Achieve Hartford!’s annual open letter to local education leaders found a silver lining amidst all the fiscal and political strain: “We can be the one city in America that taps every asset, engages every option, and ensures every child receives a high-quality education.”  Hartford may not have a sufficient tax base within its small 17-square mile footprint – but it does sport enviable corporate, higher education, and passionate parent assets.

It’s time to use them.  The open letter, online here, suggests rejecting further defeatism, even as further budget deficits loom and leadership once again is going to change.  “The only way we can produce success stories for all students – not just some – is to fundamentally alter the disproportionately high concentration of need in our neighborhood schools,” the letter emphasizes.

Here are the main points we have urged the mayor and Board of Education to pursue right now:

  • Make the Right Decision.  Select not an interim, but a permanent successor to outgoing Superintendent Beth Schiavino-Narvaez – one who is equipped to fulfill the District’s strategic operating plan and focus attention on the 25 lowest-performing schools.
  • Explore All Possible Solutions.  Find ways of maximizing the number of children who gain access to high-performing schools, regardless of who manages them, utilizing the Equity 2020 process to not just consolidate but comprehensively improve schools.
  • Revolutionize Negotiations.  Reignite the civil rights flame of the Sheff v. O’Neill case – and assert City leadership over a Hartford agenda.  Our key argument?  “To not pull more Hartford children off the magnet waitlist is completely unacceptable from our perspective, because by adding an additional 35 more Hartford students across all existing magnet schools, we can help approximately 1,000 kids immediately get into stronger learning environments without significantly throwing off racial balance in those schools.”
  • Enhance Board Leadership.  Given the inevitable ebb and flow of Board of Education members, find more champions to serve, appointing leaders who have proven ability to build strong relationships and consensus around an agenda.  Board training could be more robust, too.
  • Listen.  Set policies that adhere to the mandate of the CCJEF v. Rell ruling (see our commentary here) to heighten the quality of high school diplomas, the rewards and evaluations of educators as professionals, and special education services.

The Bottom Line.  Hartford was once the wealthiest city in the country; now it is among the poorest.  Rather than re-litigate all the negative forces at work in that 180-degree turn, we have chosen instead to focus on the tremendous assets in this community.  If they are brought to bear, Hartford can be a turnaround city once again.  The time to act on this is now.