In an interview last week, Superintendent Beth Schiavino Narvaez discussed how the District will realize its vaunted “Acceleration Agenda” even as State and City budget cuts are costing layoffs at every level.  What’s the plan to keep up the pace?

“Investing in people is key to the District’s continuing progress toward the Acceleration Agenda,” Dr. Narvaez told us.  That investment, she hastened to add, has a lot to do with the culture of public service, as every staff member from top to bottom will be asked to do more.

The issue of investing in people is important, as professional development will tell the tale for how complex issues of educating Hartford children are handled throughout the District schools and its central office.  Or, as Dr. Narvaez believes, “School improvement is people improvement; concentration on developing leaders of learning is the crux of the Acceleration Agenda.”

Six K-8 Hartford elementary schools formed the first complement of Acceleration Agenda efforts: Milner, Burns Latino Studies Academy, Burr, Wish, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Clark. This coming year, Simpson-Waverly, SAND plus Asian Studies will be joining.

At those schools – and in additional schools to be added once the results are analyzed – implementing the Acceleration Agenda will be based on supports that include additional time for collaborative practice; dedicated and individualized student/family support services; hands-on coaching aligned to standards, curriculum, pedagogy and best assessment practices; technical assistance and network support; and tailored professional learning opportunities within and outside the district.

A Good Start to Build On

The District has eight “equity indicators,” and has reached its 2016 targets in six, as illustrated in this chart.  For the two indicators that fell short of the targets (Third Grade reading proficiency and passing Algebra by the end of Ninth Grade), positive gains nonetheless were lodged.  As back-to-school public information, the District will produce an annual report to detail the gains – and how the gaps will be confronted, the superintendent said.  So will we, once state data are released on Year 2 administration of the SBAC tests.

Looking at the school situation more broadly, Dr. Narvaez spoke to how partnerships with higher education, community agencies, the business community (and many others) are so instrumental in making school improvement possible.  Here, she has found, a unique aspect of Hartford is that stakeholders across the board are positive, preferring solutions to whining about problems.  Mostly.

In setting up the District’s Equity 2020 Advisory Committee to weigh the matter of school consolidation in light of shrinking student enrollment, Dr. Narvaez has a clear-eyed view.  After past short-term and non-sustainable, not to say hasty, planning brought an ever-changing kaleidoscope of schools, it is high time for a master plan.  Framing it for the longer term will be about managing resources in ways that deliver a 21st century education for Hartford children.

We asked Dr. Narvaez this question: How will the major steps now being taken (judicious, but sharp central office compression, a new Chief Operating Officer who knows the city and the schools, continued City Connect and ANet contracts, adaptations to a smaller staff, etc.) be implemented to help the Acceleration Agenda to work … in spite of the severe State, City, and Board budget crises?

Here’s what she elaborated:

“We now must sharpen our priorities and focus in the coming year to building on the progress we have made. In addition, we are working to deepen our partnerships – City Connects is a big help in doing this and in getting to every student in the school – to provide resources for our schools in order to be able to provide the enrichment and support our students deserve.

“Last, we are attending to our infrastructure, creating a long term plan for facilities and programs that will help us to concentrate resources to serve our students, rather than making our resources so diffuse by spreading them out over a number of under-enrolled schools.”

The Bottom Line.  The pain of tight budgets is felt nowhere more acutely than at the school level, where there will be fewer programs and services for students – and fewer caring adults.  The focus on human capital is right on, but it begs the question: How will Hartford get the most out of every teacher and staff member in every school?  Closer analyses of teacher training as it relates to youth development, quality measures, and peer-to-peer support will constitute our follow-up.