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Can an Art Exhibition Lead to a Better School?

Daiana and I felt like fish out of water when meeting with Amanda Roy, community programs manager at the Greater Hartford Arts Council.  But when the idea formed for putting on a Weaver High School Redesign-themed art exhibition, we knew we needed a little guidance.

Up until now, engagement efforts around the redesign of one of North Hartford’s great institutions consisted of community forums, panel discussions and meetings.  While each of these avenues is instrumental to developing a high-quality school, there are different parts of the Weaver story those forums don’t capture and people who often go unheard and unseen.  And yet, the passion and vibrancy around seeking a high-quality education is palpable.

Art as an expression has long played a role in society: It has demonstrated time and again that its messages can spark new ideas and challenge and inspire us all.  Art can be a way to expose social justice issues like inequity in education, celebrate the past, or even dream about a brighter future.

So, there we were in the small conference room off the main lobby explaining to Amanda how we hoped an art exhibition centered around Weaver could “weave the past into the future” – celebrating the former Weaver experience and culture, as well as, the promise for Weaver’s future.

From a community perspective, the narrative of urban education is that school based decisions just happen to us, not with us, but the Weaver Redesign Project invites the community to be the authors of their future, creating it, as actors in their own story.

This Weaver art exhibition is making another space for more discussion, introduction of new language, and ways of talking about good schools that help us to make public the uncomfortable and messy conversations that have traditionally been held in private.

Amanda put our minds at ease as she walked us through the process of crafting a call to artists and thinking through curation and other exhibit guidelines. She offered to remain our guide until we reach the end of our goal of celebrating and building energy around the redesign of Weaver High School on exhibition night, February 28, 6pm-8pm at the Artists Collective.

We’re still taking submissions and welcome you to join us “weave the past into the future”.

View the full prospectus at


Check out this video from Harpers Galleria – What role does art play in society?

Get in the Game with Brackets for Good

Who doesn’t love a little friendly competition?

Achieve Hartford! is excited to be participating in the Brackets For Good tournament. During this bracketed tournament for charities, 64 local nonprofit organizations will compete to make the most points — raise the most dollars. Every point counts! The overall winner (nonprofit with the most overall dollars raised) will receive a $10,000 prize.

It’s time for us to get some points on the board.  You can help us by shooting a jump shot here.

See the bracket match-ups and join Team Achieve Hartford!.

The tournament begins at 8 p.m. on February 24, and we only have a few days to make into the next round.

Donations made to Achieve Hartford! through the Brackets for Good tournament will support our mission of helping the community and Hartford Public Schools graduate more students who are prepared for college and career.

Achieve Hartford! is an independent nonprofit organization with the belief that strong schools lead to a strong city.  As Mayors, Boards of Education and Superintendents change over time, we are the consistent voice pushing for high-quality education in our city since 2008.

Get in the game and help Hartford kids succeed.

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Brackets For Good

Brackets For good is the sport for nonprofits. Inspired by college basketball brackets, Brackets For Good is a charitable, online fundraising tournament where up to 64 hand-selected, local nonprofits with a 501(c)3 status in good standing compete for donations while earning increased awareness along the way. All participating nonprofits have a chance at winning $10,000 unrestricted grant courtesy of the tournament’s presenting sponsor. Watch this YouTube video to see how it works:

Councilman Jimmy Sanchez Discusses What’s Needed in Hartford School Improvement

Democratic City Councilman Jimmy Sanchez grew up in the north end of Hartford, in a small, Puerto Rican enclave; later, his parents moved to become homeowners in the south end.  He went to the old Barnard Brown School and the old Vine Street School (later named for Hartford’s first African American mayor, Thirman Milner – and now perhaps a school on the chopping block).  So what priorities does he see for Hartford schools, based on his experience?


Councilman Sanchez’s parents pulled him out of public school and sent him to parochial school – but his travels in the Marine Corps, especially to Japan, have made him anything but parochial (please see his bio online here).  Here are some of his perspectives about school improvement in Hartford:


  • When his parents sent him to St. Joseph Cathedral School in his neighborhood, Mr. Sanchez landed in the Fourth Grade with Second Grade skills.  He was branded with “F” scores; indeed, he and his brother were termed “mentally retarded” back in the day.  “Little did they know, we just didn’t know the alphabet,” he said in an interview last week.  Lesson One.
  • Lesson Two: he graduated from South Catholic High School, joined the Marine Corps and traveled the world.  He saw, in Japan, the importance of discipline, not just for academic subjects, but for what he terms etiquette – good habits, like saving money.  Emphasizing financial literacy, he warns against the cultural tendency to spend every dime you have – and recalls when he was a transit coach operator early in his career.  He encountered students who did not even know how to count out the right coins to pay their fare.
  • So today Councilman Sanchez is all about emphasizing early childhood education, including spelling, grammar, punctuation, diagramming sentences, and understanding math.
  • He appreciates the re-start of the school closure, consolidation, and relocation planning in Hartford, concerned about the level of community involvement in the consultants’ various proposed scenarios.  “Buildings do not educate children,” he declares; it’s what happens within them and at home.  “I am not against magnet schools,” he adds.  “What I am against is taking the right of the neighborhood child away.  There is a huge neglect in the North End and that neglect has traveled down to the South End.”
  • Indeed, given the numbers of students who are bumped by the choice lotteries into low-performing schools, he believes, “There is no choice in this system for many, in my book.”
  • As the original Hartford Public High School was knocked down rather than honored for a place on the National Historical Register, he argues, other landmark Hartford schools need to be preserved (the Dr. Martin Luther King School, the original Weaver High School, and the Burns Latino Study Academy come to his mind).


Recognizing that the City Council has a major role in financing public schools, Councilman Sanchez would set as a priority the improvement of neighborhood schools – and the presentation of disaggregated magnet school performance data, so that Hartford students’ progress is not masked by “the suburban lift” of those achievement scores.  Moreover, he questions why the regional public safety academy is in Enfield – and why Hartford has such a low proportion of Spanish-speaking teachers.


“Education is the basis of all things in life,” he said in a recent interview.  As unemployment, health, environmental quality, and housing deeply affect school quality, those issues must be faced, as should what he calls the “etiquette” he witnessed in Japan.  There, teachers are respected and education is valued – and the good habits that come from the discipline of working hard are part of the culture.


The Bottom Line.

The life lessons of Councilman Sanchez are worth heeding.  While many in Hartford do not see members of City Council as responsible for education outcomes in the city, their leadership can be invaluable, and we hope to involve them more in school improvement strategies.

Editor’s note: This article is part of a continuing series on the views of City Council members, with links to the earlier articles here.

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