The 2016-17 school year opened Tuesday with the traditional bus tour, celebrating students at the impressive University High School of Science and Engineering, the 19th century Asylum Hill relic-turned-showpiece at the renovated West Middle School, and the impressive community Burr School on Wethersfield Avenue.  The contrasts among Hartford schools on and off the tour raise the question: Is the cup half full or half empty?

Students were the stars at each school on the tour, led by Principals Martin Folan, Lynn Estey, and Fabienne Pierre-Maxwell and their respective teachers. At Burr, Eighth Grader Nyla Cruz was the lead singer; she has her sights set on becoming a lawyer.  Her music teacher, Elida Muchollari, who trained in Albania as an opera singer, believes some of her students were born to be on Broadway!  Most of her leading singers have left for magnet schools, she pointed out.

The magnet-to-neighborhood school differential, in terms of educational opportunities, is one of the most vexing issues facing the city and region.  In light of the latest SBAC and SAT results – and the regional disparities they reveal – the bus tour was just another reminder, given the schools not visited and begging for renovation.

As Hartford is the metro area center for social services, with nonprofit organizations, rental housing, and poverty concentrated here, the inequities from boundary to boundary are stark.

Over the past two decades, the State takeover of the Hartford schools, the resignation of Mayor Perez, and the recent ballpark fiasco have created the impression that investment in Hartford will be squandered.  Mayor Luke Bronin and Superintendent Beth Schiavino-Narvaez have inherited that mistrust and have been called upon to prove competence, notwithstanding the unhelpful history.  The facile TV drumbeat, daily stereotyping Hartford, New Haven, and Bridgeport as unsafe if not uninhabitable, doesn’t help either.

The Bottom Line.  The Hartford Courant recently has editorialized about the wisdom of regionalization; 169 towns organized, way back when for horse-drawn carts, probably don’t make sense anymore.  Instead, it is time for Greater Hartford to look at the way integrated education has begun on a regional basis – and to consider whether it is time to expand that effort with suburban support rather than just continuing to look the other way.  Regardless of whether or not shared services and increased taxes feel like a bail out to Hartford, the truth is … it’s in everyone’s best interest for a stronger regional economy.