled to vote on a proposed new charter school for Windham, Connecticut called The Path Academy. 

The Path Academy is a project of Our Piece of the Pie, a Hartford-based “youth development agency” that seeks to “help young people access and attain a mix of the educational, employment, and personal skills that contribute to their success.”

One of their goals is to help “over-age, under-credit (OU) students” get a high school diploma.  The term is a bit misleading because it doesn’t mean that the student is over 21 or even 18.  In many cases it just means the student has had academic problems and isn’t at the standard grade level for that age.

A few years ago OPP partnered with the Hartford Public School System to open Opportunity High School.  Students remain in the Hartford school system, Hartford teachers provide the academic training and OPP provides counseling and support services.

With a student population of nearly 5,400 Hartford students in the high school grades, OPP’s Opportunity High School serves approximately 120 students or about 2 percent of the student body.  According to their website they’ve graduated 81 students since 2009.

Now, despite their fundamental lack of genuine, longer-term experience running a full-fledged school, OPP is looking to get in on the action as the Malloy Administration opens the taxpayer spigot and dramatically increases funding for the charter school industry.

Using the name Path Academy, Our Piece of the Pie has submitted a 604 page proposal to open a school in Windham for “over-age, under-credit (OU) students.”  The primary difference is that OPP is claiming that it is capable of running the entire school on its own, with no participation by the Windham School System or Windham educators and administrators.

Starting with 120 students, OPPs plan is to expand to 200 students in the second year. They also claim that 75% of the slots will be reserved for Windham students, while the rest will come from neighboring towns.

With less than 650 total high school students in Windham, OPP would need to increase their “catchment” from the 2% they get as part of the Hartford School System to more like 23% of Windham’s students…a task that is hardly achievable.

Despite having trouble in school, some students don’t need or want to leave the traditional school setting, while others are already taking advantage of alternative programs for students who are facing academic problems.

To suggest that OPP could fill 75% of its seats with Windham students is simply not possible.

Furthermore, OPP claims that it will fill the remainder of its seats with students from neighboring towns, but of course, nearly all the towns in the region, including Windham, already have programs to support “under-credit” students.

However, instead of having a reasonable discussion about augmenting existing public school programs, the State Board of Education seems poised to provide OPP with a sweetheart deal that would cost taxpayers over $12 million over the first five years alone, and that is using OPP’s own figures.

In addition, while no site for this new school has been announced, OPP has said that it has been negotiating with the out-of-state owners of a boarded up old movie theater in town.  Experts had previously determined the cost to renovate the old Jillson Square Movie Theater would be in the millions, Our Piece of the Pie told local officials that their architects disagreed and that costs would be manageable.

More to the point, state and local taxpayers have already invested millions into specialized programs to help academically challenged students including existing programs at EastConn, the regional’s education service center, as well as programs in the regions community colleges, high schools and adult education programs.

Another troubling aspect of this proposal is that Path Academy’s plan notes that the largest cohort of “over-age, under-credit (OU) students” are bi-lingual and English Language Learners, but the plan put forward by the Path Academy/Our Piece of the Pie®, Inc. is particularly vague on how it would successfully address the particular demographics of Willimantic.

Finally, the OPP proposal plans to, “use a number of computer and web-based tools to enhance student learning. Students will engage in content acquisition on computer-based education programs, and will practice applying these skills using web-based tools, such as Glogster or Padlet. Path Academy will use Edgenuity™ as the primary computer-based education program to support classroom learning. Student learning will be supported by a number of supplementary computer-based education programs, most prevalently, Khan Academy and Wilson Reading Trainer. ” (While it is true that some schools are turning to the use of computer-based learning, considering these are, by definition, some of the most difficult students to engage, putting these young people in front of a computer, even “when blended” with face-to-face instruction, doesn’t seem like the most appropriate solution for the Windham region).

In the end, the question, though, is not whether OPP has or has not had limited success with at-risk youth, but whether scarce resources would be better spent infusing more effective programing into existing public schools rather than create yet another charter school in the state.

With a new state budget on the horizon that fails to adequately fund existing services and appears to be in deficit the day it takes effect, now is hardly the time to throw even more funds at the charter school industry.

Few if any of the new charter school applications seem to have much merit, but the OPP plan for Windham is among the least impressive.

That said, we’ll know soon enough just where the State Board of Education’s priorities lie when it comes to the needs of Windham and eastern Connecticut.