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Hartford Homecoming: All Together for Talent Development

When Lumina Foundation President and CEO Jamie Merisotis brought his America Needs Talent perspective to Hartford last week, it was a three-dimensional homecoming.

Having grown up in Manchester, he got to get back together with his family here.  The next day at a working lunch, he captivated some 220 attendees interested in his linkage of K-12, higher education, and business and industry to develop talent.

There, he also found agreement, among a Who’s Who of Hartford leaders, that the only practical and permanent path to workforce development is deep partnerships with shared goals.

Mr. Merisotis, now leading the Lumina Foundation for Education based in Indianapolis, worked on the creation of Americorps and also for 30 years at the intersection of higher education, public policy, and philanthropy.  At Achieve Hartford!’s “Hartford Needs Talent” event, sponsored by Lincoln Financial Group at the Downtown Marriott January 25th, he raised – and provoked – very good questions about the two million unfilled open jobs in America right now, of which two-thirds require some form of post-high school education.

Cross-sector investments in internships, transportation, and online opportunities for learners are just a few of the keys that could unlock a second, consecutive American Century.

But that will take real work.  Here are some additional perspectives from CEO Merisotis:

  • Talent is much more than innate ability.
  • The five ways to get to a more talented society are:

Redesigning higher education to better serve today’s students;

  1. Unleashing private sector innovation to help meet education challenges;
  2. Redefining the public role, including such strategic moves as creating a U.S. Department of Talent;
  3. Re-imagining immigration so as to meet the nation’s talent needs; and
  4. Tapping into the tremendous potential of cities as “talent hubs”.

Elaborating, Mr. Merisotis spoke of talent hub cities that are very nice places to live, but advised that one city’s success at the expense of another will not solve America’s talent problem.  Instead, where leaders work together to offer multiple pathways to success for all sorts of people, cities can serve as successful talent hubs, he recommended.  Here is a Washington Monthly article on his points of emphasis.

In his remarks, Mayor Luke Bronin echoed the fact that there are far more unfilled positions regionally than those served in workforce readiness programs.  “Not to be contrary,” he said, reiterating his call for a local Youth Service Corps visible in neighborhoods, “but Hartford’s got talent – we need to get a lot better at connecting that talent.”

Hartford could move the needle – and quickly – if every sincere stakeholder were activated in supporting internships and job training.

After the mayor and CEO Merisotis laid out the challenges, Hartford Promise Executive Director Richard Sugarman moderated a discussion with four panelists: Hartford Consortium for Higher Education Executive Director Dr. Martin Estey, Hartford School Superintendent Dr. Beth Schiavino-Narvaez, Capital Workforce Partners CEO Tom Phillips, and Filomena and Company Principal George Thomson.  A poignant plea came from Mr. Thomson:  “We simply can’t find people. Not being able to find young people holds us back.”  He meant not just his firm, but regional manufacturers, too, he added.

Mr. Merisotis noted that, of 6.5 million jobs created between 2010 and 2015, 2.9 million were “good jobs” – and 2.8 million were filled by young people with bachelor’s degrees.  Contrast that with CEO Phillips’ estimates that some 23,000 youth regionally and 6,200 in Hartford are neither in school nor working.

The Bottom Line.  The enthusiasm among the public, nonprofit, education, and business leaders we convened last week was palpable and powerful.  Equally powerful was the desire for more action … and less talking.  The era of opportunity is right now for Hartford, where, through much closer and deeper collaboration, leaders across sectors can agree on both the causes of our economic struggles and the solutions needed to address them.

We also need commitments from business, to ratchet up workforce preparedness opportunities for young people, and advocates leading this work – to set bold goals and communicate progress publicly.  This requires a coalition of organizations that include the Hartford Public Schools, Capital Workforce Partners, the City of Hartford, the Hartford Consortium for Higher Education, Hartford Promise, Achieve Hartford!, and both the already dedicated businesses, non-profits, and universities as well as newbies.  Much more to come on this topic, this work, and the very significant players at the table, including you.


Achieve Hartford! Inaugural event – Inspire Hartford

Achieve Hartford! is excited to announce that tickets are now on sale for Inspire Hartford, a celebration of the city’s highest achievers—it’s students. Attendees will experience an education transformation and see 21st century learning in action as they support improvement in Hartford’s schools. This inaugural event will be held on Wednesday, May 4, 2016 at the XL Center in downtown Hartford. Visit inspirehartford.com to learn more.


What Qualities Matter Most for Board of Education Members?

Imminent Changeover in Membership Is a Watershed Moment

When Mayor Luke Bronin’s five (as-yet unannounced) appointees to the Hartford Board of Education are sworn in next month, they will form a new majority, joining the four elected members. What qualities among these leaders are most needed to make this hybrid board as effective as possible?

Achieve Hartford! previously identified a number of attributes that characterize strong Board members:

  • A clear understanding of the role that a high-performing Board of Education plays in supporting school improvement
  • High expectations for what our schools and students can achieve
  • Willingness to make tough decisions and support long-term change in the face of shortterm demands
  • Support for the District’s current strategy and direction
  • Unbiased support of what works, based on data
  • Ability to understand and utilize data in ways that drive accountability.

In 2012, when past Mayor Pedro Segarra appointed himself, Dr. José Colón-Rivas, Dr. Cherita McIntye, Hartford Public Library CEO Matt Poland, and attorney Richard Wareing to the Board, it was a strong team. Nonetheless, he caught some flak: None were parents of Hartford schoolchildren.

New Mayor Bronin already has said he will not appoint himself to the Board and will seek to name up to three Hartford school parents.

A Look at the History of the Hybrid Board

The Hartford Public Schools were subject to a State takeover in 1997, in the midst of a whirling, revolving door of superintendents coming and going and a private management effort that failed.

After his election in 2001, Mayor Eddie Perez worked to revise the City Charter to replace the councilmanager form of government with a mayor-council setup, under which the mayor is CEO. As a builder with success in producing the Learning Corridor, Mayor Perez was first elected under the councilmanager system. But he then formed a Charter Revision Commission and in 2002 won 77 percent voter approval for both the strong-mayor structure and mayoral authority to appoint five Board of Education members (the other four being elected).

In an interview this week, former Mayor Perez made these observations about the hybrid Board

  • “It does provide balance” and with some 53 percent of the City’s budget linked to schools, the mayoral appointment power appropriately forces the City Council to be more engaged
  • At the time, his support for the hybrid Board was in large part out of respect for the African American community, which had an historical need for enfranchisement, he said. “Otherwise, I would have gone for a fully appointed Board … the elected component is not to disenfranchise – and to provide a balance”
  • Still, “The civic capacity of the community has to be considered,” he added, pointing out that with low voter turnout, elected Board members can be more symbolic than a guarantee of balance
  • Indeed, “the luck of the draw” with all elected members provides no guarantee that the Board will have the expertise and sophistication to run a school system
  • The partly-elected, majority-appointed Board of Education structure is important because of the vital connections between education and the City’s budget and economic development efforts
  • Whereas in the suburbs, Board candidates are asked first about their specializations and resumes, he said, in the Clay Hill neighborhood it might be more important to identify available time, strong interest and passion.

In any case, Board members’ dedication, commitment to children’s and not adults’ agendas, and willingness to learn are paramount, former Mayor Perez said, recalling how shop owner Maria Sanchez – the longest serving Hartford Board of Education member – would host him at her counter while they discussed the Board agenda.

“She would spend 60 to 70 hours a week worrying about this stuff,” he recalled. “She was a humble person; her store was a social service center; that was her life.”

Since not everyone is or can be a Renaissance person, good Board Members tend to select and then specialize in areas where they have expertise – and other Board members can then rely on them for effective committee and community liaison work, he reflected.

“There is always a need for an orientation for folks who are not totally prepared,” he also said, maintaining that while the details about specific issues are important, so are the skills of “how to do your homework” and how to speak at public meetings.

Having been through 28 different superintendents (including those in brief acting roles) and having once known the Board of Education as “an employment center for adults,” the former Mayor emphasized training to understand systems and structures and providing vehicles to amplify parent voices.

Continuous training for Board members is important, too, he added. “You can’t go to Harvard and become a Board member in six weeks, or six days, or six hours.”


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