Hartford Board of Education Chair Richard Wareing welcomed some 1,700 teachers back for the 2016-17 school year Monday with an observation about two characteristics he believes distinguish them: They are both realists … and incurable optimists.  This, he said, is an apt combination to unlock Hartford’s future.  “Your duality is a metaphor for our city,” he told the convocation of teachers at Bulkeley High School.

As a profession, teaching can be emotionally fulfilling but regularly exhausting, yet another duality.  Chair Wareing’s mom taught for 40 years in New Bedford, MA (and still volunteers).  Mayor Luke Bronin’s mother-in-law taught about that long; Bulkeley Principal Gayle Allen-Greene is a 37-year veteran educator.  She started her career as a student teacher at the high school she now leads, before being hired as a teacher.

When welcoming the HPS teachers Monday, Principal Allen-Greene made a thoughtful request: that the veteran educators listen very carefully to the newbies, and vice versa, as all need to play hard on one team.

Superintendent Beth Schiavino-Narvaez discussed the ways Hartford, in the first year of implementing its strategic operating plan, has demonstrated equity in action:

  • The District is more than halfway to its five-year goal of full college acceptance, with 95 percent of 2016 seniors having been accepted into college.  A question remains: How many will actually enroll in college?
  • The proportion of young people having access to advanced coursework and internship opportunities rose from 76 percent the previous year to 82 percent in 2016.
  • Chronic absenteeism (missing 10 percent of school days) dropped 18 percent last year.
  • Out-of-school suspensions continue to be reduced, down another 27 percent in 2016.
  • Third Grade Reading and Ninth Grade Algebra growth was recorded last year; two of the equity indicators on which the District is focused.  Unfortunately, these two key academic indicators fell short of first-year growth targets.

Here are the superintendent’s remarks at the convocation and the video of the full event.  Additional pertinent information also warrants attention, in the form of a New York Times op-ed on “Why Black Men Quit Teaching”and an NPR program on preparing teachers for the schools that need them most.

The Bottom Line.  When you watch the video of the convocation, you will be struck by how much has indeed been accomplished in the first year – and by the optimism felt by so many educators in that auditorium.  What you won’t see is what everyone already knows:  The challenges Hartford educators must face this year loom large, with deeper budget cuts than ever and more coming down the pike and students facing more challenges than ever.  Soon after the first week of school, their optimism – like all of ours – will be tested.  The truth is we have a long, long way to go to close the achievement gap, and we will need lots of help.

We owe it to our kids and families to push each other; problems can only be addressed when honestly confronted.  We need Hartford teachers to have the courage to push for the change they need to get their jobs done without fear of repercussion, and we need Hartford principals to do the same all the way up the chain of command until it hits the Board of Education and Mayor’s office.