An earthquake of sorts shook the Hartford Board of Education meeting this week, as the mayor’s call for more city parents on the nine-member panel was realized at the leadership level: Four parents will now run the Board as the four-officer executive team. And longstanding Board Chair Richard Wareing has been replaced, marking this as the first time since the City Charter was changed in 2005, granting the Mayor five appointments, that an elected member is Board chair.
The chair is now Weaver High School graduate and North End resident Craig Stallings; the first vice chair is West End resident Tiffany Glanville; the second vice chair is North End resident Karen Taylor; the secretary is South End resident Julio Flores. All are parents of Hartford students; their citywide representation and diversity also stands out. The other elected members are Michael Brescia, Robert Cotto, Jr., and, recently appointed by the Board to fill the vacated seat of Beth Taylor, Juan Hernandez. The next election of the four so-designated Board members is this fall; generally, fewer than 8 percent of registered voters participate.
Hartford’s strong-mayor model is designed to consolidate control at the top; the transition this week from Chair Wareing to Chair Stallings, who is not a mayoral appointee but elected, could make it harder to focus accountability for the school system’s performance – but it could also help to balance mayoral power. This can be good or not, depending on how you view mayoral control. And with Craig Stallings’ energy and ideas, there is a lot to be excited about.
In any case, the pressure certainly is on new Chair Stallings to guide governance stewardship at such a rocky time, to build a close relationship with the mayor, and to build a team out of nine individuals at a time when they are sorely needed. With representation from workforce, municipal government, education, higher education, accounting, legal, political, and obviously, parent perspectives, the Hartford Board of Ed can accomplish incredible things.
The Bottom Line
Whether this week’s leadership development is a powerful earthquake (or a mere tremor) remains to be seen. We see it, however, as a great opportunity to address a critical Board shortcoming over the years: The whole seems to be less than the sum of its parts. Individuals are exceptional. The entire group? Well-intentioned but in need of training, as are we all.
Whatever happened this week to compel the chair change is anyone’s guess, but clearly a new direction was favored by a majority of the nine members in Tuesday’s election. All votes were unanimous and, unusually, all nine members were present.
Past Chair Wareing has served tirelessly, and if Tuesday’s meeting is any indication, he aims to continue to serve and graciously support the new chair. From a personal standpoint, he said wryly, he may now be able to bill more hours at his law firm (this comment does suggest a fourth-rail issue. Past Board Chair David MacDonald told us in a recent interview that Board work requires 10-20 hours of reading and planning every week. As some school districts do, he suggested, Hartford might want to incentivize its Board membership with a stipend recognizing their time away from family and work obligations. Maybe when the economy is stronger!)
The Board recently has stepped up the activities of its committees and looks to be gearing up to shoulder the Board’s portion of the shared leadership trifecta with the City and District.
The time is now, and we plan to be as helpful as possible.