The time is near for a potentially transformative decision to select and appoint the next educator to lead the District’s schools. The dimensions of this decision concern all Hartford families today and will impact, for better or worse, the long-term economic viability of the Greater Hartford region. If the challenge seems familiar, it may be because we have a revolving-door history. Here are our thoughts on attributes of the next superintendent.
Education matters in Hartford. School District dollars comprise more than half of the City budget – and the superintendent is the city’s highest-paid public employee. This position matters – especially when we think of the relatively minimal role the Board and City Hall have been able to play in recent years to impact student outcomes.
As such, it is time to rethink the skillset needed in the next superintendent:
- Last time around, the search committee prioritized knowledge of instruction – education blocking and tackling, if you will – over all other attributes, looking to the Mayor and Board to provide political leadership.
- This time around, we should be prioritizing the ability to restructure central office to support our neediest schools and fully leverage partnerships across all sectors. Bold change – and a real change-maker to lead these changes through – is what is required, particularly to support the most neglected schools and communities in Hartford.
- This also means cutting central office budgets to put more money in our chronically under-supported schools, consolidating schools with deeper implementation of student centered learning, and building a coalition that can cultivate increased resources where needed. (See our article on how to operationalize equity.)
- More specific leadership attributes for the next superintendent (so we can avoid the Groundhog Day scenario!), include:
- Agreeing (with the mayor and others) that local knowledge is what matters right now, not national perspective;
- Re-emphasizing that the ability to make hard decisions and navigate city politics – whether it regards school consolidation, Sheff negotiations, central office and teacher layoffs, union contract negotiating, etc. – is paramount;
- Partnership disposition must be even more open than before. HPS central office staff should not be seen as a gate keepers, but as recruiters for city and community partnerships and as drivers of more alignment between universities, philanthropy, nonprofits, and policymakers with the goal of quadrupling the supports our students receive from the resources around them – including those for families;
- A new vision for school choice is crucial if we are ever to effectively address poverty and give all students a chance – starting with redistributing the concentration of student need (as evidenced by Free and Reduced Lunch, Special Education and English Language Learning rates) among all schools and then redefining school pathways from elementary to middle and high school, families, and educators;
- Innovating at an entirely new level around Student Centered Learning, to allow all students in Hartford the chance to progress at their own pace, is key;
- The importance of disseminating data to track progress on individual, school, and system-wide progress cannot be overstated. Optimally, the analyses would not only drive accountability for results, but, more importantly, shift the focus away from year-over-year gains and focus on individual student growth; and
- Last, but certainly not least, sound financial management will be integral to success in our worsening fiscal climate.
The Bottom Line.
The next superintendent must be aligned with the Mayor’s view on the need to address structural deficiencies in our city. They don’t only exist in our city’s revenue system; they exist throughout the Hartford Public Schools. Now is the time to restructure the schools (if not three years ago), and the District’s next leader must have the track record and skillset necessary to do it.