Hartford’s current leadership faces almost insurmountable obstacles to get our city back on track. Yet, facing them head on, Mayor Bronin and his administration have demonstrated some early success and much meaningful progress on several key municipal fronts. We praise Mayor Bronin’s leadership and acknowledge his achievements to date, highlighted in his address linked here and covered by the Courant here. That being said, Hartford schools and students still need and deserve much more.
Hope is High
“What we are doing here to rebuild our Capital City – aiming not only at solvency, but beyond that to vibrancy and growth – is an essential part of making the State of Connecticut competitive again.” – Mayor Luke Bronin, 2017 State of the City Address
A recent report from the Hartford Courant of a resurging downtown echoed Mayor Bronin’s remarks, highlighting a sold-out opening game for the Yard Goats, new downtown developments (including a Barnes & Noble bookstore as part of the eagerly awaited opening of UConn’s expanded campus off of Front Street) as well as a widely-praised comprehensive revamp to Hartford zoning regulations, all of which will contribute to even more social and economic activity and long-term sustainability in downtown Hartford.
Beyond reinvigorating downtown, Mayor Bronin shared in detail how his administration’s efforts in a range of departments have led (or will lead to) improved support, renovated facilities including a South side library, infrastructure improvements including a heavily used North Side street (Albany Avenue), as well as a comprehensive and focused strategy to address blight removal, renovation, and resale. Hartford is on the rise, and much of that is due directly and indirectly to Mayor Bronin and his team at City Hall.
And others are noticing. High on this list of success is the recent announcement of having secured tens of millions in financial commitments over the next five years from corporate partners Aetna, The Hartford, and Travelers – a success only possible with painful but necessary steps to clean house and cut City spending.
A Sobering Reality
“While I am proud of the progress we have made on many fronts, there is one arena where too little change and progress has been made, and where there is a moral imperative to do far more: education.”
– Mayor Luke Bronin, 2017 State of the City Address
Mayor Bronin’s State of the City address outlined many of his administration’s achievements and highlighted meaningful progress in many long-stalled areas of need. Yet, as acknowledged by Mayor Bronin, his administration has not yet made such quality or quantity gains in education.
Compare the mayor’s role in addressing the fiscal crisis, promoting regionalization, union renegotiations, the fight against blight, or key quality of life issues like resolving a flawed 311 system. In each of these areas as well as several others, Mayor Bronin and his leadership team came together publicly and with a clear mandate directed from the top across departments to solve problems, making the combined whole greater than the individual roles and parts.
Now is a time where city leaders are called to step up as education leaders.
Beyond protecting against threats to our children’s health and safety, as reported by the State Office of Child Advocate in their report (which MUST be heeded; see Achieve Hartford!’s recommendations), our city leaders have a lot of ground to cover to meet the needs of long neglected focus areas and communities within the Hartford Public Schools.
Where is the mayoral mandate and vision for education? What would it take for the mayor to drive and align our education leaders just as he did City department leaders involving union renegotiations or budget cuts? How can incentives toward alignment focused on high priority needs be brought forth in HPS?
The Bottom Line
We hope this State of the City address signals the start of a dramatic shift from Mayor Bronin to focus on personally using his mayoral mandate to intervene and drive a shared, collective and laser-sharp focus on improving community schools. Hope is high … but hope is not enough.
The leadership Hartford needs requires a vision for high quality schools within a high functioning city, AND the concrete plan to operationalize this vision. Hartford schools need top to bottom transformation rather than incremental change. Signals from Board leaders and candidates for superintendent suggest they are ready to take steps into the leadership roles required of them. Will the Mayor push them and become the “education mayor” Hartford needs?
For our part, we are doing everything we can to lay out a blueprint for systemic change in Hartford that can help guide collective efforts to improve schools, and we look forward to working with the mayor, the next superintendent, and so many others critical to putting education reform in Hartford back on track.
Below is the section of the address that the mayor devoted to education on Monday:
While I am proud of the progress we have made on many fronts, there is one arena where too little change and progress has been made, and where there is a moral imperative to do far more: education.
Yesterday and today, Vanessa de la Torre and Matthew Kauffman of the Hartford Courant published a wrenching examination of the gap between neighborhood schools and magnet schools. It is a gap that every parent, every teacher, every student in Hartford knows too well.
In the coming weeks, the Hartford Board of Education will choose the next leader for the Hartford Public Schools. Fixing that gap and strengthening our neighborhood schools must be the single most important priority for our new Superintendent, and I pledge to be a full partner.
We have two candidates with deep roots in our community, and a strong commitment to the schools, children and families of Hartford. I look forward to hearing from them as they publicly share their vision. And I look forward to working with our next Superintendent to make the vision real.
Among the challenges facing the next Superintendent is the fact that many of our schools are severely under-enrolled, but in desperate need of renovation.
We cannot build schools without a plan for filling those schools. And no one can justify spending millions of dollars maintaining, heating, and servicing half-full, deteriorated buildings, when those dollars could go instead to teachers, paraprofessionals, social and emotional learning, art, music or books.
Our next Superintendent must lead our community in a collaborative process that ultimately allows our district to focus on a smaller number of better neighborhood schools. But that plan can’t just be about which buildings stay open and which buildings close. The Board of Education must also be able to look parents and students in the eyes and say, honestly: things may change, but they will change for the better.