Superintendent Leslie Torres-Rodriguez’s school consolidation plan reflects a comprehensive, research -based recommendation reflecting input from teachers, parents and guardians, students, faith leaders and community leaders, say school board leaders.
Unlike an earlier plan proposed by the prior superintendent, Dr. Torres-Rodriguez’s approach is comprehensive and based on multiple factors, notes parent Tiffany Glanville, vice chair of the Harford School Board. As someone who served on the former Equity 2020 committee that had studied school consolidation in the hopes of making a recommendation, Board VP Glanville remarked that, “This plan is better because it isn’t just about facilities and enrollment; it’s about an entire restructuring of the District.”
The process looked at programs, facilities and how to maximize resources to create a district of excellence, adds parent and Board Chair Craig Stallings.
“The superintendent isn’t outlining three possible scenarios like her predecessor. She’s recommending one that she stands by based on public input and help from outside consultants, Educational Resources Strategies”, Glanville said. “I think that’s bold, I’m pleased with that leadership approach.”
Educational Resources Strategies (ERS), a national nonprofit consulting firm hired to assist with the process, helped ensure a comprehensive reorganization, not the facilities-based approach that was a hallmark of Equity 2020. While Torres-Rodriguez owns this recommendation, Glanville says, ERS seems “to have been a valuable technical support provider to this whole process.”
The District Model for Excellence reportedly involved a comprehensive mining of data, looking at the entire district, at programming, facilities, community needs and what works best from an educational standpoint, she says.
The superintendent met with people in groups large and small to hear their concerns, fears and suggestions. Dr. Torres-Rodriguez’s extensive community outreach included presenting preliminary findings. She proactively sought to engage every aspect of the community by attending parent forums, visiting schools, attending neighborhood revitalization zone meetings, town committee meetings, and meeting with city council members and state legislators representing Hartford, both Stallings and Granville said. She talked about the need for consolidation and listened to what residents said they wanted to see as part of that effort.
Dr. Torres-Rodriguez’s plan, unveiled Tuesday night at the Board of Education’s monthly public meeting, attempts to ensure that every school serves as a community school. Glanville says the plan strives to simultaneously create educational equity and fiscal sustainability by closing low-occupancy, high-cost schools. This consolidation plan seeks to create quality schools in every neighborhood, says Stallings, “making our schools community hubs and gathering places for intergenerational and extra-curricular learning.”
While he learned about the plan along with the community Tuesday night, he said he appreciated the decision to notify stakeholders all at once at a public meeting.
“There were no leaks. Most people got the information at the same time. We’re all digesting it together,” Stallings says. While it was riskier to inform everyone at once, “It’s fair.”
He was initially surprised to hear what schools are slated for closing, but he was pleased to learn that the school names representing community leaders will be transferred to schools that will remain open under the restructuring plan. He says it makes sense that the plan calls for relinquishing older buildings costing the district more money to run, holding onto names that mean something to the community and using the savings to strengthen the remaining schools.
“I’m not as concerned that all of our neighborhood schools are going to be decimated,” he says. “I’m a little more relaxed than I was before.”
While it’s difficult to see schools close and for families to have to change their routines, the process ultimately reflects parents’ desire to see a quality educational system for their children.
“We see that reflected very much in this approach,” Glanville says.
Going forward, Stallings says, he expects board members to accompany the superintendent as she meets with community groups to talk about the consolidation plan.
“We will be in the schools that are going to be affected directly. No one’s going to run from this. This is real. It’s going to happen,” he says.
Dr. Torres-Rodriguez projects savings could reach $15 million. Stallings says this plan may not be enough. “We still may have to do more.”
While closing buildings that are only half full is the fiscally responsible choice, the superintendent wrote in an op-ed in The Hartford Courant, persistently low student achievement demands the change proposed. “The yardstick that measures our school district is student performance – and we have fallen short for too long,” she wrote.
“Fewer schools will mean fewer dollars spent on maintaining buildings and more dollars spent on learning. Closing under-capacity schools will allow for reinvestment in our remaining schools to make them better,” she wrote. “As the redesign moves forward, the transition may result in some discomfort and a lot of hard work over the next several years. But there is no alternative. If we do not make these changes, we will doom another generation of students to an underperforming system.”
Achieve Hartford! is excited to see bold – and unified – leadership willing to make tough choices and back it up with engagement of and in the community.